Economies of militarism: making the links

IssueMarch - May 2001
Comment by Ippy D

We spent time attempting to pin down exactly what we would focus on, and in the end rejected creating an issue which focuses on globalisation however topical. Instead, while acknowledging the context provided by the ease with which capital, goods and services have been enabled to flow around the world, we decided that what we were really doing was creating an issue which would look at the economies of militarism.

To this end, PN 2442 has tried to focus on four distinct areas:

  • The protection and development of economic interests by state militaries, paramilitaries and private armies;
  • The relationship between big business and government spending on defence contracts;
  • The economies developed by military occupation and intervention;
  • The impact capitalism has on post-war economies.


What's inside?

As an introduction to the theme, Chris Ney provides us with some excellent background on the evolution of the dominant economic system and of the role of the movement for economic justice. He goes on to argue that the traditions of nonviolence may also be the source of some of the solutions to the current problem of global greed and exploitation.. The arms trade is perhaps the most obvious economy of militarism, and in an investigation into South Africa's murky arms for oil deal, Terry Crawford-Browne has unearthed a devilishly complex scandal which threatens to tarnish the SA governments image as the peaceful rainbow nation. Browne exposes the links between governments and big business, perhaps confirming Steve Staples (Chair of International Network on Disarmament and Globalization) assertion that governments are being encouraged into military spending by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT the agreement which is the rulebook of the World Trade Organisation (WTO)) which makes trade relating to national security exempt from the free-market rules. This exemption allows states to behave in a protectionist manner in relation to military spending and makes the arms trade a reliable source of job creation.

The earth is not for sale!

Bolivian activist Oscar Olivera talks about the impact of people power at street level, fighting IMF-inspired water privatisation plans; confronting political and economic realities under martial law. His presence at the Seattle protests inspired and encouraged many activists, though according to Sara Grusky, from the Globalization Challenge Initiative (email, A random review of IMF loan policies in forty countries reveals that, during 2000, IMF loan agreements in 12 countries included conditions imposing water privatisation.[...] Ironically, the majority of these loans were negotiated under the IMF's new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF).”

And its not just water. In the modern world everything can be bought and sold. This has always been true of the one thing we all have our bodies. In her article on the commodification of women in military intervention/occupation scenarios, Sian Jones looks at the economic realities for women in their relationships with peacekeepers and aid workers.

But what happens after war, intervention, or occupation? The IMF and World Bank are both keen to jump in and help construct post-war economies (both being part of the three-way post-WWII economic control system devised at Bretton Woods) and have been doing so since their inception. However, the issue of economic reform, dressed up as economic justice, has become an overt component of recent peace deals. In his article examining post-war Croatia, Drazen Simlesa reveals how state utilities companies have been sold off in exchange for the hope of political leverage. And how the inequalities which are developing in the economically liberated state combined with resentment towards the occupation by foreign companies, is threatening to polarise a population which knows only too well the momentum of mass nationalism and hatred.

Re-inventing the wheel?

We know that war, and fear of war, are good for business, that government and industry is corrupt, and that the accumulation of capital can only be achieved by paying workers less than their labour is worth. These are hardly new ideas though they may be presented as such.

Many activists and campaigners who identify as being part of the international peace movement are highly cognisant of these ideas and are as cynical as the next masked-up cliché chucking rocks at NikeTown. So why is the peace movement at least in Europe failing to ride the current wave of energy and action? Is it a reflection of a tired movement, or are we shy of coming out and finding space for dialogue and action with anti-capitalist activists? The peace movement has a long and generally honourable record of fighting imperialism and economic injustice and we should be confident of placing ourselves and our concerns within the overall grassroots response to the perception that capitalism is out of control. In the same way that many identifiably Socialist groups must be inwardly saying we have been going on about this for years, the peace movement, perhaps for different reasons, should not just be thinking this but acting on it.

We have been particularly pleased to work on this issue with the War Resisters League in the US who have recently published a booklet on militarism and globalisation, and gratefully acknowledge use of portions of their material in this issue of Peace News. Thanks also go to Steve Staples from the International Network on Disarmament and Globalisation (see p32-33) for all his advice and input to this issue.

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