Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 6, June 2020
By William R. Hawkins
A tank unit of the Chinese Army underway. The number of tanks in China’s armored forces ranks third in the world. The main battle tanks have the ability to fight under nuclear and night conditions. Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
In February 1999, President Bill Clinton opened a major foreign policy speech by claiming, “Perhaps for the first time in history, the world’s leading nations are not engaged in a struggle with each other for security or territory. The world clearly is coming together.” This was the height of the post-Cold War delusion that history had come to an end and that a new world order had dawned based on a global partnership for economic development. Yet, Clinton knew that this was still a work in progress. In the same San Francisco speech he talked about conflicts in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and the Balkans, the threat of nuclear proliferation, and the need to bring Russia and China “into the international system as open, prosperous, stable nations.” The emphasis, however, was always on economics, a peaceful way to rise within classical liberal theory, transcending political issues and separating wealth from power in an interdependent world.
The classical liberal view held that wealth could be best pursued outside the bounds of sovereign territory. Borders were not to impede the movement of people, capital or goods which were motivated by material gain and self-improvement. Their frame of reference was the efficient use of resources world-wide to maximize global output, not their relative use among national sub-units. Peace would be the result of economic interdependence as trade could gain access to resources at less cost than conquest, and that once entangled in global supply chains, the cost of disruption for political reasons would be unbearable. The classical worldview was very popular in the 19th century prior to World War I and revived briefly during the interwar years only to be once again vanquished by World War II. The rapid onset of the Cold War kept such idealism in check, but it burst forth again after the Berlin Wall came down, symbolically opening the world to new possibilities.