An Interconnected World – Promises and Threats
In Globalization: The Super-Story, Thomas L. Friedman explains what is so super – and not so super – in international relations between nations, corporations, and individuals. He states there are dividing lines in relations between nation-states from the Cold War that ended in the 1980s and the three ‘super-stories’ of international relations of today: traditional balance of power, supermarkets, and super-empowered individuals.
Found in a collection of essays entitled Longitudes and Attitudes: Explaining the World after September 11 (2002), Friedman takes the position that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were examples of this transition. His analysis of international relations takes a mixed-tone of both positive and negative consequences of this new international system, both warning of and embracing this new world order.
In his essay, Friedman states globalization replaced the Cold War balance of power of Super Powers – the United States and the Soviet Union – somewhere after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 culminating with the collapse of the communist system and the Soviet Union. He suggests that this new globalization is an “inexorable integration” of markets, transportation systems, and communication systems that affect nations, corporations and individuals “faster, deeper, and cheaper” than before the end of the Cold War (392).
Friedman makes a strong valid position on international relations in this context if we take two case studies into consideration, the Cuban Revolution of the 1960s and the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.
Cuba and Egypt, before their individual revolutions, were living under the rule of corrupt despots – Fulgencio Batista and Hosni Mubarak respectively. Without super power politics, it appeared unlikely that the Cuban Revolution of 1959 would succeed despite the charisma of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. According to Merle Kling in Cuba: A Case Study of a Successful Attempt to Seize Political Power by the Application of Unconventional Warfare (48), Castro would never have seized power if the United States was fully committed to preventing his ascension. Kling attributed this American noncommittal from the public image of Batista as a corrupt ruler, the confused image of Castro (49), and the ambivalence of American foreign policy in Cuba.
Friedman states the post-Cold War world continues to be influenced by this traditional balance of power with the United States still playing a dominant role; but, two new influences are present today, what he calls supermarkets and super-enhanced individuals, all interconnected to by the World Wide Web (392).
Supermarkets are centers of finance that move money around controlling global markets all with the touch of a mouse, according to Friedman (393). With power at the fingertips of a corporation, governments can be toppled, as was the case in Indonesia, Friedman states (393).
Super-enhanced individuals can act independently and recruit followers across borders without the pressure of government interference, influencing government policy and markets with the use of the World Wide Web (393). Friedman makes Obama Bin Laden his example of a super-empowered individual, an individual who declared a war on America using the power of the Internet to obtain money and weapons without the backing of a state (393).
Similarly to Cuba, the United States had an ambivalent foreign policy when Egypt erupted in protests and revolution in 2011 that contributed to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall. Noha Bakr, in Change & Opportunities in the Emerging Mediterranean (2016), posits that Americans “fumbled” when it seemed to support both its ally Mubarak and pro-Democracy protestors (69).
The difference between the Cuban and Egyptian revolutions was technology. Egyptian resistance was highly organized with the use of technology, technology that did not exist during Cuba’s revolution. Bakr states social media like Facebook and traditional media like Al Jazeera all played a part in the revolution (68).
Bakr said, “the impact of communicating and organizing through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and YouTube, rather than any organizational function emphasized a new technique”(68).
In conclusion, Friedman analyzes contemporary relations through the lens of the super story, one in agreement with increasing globalization among individuals and nations breaking down the walls that divides us to the web that connects us.
Bakr, Noha. “The Egyptian Revolution.” Change & Opportunities in the Emerging
Mediterranean (Jan. 2016): 57-81.
Friedman, Thomas L. “Globalization: The Super-Story.” Longitudes and Attitudes:
Explaining the World After September 11 (2002): 391-394.
Kling, Merle. “Cuba: A Case Study of a Successful Attempt to Seize Political Power by the
Application of Unconventional Warfare.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political
and Social Science 341 (1962): 42-52.