Can technology promote world peace through global cooperation and collaboration?
A new article posted online in Atlantic Monthly asserts that technoogy may make the world less conflict-prone, asking: Is this Pax Technologica? The article was adapted from Ayesha & Parag Khanna's Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization. The problem with many technological solutions, however, is their tendency to create a new set of problems.
(The full article is available on the Atlantic Monthly website)
While some of the most important variables determining the world's power structure today are still economic, an increasing number are technological, which means that the course and growth of technology itself -- and the question of who masters it -- will play a greater role in geo-politics.
China, for example, faces enormous environmental challenges, but the country can't conquer its way to sustainability and is already suffering ecological consequences from over-pollution. That is part of why it has become the world's greatest manufacturer of solar cells, and perhaps one day electric cars as well. The Communist Party has ordered a number of smog-covered cities and regions to curb their emissions and to acquire clean coal and other alternative energy technologies. Boosting agricultural output is also one of the seven strategic pillars of the recent Five-Year Plan. China needs to transcend geography as much as it needs to harness it. That's a technological problem.
Of course, technology has always been a driver of history. The compass and maritime navigation helped enable colonialism, and the Reformation may not have happened without the printing press. And technological growth creates problems as well as solutions. It accelerates carbon monoxide emissions, but can help us produce alternative fuels to reduce them (although not if we don't invest in such innovation). Nuclear power can heat homes or destroy nations.
Still, technology is playing a great role in not just the events of geopolitical history but its course. If military power is inherently competitive -- the stronger your army and the weaker your neighbor's, the more powerful you become -- then economic power is more cooperative. After all, much of America's power today is economic, but that power would decrease if China's economy collapses. Technological power is also cooperative in this way, perhaps even more so. Medical research crosses borders, for example, as do the pharmaceuticals or treatments that research can produce. China can increase its power by developing better solar panels -- perhaps in part by building on foreign technologies -- then turn around and sell them to other high-energy-consuming states, making us all better off. Like economics, technology doesn't just increase cooperation, it is the cooperation.
Whereas techno-utopians believe technology is the solution to the problem of global conflict, techno-pragmatists see technology as a tool for overcoming deeply entrenched cycles of resource and market competition. In the long-term, then, grand strategy is becoming a collective, not national, enterprise. The world has become too complex for Pax Americana to simply be followed by the next hegemonic empire. The increasingly integrated global system is shaping the states within it, much as individual powers shape the system. The question is thus not who controls technology, but the way in which we develop, guide, and control it collectively.