Book Review

Book review: ‘The Global Village Myth: Distance, War, and the Limits of Power’ by Patrick Porter

By: Yuji Develle

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Patrick Porter. The Global Village Myth: Distance, War and the Limits of Power. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press/ distr. by Hurst and Co, 2015. ISBN: 978-18-49-04544-5. Pp. 242. Paperback. £17.99.

The Global Village Myth attacks ‘globalist’ thinking head-on and arrives at no better time. An empirically backed assault on how contemporary neo-liberal discourse has seemingly (d)evolved, this book provides much needed advice to policy-makers in Washington. Porter declares that globalism is a ‘misleading half-truth at best’.[1] He proceeds to explain why the Globalist assumption that technology has shrunken the strategic space is a dangerous one, misleading American policy-makers into committing costly mistakes like those committed in the past five years.

Porter decries the ‘powerful ideology of globalism’, which he argues is a pandemic omnipresent within the American national security community. ‘Globalism’ conceptually sees the world as a small global village where security interests are interconnected ‘almost without limit’, and where even a limited war two continents away can be perceived by U.S. policymakers as an existential threat to national security.[2] This epistemology leads to policy ruled by fear and hysteria rather than by strategy and rationality.[3] Building on Michael Howard’s seminal work War and the Liberal Conscience,[4] which explains how the drive for Kant’s Perpetual Peace runs the risk of ‘perpetual war for perpetual peace’[5], Porter updates this work for a twenty first century mired by overconfident policy-makers and misled Western populations.

Porter argues that ‘technology does not necessarily shrink strategic space. The ability to project power across the earth affordably against resistance is still challenged by spatial determinants.’[6] Porter takes the reader through a methodical assessment of ‘five grounds of suspicion’: globalism is a choice not a ‘universal condition’,[7] the remedies offered by globalism are as ‘disturbing’ as the disease they claim to address,[8] globalism reflects a narrow and atypical experience of the world,[9] globalism is reductionist vis-à-vis alternative views,[10] and lastly, that globalization theory as applied to security issues ignores the history of integration and disintegration throughout time.[11]

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton once said that ‘globalization is not something we can hold off or turn off … it is the economic equivalent of a force of nature — like wind or water.’ Porter detracts from the widely held belief that geography is a matter of preexisting conditions rather than a dynamic human geopolitik.[12] He explains that while greater numbers of ‘TCK’ or Third Culture elites may be able to fly from one country to another with relative ease, human and political barriers make it difficult for migrants or military personnel to move across even a single border. ‘Only 3% of people in the world have lived outside their country of birth, 2% of students attended university outside their homeland and less than 1% of all American companies have overseas operations.’[13] Porter, along with a long list of academics dedicated to putting our ‘current state’ of globalization in perspective, will likely be dismissed by the most ardent globalists as ‘isolationist or nostalgically parochial’.[14] He decries this as a reductionist hubris of Globalists; they believe that technology has given tools and a moral imperative to spread cosmopolitan values around the world. Porter attributes this hubris as a cause behind a globalist confirmation bias in Washington that drives bad decisions.

Porter relies on three case studies to assess the strength of his suspicions: netwar theory in the instance of transnational terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda; the military balance between China and Taiwan; and distance-transcending technologies like cyber-weapons and UAVs. Al-Qaeda (AQ) is the perfect example for a terrorist organization with seemingly international organisational and operational capabilities, having struck targets around the world with seeming ease. Porter however exposes the ‘distance-decay’ effect that constrains AQ from attacking Western targets often—the closer terror targets come to its principal enemy, the more the active shielding of space constrains organisations from striking those targets. ‘Going long’ from a groups core territory attracts increasing state hostility, making distance as much of a resistant barrier as a carrier.[15] Initially deciding to create regionally directed AQ branches to reduce the effects of distance decay, Porter connects this decision and AQ’s fragmentation and decline to the organization’s overextension.

If operations fail to achieve concrete territorial or political objectives, they will achieve nothing more than disruptions.[16] Indeed, Porter clearly exposes the difference between the ability to operate globally and the ability to achieve long-term strategic objectives globally. Challenging a trademark claim of cyber alarmists everywhere, Porter debunks the belief that cyberspace has transformed international security into a post-geographic risk arena.[17] He reminds the reader about the undersea telecommunication cables without which 99% of the internet wouldn’t work, and shows how Stuxnet (despite the tremendous time and resources put into its preparation and execution) only took out 10% of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, slightly above the normal rate of error.[18]

By using these case studies, Porter makes a convincing argument supporting his second ground for suspicion, that the remedies offered by globalism are as ‘disturbing’ as the disease they claim to address. He exposes the technology zealots, the Fukuyama followers and those who consider ‘carpet bombing’ a viable contemporary military strategy. One major component absent in his examination of AQ however, is he deliberately terrorist organisations’ use of social media technology, though this is largely due to the fact that  organizations such as ISIL’s increasing use of effective social media techniques occurred as Porter was completing this manuscript.. In an argument against globalism, it is also surprising that no obvious mention was made concerning the evolving role of the UN over the past 25 years. Perhaps this is due to its relative success in achieving most Millennium Development Goals and the organization’s role in preventing most unilateral actions via the Security Council?

In an ambitious attempt to cover an extremely broad range of security issues, Porter’s argument however loses its potency, leaving it vulnerable to straw-man arguments. Nevertheless, Porter’s The Global Village Myth is useful for scholars and policy-makers seeking an easy-to-read introduction to the problematic confirmation bias of globalism existent in Washington but also present in other major Western capitals. This book belongs right alongside your globalist literature as a visible reminder of this school of thought’s limitations.

 

Yuji Develle is a BA student at King’s and an editor and undergraduate representative at Strife. You can follow him on Twitter @YDevelle

____________________
NOTES:

[1] Porter, The Global Village Myth, p.3.
[2] Ibid.
[3] http://press.georgetown.edu/book/georgetown/global-village-myth#sthash.ZOGoDKJc.dpuf.
[4] Michael Howard, War and the Liberal Conscience (1978).
[5] Beard (1947).
[6] Porter, p. 10.
[7] Ibid., p. 42.
[8] Ibid., p. 43.
[9] Ibid., p. 47.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., p. 49.
[12] Ibid., p. 42.
[13] Ibid., p. 47.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid., pp. 60-106.
[16] Ibid., p. 119.
[17] Ibid., p. 198.
[18] Ibid., pp. 199-202.

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