The McDonald’s theory of conflict prevention: peace through franchising

North Korea and Iran have it all wrong. Their goal is to prevent U.S. invasion by having nuclear weapons, since the United States has never invaded a nuclear power. Since the United States has, in the last 40 years, invaded about 36 non-nuclear powers, the concern is rational for those identified as part of the axis of evil.

The problem is that having nuclear weapons is really expensive, and creates hazards for the citizenry. My modest proposal, drawing on Thomas Friedman’s research, is that Iran and North Korea focus their defense spending on opening McDonald’s franchises instead of building nuclear weapons.

Countries with a McDonald’s franchise don’t invade each other, as a rule. India and Pakistan pose a distinction if one gets into details about Kashmir, where the boundaries are in dispute. The U.S. intervention in Panama in 1989 could be an exception, and the Israel-Lebanon activities another, but the principle holds true otherwise.

Democracy is great, but wouldn’t we be better off spreading McDonald’s franchises around the world? Think of the cost savings on defense.

What is it about McDonald’s that creates peace? The simple answer is that a country that has stabilized to the point where someone is willing to invest close to a million dollars per store in a franchise operation is very unlikely to be a threat to its neighbors, or have neighbors who are a threat to it. McDonald’s restaurants are owned by the mother corporation, or by individual franchisees. Neither one is interested in seeing riots, corruption nor banditry destroy their investment. American towns and other countries have to earn their McDonald’s.

I was living in Indonesia when the U.S. decided to bomb Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks. The McDonald’s franchisee in my city spared no expense to show it was Indonesian company, not an American one. The restaurant was awash in Muslim green, with life-size photos of the owner in obviously Muslim garb welcoming customers. The strategy worked, but the problem indicates how close to the edge franchisees are willing to travel. Sri Lanka will have to wait for its McDonald’s, as will many former Soviet satellites. McDonald’s operates in 122 countries. The United Nations has 192 member states. That leaves 70 states open to attack, and is a good predictor of how those with capital view those countries.

I was at the McDonald’s in Moscow in 1993 when the Communist party decided to make its last stand. When the crowd in the open area in front of the world’s busiest McDonald’s began to challenge the phalanx of riot police, my group headed for the subway. Shortly thereafter people began dying, and it was several days before order was restored. How interesting that such an event began at a McDonald’s, and was decisively put down. Countries with a McDonald’s value order. In this case it included mobile artillery attacking the parliament building, where the leaders were holed up, gutting the building. A large crowd enjoyed the show. I waited until the next day to see the building surrounded by victorious troops.

The economic and political climate that draws McDonald’s franchisees is one that speaks of order, and the existence of a McDonald’s in a country is an excellent indicator of social order. Where order is absent, chaos reigns and profit does not emerge. Where order spreads, McDonald’s is not far behind. It is too bad that the existence of a McDonald’s is a symptom of social order rather than the cause of it. Joan Kroc, the first lady of McDonald’s, gave a substantial portion of her fortune to peace institutes. She saw the need to move from being an effect of peace to being a cause of peace. We can only wish that vision well. When Hamburger University learns to cause peace rather than feed off of it, the world will be a better place.

Duane Ruth-Heffelbower is a member of the School of Business faculty and the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University, where he directs the graduate academic programs in peacemaking. He has worked with thousands of people around the world to promote peace and manage conflict.