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The Golden Arches Go to War

With its war on Ukraine, Russia has provided further evidence that commercial ties alone are not enough to prevent war. But, far from implying that the world should abandon engagement, the war highlights the need for deeper political and social bonds.

WASHINGTON, DC/NEW HAVEN – In the wake of the Cold War, as globalization gathered speed, Thomas Friedman observed that no two countries with a McDonald’s franchise had ever gone to war with each other. This led him to what he called the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention: when a country reaches a certain level of economic development – one where the middle class is big enough to support a McDonald’s – its people lose interest in fighting wars. The key to peace, the logic went, may well lie in economic development and interconnectedness.

It was not long before Russia disproved Friedman’s theory – first with its 2008 invasion of Georgia, and again with its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Now, Russia has launched an all-out military campaign aimed at conquering Ukraine and returning its lands and people to “Mother Russia.” Economic ties alone, it seems clear, are not enough to preserve peace.

Many now view economic engagement as a liability. After all, countries like Germany and Italy, with their heavy dependence on Russian energy, are effectively hostages to the Kremlin’s militarism. Severing trade and commercial ties with Russia is now the order of the day. Russia has even ceased to be a “McDonald’s country”: the company announced in March that it was closing all 850 of its franchises in the country.