In his farewell speech in 1961, US President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the dangers posed by the US military-industrial complex, by which he meant coalitions between producers and sellers of military equipment and politicians. Are we suffering because of what has been called "military capitalism?"
Dr. Binoy Kampmark, Senior Lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at the RMIT University Melbourne and Dr. Abigail Hall, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Tampa, Florida discuss these issues.
Dr. Hall starts off the program by assessing the vast scale of US military spending, which is in the “billions of dollars on an annual basis.” This equates to 3.6% of GDP in 2016, whilst NATO’s spending averages at about 2.4% of GDP per country. So “a lot of assets are tied to military spending in one way or the other.” Dr. Kampmark reflects that Dwight Eisenhower was talking about a development that has taken place stretching right back to even before the Second World War. “For example, there are the discussions revolving around the famous ‘Merchant of Death’ speeches which took place in the 1930s, the arguments made by the North Dakota Senator Gerald Nye, and what was interesting about that was the idea that a country can be so tied to the mechanism of war, so tied to the industrial idea of it…these ideas have been attacked since then, but what is interesting about this is the idea of motivation. Ultimately, it’s the idea of banking alliances, with industrial alliances, and the argument then paved the way for this notion of intervention by virtue of financial interests. It’s an old idea but it is a very common idea, in the broader sense of justifying military use in a broader commercial sense.”
Dr. Hall says that it is difficult to compare previous periods of time regarding how militarized or war hungry various governments are. “I do think that citizens of a variety of different countries are more comfortable now with the idea of militarized forces than they were before.” Dr. Hall brings up the subject of arms trading, which has, she indicates, become a tool of foreign policies. Furthermore, Dr. Hall says that arms trading is not a very effective way of achieving security; it may actually exacerbate existing problems by arming both sides of a potential conflict. There is an argument that sending out arms to people is a way to prevent other people to arm them, but this ignores a lot of fundamental economic insights and primarily it is not solving the fundamental economic problem, which is “how do we produce the most goods with a scarce amount of resources.” We also have to consider the importance to incentives to “political actors” involved, Dr. Hall mentions. Dr. Kampmark mentions in this context that the United States is engaging in what the famous constitutional historian Charles Beepol calls: “Permanent War for Permanent Peace.” Playing the role of the world’s policeman feeds this general mission, as a sort of “Messiah with A Nuclear Weapon.”
Dr. Kampmark makes the point that the ‘terrorist threat’ is being used as a perfect phantom for budgetary relief, to ramp up military spending. He makes the further point that the fabulously expensive weapons systems that the US is procuring such as the F35 program are in fact distractions, for perhaps some of the future conflict will actually be in the form of cyber war and asymmetrical warfare. “You pick a threat and then you make money out of it.” In the context of arms sales, Dr. Hall points out that there are other programs that have had vast cost overruns such as the Global Hawk Drone program which has ended up costing $220 million per unit. The US military has apparently said that they prefer, if given the choice, the U2 spy plane, which is a relic from the Cold War period. So, she says, we are not dealing with a normal market which operates within profit and loss incentives. “We are dealing with the bureaucracy of military and government spending.” Dr. Hall says that the connection between the funding base and the government creates its own means and rationale. “We just have to see how the arms trade treaty works as a kind of bizarre notion, it’s a bit like the heroin trade, the idea is that you have a legalized system of killing but you have decent weapons, decent tanks that all are supposedly regulated between good people who kill each other on a decent basis…some people do see the arms trade having benefits beyond the arms trade, and you do wonder what on earth this means.” Dr. Kampmark refers to a recent Chatham House report which mentions that “a regulated arms trade program is good for vaccination programs, good for welfare, and good for people generally…”
The program finishes with a discussion about the possible militarization of Europe post-Brexit, and both speakers try to calm down the host, John Harrison by saying that things are perhaps not quite as bad they might seem. We shall see.
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