The likelihood of conflict and cooperation in the 21st century


The industrial revolution resulted in increase in the overall production of industrial products; people stopped relying on manual labor as the only alternative. This in turn improved the living standards of the people. The Great Depression undermined all the good work that had been achieved through industrial revolution, people lost jobs, they went hungry, and they lost homes and other assets. On the other hand, globalization has benefited people a lot, as they can freely share skills and knowledge and exchange goods and services. However, these three factors have contributed to the creation of conflicts among the world population.

Thesis Statement

While the emergence of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression and Globalization led to socio-economic and political changes on the lifestyles of the world’s population, they led to the creation of conflicts among the nations. The three major conflicts: the World War I, the World War II, and the Cold War can all be traced back to the emergence of the industrial revolution, the Great Depression and Globalization.

Before the emergence of the industrial revolution people used to rely on their own or their animals efforts in the production of vital products. However, with the invention of electricity, telephone, internal combustion engine, chemicals, and sophisticated military arsenals everything changed. New scientific skills and knowledge were applied in the industries, scientists’ unlocked secrets of physics and chemistry; this led to the mass production and creation of wealth among the industrialized nations.

Nations became more economically and militarily strong. This in turn led to the emergence of expansionist attitudes among the most industrialized nations of the world. The most industrialized nations embarked in the process of building themselves economically and militarily, it was a situation of survival for the fittest and therefore no one wanted to be left behind. The resultant phenomenon was that of lack of mutual trust that existed between the nations, no state was willing to trust the other and at the long run a security dilemma was created. [Gilpin, 1987]

The impacts of industrial revolution were very distinct on individual nations: some nations grew immensely at the expense of others. For example, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Soviet Union, and the United States were the most developed nations during the early days of industrial revolution. This difference is better explained by the neorealist theory, which holds that, nations are considered to be similar in terms of needs but very distinct when it comes to capabilities of fulfilling those needs. The positional placement of any given nation in regards to abilities determines the distribution of its capabilities.

This distribution of capabilities limits the cooperation among states as fears of relative gains by rival states and likelihood of dependence on other states increases. The desire and abilities of each state to maximize relative power limit each other, leading to a situation of balance of power which shapes international relations.

To balance this power, states increase their economic growth, increase military budgets, and enter into alliances with other states to counter the power of more powerful states or alliances. Neorealists assert that war is an effect of anarchic structure of the international system and therefore there is great likelihood of it extending in the future. [Morgenthau, 1961]

By the 20th century almost all the third world nations were already conquered and ruled by the strong European powers. Based on new weapons that were created by the industrial revolution, the European powers began to form alliances and arming themselves in bid to counter any threats and fight for the acquisition of few remaining territories. Germany was the most industrialized and apparently its impact in conquering third world countries was far less compared to the United Kingdom and France, therefore it worked on plans to defeat its enemies and in the process a war was created. [Gilpin, 1987]

The great depression of 1929 contributed to the escalation of tension among nations. The collapse of the United States economy following the 1929 Stock Market Crash was felt all over the world. There were high rates of employment, poverty and civil unrest. This situation resulted to emergency of dictatorship kind of leadership whereby people were lured by promises of steady jobs and adequate food in return of support to dictators such as Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, and Adolph Hitler among others.

After the end of World War I many Americans had invested their money in rebuilding Europe, particularly Germany. Following the 1929 crash many Americans withdrew their money for fear of loosing more; this worsened the situation in many parts of Europe, particularly Germany. For instance, in Germany severe unemployment led to the popularization of Nazi Party on the promise that it would provide employment for the unemployed masses.

This led to the rise of Adolph Hitler who in turn created the World War II in Europe. Such leaders survived creating sentiments of hate among its citizens on foreign nations, and therefore adopting more aggressive foreign policies. The great depression cut-throat economic atmosphere led to the need to build empires in order to secure sources of raw materials and markets for finished goods.

Countries such as Italy spread their control to Abyssinia, Germany to Eastern Europe, and Japan to Manchuria. Further, the great depression weakened the Britain and France to an extend that they were not in apposition to control Hitler’s expansionist moves in eastern Europe, Italy’s moves in Abyssinia, or even Japan’s moves to Manchuria. A similar economic crunch may in future contribute to the emergency of dictators, especially in developing countries that relies so much in foreign donations and investments. [Mearsheiner, 1990]

The aftermath of the World War II saw many nations adopt liberal economic methods to cushion the effects of the great depression and the World War II. Economic freedom is fundamental in the creation of peace. It creates free market and wide diversity that brings about fundamental threats to repressive political leaders and greatly reduces the power to intimidate. Therefore economic freedom can be seen as the avenue for the creation of world peace and cooperation. The separation of economic power from political power through the elimination of centralized economic controls will see the two variables counterbalancing each other. [Spanier, n.d.]

Following the end of the World War II, there was the urgent need for economic reconstruction. To achieve this, nations had to collaborate in order to share technologies, financial aids, labor, raw materials, and markets for finished products. This led to the process of globalization. However, only those countries that subscribed to a common political ideology interacted. This led to the escalation of the Cold War as the economic and military growth of one side led to other side striving to achieve the same or even more.

The effects of the Cold War have got both negative and positive impacts in the process of globalization. From a political perspective it enhanced globalization while from an economic perspective it hindered globalization. The abrupt end of the World War II following the bombing of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki using atomic bombs heralded a period of heightened tension between the Western World represented by the US and the Eastern World represented by Soviet Union.

Each of the two sides formed a myriad of alliances in bid to assert themselves across the face of the world. The Soviet side formed the Warsaw Pact while the United States side formed the NATO. Nations secretly embarked in a process of militarization since the members of the opposing blocs were in the process of building their own strong military arsenals and therefore there was need for a balance of power between the two blocs. Again, this was a period marked by costly defense spending, immense conventional and nuclear arms race, and a number of proxy wars.

This period saw the breaking of the world into two sections the East and the West. While the West adopted Capitalism, the East adopted Communism. The adoption of only two political ideologies can be said to be a step toward political globalization, however, on the other hand it hindered economic globalization by inhibiting free flow of the forces of economic and technological exchange across the two sides of the iron curtain.  [Mearsheiner, 1990]

The aftermath of the Cold War saw the collapse of the Soviet Union hence confirming the United States as the world’s most powerful nation. The falling of the iron curtain also opened the avenue for the free movement of goods, services, and technologies across the once divided sectors of the world. This heightened the process of globalization. National borders became more porous, and the autonomy of states has been eroded leading to the creation of a new secure environment that is not tied to the protection of the state against conflicts but the whole world. [Sikkink, 1998]


The events that contributed to the occurrence of some of the worst conflicts in the history of the world, the industrial revolution, great depression, and globalization are economic oriented. It can therefore be argued that the likelihood of a conflict in the 21st century would emanate from an economic reason. The enhancement of economic freedom will lead to creation of peace. Economically empowered citizens and nations will not be coerced or cheated into adopting political ideologies that will lead into oppression and conflicts. Economic freedom will also lead to globalization and hence nations will be able to cooperate more in order to create favorable atmosphere for trade.


Gilpin, Robert, “Three Ideologies of Political Economy,” The Political Economy of International Relations (NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), pp. 25-64

Mearsheiner, John, “Back to Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War, International Security, Vol. 15, No. 1 (summer 1990), pp. 5-56.

Morgenthau, Hans, “A Realist Theory of International Politics,” Politics among Nations (NY: Knopf 1961), pp. 3-15.

Sikkink, Kathryn, “Transnational Politics, International Relations Theory and Human Rights,” PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Sept. 1998), pp. 516-523.

Spanier, John, “the Three Levels of Analysis: A Framework for the Study of International Policies,” Games Nations Play Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly