Trade is a basic human function. Not only does it ensure monetary subsistence to individuals and societies, but it also spreads ideas and opens minds. It serves to connect individuals from disparate backgrounds, making them part of a larger whole. Commerce is inextricably linked to the advance of technology. Where technology leads, commerce will follow. And where commerce goes, there after it follows the interests of nation states – and with them, baying loudly, the hounds of war.
War and commerce do not always go hand in hand, but they are mutually related. If traders are interrupted by violence from their characteristic monetary pursuits, they will demand protection from the powers that be. Economic policies of the 18th and 19th centuries spurred multiple military conflicts – or were carried along with the winds of war as willing passengers. The U.S. Navy grew and was strengthened in order to provide teeth for U.S. free trade policies and to keep sea lanes open.
New technologies will always influence war and commerce. The great Roman roads were designed to further the length of the Empire’s reach, giving the Legions a solid marching surface. But they also facilitated the rapid movement of goods across a teeming empire. The steam engine revolutionized industry worldwide and territorial expansion in the U.S. But it also changed the ways wars were fought, providing the first true strategic lift capabilities. War could now be fought across a continent in days and weeks, rather than months. Flight shrank the world, while adding an entirely new domain to warfare. Technology follows the money; war follows technology.
So what of 5G internet? Internet so fast that industries will change their base of operation in order to get that edge on the market. As we have already seen, the internet has changed how people and nations operate. As Peter Singer lays out in his book Like War, social media has become an extension of the battlefield. But we have yet to see the wars that typically follow the extension of a new technology. We have not seen the massive struggle for resources between nation states. And while we have begun to see the mass migration of peoples, we have not witnessed one nation pushing out another based on their desire for high speed internet.
If 5G internet is the gateway that turbocharges the information superhighway, then nation states will race to control it. In fact, they already are. China is emerging as the dominant force in this technological struggle – and is not even bothering to hide its intentions to use their control of this resource to further their state objectives. The South China Sea is but a mere potshot compared to the massive confrontation that is brewing over Chinese controlled 5G access.
What this war will look like, I’ve no idea. It might be confined to economic warfare, as we see now with embargoes and tariffs. It might extend into state-sponsored acts of violence. Or, if nations attempt to influence others based on the control of this technological resource, we might see outright war. One thing is certain: history provides a pattern, and in it, we can see the near certainty for future conflict.