Trade may not deter Russia from war

Dan Drezner

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

TESS VIGELAND: Today, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev unveiled a plan to restore confidence in his country's economy. The Russian stock market has lost 40 percent of its value since May. Medvedev wants to make the Russian market a lot more transparent and give foreigners easier access to it.

Commentator Dan Drezner says economic modernization is a good buffer against war. Question is, for how long?


DAN DREZNER: In "The Lexus and The Olive Tree," Thomas Friedman proposed the Golden Arches theory of conflict prevention. Friedman wrote, "No two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's." This was shorthand for saying that economic globalization reduced the likelihood of armed conflict.

Alas, the war between Russia and Georgia flatly contradicts Friedman's hypothesis. Furthermore, Russia has continued to act in a confrontational fashion. Moscow formally recognized the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. President Dmitri Medvedev articulated a new, aggressive foreign policy doctrine within Russia's "sphere of influence" -- and there are a surprising number of McDonald's franchises in the Russian periphery.

These events have led a lot of geostrategists to say that the rules of the global game have changed. A century ago, Norman Angell proclaimed that no country would be stupid enough think it could profit more from war than trade. A few years later, World War I broke out. Will Friedman become the Angell of this century?

Let's not throw out the baby with the Big Mac. In international relations, no country is perfect. Even if one McGlobalized country attacks another McGlobalized country, globalization still reduces the chance for war.

In important ways, the theory is working quite well. Even without economic sanctions, Russia is paying a price for its actions. Last week Russia's RTS Index dropped 7 percent, and has fallen by 33 percent since July. Last month $20 billion left Russian markets in search for safer havens. Moscow has had to intervene aggressively in foreign exchange markets to defend the ruble.

In the end, the war has resulted in losers on all sides. Through its aggressive behavior, Georgia has lost its breakaway provinces. While Russia has humiliated Georgia, every country in the region is now balancing against Moscow.

Angell -- and Friedman -- are right to say that economic interdependence makes war very costly. The 64,000 ruble question is whether Russia is willing to pay that price over and over again.

VIGELAND: Dan Drezner teaches International Politics at Tufts University.

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