Saturday, August 22, 2015

War and its profiteers

Who benefits from war? In the last three decades, I have tried to find the answer to this perennial question. All my research work has pointed to the merchants of war, or those who are affiliated with the merchandizing of weapons that kill.

War was at one time a matter of necessity much like life and death. Somewhere down in that equation greed crept in and became more important as a driving force than all other causes. So, emperors arose and empires were born. With the ascendancy of the merchant class since at least the time of Columbus and Vasco Da Gama, it gradually became a major player in empire making and breaking. Let’s fast forward to our time with nation states. Coming in the aftermath of the Second World War, the United Nations was founded 70 years ago in 1945 with the sole objective of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war and bringing peace in our world. The other objectives are to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

But far from stopping the curse of war and bringing peace among the nations, the offices of the UN have sometimes been abused by its powerful veto-wielding Security Council members to create the messy world we now live in.

Non-state actors or groups like the makers and traders of war machines, and lobbyists for the cause of war have emerged as the major beneficiaries of war. However, it is often difficult to separate such groups from the state authorities where they function. By tying their knots with those in power, these profiteers of war have been able to influence governments to the extent that it is seen as a win-win proposition for not only the makers and merchants of weapons, but also the very government under whose authority they operate. It is an industry that employs people at various levels, thereby creating job markets for locals, which is always good for politicians that are mindful of the impact of economics on the general population. The heavier the purse or the wallet of ordinary Janes and Joes, the more stable the government or higher the popularity rating of the political leader where people are well fed.

Arms trade is a big business which often involves bribes and commissions paid out to both the buyers and sellers, and those involved in this trade from monarchs to military rulers, from elected politicians to rebels, from agents to lobbyists all benefit from such transactions.

The only victims or losers of war have always been those who got killed or suffered. But since their sufferings rarely matter in this deadly chess game, the merchandizing of war has remained the most important and profitable business in our world. And there is so much to make in this trading! Just look at the weapons bought by the Middle Eastern countries last year.

Military spending in the Middle East reached almost $200 billion in 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms sales. That represents a jump of 57% since 2005. Some of the largest increases have been among U.S. allies buying big-ticket items from American weapons makers. That includes Iraq and Saudi Arabia ($90 billion in U.S. weapons deals from October 2010 to October 2014), which, by the way, haven’t fared so well against smaller, less well-armed opponents. Those countries have seen increases in their arms purchases of 286% and 112%, respectively, since 2005.

What would be the Middle East today if those tens of billions of dollars now spent on buying killing machines were instead spent on education, health care and improving the lives of ordinary citizens?

All across the region – from Yemen to Syria to IraqU.S. arms are fueling conflicts and turning the living into the dead.  Still the merchants of war and death remain unsatiated. They desire war over peace. They desire more bloodshed and death.

In recent days, the pro-Israeli war hawks, the Likudniks within Capitol Hill that seat in armchairs and are more commonly referred to as the ‘war party’ inside the USA have been very vocal against the nuclear deal with Iran, which still needs ratification by all parties. They are breathing fire. Hostility towards Iran is rampant and the op-ed pages are ablaze with ‘existential threat’ from this country against ‘poor’ Israel, which, by the way, is the 4th largest military power in our time. Apparently, the peace deal with Iran will not help their cause of war, which could have otherwise brought tens of billions of dollars into their coffers.

Remember Judith Miller of the New York Times who epitomized yellow journalism by propagating lies about the existence of the never-to-be-found WMDs in Iraq? Today’s war party needs another Judith Miller for preparing the case against Iran. Apparently, it has found its newer messenger in George Jahn of AP to do the ‘Judith Miller yellow journalism’. (Consider, for instance, all the latest fuss about George Jahn's yellow journalistic piece in an AP exclusive.)

Our generation needs to be on guard against such yellow journalists and their evil ploys to bring unnecessary war and hostility into our world. Otherwise, we shall never be able to get rid of the curse of perennial war that threatens not only our generation but also our posterity.

No one probably understood the power of the ‘war party’ better than President Dwight Eisenhower. On January 17, 1961, President Eisenhower gave the nation a dire warning about what he described as a threat to democratic government. He called it the military-industrial complex, a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces.

Eisenhower was no ordinary man. He was a retired five-star Army general, the man who led the allies on the D-Day. He made the remarks in his farewell speech from the White House after completing two terms in office. It was just days before the new president, John F. Kennedy, would be sworn in. He famously said, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."

Since then, the phrase has become a rallying cry for opponents of military expansion. Eisenhower was worried about the costs of an arms race with the Soviet Union, and the resources it would take from other areas — such as building hospitals and schools. Eisenhower also spoke as someone who had seen the horror and lingering sadness of war, saying that "we must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose."

In his remarks, Eisenhower also explained how the situation had developed: "Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of ploughshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions."

He also said, "The jet plane that roars overhead costs three quarters of a million dollars. That’s more than a man will make in his lifetime. What world can afford this kind of thing for long?"

What was merely a quarter million dollars in his time now costs close to quarter of a billion, a thousand fold increase in price tag, which is beyond the reach of anyone making in a lifetime unless one is Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the super-rich few. [Note: F-22 Raptor fighter plane costs $350 million a piece. The B-2 Spirit costs $2.4 billion. It is hard to detect via infrared, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual or radar signals. This stealth capability makes it able to attack enemy targets with less fear of retaliation. The B-2 bomber was so costly that Congress cut its initial 1987 purchase order from 132 to 21. (A 2008 crash leaves the current number at 20.) In use since 1993, the B-2 has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.  See the link here for the 10 most expensive war planes.]

Fast forward to our time: the situation has simply worsened! What President Eisenhower feared has become a reality in our time. Eisenhower's warning has not made our leaders any wiser.

Pentagon loves the ‘war party’, or so it seems. But I am told that the former secretary Gates was a true Eisenhower pupil who said, "Does the number of warships we have, and are building, really put America at risk, when the U.S. battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined — 11 of which are our partners and allies? Is it a dire threat that by 2020, the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China? These are the kinds of questions Eisenhower asked as commander-in-chief. They are the kinds of questions I believe he would ask today."

Gates has also discussed the difficulty of cutting military spending: "What it takes is the political will and willingness, as Eisenhower possessed, to make hard choices — choices that will displease powerful people both inside the Pentagon, and out."

Do we have or better yet, will we ever have leaders in the White House with those combinations that Eisenhower possessed? Or, shall we be played like pawns in this chess game of unending wars and sufferings?


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