So North Korea might be getting a McDonalds. Gosh, the bonanza of boons as a result of this nuclear climb-down just keep proliferating!
But then I thought .. what if this is actually a shrewd move by Kim Jong-Un to take advantage of the “law” of liberal international relations – the so-called “Golden Arches Peace Theory” – whereby apparently, if you’ve got a McDonalds in your country, another nation with a McDonalds isn’t supposed to attack you (like, normatively speaking, obviously).
[Depressingly [DPRK-ingly?], this is a more recent outgrowth of what’s known as “democratic peace theory” – the idea that democracies apparently don’t or shouldn’t (theoretically speaking) go to war with one another; although as it turns out, this older formulation is arguably less reliable than the thing with the french fries … make of that what you will]
The slight issue with the “theory”, though, is that it’s fairly blatantly not true. A rather common critique, to be sure, of much of Thomas Friedman’s output.
You see – only a year or so after Friedman first propounded it, cresting the wave of the ’90s “HOPE” “NEOLIBERALISM” “END OF HISTORY” zeitgeist-vibe … NATO started bombing Serbia. A country which at the time had a few McDonalds outlets to its name.
I say “had”. Shortly after the bombing started, Belgradians took it upon themselves to demolish them. (They were eventually rebuilt once NATO ceased combat operations – which, somewhat perplexingly, Friedman appeared to take as a vindication of his theory’s practical value).
And there have, of course, been a few other rather prominent counter-examples since such as the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, or the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. All of which had McDonalds in operation within their borders at the time.
Although as some pundits noted with amusement, Russia appeared to be shutting down a number of prominent McDonalds restaurants in 2014, about the same time that the Donetsk seceded from Ukraine with Russian support.
Still, despite the obvious unreality of its core tenet – that it’s engagement with the globalized capitalist economic system, rather than, say, cautious and careful diplomacy based upon mutual respect and understanding (insofar as such things are possible between states (operating) within a realist context/set of assumptions) which leads to enduring peace – it’s worth revisiting Golden Arches Peace Theory in the present day.
Not least because I have absolutely no doubt that somewhere in Washington, policy-wonks and think-tankers will be gleefully propounding the idea that the setting up of fast-food chains and other ‘soft power’ proponderances of the “American Way Of Life” in the DPRK will first infiltrate and then assimilate North Korea into the Atlanticist-authored vision for geopolitical order under a certain unipolar hegemon.
And yeah, sure, in the *short term*, it’s certainly possible to postulate that the ‘novelty value’ of being able to eat questionably nutritious food of an entirely different nature and all the other things that go alongside Amerika setting up (literal) shop in your neighbourhood *may* actually have an impact on some people.
I just don’t see this offering any lasting nor serious guarantee of peace.
If the USA decides to make good on John Bolton’s proffered proposal of doing to the DPRK what the Obama Administration did to Libya (i.e. suddenly turning on a dime and effectively ousting said country’s leader whom they’d previously been getting on relatively reasonably with in a pointlessly destructive “intervention”) – I really do somehow doubt whether the presence of a single ‘underutilized’ McDonalds in PyongYang is seriously going to stop them.
Meanwhile, there’s also no guarantee that simply putting up some Golden Arches in a country in a manner not entirely unakin to a lower-key flag of conquest for a socio-economic system … will actually lead to the “host” population in question all uniformly and unanimously electing to just casually become slightly-cosmetically-
In fact, there’s – once again – quite some evidence and theoretical spade work to suggest that, if anything, the *opposite* can very readily be true.
This is detailed in another article (and subsequent book) which came out a few years before the publication of Friedman’s original piece on the rather surprising alleged connection between having Hamburglar active in your nation’s capital and being at peace – Benjamin Barber’s “Jihad vs McWorld”.
As you can probably guess from the title, it details the notion that “globalization” – and particularly the cultural elements of same – do not simply occur in a vacuum, imposed upon passive mannequins rather than men. But instead, invite skepticism, scrutiny, and somewhat more often than pro-Globalism forces care to admit .. outright opposition or even surprisingly successful push-back.
In its place, an exaltation of ‘older’ ways of doing things – traditional values and understandings – may grow up; militantly or gently-but-firmly re-asserting themselves against the mono-cultural and rather tacky .. flaccid, even? .. ‘universalizing’ paradigm of ‘McWorld’.
At which point, no doubt, we’ll get to see just how genuinely committed the various Atlanticist-consensus countries which presently exist ‘neath the “Golden Arches” are to *not* attempting to impose their world-view by force upon the North Korean – or any other – population.
In some ways, it’s interesting to directly compare and contrast the mindsets that went into both the Golden Arches Peace Theory and Jihad Vs Mcworld.
The latter was a the product of an ‘age of uncertainty’ – a period in between dominant zeitgeists if you like, wherein many reasonable people were refreshingly reluctant to take for granted the possibility of teleology or Eschaton-Immanentization in geopolitics. Where it wasn’t just blithely assumed that because the Cold War was seemingly ending, that this meant the Nation-State pretty much would be (in its post-Westphalian nature and significance/salience, at any rate) too.
In short, where *actual thinking* was taking place about what might transpire in the future and how best to navigate continuously evolving circumstances in such a way as to *avoid* the potential fall-back into strife-riven paradigms of the past (whichever past and whenever we might be referring to with that).
The former, meanwhile, is huffed up on its own triumphalism – confident (even, going by later reprints and new editions, following subsequent events which ought surely to have disproven its core ethos) well beyond the point of arrogance that the End of History hadn’t just come … but that the author’s views were both riding the wave of causality and powering it.
Even though Friedman didn’t mean it in that sense, I always found it telling that he attempted to pooh-pooh his critics on the concept by referring to them as “realists” 😛😛
Sitting here in the closing years of the 2010s, I feel it pretty uncontentious to state that we, too, are very much in “uncharted waters”. We’ve witnessed the decay and if not outright collapse of a number of epochs and their accompanying meta-narratives over the span of the last quarter century or so. And out with them have, by necessity rather than choice (for a depressingly large number of foreign policy actors, at least), gone many of the comfortable assumptions-into-assertions which have governed what “should” happen in politics – whether local-/national- or of the “geo-” variety.
But as we seemingly see every time John Bolton, Nikki Haley, Hillary Clinton, Theresa May etc. etc. etc. open their mouths .. old habits die hard.
It’s worth critically evaluating things like “Golden Arches Peace Theory” in the context of what’s looking set to happen in North Korea over the next few years [the opening up to Western economic operations, I mean – not so much the “Libya-fication” .. hopefully] precisely because of that fact.
As otherwise … who wants to be left stranded high and dry – “beached as, bro” – when the much-vaunted “tide of history” actually turns out to have been going the other way this whole time, regardless of what the “model” “thinks”.