Arms Bazar

With global military expenditure reaching record highs in 2021, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is increasingly clear that the military industrial complex is once more moving into the position of what Dwight Eisenhower termed ‘unwarranted influence’.

Across the world, militarism (and the mountains of money this entails) is again on the rise. The United States has already provided billions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine since the war began. Germany has rapidly increased defence spending in response to Putin’s war and there are increasingly loud calls from Scandinavian countries to join NATO.

Behind this state expenditure are, of course, the lobbying efforts of the industry’s most powerful corporate players. It was reported that in 2020 alone, five US corporations–Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grunman, Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics–spent $60 million pressuring politicians in the US. Yet this corporate power does not fully explain the military industrial complex’s sustained grip on political and economic life.The manufacturing corporations, inevitably, pursue profit. And they have created a share market boom. America controls more than 30 percent of the global arms trade while Russia is not far behind–it controls 20 percent of global arms sales. With the Ukraine war prolonging new players have entered the market. China apart even tiny North Korea is now supplying missiles to Russia that finds it difficult to get rid of the quagmire called ‘special military operations’ against Ukraine. And now Iran has come in a big way to supply its effective Saheed-136 Drones to Russia. In Europe all the major NATO players–France, Britain and Germany–have stepped up defence production. It is war economy everywhere while CoP-27 that began on November 6 in Egypt gets less focus. For one thing the Ukraine war has set back green house gas emission targets across the globe spiraling inflation and cost of living and making lives miserarable in the so-called developed and underdeveloped countries.

The intelligence services, think tanks, university departments and private companies all have a role to play. Trade unions, concerned with defending members’ jobs, have also contributed to a sustained militarism. Workers engaged in defence industries throughout the world never protest against war and it is a tragedy!

In the economically important area of arms sales, embassies provide local contacts, with diplomats and defence attachés lubricating sales processes wherever they can. Corporations also maintain very close links with the civil service, with second-ments of personnel, principally from the former to the latter. The same is the case with uniformed military staff, except that transit from the military to corporations is most common.

Private military companies have become much more useful in the post-9/11 world, and they rely heavily on former military personnel, especially Special Forces.

Revolving doors between sectors are especially useful in cementing relationships. Former military and civil servants gravitate to think tanks and university departments, and senior military and civil servants approaching retirement are much in demand by the arms corporations. Retainers, consultancies and even seats on boards are delightful carrots, especially with the early retirement ages and lack of bonuses in the public sector. Politicians, too, (both serving and retired) benefit from the revolving door, with people from both major parties grasping the opportunities.

The nature of political culture regarding security has also been important in sustaining the military industrial complex. That culture privileges national security as the prime imperative to which other needs should be subordinated. It scarcely recognises security as a common right. National interests are defined by the political establishment, including corporate business interests, with the narrative typically dominated by a small and exclusive elite, to the exclusion of other voices. There is often a strong theme of national status with a premium on making Britain (or the US, France, Turkey, India) great again.

The overall culture, driven as it is by profit, is essentially short-term and concentrates on military threats, overlooking outstanding fundamental challenges such as climate breakdown and severe socio-economic inequality. In this culture the overall intention is to have control over the strategic environment primarily through offensive military capabilities and alliances.

The sheer concentration of power and influence that resides in the military industrial complex has to be dismantled if progressives are going to succeed in encouraging new approaches relevant to global human needs. But it is a tall order. Communist and socialist parties are so weak and ideologically bewildered that the possibility of an international peace movement seems next to impossible. Only silver-lining is that there are some strong campaigning groups and individual scholars that throw light on the nature of the security complex, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade being one example. In times of crisis, such as these, it is imperative to think beyond the status quo and replace the institutions that got people across the world here. In the case of the military industrial complex, there is an irrefutable argument to rethink the entire system.


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Vol 55, No. 21, Nov 20 - 26, 2022