The Military and the Monetary, they get together whenever they think its necessary, they’ve turned our brothers and sisters into mercenaries, they are turning the planet, into a cemetery (Gil Scott-Heron)
BY AZIZ CHOUDRY
Contributed to Bulatlat.com
Vol. VIII, No. 28, August 17-23, 2008
In the late 1990s, well before Bush’s ‘war on terror’, New Zealand TV screened a particularly awful US action drama called ‘Soldier of Fortune Inc.’, about an elite team (composed of former US Marines, Delta Force, CIA, British SAS personnel) who performed ‘unofficial’ covert missions for the US Government. They would get a briefcase full of money from a shadowy military liaison and head to the Middle East, Latin America, Haiti, or the Balkans, or smoke out foreign agents and assorted enemies within the USA, missions for which Washington could claim plausible deniability because none were active duty soldiers. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it to keep ‘US democracy’ safe, for a price. Sounds familiar? Truth is indeed sometimes stranger than fiction, and the onscreen adventures of this squad of special operations and intelligence experts pale into insignificance when held up against reality.
We live and struggle in an era of blatantly militarized capitalism and the violence of capital. War, occupation, national security ideologies and repression of dissent –at home and abroad – make for booming business opportunities the world over. As pro-free market US journalist Thomas Friedman succinctly put it: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist – McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.”
Militarized capitalism: The military-industrial complex in 2008
What is the military-industrial complex in 2008? Where is it? What does it look like? I am not even sure if the phrase, used so famously by former US president Dwight Eisenhower in 1961 is the best descriptor to encompass the many tentacles and facets of the war and security industry and the links and connections between capital and its political allies. Do terms like ‘defence industry’ and ‘arms trade’ adequately encompass the face of today’s war profiteers, whose devastating impacts can equally be found in the high-tech apartheid wall being built by Israel to seal off the West Bank and Gaza, and its Western Hemispheric counterpart on the US-Mexico border, in the computer flight simulation programs provided to US and British military by Canada’s CAE, in private corporate mercenary armies like Blackwater, DynCorp and Aegis in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, in the outsourced intelligence, IT, interrogation and translation services of L-3/Titan, in the massive military aid budgets which the US gives to the governments of Israel, Pakistan, Egypt and Colombia, among others, and in the ‘hearts and minds’ operations of US Special Operations Forces based in the Philippines doing ‘humanitarian work’ – medical, dental and other social services, including infrastructure projects in many remote communities in Mindanao- services which should be the function of a government, as much as it is in weapons production and arms exports.
Like all transnational corporations, these companies enjoy both patronage and revolving door relationships with the highest echelons of governments and their armed forces, tax breaks, support for exports, and all kinds of other incentives which help them to focus firmly on their bottom line – profit. US administrations, regardless of their party allegiance, brim with politicians with investments and business interests in the defence industry and war profiteers, perhaps most vividly symbolized by Dick Cheney’s ties to Halliburton and its multi-billion-dollar contracts to provide construction, hospitality, and other services to the US military after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But it is business as usual for US militarized capitalism. An April 2008 Centre for Responsive Politics report states that US Congress members invested US $196 million of their own money in companies that receive hundreds of millions of dollars a day from Pentagon contracts to provide goods and services to US armed forces, ranging from aircraft and weapons manufacturers to producers of medical supplies and soft drinks. To cite a couple of typical revolving door examples, the General Dynamics board of directors includes an ex-Vice Chief of US Army staff, a former US Air Force General, a former Chief of Naval Operations in the US Navy, and a former Chief of Defence Procurement at the British Ministry of Defence, while Canada’s CAE’s current and former executives include a former Canadian deputy minister for international trade and foreign affairs, and former PM Brian Mulroney’s head of staff.
Hired Guns, Big Bucks, No Rules
Private armies hired by governments and companies are not new. The British East India company hired private mercenaries to fight proxy wars and gain control over India. But the exponential growth, sophistication and globalization of private security industry contractors like Blackwater and DynCorp, both of which derive well over 90% of their business from US government contracts, is striking. If regular soldiers often literally get away with murder, how much more so for private mercenaries given the lack of any oversight of their activities, under no effective regulatory regimes, although they are contracted by governments and paid out of public funds? They operate with impunity and immunity. They recruit and deploy former military and police from around the world, some of them veterans of the most repressive military forces in the world. On their website, Blackwater, whose contract with the US State Department was recently renewed despite outrage at one of many incidents in which their guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad, last September, claim: “We treat others with the highest degree of dignity, equal opportunity and trust. We respect the cultures and beliefs of people around the world”. On the ground, “Blackwater has no respect for the Iraqi people,” an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told a Washington Post reporter in 2007. “They consider Iraqis like animals, although actually I think they may have more respect for animals. We have seen what they do in the streets. When they’re not shooting, they’re throwing water bottles at people and calling them names. If you are terrifying a child or an elderly woman, or you are killing an innocent civilian who is riding in his car, isn’t that terrorism?”
All dollars, no sense
A February 2008 Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation report notes that, adjusted for inflation, the Pentagon budget for fiscal year (FY) 2009 is the largest since World War II – US $ 515.4 billion: more even than during the Vietnam and Korean wars, or the peak of Reagan’s Cold War spending. The US spends more than the next 45 highest spending countries in the world combined, accounts for 48% of the world’s total military spending, 5.8 times more than China, 10.2 times more than Russia, and 98.6 times more than Iran. The same report cites US Office of Management and Budget estimates that total annual funding for the Defense Department alone will grow to $546 billion by FY 2013 – a conservative estimate. Total Pentagon spending, not including funding for the Department of Energy or for actual combat operations for the period FY’09 through FY’13 will reach $2.6 trillion. Last year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated that world military expenditure in 2006 reached US $1204 billion – a 3.5 % increase in real terms since 2005, and a 37% increase over the 10-year period since 1997. In 2006, the 15 countries with the highest spending accounted for 83% of the world total.
While the US military-industrial complex and military spending dwarfs the rest of the world, it has had a multiplier effect on other countries, coupled with its military aid packages and global ‘security’ hysteria. Japan’s government recently announced major military upgrades while South Korea, China, and Russia have all increased military spending. 2008 is a record year for Israeli defence spending. By 2006, four of the world’s 100 top arms production firms were Israeli: Israel Aircraft Industries, Israel Military Industries, Elbit Systems and Rafael. An October 2007 CBC report, based on customs data only on exports specifically for military use, found that between 2000 and 2006, Canada’s arms exports rose 3.5 times, during which time Canada, the world’s sixth-biggest supplier, exported CDN $3.6 billion in military goods. But there is little transparency on arms control, and the true picture of Canadian military exports is hard to track since the federal government has not released annual reports providing detailed information covering the years since 2002 to Parliament. A former subsidiary of Montreal-based SNC Lavalin, SNC Tec, for example, manufactures small arms ammunition for US military (SNC Tec was sold in 2006 to General Dynamics, after antiwar activists highlighted the Canadian corporate connection to bullets fired from US guns in Iraq).