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International Terrorism and War

Since World War II and the formation of the United Nations, there has been increased interest in maintaining international security. Some of the organizations that are charged with this task are from Cold War era: NATO, the United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Others, such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague (formed in 2002) were formed to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, no matter who committed them. Still others, including Amnesty International and NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders, serve to publicize issues that threaten human health and safety and provide aid to those in need.

War in the Gulf: Oil and Saddam Hussein

Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 under the leadership of Saddam Hussein because Iraq wanted to gain control of a greater percentage of the world’s oil reserves. Iraqi control of Kuwait would have nearly doubled Iraq’s oil reserves to 20 percent of the world’s total, and would have put it in good position to make advances on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, actions that would have given Iraq control of more than half of the world’s oil reserves. The world, especially the industrialized West, reacted immediately. In January 1991, the United Nations, and particularly the United States, sent forces to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait in what we now call the Persian Gulf War. The immediate impact of their success was the liberation of Kuwait and the humiliation of Iraq, which was subjected to UN monitoring, severe limitations on its military activities, and economic sanctions. Nevertheless, Hussein remained in power, and the UN forces left the region without moving forward to oust him. Hussein held on to his brutal dictatorship for another ten years while also, many argue, ignoring key elements of the peace treaty that allowed him to keep his power after his invasion of Kuwait.

In April 2003, a coalition of countries consisting primarily of the United States and Great Britain invaded Iraq to oust Saddam from power. Saddam’s government quickly fell to coalition forces but Hussein himself was not captured until December of that year. Sovereignty was returned to a transitional government in June of 2004, and a new democratically elected government was formed in May 2005. However, since the initial invasion, Iraq has been increasingly plagued with sectional conflicts among Sunni, Shiites, and Kurds, the conflicts defined by suicide bombings against coalition forces and more and more against Iraqi forces and civilians of rival sects. Even amidst the violence, the Iraqi government ratified a new constitution in October 2005, followed by a general election in December 2005, with legislative seats distributed according to “proportional representation.” This system allotted percentages of seats to women, Sunni Muslims, Kurdish Iraqis, as well as to the Shia majority. Despite delays in certifying the results of the December 2005 election, the newly elected government took office in May 2006, with Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, as president, and Nouri al-Maliki, who is Shia, as Prime Minister. The government has faced a number of challenges, and it remains to be seen whether it can successfully bring a violent insurgency to peaceful engagement in the political process. Even with the end of U.S. combat operations and the withdrawal of most coalition troops by the end of 2011, Iraq must also still contend with a number of opposing domestic and international interests as it tries to find stability in its new incarnation.

Taliban, Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

During the early 1980s, the Soviet Union sent thousands of troops to Afghanistan at the request of Marxist military leader Nur Muhammad Taraki, who had engineered a military coup against the previous government. Many Afghans opposed communism and Soviet intervention, however, and soon a massive civil war raged. Some of the resistors called themselves “holy warriors” and, with the aid of weapons from the Western powers who supplied the Cold War on every front, launched guerilla attacks against the superior military might of the Soviet Union. As internal problems escalated in the Soviet Union, Gorbachev agreed to withdraw Soviet troops from the region and a peace accord was signed. While communism fell apart in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the problems in Afghanistan continued. The decline of communism removed the Soviet threat, but warring factions vied to fill the power void.

The power that finally triumphed after 14 years of fighting and more than 2 million deaths was called the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist regime that captured the capital of Kabul in 1996. The new government imposed strict Islamic law and severe restrictions on women. It also provided safe haven for Osama bin Laden, the Saudi leader of an international terrorist network, known as Al Qaeda, which has a serious distaste for Saudi Arabia and the United States. It’s believed that Al Qaeda’s main issue with Saudi Arabia is that the ruling family is too cozy with the United States and that they have allowed U.S. troops to remain in the country since the Persian Gulf War, which amounts to the presence of infidels in a kingdom that is home to Islam’s most holy sites. Al Qaeda despises the United States for what many believe are at least three reasons. First, the United States supports Israel, which the organization would like to see removed from the planet. Second, it has troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, and third, the United States is the primary agent of globalization, which Al Qaeda believes is infecting Islamic culture.

On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda operatives managed to take control of four American passenger jets and fly two of them into the World Trade Center in New York City, one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and one (presumably unintentionally) into a field in Pennsylvania. The towers of the World Trade Center fell to the ground, killing more than 2,500 civilians. The deaths of the people on all four planes and those killed at the Pentagon bring the total number of casualties to almost 3,000. The United States immediately launched a war on terrorism, targeting Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Within months, the Taliban was removed from power and U.S. and UN forces occupied the country of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, still survives.

Although smaller in scale, suicide bombing and terrorist attacks (many linked to Al Qaeda and similar groups), continue regularly. They are a problem throughout the Israeli territories, between Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq, targeting tourists in the cities of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, andTurkey, and among Muslim separatists in Russia. Coordinated attacks occurred throughout Lebanon in 2004 and 2005, killing the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri (among others), while larger-scale attacks occurred in March 2004 on commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, in July 2005 on the London subway system, and the following July on trains in Mumbai (Bombay), India. While the Madrid attacks were attributed to Basque separatists, the remainder of the attacks were credited to Islamic fundamentalists.

World Trade and Cultural Exchange

The end of the Cold War removed the last obstacles to true global interaction and trade. Currencies were no longer tied to old alliances, and new business opportunities emerged. This deregulation, along with the development of systems of instantaneous communication such as the Internet, resulted in globally integrated financial networks. Commercial interdependence intensified in the 1980s as eastern Asia began to flex its industrial and commercial muscles.

Competition further drove global developments, and regional trading blocks were created such as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the early 1990s. The European Economic Community (EEC), originally formed in 1957, transformed into the modern European Union (EU) tied to a single currency, the euro. The ease in which goods and ideas are transported across the world has resulted in cultures being more homogenous and integrated. This does not mean that local culture is lost, but it does mean that one can satisfy a craving for a Starbucks mocha latte inside Beijing’s Forbidden City. It also means almost instantaneous access to a wider range of music, art, literature, and information. Much of this is facilitated by the spread of English as the language of business and communication across the globe. This began in the eighteenth century with the far-flung colonies of the British Empire and continued with the emergence of the United States as a global power after World War II.

The European Union or EU was formed to give the United States some economic competition by banding Europe together in a single market. The real impetus to expand the powers of the EU came in the early 1990s when the collapse of the Soviet Union simultaneously opened Europe’s and left the U.S. unchallenged as the world’s superpower. In 1989, the EU had 12 members; by 2011, it had 27, of which 10 were former Soviet satellite nations. The EU has three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. Elections are held throughout Europe every five years. The formation of a monetary union, the Eurozone, in 1999, led to all but three nations (UK, Sweden, and Denmark) to adopt a unified currency, the euro, in 2002.

While economic integration initially seemed relatively easy and produced a few boom years, in the crisis of the late 2000s (which began slightly earlier in Europe than in the U.S.), it became clear that stronger economies such as Germany’s had borne the freight of weaker, over-extended economies such as Greece’s, and by 2010, economic collapse in states such as Greece, Ireland, and Portugal threatened to destabilize the entire Eurozone. This has provoked sharp debates about economic integration that have now piled onto existing concerns about political and judicial integration, putting national interests and questions of sovereignty at stake.

Note the Change: The Threat of “McDonaldization”

Consider for a moment since the first McDonalds restaurant opened in California in the late 1930s just how far and to how many people the company and the fast-food culture has come. Take a quick jump over to McDonalds’ website and you can view the list of over 100 countries in which McDonalds has restaurants today, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt. But why point out these Muslim countries? The so-called “McDonaldization” of the world can be used as both an example and a metaphor for the spread of what is predominantly a Western popular culture to the rest of the world. Many countries, such as India and even China, have embraced the fruits of Westernization, integrating and assimilating aspects of Western culture into their own. Other groups however, including fundamentalist movements in some Muslim countries have rejected this “invasion” of modern Western culture, which they see as a threat to their traditional Islamic ways. Responses to the perceived threat of globalization have included many acts of international terrorism in an effort to fight the encroachment of the West as symbolized by the international spread of such Western cultural icons as Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Disney.

To Be Rich Is Glorious: The Rise of China and India

“Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” or “To Be Rich Is Glorious” sum up Deng Xiaoping’s plans for China after the death of Chairman Mao. Since normalized trade relations with the United States in the 1990s and acceptance into the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has become an industrial and economic juggernaut. What began with the creation of special economic zones exempt from the strict controls of communism in the late 1980s has become the world’s warehouse and discount store! In the last ten years, China’s imports have increased from $82 billion (1999) to $338 billion (2008) built on a wide array of everyday consumer goods, toys and apparel. This new and profitable industrial revolution has funded a building boom throughout China, brought the 2008 Olympic games to Beijing, contributed to a rising and educated middle class, who now shop and eat at 300 Starbucks and 800 McDonalds stores. But economic success has also led to a crack-down on Internet freedom. Politically, it is pretty much the same old China. The CCP allows some local elections and the New York Times is available on-line, but one-party is clearly in charge and watching what you Google.

India, the world’s largest democracy and one of its fastest growing economies, has spent the past two decades making itself indispensible to the globally connected world. In 1991, India was broke, the leading contender for Prime Minister had been assassinated and the country desperately needed a way to reinvent its economy and industries. Since loans from the IMF required economic reforms and austerity measures, major industries were privatized and others were publicly traded. India’s greatest advantage is its highly educated and skilled population, yet the focus on traditional industry advocated by Gandhi had left India isolated and unable to compete globally. The desperation of 1991, at a time when technology and computer chip industries were developing in United States was a moment of opportunity for Indian investors and workers, many of whom had migrated to Silicon Valley. Indian entrepreneurs brought these new ideas back to Indian companies such as Infosys and Tata, developed technology to route global calls, and build on the global demand for software, new technology, and support.

Both India and China are nuclear powers with two of the world’s largest armies. Both are currently dealing with belligerent neighbors (Pakistan and North Korea), both have complicated relationships and history with Western powers, both have yet to deal with tremendous economic inequality and poverty within their borders, and as members of the G20 (see Alphabet Soup) both have figured out a way to keep growing while much of the industrialized world is in an economic slowdown.

Global Alphabet Soup

With globalization of trade come many agencies and organizations designed to protect and facilitate trade. The earliest of these were the International Monetary Fund or IMF (1945) with 185 members and the World Bank (also founded in 1945). Both organizations were formed to stabilize world economic relationships and to loan financial assistance when needed. At the same time, The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, was agreed upon to reduce barriers to international trade. GATT became the World Trade Organization, or WTO, in 1994. The WTO boasts 153 member states, most of the world’s active trading nations, who adhere to the WTO’s rules and regulations regarding trade relationships.

An organization of note is the Group of Six, or G6, created in 1975 as forum for the world’s major industrialized democracies. Its original members included U.S., Great Britain, West Germany, Italy, Japan, and Poland. They have since been joined by Canada in 1977, and by Russia in 1997, and are now know as the G8. This informal summit of the world’s most powerful leaders meets annually to discuss issues of mutual or global concern such as climate change, terrorism and trade.

In addition to the G8, a group of 19 nations plus EU representatives make up the G20 or the Group of 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. Beginning with the financial crises of the late 1990s, this group represents key industrialized as well as developing economies.

Environmental Change

Until the 1980s, environmental issues focused on localized pollution or waste management, but along with global integration in every sector came global environmental concerns. Most recently, these concerns have focused on food, as suppliers become ever more distant from their consumers and trade agreements open up supply routes, but safety regulations may not follow.

The “green revolution” of the 1950s and 1960s led to increased agricultural productivity through industrial means—chemical fertilizers and pesticides, biologically engineered foods, more efficient means of harvesting, and more marginal lands available for agriculture. While this resulted in inexpensive and plentiful food supplies, it destroyed traditional landscapes including rainforests in Indonesia and South America, reduced species diversity, and fostered social conflicts that might not have otherwise existed. As has been true throughout history, marginal lands can not sustain the population increases they initially produce with new industrial technologies. This is especially notable in eastern and sub-Saharan Africa, where political and financial mismanagement contributed to widespread famines in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bottled water has become ubiquitous and widespread, but water is a crucial natural resource that is often carelessly managed by cities at the expense of their hinterlands. This is not a rapidly renewable resource and needs to be regulated for drinking and for agriculture. A similar pattern is seen with industrialized countries consumption of oil—they want more and they want it cheap! Oil fuels industry, transportation, and heating of homes and businesses. The insatiable appetite for oil reserves on the part of industrialized democracies can lead to strange political and economic alliances (see the previous section on the Middle East). Although some progress has been made in developing alternative fuel options, like ethanol, there are big drawbacks to them as well. Clearly, much more research into viable alternatives to fossil fuel is needed.

Finally, a quick note on global warming. It’s getting warmer and human activities, including fuel consumption, heating, and cooling, are contributing to this. What the results of these warming trends will be is uncertain. On the positive side, there will be longer growing seasons in temperate parts of the world, but the negative will be more extreme conditions in marginal areas—longer periods of drought in some, flooding and disappearance of coastlines in others. The first Earth Summit on global climate change was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. Five years later, the Kyoto Protocol was an attempt to make a global agreement on ways to reduce environmental damages, but because the United States has refused to ratify the Protocol (and Canada denounced it in 2011), it remains controversial and unable to function to its full potential. Industrialized nations continue to struggle with balancing potential damage to the environment with the growth potential of their business sector, and it is the business of production and consumption that has been of primary importance to policymakers.

Global Health Crises

Within globalization efforts, the relief of health crises is a primary focus. Non-profit organizations like the WHO (World Health Organization) work to lower infant mortality as well as to combat various diseases, such as influenza, which kill millions in third world countries due to a lack of appropriate medical care and medicine. This problem has existed as far back as 1918, when a flu epidemic killed millions across the globe, but is still important today. Recent outbreaks of bird flu and swine flu, two strains of influenza passed from animals to humans, show that such epidemics, especially in countries without the U.S.’s high level of sanitation, are still an issue.

AIDS is another notable global health crisis, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where almost 25 percent of adults in some countries live with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). While AIDS treatments can help those with the disease to live relatively normal lives, there is no cure as yet for this fatal illness, and only those in wealthier countries tend to have access to the most advanced treatments. Currently, global efforts to combat this health crisis are focused on prevention, and the WHO and other organizations are working on changing the social norms and behaviors of at-risk populations, particularly in Africa where the AIDS crisis is at its worst.

Other notable global health issues today include diseases which, in developed countries, are not a threat, such as cholera. New treatments for cholera, such as oral rehydration therapy, have drastically lowered mortality rates associated with the disease in Bangladesh, India, and neighboring countries. Global health issues highlight the disparities that, despite the ongoing process of globalization, still exist between first-world, industrialized countries and those that are not.

The Age of the Computer

The single most important technological advance since the 1980s has been the rise of computers and, in turn, the internet. Beginning in the 1970s, new hardware was developed by American companies such as Compaq and IBM, which allowed computers to radically shrink in size (by using a silicon chip to store data). The PC, or personal computer, became a reality, since this advance meant that computers no longer took up entire rooms. By the late 1980s, an early version of the World Wide Web existed, though only those with advanced technical knowledge had access.

In the 1990s, more homes got computers and commercial software, such as web browsers and the services and programs offered by America Online, introduced the internet to the American population at large, transforming both the home and the workplace. The Y2K scare, which involved a possible glitch in computers caused by the switch of dates to the new millennium, pointed out how dependent industry and society were on computers and the internet. Y2K did not cause an actual crisis, and personal computers and similar technologies, including cell phones, are all the more crucial today to the personal and global business lives of many.

More recently, social media and the spread of the internet have had huge ramifications worldwide. Social media, such as Twitter, has changed the way news is reported and has played a huge role in political developments in Middle Eastern countries where, during the “Arab Spring” of 2011, oppressive regimes in several nations were toppled due in part to the exposure—via social media—of the problems in those countries. Internet censorship exists in many nations, notably India and China, but this technology has overall served to bring people together both in business and in other aspects of life, changing the way we receive our news, take classes, and even shop. One current concern, however, is the growing gap in access between those in developed and those in undeveloped countries, and the importance of the internet and computer technology may serve as a barrier to globalization in countries without the infrastructure to join this “digital revolution.”

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