Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hurray for the "War on Terror"

In this post, I have conciously tried to be dispassionate. A lot of this will be old news to many people. I apologise if you are one of those people. I feel it needs to be said.

An accusation often leveled at those who oppose the "war on terror" is that we deny that a problem exists. It's a classic straw man argument. No sensible person denies that there is a threat from terrorist extremists. I've seen the images from New York and Bali and Madrid and London. They were horrible violent attacks on innocent civilians and there may well be more to come. A problem exists. No-one can sensibly deny it.
Another accusation is that we somehow support the terrorists by opposing the "war on terror". Again, a straw man argument. The last thing I want is for another attack to take place, or for one more innocent person to die. In fact, that's one of the reasons I started writing this blog. The threat exists and I believe that the policies of the US and the UK are magnifying that threat. That's why it is so important to have an honest and informed debate about the right way to respond to these threats. It's also why it's important to understand the following about how policy is currently shaped.

The Military Industrial Complex
Don't panic right wingers, there'll be no need for a TinFoil Hat. In it's simplest terms there is a parallel which illustrates the basic point I want to make. What's more, it is, to a large extent, an accepted right wing theory. It goes like this:
The public sector is inefficient. It creates it's own work. It constantly demands more resources than it actually needs. Jobs are created which are completely unnecessary. The incentives for efficiency are not strong. The academics will always need more money for "vital research" (climate change is all about this apparently), the civil service will always need more civil servants, and so on.*
Miltary organisations do this. The military is a public sector organization. There are many private compainies involved but the bills are almost exclusively paid by national governments. The US military is the master performer. In my time at University in the mid 90's, a course coordinator (and not a loony left one) told my tutorial group about a meeting he'd had with US military strategists. A General had quite candidly admitted that during the Cold War the US military had two sets of figures estimating the strength of the Soviet military. The first set, the real best guess figures, were for the top brass and the planners. The second set, the exaggerated figures, were for Congress. It was a case of "look how powerful the Soviets are. The US is under threat. Our budgets must be increased immediately". I can't find any links to back up this statement (research was never my strong point) but I've no reason to believe it isn't true. It fits nicely with the job creation theory.

Here's a warning from history on the subject:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
That's right, that well known looney leftie Dwight D. Eisenhower. This was, of course, during the Cold War.

When the Cold War ended,the M.I.C. could no longer use the Soviet boogeyman to scare Congress into increasing military spending. US military spending fell slightly in the mid to late 90's. There were many calls from inside the US for more dramatic cuts to be enforced. Here's an example from the Clinton era:
Why the Cold War budget without the Cold War.

For the military, and the companies who supply them, the Cold War began to be thought of as a "golden age" of almost limitless funding. It seemed that they'd never see the like again.

But now they have. And it's all because of the "war on terror".
According to the 2005 yearbook published by Sipri, a well-respected think-tank on war and peace studies, the total spending on weapons in 2004 grew 8% to $1.035 trillion - the highest dollar value yet [global figures]. Adjusted for inflation, the figure falls just 6% below the all-time peak of spending in 1987-88, the last gasp of the Cold War...
The US alone accounted for 47% of the global total, mainly because of soaring spending on its "global war on terror".
BBC News
Just to be clear, I'm not absolutely not saying that the US military intentionally created the terrorist attacks we have seen. What I am saying is that there is an incentive to exaggerate the size of the threat and, crucially, increase the size of the military response. Think tanks such as the Project For a New American Century had been looking for a replacement for the Soviet threat and the terrorists delivered. For the M.I.C., the "war on terror" has all the best features of a second cold war:
  • It's prolonged.
  • It will not involve fighting a full "hot war". (You can't see the US invading North Korea or China for example).
  • There is a boogeyman to show Congress.
  • There is actually relatively little danger for US citizens.
What's more, the Bush administration's ability to resist pressure from the military industrial complex has been compromised by the extraordinary number of connections it has to the M.I.C. Right wing think tanks such as the PNAC (mentioned above), the Centre for Security Policy, and the National Institute for Public Policy are hugely influential. Have a look at the lists of names in these organizations. The revolving door is spinning like there's no tomorrow.

It seems that the Bush administration has chosen not to heed Eisenhower's warning. The threat is real, but it's being manipulated and exaggerated by those with an incentive to do just that. Sensible strategies have been sidelined in favour of hugely expensive, but misguided, military activities. In the end, the disproportionate military actions we have seen in the "war on terror", particularly in Iraq but elsewhere too, are driven by a strange breed of civil servant creating yet more jobs for the boys.

*I would argue that this is often a structural/management problem rather than ownership problem but that's a whole other argument.

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