Scott Ritter and the contradictions of militarism

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Wed Jul 9 09:51:27 MDT 2003

"This thrust toward warmaking by the United States threatens not only to
rekindle a global arms race -- including a new nuclear arms race --
but promises to immolate, maim, orphan and widow an ever-widening
circle of human beings in an ever-accelerating cycle of wars."

It is true that one war can spark off another, but the idea that there has
ever been a genuine "pause" in the growth of global weapons production since
1945 is a fallacy, as far as I know, if measured by the investment in,
physical output of, and sales of military hardware (or course a not
insignificant amount of weaponry is traded on the black market, and not
easily statistically verifiable).

What you can say, is (1) that in some countries in some continents, the
armed forces fell apart at times due to economic crisis, social
disintegration and corruption, (2) the economics of producing particular
military hardware have changed, making some cheaper and others more
expensive, and (3) some new military hardware is being produced, whereas
other military hardware has been taken out of use or has been abandoned.
Technically, you can achieve more with less personnel and less equipment
(although the relative costs have gone up).

Thus, anyway, when wellmeaning people campaign e.g. against the use of
landmines, this is certainly worthy of support, but really misses the wood
for the trees. On the whole, there is more weaponry in the world today than
ever before. A large part of modern weaponry is also durable; once you have
produced it, it is able to function well for some decades at least, provided
it is reasonably maintained. Hence the large market in second-hand weapons.

In his work Marxist Economic Theory (Vol. 2), completed in 1960, Ernest
Mandel prophesied an historical dillemma for the "third age" of capitalist
development in the post-world war 2 era: either a welfare state based on
inflation or a warfare state based on recession and slumps (his introduction
to the book "Fifty years of world revolution 1917-1967" is even more
prophetic, considered in hindsight). Since the neo-liberals and
neo-conservatives seek to deflate and demolish the welfare state and
third-world radical nationalism, reducing the state to a caretaker role, we
are moving into an era of the warfare state, because "free markets" do not
guarantee social stability, not even Adam Smith believed that.

I think that only the socialists can in the end resolve that dillemma,
because the bourgeois trick is to slow down the process of capitalist
decline through continually shifting the financial burden and through
increasing social stratification, worldwide, a source of social instability.
As I noted in a previous mail, the possibilities for contracting out credit
facilities are now so sophisticated that there is always another way of
shifting the burden to those who are less well off or weaker than you are.
But since free markets do not guarantee social stability, anymore than
generating morality, you do need military discipline. Markets can discipline
people into a pattern of social behaviour conducive to their survival, but
it cannot discipline them into consumption with money that they do not have.
And if you do shift the burden of credit all the time, then you cannot
ultimately ensure that they will have the money. If they don't have the
money, then market discipline breaks down, and social instability increases.
If nobody had to pay, credit could of course be extended indefinitely. But
somebody does have to pay, maybe not all at once, but they do need to pay,
and those who pay are those who are in the weakest position, socially and
economically. One can try to patch over this problem with a bit of
"relationship engineering" and prostitution of a type which promotes social
cohesion, even so, this does not solve the problem, and the available data
proves it.

Of course, the economics of arms production is not without problems; for
example, here in Holland, 800 million euro of taxpayers money was committed
by selfproclaimed "christians", "social democrats", "Pim Fortuynists" and
"liberals" for the purpose of helping the Americans develop the Joint Strike
Fighter, with the aim of supporting employment in Holland, and with
arguments that the investment would pay itself off (? the Socialist Party
vigorously opposed this, favouring financial prudence apart from being
opposed to militarism). However, now the orders for this superplane turn out
to have been much less than expected; economic growth is declining (reducing
the total tax take), and now many politicians are saying the allocated funds
ought to be spent on improving education, welfare, safety and traffic
systems instead.

Especially in the context of economic recession, investment in additional
weaponry becomes politically an increasingly sensitive issue among
Europeans, perceptions of geopolitical risks fluctuate markedly, and the
sheer cost of sophisticated military hardware and maintaining armies is also
a factor. In the case of the Dutch defence forces, their budgets have been
cut in some areas. One cannot very well keep cutting taxes and increase
one's military spending, one may be able to do that for a while, but after
some time one is back to either increasing taxes or reducing military
spending, and the only way to bridge that contradiction, is through becoming
more "sophisticated" in the arrangement of credit facilities, which becomes
imperative if unemployment grows, economic activity declines, and the total
tax-take declines.

The arguments for beefing up defence spending are faulty, from any point of
view. The general argument is that we must spend more on military hardware,
to guard against perceived or potential threats and risks. But if those
risks are real, and not imagined (i.e. based on solid evidence and not
hoaxes) then one ought first of all to try to reduce the conditions which
produce the risks. That is logical. The pro-military politicians argue that
this can only be done mainly by means of investments in weaponry, and not
through diplomacy and good policies in the economic and political field, but
where is the evidence ? It is a slight of hand, a lack of will or ability by
the elites to solve any problem, unless it is backed up with overwhelming
military superiority that ensures we will be "safe". It is a circular
argument, about achieving and maintaining security. Who is the real coward
then ? The only real evidence there is, is the production of more and more
weaponry by competitors, which COULD be used, in theory. Apart from that,
the theories about the sources of risk are extremely badly conceptualised,
and whereas we might invent all sorts of clever models of complex systems,
the questions that need to be asked, are not asked.

An anecdote. When I worked as research officer in 1991, I had to evaluate
and improve a lenghty survey questionnaire about "risk management on farms",
designed at great expense for the NZ Ministry of Agriculture by an academic
sociologist specialising in that area. This was a humorous gesture by my
supervisor, who allotted me this task. After working on this survey, I
established that, even if the sampling method was approved, the concepts of
"risk" that were used, and the way the questions about risk management were
asked, could not be uniformly understood and answered by respondents. In
other words, this academic professional, with a comprehensive knowledge of
farming practice, confused and conflated such things as type of risk,
magnitude of risk, likelihood of risk, consequence of risk, perceived risk
versus objective risk, and sought to apply his badly formulated concepts to
questions about farm activity which were, consequently, open to wide
interpretation. This could not result in meaningful data, it would be like
adding up the stated opinions of George Bush and Howard Dean, you would
arrive at a number, but you would not know what it meant. I took my
evaluation report to some senior mathematicians, who said "if it is crap,
you have to say it is crap". The Ministry subsequently abandoned the survey.

Things in the military world are, however, quite different. The risks run by
farmers might be one thing, a triviality or joke to some (though not to
farmers), but in the military world threats and risks are taken seriously,
and widely discussed by the media. Point is, a lot of those risks and
threats are fabricated, an artifact, because it is mostly epistemically
impossible to say what they are, how likely they are, what the consequences
might be, and to what extent they are subjective perceptions or objective
realities. And the whole thing is self-fulfilling: the more risk and threat
mongering there is, the more uncertainty is generated, and the more
justification there is, for more spending on weapons. This of course suits
the weapons sellers, who want to sell more weapons "to provide security".
But the real problem is the socio-economic conditions which give rise to
uncertainty, and the mystification of those problems by professional people
who earn a huge salary doing it.

My hunch is that in the world of global militarism there is a real
objectivity problem these days:

we have courage, they are cowards
we are fearless, they are angry
we make peace, they are the aggressors
we are moral, they are immoral
we represent the world's best interests, they represent sectional interests
we tell the truth, they lie
we are capable, they are incompetent
we are responsible, they are irresponsible

and so on. But very little is solved by this emotionalism and moralism other
than shifting the burden to the Smithian "hidden hand" of the market, an
abstraction. Marx explains what this abstraction is: the operation of the
law of value in its capitalist expression.


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