A new world order is emerging which has little to do with the professed ideology of nations, but is based primarily upon countries' states of technological development.
Writing in War And Anti-War, renowned futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler, define three levels of technological development, the First, Second, and Third Wave, corresponding to countries reaching the heights of the Agricultural Age, the Industrial Age, and the Information Age. The term wave is used because like a wave there occurs a gradual buildup in technological development which reaches a crest and is followed by another wave.
While many countries have experienced the First and Second Wave, only a few countries like the United States and Japan are at the stage where the Third Wave has begun to be experienced. That is not to say that many other countries have not entered the Information Age. However, they are only experiencing the gradual buildup of information technology, but not the crest which marks the wave approaching it's peak. While other countries are building industries, many industries in the U.S. are in decline. Wealth in the U.S. increasingly is being created in the information technologies and services.
Third Wave countries are characterized by organizations which are decentralized, have few layers, are task oriented or matrix instead of hierarchical, are highly dependent on sophisticated information and communications systems in which communications flow not only from top to bottom, but also from bottom to top and sideways. Organizations in the U.S. are going through a re-engineering process and are emerging leaner, more efficient, and more effective. The U.S. armed forces are no exception to this trend.
The relevance of the First, Second, and Third Wave, according to the Tofflers, is that the way nations make wealth parallels the way they make war. The Gulf War marked the first test of the $200 billion U.S. space machine. It was the first major instance where combat forces were deployed, sustained, commanded, and controlled through satellite communications.
Virtually the first shot fired by the U.S. knocked out Iraq's information and communication capabilities. After knocking out Iraq's southern radar defenses, Iraq's electrical systems were crippled with then secret bombs that disperse thousands of carbon filaments to short circuit transmission lines. In essence, the war was over in the first few hours. The importance of information and communications during the Gulf War is underscored by the fact that these systems involved 12 commercial satellites, 118 mobile ground stations, which handled up to 700,000 telephone calls and 152,000 messages per day!
Third Wave capabilities open up entirely new vistas of war making and terrorism. Increasingly the emphasis in war will be on the acquisition and use of information, the disruption of the enemy's information and communication capabilities, and in disinformation necessary for public support. Terrorists will have new tools at their disposal. Imagine the havoc which would have been created at the World Trade Center if at the height of the Gulf War, instead of a bomb, terrorists were able to disrupt communications with an electromagnetic pulse. The world's financial markets would have been in disarray, and it may have altered the course of the Gulf War. And the reasons for war have not changed despite the euphoria that followed the fall of the Iron Curtain. Nations make war, as they have throughout history, to acquire resources, to acquire markets, and to acquire allies who will aid in acquiring resources or markets.
Yesterday, historically speaking, the Americas were conquered and native populations decimated to acquire wealth for the Europeans. The British having nothing the Chinese wanted forced an India conquered for its spices to grow opium, and forced China to buy the opium. Today, the U.S. and Western Europe with the aid of Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others fight the Gulf War to maintain access to low priced Middle-East oil. The historical reasons for war have not changed. Only the methods for fighting war, and for numbing the public to the morality of war, have evolved.
Naturally, Third Wave nations will attempt to maintain their superiority both in making wealth and making war. While we hear talk of nuclear nonproliferation and limits on missile capabilities and chemical and biological warfare corresponding to Second Wave technologies, there is much less talk of the nonproliferation of Third Wave war making technologies. Moreover, unlike Second Wave technologies, Third Wave technologies are predominantly dual use. That is they can be used both for war and peaceful purposes. Third Wave countries, while increasing their lead in Third Wave technologies, will increasingly favor the dismantling or dumping of Second Wave war making technologies. They will attempt to dump Second Wave technologies upon First and Second Wave countries, thereby assuring the latter's continued weakness and depletion of wealth, while assuring Third Wave countries' access to First and Second Wave countries' markets and resources.
Second Wave countries may be better off developing or buying more Third Wave weaponry instead of Second Wave weaponry. The example of India's worldwide superiority in Unix may be worth following. India became a world leader in Unix software by essentially skipping the mainframe computer revolution, and moving directly to personal and distributed computing. Can a country entering the industrial age, by selective development, skip the Second Wave, and move toward the Third Wave thereby becoming a world power? It may be something to contend with in the shifting world alliances.
The alliances resulting from the way countries make both wealth and war are creating a New World Order which trisects the world into countries aligned by their having attained First, Second, and Third Wave capabilities. This New World Order is defined more and more by a nation's technological achievements, and less and less by its professed ideology.
____________________________ Enver Masud is director of The Wisdom Fund http://www.twf.org. Copyright 2001 The Wisdom Fund