Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Merchants of Death and the Neoliberal Global Order I

See below a synopsis of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's estimated arms sales globally:
Samuel Stebbins and Thomas C. Frohlich (3/27/2017).  20 companies profiting the most from war. MSN, http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/savingandinvesting/20-companies-profiting-the-most-from-war/ar-AAmTAzm

National security and warfare are big business. The U.S. government spent $598.5 billion, over half of its discretionary budget, on military and weapons technology in 2015. The 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies across the globe sold an estimated $370.7 billion worth of arms that year....U.S.-based companies continue to dominate the defense market, a trend that is unlikely to change meaningfully any time soon....
You will see the usual suspects while reading the article. It is indeed strange how the largest bureaucracies, populated by mostly regular people with normative value orientations, can have the pursuit of death as their main objective. Of course, money is the ultimate end but death is a most expedient means.

In my 2008 book Governmentality, Biopower and Everyday Life (re-published in 2011), I describe the logic of "military-Kenesianism" that grew up in the US post-World War II. This logic's institutionalization explains how war/death became one of the US's most influential problem-solution governing frames:

In 1949, President Truman’s national security staff called for major increases in defense spending, believing these would invigorate the economy by stimulating industry while redressing unemployment (Wehrle, 2003), formally launching the paradigm of military Keynesianism (as described by Mike Davis).

Military-industrial expenditures constituted more than fifty percent of total U.S. government expenditures across the second half of the twentieth century (Boies, 1994). Both “hard” and social sciences conducted in universities and “private” foundations were extensively funded by military and intelligence sources producing a “science-security complex” as the state sought to out-gun and out-psychologize the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China (Moreno, 2006, p. 22).

Labor unions saw the military-industrial buildup as creating opportunities for equitable economic growth and, with the onset of the Korean War, leveraged war mobilization to address depressed areas and industries (Wehrle, 2003). Again, after the Soviets launched Sputnik, labor worked in concert with the defense industry to promote spending.

In City of Quartz, Mike Davis described the rise of Los Angeles in relation to the military-industrial complex, illustrating how military-Keynesianism contributed to the urban geography and political economy of America’s west coast cities.

Domestic military-Keynesianism was gradually supplemented with military spending abroad:  By 1969, military aid and “security assistance” constituted fifty-two percent of U.S. foreign aid (Hudson, 2003, p. 221).

American arms manufacturers also sold weapons abroad, making the U.S. the biggest international arms dealer (Boal, Clark, Matthews, & Watts, 2005). The military-industrial complex thus helped delineate and produce the liberal welfare state in America...

... War is not antithetical to neoliberal governmentality. In The Liberal Virus, Samir Amin (2004) insisted neoliberalism entails a “permanent war” of military interventions against people at the global market’s periphery (p. 24). Amin’s expansive approach to war included nearly all police action against resistant populations (see also Giroux, 2004). 

Even those who view war in more conventional terms (defined in relation to the nation-state) predict proliferating conflicts due to environmental, market, and biopolitical exigencies. Circulating commodities, such as small arms, amplify regional conflicts.

Under neoliberalism, “just wars” are waged to attain resources, to “open markets,” and to free individuals from “human rights” abuses (Douzinas, 2003, p. 172).  Costas Douzinas observed that wars fought under the guise of protecting human rights entail overwhelming material force often implemented in the form of “police” operations aimed at preventing, deterring, and punishing (purported) criminal perpetrators (p. 172).

Offenders are represented as unjust and inhuman, deserving no mercy, although critical examination reveals definitions of abuses, perpetrators, and victims as politically contingent (see Mboka, 2007).

Still, even the most de-territorialized or “just” of wars requires populations be mobilized to support or condone violence. Mobilization of support for violence often entails articulation of a racialized identity, or way of life, represented as threatened by outsiders, criminals, dissenters, etc. Compelling moral narratives must be drawn upon to fuel cooperation for repression and death (see Cairo, 2006)...

[The War on Terror provides that moral narrative]...

Although U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Middle East are fundamentally driven by the neoliberal imperatives of securitizing energy flows vital to the American way of life, they are also inflected and rationalized by a racialized national discourse formalized in the “Lewis Doctrine” (Waldman, 2004, p. A12) and Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilization thesis (1993a).

Together, the Lewis and Huntington doctrines narrate the epic struggle between the forces of modernity and light (embodied in America’s Manifest Destiny) and the forces of pre-modernity and otherness.

The “Lewis Doctrine” was coined by Peter Waldman, a journalist for The Wall Street Journal when describing the political interpretations and policy implications of works by the prominent Middle Eastern historian, Bernard Lewis. For at least sixty years, Bernard Lewis provided a looking glass through which western nations have beheld the Middle East (e.g., Lewis, 1966).

In 1978, Edward Said published Orientalism, which critiqued Lewis’ work for producing a simplifying and colonial construction of the Middle East and its peoples. Despite Said’s criticism, Lewis’ work continued to define (or legitimize) hegemonic western interpretations and policy orientations in the region.

Lewis’ continued impact is illustrated in Waldman’s (2004) article. In particular, Waldman invoked the policy implications of Lewis’ idea of Mideastern “malaise.”

Accordingly, Waldman argued:
“Most Islamic countries have failed miserably at modernizing their societies . . . beckoning outsiders—this time, Americans—to intervene” ... “Mr. Lewis’s diagnosis of the Muslim world’s malaise, and his call for a U.S. military invasion to see democracy in the Mideast, have helped define the boldest shift in U.S. foreign policy in 50 years” (p.A1). 
From this emerges fundamental problematics:  how to reduce neoliberal market barriers, contain terrorism, and promote democracy:

Terrorism has replaced Moscow as the global foe. And now America, having outlasted the Soviets to become the sole superpower, no longer seeks to contain but to confront, defeat and transform. How successful it is at remolding Iraq and the rest of the Mideast could have a huge impact on what sort of superpower America will be for decades to come: bold and assertive -- or inward, defensive and cut off. (p. A1)

Waldman cited Paul Wolfowitz as stating: “Bernard has taught us how to understand the complex and important history of the Middle East, and use it to guide us where we will go next to build a better world for generations to come” (p. A12)....


In the years since I wrote those words, Russia has achieved new salience as the "global" enemy, a phenomenon I explore in my more recent published work (e.g., see here).

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