Peace on Earth
and Big Macs to all men
by James Langton
No country with a McDonald's outlet has ever gone to war with another - James
Langton in New York investigates the intriguing implications of the thesis that
has caught America's imagination.
IN THE season of goodwill to all men, a new recipe for world peace has been
found: Big Mac, large fries and a chocolate milkshake.
New research in America has uncovered a previously unrecognised fact of
diplomacy: no country with a McDonald's has ever gone to war with another.
The 40-year-old burger chain, founded by Ray Kroc, last week extended its
international chain to Belarus and Tahiti, the 100th and 101st members of the
united nations of McDonald's. The spread of burger imperialism since the late
Sixties has apparently also heralded an unprecedented era of love and harmony
wherever fries are frying.
McDonald's quietly confirms what is being dubbed the "Golden Arches Theory of
Conflict Prevention". Its most remarkable achievement has been in the Middle
East, with the opening of a kosher restaurant in Israel in 1993. There are now
18 branches in Egypt, with the chain shortly extending to Jordan. The McDonald's
in Saudi Arabia closes five times a day for Muslim prayer.
The theory has been tested by McDonald's international division at its world
headquarters in Illinois. Researchers at the "McDonald's University" last week
confirmed the thesis, first conceived by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times.
The McDonald's family of nations extended to Canada in 1967, and has since
spread across the world, with more than 15,000 branches. It includes such
traditional enemies as France and Germany, China and Japan, Greece and Turkey
and Russia and most of eastern Europe, including Poland, Hungary and the Czech
Republic, and Dublin and Belfast.
The closest the theory has come to being challenged is the Falklands war in
1982. McDonald's has been operating in Britain since 1974, but did not open in
Argentina until November 1986, when the country's return to democracy was more
significant than the quality of its beef.
Friedman's thesis proposes that: "When a country reaches a certain level of
economic development, when it has a middle class big enough to support a
McDonald's, it becomes a McDonald's country. And people in McDonald's countries
don't like to fight wars. They like to wait in line for burgers."
According to James Cantalupo, the 52-year-old president of McDonald's
International, McDonald's is a "symbol ... of international maturity". He
claims: "I don't think that there is a country out there we haven't gotten
inquiries from. I have a parade of ambassadors and trade representatives in here
regularly to tell us about their country and why McDonald's would be good for
McDonald's international division is now the biggest part of the company. Its
annual sales of more than $4 billion are greater than the gross domestic product
of many third-world nations. Cantalupo says McDonald's chooses to put its money
into what he calls "the more well developed economies - those which are growing
and those that are large". The risks in other countries are, he says, "probably
getting too great".
A number of international relations experts have warned that if the company
continues to expand at its present rate, war may yet be inevitable. Francis
Fukuyama, author of The End of History, says he would "not be surprised if, in
the next 10 years, several of these McDonald's nations go to war with each
Contrary to the company's view, Fukuyama believes that the average income in
many countries where there are branches of the burger chain is probably too low
to guarantee economic and political stability.
Friedman describes this as the "tip-over" point, "at which a country, by
integrating with the global economy, opening itself up to foreign investment and
empowering its consumers, permanently restricts its capacity for troublemaking
and promotes gradual democratisation and widening peace".
What is also significant is the sophistication of McDonald's international
division in recognising that previously warlike groups of nations are ready for
the message of peace, love and a Happy Meal. The Middle East is the most obvious
example where, despite the uncertain atmosphere, the Golden Arches have spread
over an ever-wider area.
Significantly, the company has stayed away from most of the former Yugoslavia.
Its branch in Belgrade was closed by the western economic embargo: McDonald's is
to be found only in Slovenia, which stayed out of the conflict.
The company has entered the South African market, but is wary of much of the
rest of the continent. Civil wars are excluded from the theory, but even in the
former Soviet Union its record is unblemished. During the attempted coup against
Boris Yeltsin in 1993, the Moscow McDonald's nourished combatants from both
Those outside the McDonald's family, on the other hand, are dealt with
ruthlessly, most noticeably by the United States. Vietnam, Iraq, Cambodia and
Somalia are all Big Mac-free zones.
The great diplomatic question for the 21st century may yet be how to pacify
countries who have found a seat at the United Nations, but are not yet regarded
as "advanced" enough to be suitable for a branch of McDonald's.
Friedman worries that there will be a backlash from poorer nations unable to
benefit from the globalisation of the world economy. "They may feel that their
traditional culture will be steamrollered by it and fear that they won't eat the
Big Mac, the Big Mac will eat them."
British diplomats reacted sniffily to the McDonalds' theory. In the manner of
former Chinese foreign minister Chou En-lai, who famously commented that it was
"too early to tell" the historic impact of the French Revolution, Sir Nico
Henderson, former Ambassador to Washington, commented: "It is rather short a
timescale to measure the efficacy of food as a peacemaker."
Tristan Garel-Jones, a former Foreign Office minister, was intrigued by the
theory. "On the one hand, it is a pretty fair general proposition that one
shouldn't visit countries that don't have a McDonald's, on the ground that they
are unlikely to meet minimum standards of hygiene and food safety," he
"On the other hand, that could be said to be taking the EC's desire for
harmonisation to its logical conclusion - the thing tastes the same wherever you
are. Whether that is desirable is a matter of opinion."
The biggest test for Pax McDonald's is likely to come from the East. India
opened its first - beef-free - McDonald's in October, but its arch-enemy
Pakistan is still outside the fold. The arrival of McDonald's in China may be
the best hope for the region - or the most signal failure of the Golden Arches
The good news, however, is that - for the present - relations between Andorra
and Hong Kong, Sweden and El Salvador, and Iceland and New Zealand, have never
... except in the courts
The defendants in Britain's longest libel case are sceptical,
says Greg Neale
MCDONALD'S nations may not make war on other McDonald's nations, but the company
can still provoke strong emotions. As the burger firm goes from strength to
strength commercially, it has at the same time become a symbol that prompts
In Britain, McDonald's has gone into the record books for bringing a libel suit
which has become the longest-ever court case in the country.
"No country with a McDonald's goes to war with another country that has one?
Mmmm ... maybe it's because they've nothing worthwhile to fight about." Dave
Morris, who, with his fellow "McLibel Two" campaigner Helen Steel, is defending
the court case, was gently sarcastic yesterday.
For 313 days, and without the benefit of legal aid, Morris and Steel have been
defending themselves in the High Court against McDonald's 1990 claims that they
had libelled the company with a pamphlet claiming it was selling unhealthy food,
causing environmental destruction in the Third World and exploiting low-paid
On Friday the last speech ended: Mr Justice Bell is not expected to deliver his
judgment before Easter.
Morris and Steel both insisted yesterday that they believed the court case has
illustrated the company's failings and inconsistencies.
"The statistics tell their own story, from the estimated 500,000 tonnes of waste
packaging to the more than 200,000 million chickens killed each year for
McDonald's products," Morris said. "I feel exhausted, but exhilarated, by what
we have managed to make public in court."
McDonald's, which is believed to have spent several million pounds in legal
fees, insists that it brought the case to protect its reputation. Morris and
Steel argue that the company is using its financial muscle to stifle legitimate
Certainly, the trial has not helped McDonald's public relations. In one
exchange, a company medical expert was read the statement, "a diet high in fat,
sugar, animal products and salt, and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals, is
linked with cancer of the breast and bowel and heart diseases".
Agreeing that this was a reasonable claim, he was then told it was an extract
from the allegedly libellous pamphlet.
But over and above the arguments of how McDonald's treats the environment or its
workers, or the healthiness or otherwise of its products, the impression
survives that the emotions the company provokes are also about something else.
For political radicals such as Helen Steel, "it is about the way a
multi-national company can exploit people and the environment in pursuit of
profit. There has to be a better way of organising societies." For
conservatives, it is arguably the ubiquity of the Golden Arches symbol which
McDonald's has prospered while promoting a homogenous image around the world.
Perhaps it is that which rankles with people who want to preserve something more
distinct, more local, more their own.
Swiss bank on the burger
By GREG NEALE
BY ANY standards, McDonald's is a commercial success - the Union Bank of
Switzerland has even used its most famous product to compile a "Big Mac Index"
of international purchasing power (it takes 14 minutes average paid work in
Chicago to buy one, but 11 hours in Lagos, Nigeria).
The company's history is littered with such statistics:
In 1954, Ray Kroc became the first franchisee appointed by brothers Mac and Dick
McDonald in San Bernadino, California. The next year he opened his first
restaurant, in Des Plaines, Illinois, near Chicago.
By 1959, the were 100 McDonald's restaurants. Today there are more than 19,000,
in 101 countries. (Ray Kroc bought all rights to the McDonald's concept from the
brothers in 1963 for $2.7 million. He died, a somewhat richer man, in 1984.)
The first McDonald's restaurant in Britain opened in Woolwich, south-east
London, in 1974. Now there are 742 - the most recent opened its doors in
Chingford, Essex, last Monday, and more are planned.
Each day the company sells its food to some 35 million customers around the
world - 1.5 million in Britain.
McDonald's began operating in Moscow in 1990; the next year in Beijing.
In 1992, it opened its first restaurant in a European hospital - Guy's, in
The company launched its first sea-going restaurant on board the ferry Silja
Europa, sailing between Stockholm and Helsinki in 1993.
McDonald's has since taken to the air - earlier this year it began a joint
package tour service with Crossair, a subsidiary of Swissair, operating an MD-81
with the familiar twin arches on the tail.
In September, McDonald's complained that Mary Blair, who runs a sanddich bar in
Buckinghamshire called "McMunchies", had infringed their copyright. The Daily
Telegraph urged tandoori restaurants and pizza parlours to adopt the "Mc"
Earlier this month, McDonald's suffered a court reverse. Denmark's Supreme Court
ruled that Allan Pederson, who runs a frankfurter stall in Silkeborg, did not
infringe its copyright when he named his stall "McAllan's" - after his favourite