Death economies

The Nation (3/10/14) tells us that Russia, Europe and the U.S. "are tied together in a powerful web of financial and economic ties that didn't exist during the real Cold War" and that in 2012 Russia was the EU's "third-biggest trading partner - with goods and services worth more than $500 billion." European companies hold large shares in Russian oil companies, and U.S. corporations such as Ford, Pepsi, and John Deere are also deeply invested in Russia, with a Deere spokesman citing Russia "as being key to its future growth."

At the same time, Russia is ringed with NATO missile sites and the U.S. is significantly strengthening its military presence in East Asia, according to Extra (3/14). What sense can we make of this militarization, given global capital's need for stability and its elimination of national competitions? Why all the sword-rattling, military expansion, inordinate military budgets, and massive proliferation of armaments throughout the world? The answer, in a word, is profit. Given capitalism's current crisis of sluggish - even negative - growth, arms manufacture provides needed employment; it provides a sure and ongoing source of profit that waning consumption and investment opportunities cannot; and it turns out a commodity freed from the constrictions of mass consumption and replacement - governments being the repeat customers. An annual $1.7 trillion is spent worldwide on armaments, with every industrialized nation producing them - the U.S. and Russia leading the way. We recently sold $16 billion worth of fighter planes to Saudi Arabia - who will use them against whom? Of the world's top ten arms manufacturers, seven are U.S. corporations employing about 800,000 people and selling at least $151 billion in arms. You can add tens of billions of dollars more - and probably another 500,000 employees - from at least a dozen more U.S. corporations producing armaments.

With weapons being its main export, little Israel ranks itself the world's fourth biggest exporter of arms, reaching $7.5 billion last year - or $1,000 per head of population, the world's highest ratio. Where all these weapons end up, nobody knows. The arms industry is an international network that transcends and even takes precedence over the stated political policies of the nations involved. In one case, Israeli-made jet fighter electronics - funded by the U.S. - were sold to China, which used the technology to build an air-to-air missile that it sold to Iraq's Saddam Hussein! In 2010, Israel sold F-16 jet fighter technology to Pakistan, nominally an enemy country. In 2009, the U.S. sold $15 million worth of weapons to Libya's Qaddafi, whom we later helped to overthrow. In 2011, a reporter picked up a spent cartridge used by the forces defending Egypt's Mubarak dictatorship against the pro-democracy demonstrators we were supporting; the cartridge read "Made in the U.S.A." Recently, we bombed ISIS forces in Iraq that were using weapons we supplied to Syrian rebels. Much of the armaments trade is clandestine and illegal, with massive amounts of advanced weaponry ending up in the possession of criminal cartels and narcotics traffickers.

Since 6,784 licensed arms dealers comprise what is possibly Israel's largest private business sector, it has been suggested that one reason Israel maintains opposition to the Palestinians is to test its armaments - buyers preferring "proven" results. A complementary facet of the economy of arms is the proliferation of arms for the protection of the economy itself! The front page of the 8/16/14 New York Times was plastered with pictures of military armaments given to U.S. police forces. They included four different types of helicopters, armored vehicles resembling tanks, and an assortment of lethal automatic weapons. In The Nation online, a picture of police officers at the Ferguson, Mo. demonstrations bears the statement, "What we're seeing here is a gaggle of cops wearing more lethal killing gear than your average squad leader leading a foot patrol through the most hostile sands or hills of Afghanistan."

This isn't equipment for the "apprehending-the-perpetrator" type of law enforcement we've known. It's for mob control. And since these "mobs" are the American people, we must ask the question: Why are Americans "mobbing" and who is opposing this public action with military might? And we have some answers. People "mobbed" in Ferguson to oppose the needless police killing of a black youth; Occupy Wall Street "mobbed" in opposition to capitalism's creation of unprecedented economic inequality; and the people "mobbed" in Madison, Wisc. in response to a right-wing governor's attack on workers' rights.

The "mobs," therefore, represent the reasonable reactions of an oppressed people - and they're being confronted with police-state tactics. This show of intimidating military might is clearly telling the people what they're up against should they dare resist the oppression of capital. The ultimate irony is that we're paying for our own repression, since a good portion of the tax dollars we're pouring into the military for "defense" is being used against us! Since 1996, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to state and local police forces. The other arm of this repression is the National Security Agency's intrusion into our privacy through relentless phone and Internet surveillance - all of it coordinated with the police/military complex.

Given the staggering needs of the people of world, it's incredible that we turn so much of our genius for production - not to mention resources - to instruments of death. If we diverted these productive efforts to public need, there would be no impoverished masses to repress through these instruments. And we wouldn't have to produce these instruments to sustain the economy. (But there wouldn't be nearly as much profit for the few.)

Andrew Torre is a resident of Landgrove.


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