Global conflicts and militarization: an overview

In 2009, countries have reached perilous new levels of conflict, tension and military spending characterised by nuclear proliferation, ideological warfare and pre-emptive invasions of sovereign nations. As news reports highlight an intensifying competition over natural resources, the international community is faced with a stark choice - to share resources and cooperate, or to continue on the path to further warfare. Below is a brief overview, some key facts and further resources that relate to global conlicts and militarization.

Content


Overview 

Since George W. Bush told the United Nations that you are either "with us or against us in this fight against terrorists," the post-9/11 world has entered an uncharted era of conflict and tension.  The reality of war may well parallel the history of human civilization, but in an age of global military dominance, indefinite reliance on nuclear weapons and the threat of preemptive wars in the name of security, the future of humanity has never hung so precariously.

Expansion, Power and Resources

Although corporate media coverage obfuscates the deeper causes and reasons for war, many of the core issues are popularly known and debated.  History is in many ways defined by the evolution of mercantilism, colonialism and imperialism, or the ‘plunder by trade' of stronger countries that impelled the conquest of less developed nations.  All empires since the Roman era were based on the expansion of societies through financial, technical, and military superiority in order to control more of the earth's wealth and technology. Less popularly reasoned is the ongoing parallel with today's distribution of world resources.  The unequal trading relationship of resource-poor wealthy nations with resource-rich impoverished nations, characterized by competition over scarce resources and economic dominance through militarization, remains central to an understanding of heightening global warfare.

The main ingredients of global conflict in the modern-day equation involve U.S. imperialism and oil.  As reflected in Alan Greenspan's infamous statement in his memoirs that "the Iraq war is largely about oil", the need for a vigorous U.S. military role in protecting energy assets abroad has been a presiding theme in American foreign policy since 1945.  The United States, who account for 46 percent of the world total on military expenditure, services well over 700 military bases abroad at a cost of at least $127 billion annually, a sum larger than the gross domestic product of most countries.  Since 1990 and the ending of the Cold War, however, almost every major government has assigned a greater strategic significance to national economic security.  The result, in the words of Professor Michael T. Klare, is the "economization of internal security affairs", and a global landscape in which competition over vital resources is becoming "the governing principle behind the disposition and use of military power."

The Military-Industrial Complex

It was President Eisenhower, in his final address to the nation in 1961, who coined the phrase ‘military-industrial complex' to forewarn of an overbearing relationship between the economy, big business and war. Some commentators now use the expression ‘military-industrial-congressional complex' to reference the interplay of large military corporations and politics in the phenomenal war machine of America, and even if no serious economist would hold the view that war is good for the economy, the U.S. is tellingly the largest military producer, spender, employer, and the leading exporter of arms to the developing world.  This corporate dimension to conflict in the twenty-first century is fundamentally different to wars fought before the ending of the Cold War, leading to an invisible yet powerful bastion of commercial forces who now dominate the policies of major governments - in particular the G8 - and push society towards increased foreign aggression and military adventurism.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 is the preeminent example of corporate involvement in war.  Within months, private military contractors penetrated western warfare so deeply that they became the second biggest contributor to coalition forces after the Pentagon.  The private sector, often involved in the most controversial aspects of warfare such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, is now deemed indispensable to U.S. military might.  Another causal factor essential to resource control and hegemony is consistently refuted by government leaders and spokesmen - namely the opening of new markets to foreign-owned multinational companies, what the journalist Naomi Klein described as straight-forward "economic colonization".  Iraq has been treated as a blank slate on which "the most ideological Washington neoliberals can design their dream economy," she wrote: "fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business."

The Economics of War

Economic globalization and neoliberal theory is therefore a final and presiding ideological factor in today's most serious conflicts.  With governments now openly viewing economic and security interests as "inextricably linked", the strongest economies are forced to continually expand and generate the products required to maintain competitiveness in global markets.  A steady and reliable flow of vital resources is central to this process, leading to increased competition over natural wealth and the inevitable prospect of further tension and increased militarization.

The growing gulf between rich and poor in both developed and developing nations (a phenomenon largely ascribed to economic globalization), with the average purchasing power of the bottom 10 percent of Americans remaining higher than two-thirds of the rest of the world's population, is arguably a decisive reason for the growth in demagogues, fundamentalists and extremists who threaten mass terrorism in developed countries.  Add to this mix the volatile international relations caused by the so-called ‘Bush doctrine' or self-justification for war whenever the President chooses, and the geo-politics of the new millennium foreshadows a grave threat to human civilization.

The Cost of War

The reality of global conflicts, currently estimated at 42 major struggles including 4 major wars, highlights the impasse of the world situation more than any other.  The human costs of war, with the needless deaths of half a million people each year and the forced migration of untold thousands, likewise forbids any gainsaying.  Skewed world priorities are also widely cited and reported, such as the 54 percent of the U.S. budget allocated to defense, for example, compared to 6.2 percent for education and 5.3 percent for healthcare, or the fact that $40 bn could eliminate most forms of poverty in the world - a figure representing 5 percent of the money spent on arms each year.

But the unanswered questions demand an allied governmental enquiry into the structural arrangements necessary to redesign a grossly unequal world, and the form of international institutions required to distribute resources more equally, thereby acknowledging the underlying cause of major conflict.  Almost any war, armed struggle or sectarian clash can be traced to its economic roots.  The choice facing humanity in the twenty-first century is thus the denouement of an imperial and warring past: to continue along the road of intensified resource competition, leading to an inevitable global war, or to share world resources in a cooperative fashion that secures universal basic needs, lessens international tension, and engenders greater trust between nations.


Key facts

Since George W. Bush told the United Nations that you are either "with us or against us in this fight against terrorists," the post-9/11 world has entered an uncharted era of conflict and tension.  The reality of war may well parallel the history of human civilization, but in an age of global military dominance, indefinite reliance on nuclear weapons and the threat of preemptive wars in the name of security, the future of humanity has never hung so precariously.

Expansion, Power and Resources

Although corporate media coverage obfuscates the deeper causes and reasons for war, many of the core issues are popularly known and debated.  History is in many ways defined by the evolution of mercantilism, colonialism and imperialism, or the ‘plunder by trade' of stronger countries that impelled the conquest of less developed nations.  All empires since the Roman era were based on the expansion of societies through financial, technical, and military superiority in order to control more of the earth's wealth and technology. Less popularly reasoned is the ongoing parallel with today's distribution of world resources.  The unequal trading relationship of resource-poor wealthy nations with resource-rich impoverished nations, characterized by competition over scarce resources and economic dominance through militarization, remains central to an understanding of heightening global warfare.

The main ingredients of global conflict in the modern-day equation involve U.S. imperialism and oil.  As reflected in Alan Greenspan's infamous statement in his memoirs that "the Iraq war is largely about oil", the need for a vigorous U.S. military role in protecting energy assets abroad has been a presiding theme in American foreign policy since 1945.  The United States, who account for 46 percent of the world total on military expenditure, services well over 700 military bases abroad at a cost of at least $127 billion annually, a sum larger than the gross domestic product of most countries.  Since 1990 and the ending of the Cold War, however, almost every major government has assigned a greater strategic significance to national economic security.  The result, in the words of Professor Michael T. Klare, is the "economization of internal security affairs", and a global landscape in which competition over vital resources is becoming "the governing principle behind the disposition and use of military power."

The Military-Industrial Complex

It was President Eisenhower, in his final address to the nation in 1961, who coined the phrase ‘military-industrial complex' to forewarn of an overbearing relationship between the economy, big business and war. Some commentators now use the expression ‘military-industrial-congressional complex' to reference the interplay of large military corporations and politics in the phenomenal war machine of America, and even if no serious economist would hold the view that war is good for the economy, the U.S. is tellingly the largest military producer, spender, employer, and the leading exporter of arms to the developing world.  This corporate dimension to conflict in the twenty-first century is fundamentally different to wars fought before the ending of the Cold War, leading to an invisible yet powerful bastion of commercial forces who now dominate the policies of major governments - in particular the G8 - and push society towards increased foreign aggression and military adventurism.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 is the preeminent example of corporate involvement in war.  Within months, private military contractors penetrated western warfare so deeply that they became the second biggest contributor to coalition forces after the Pentagon.  The private sector, often involved in the most controversial aspects of warfare such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, is now deemed indispensable to U.S. military might.  Another causal factor essential to resource control and hegemony is consistently refuted by government leaders and spokesmen - namely the opening of new markets to foreign-owned multinational companies, what the journalist Naomi Klein described as straight-forward "economic colonization".  Iraq has been treated as a blank slate on which "the most ideological Washington neoliberals can design their dream economy," she wrote: "fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business."

The Economics of War

Economic globalization and neoliberal theory is therefore a final and presiding ideological factor in today's most serious conflicts.  With governments now openly viewing economic and security interests as "inextricably linked", the strongest economies are forced to continually expand and generate the products required to maintain competitiveness in global markets.  A steady and reliable flow of vital resources is central to this process, leading to increased competition over natural wealth and the inevitable prospect of further tension and increased militarization.

The growing gulf between rich and poor in both developed and developing nations (a phenomenon largely ascribed to economic globalization), with the average purchasing power of the bottom 10 percent of Americans remaining higher than two-thirds of the rest of the world's population, is arguably a decisive reason for the growth in demagogues, fundamentalists and extremists who threaten mass terrorism in developed countries.  Add to this mix the volatile international relations caused by the so-called ‘Bush doctrine' or self-justification for war whenever the President chooses, and the geo-politics of the new millennium foreshadows a grave threat to human civilization.

The Cost of War

The reality of global conflicts, currently estimated at 42 major struggles including 4 major wars, highlights the impasse of the world situation more than any other.  The human costs of war, with the needless deaths of half a million people each year and the forced migration of untold thousands, likewise forbids any gainsaying.  Skewed world priorities are also widely cited and reported, such as the 54 percent of the U.S. budget allocated to defense, for example, compared to 6.2 percent for education and 5.3 percent for healthcare, or the fact that $40 bn could eliminate most forms of poverty in the world - a figure representing 5 percent of the money spent on arms each year.

But the unanswered questions demand an allied governmental enquiry into the structural arrangements necessary to redesign a grossly unequal world, and the form of international institutions required to distribute resources more equally, thereby acknowledging the underlying cause of major conflict.  Almost any war, armed struggle or sectarian clash can be traced to its economic roots.  The choice facing humanity in the twenty-first century is thus the denouement of an imperial and warring past: to continue along the road of intensified resource competition, leading to an inevitable global war, or to share world resources in a cooperative fashion that secures universal basic needs, lessens international tension, and engenders greater trust between nations. 


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