News & Views » Don't Panic!... Your war questions answered

Is the global economic crisis going to lead to another world war?

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So, the other day, I was assembling a new wine tower in my living room when some creepy, old Bob Marley track popped up on my Pandora.

“Them belly full, but we hungry,” Bob sang. “A hungry mon is an angry mon.”

How do you say "buzzkill" in, like, Jamaicanese? I don’t want to hear about poverty while I’m deciding whether Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz should have their own cubbyholes. How the heck did that crap get on my UB40 station, anyway?

I thumbs-downed the song, of course, and proceeded to skank easily to “Pass the Dutchie.”

Unfortunately, as much as I tried to forget them, Bob’s words echoed in my brain.

With planet Earth experiencing its deepest and widest recession since the 1930s, there are millions more hungry men today than there were just a couple years ago.

Assuming the Marley Hunger-Anger Equation is indeed true, then anger must be on the rise as well. Since anger is a prerequisite for war, Bob was essentially warning us that the global economic downturn could lead to war.

Before you dismiss my fears as reggae-tinged stoner logic, consider two things:

1) I’m drunk, not stoned. That’s why I have a wine tower.

2) The global depression of the 1930s facilitated the rise of mega-evildoers like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and the Japanese fascists.

Are there a bunch of little Hitlers out there just waiting for an opportunity to send tanks and planes into Paris, London and Chicago?

Luckily, no.

Unlike in the 1930s, the world’s top military powers get along pretty well these days. China and Russia are the only two military powers that pose a conventional threat to the U.S. or Western Europe. Fortunately, neither is interested in going to war with us. They are too economically dependent on exports to wealthy democracies to go to war with one. War is bad for business.

Unfortunately, as we’ve all learned from 9/11 and the War On Terror™, 21st-century national security is a lot more complicated than tanks, planes, ships and lines on maps.

The U.S.’ biggest national security concern isn’t that little Hitlers will start popping up because of the economic downturn. Instead, the U.S. is worried that the financial meltdown will create several more Afghanistans, Pakistans and Somalias — anarchic, failed states that become safe havens for terrorists, guerilla armies, drug dealers and pirates.

Testifying in front of the House of Representatives last month, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said the global recession is actually a bigger threat to U.S. national security right now than al-Qaeda.

Blair warns the financial mess has diminished the ability of several governments to maintain law and order within their borders.

Countries with weak central governments are fertile territory for militants, terrorists and organized criminals. They’re also more likely to fall into regional or civil wars that can leave millions dead, injured and displaced from their homes.

Historian Niall Ferguson echoes Blair’s worries in the current issue of Foreign Policy.

He says the U.S. should quit fretting over the “Axis of Evil” and start worrying about what he calls an “Axis of Upheaval” — a collection of nations he worries could be the 21st century’s most violent places.

Ferguson says his studies of 20th-century wars show they were more or less predictable. Find a faltering economy, a history of ethnic rivalry, and a history of colonialism, he says, and you’ll find war.

Not shocking to anyone who has watched even one TV news program in the past decade, his Axis of Upheaval includes well-known hot spots like Somalia, Israel, Palestine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Quite freakily, however, he also groups Russia, Indonesia, Thailand and Mexico into his axis. The sputtering world economy, he says, promotes disorder in places that were once relatively orderly.

Ferguson worries the recession will cause the U.S. and Europe to turn inward and ignore these potential hot spots until it’s too late.

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