War draws on deep roots, and leaves long legacies. Years before the attention-grabbing shots of bombs falling and armoured vehicles rolling around, and well after the photographers have packed up and gone home, violence is being fed, nurtured, and profited from. In November we saw the shocking attacks in Paris – the first business day after the French president 'declared war' on Daesh saw healthy growths in the share prices of some of the world's biggest arms companies.
War profiteering is explained with the military economy cycle which is based - as is most sectors of the economy - on neoliberal logic, the free market, privatization and reduction of regulations. It causes attitudes strictly related to personal enrichment and maximizing the economic benefit in the defense industry, forming the so-called neoliberal militarism. Moreover war profiteering goes beyond arms and defense sector. War needs lots of resources, not only weapons and armies, also logistics, transport, food, cleaning, translation services and private security. There are also wars for greed, which is not only power but also resources: oil, coltan, diamonds and whatever can be bought and sold in a market. Economic profits are part of war and wars are also made for profit.
The global trade in arms is a business that counts its profits in billions and its costs in human lives. It is arguably the most damaging of all trades, accounting for around 40% of all corruption. It has massive influence on the way our governments operate, ensuring that war is a preferred option to diplomacy, and that we spend billions of dollars every year on weapons we often don’t need. It perpetuates, makes more deadly and sometimes even causes conflict and repression.
Global military expenditure is estimated to have totalled $1.77 trillion in 2014, that is more than $250 for every person on the planet. This was a fall of 0.4% on the previous year and is about 2.3% of global GDP.
Between 2003 and 2013 - while the rest of the world experienced a wave of economic crises - Latin America showed good economic indicators. The continent benefited from the “boom of price in raw materials”; historically, the region's main export products are energy resources like oil, gas, coal and other minerals, and this continues today. In 2011, for example, 13 of the 20 biggest companies in Latin America belonged to the oil, gas, mining and iron and steel sectors. The money that entered the region managed to reduce poverty; in 2012, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) affirmed that the continent showed the lowest percentage of poverty (28.8% of total population) in the last 30 years.
However, the high economic incomes were not only destined to reduce levels of extreme poverty, they were also intended to modernise the armed forces of Latin American countries by a significant increase in arms purchases. In a study carried out by Peace Laboratory, based on figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) it was revealed that Latin America had increased it's weapons purchases by 150%, spending $13.624 million between 2000 to 2010. Military spending worldwide in 2012 reached $1.7 billion, or 2.5% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In Latin America, defence spending was about 4% of its total GDP, above the world average.
After a four-month campaign, the international Stop the Shipment campaign succeeded in stopping a shipment of over a million canisters of tear gas to Bahrain on 8 January.
The government of Bahrain has been using tear gas to repress pro-democracy demonstrations since the Arab Spring spread to the Gulf state in February 2011.
A Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) report in 2012 found that ‘Bahraini law enforcement officials routinely violate every UN principle’ in their ‘unusually relentless and indiscriminate campaign… weaponizing toxic chemical agents – so-called tear gas’.
A former Dutch colony, West Papua was occupied by the Indonesian military in 1963. The international framework that allowed this occupation to take place was based on the economic and political interests of the United States and supported by its allies the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia. The United Nations actively denied West Papuans right to self-determination and supported the Indonesian occupation. During the first few years of the Indonesian government’s occupation West Papuan resistance was brutally crushed through military operations and aerial bombardment. Two years before the United Nations formally facilitated the transfer of Dutch sovereignty to Indonesia – all without West Papuans consent – the United States and Indonesia established a massive gold and copper mine in West Papua. From the beginning the Freeport mine was declared a national asset and security project protected by a massive Indonesian military presence. Old fashioned colonialism marked by territorial occupation by a foreign military force remained but was augmented by neo-colonialism: intensive capital investment in the extractive industries and the influx of large numbers of Indonesians to displace indigenous West Papuans. In the early years the Indonesian government’s transmigration program was funded by the World Bank. Although on paper the project was designed as development to benefit ‘the poor’ in reality the Indonesian government’s sole objective was to protect its territorial integrity. It was militarised development that in actual fact generated poverty.
How can North East Asia best be defined geopolitically? Geographically one can say North East Asia includes North Korea, South Korea, Japan, all of territorial China and a part of the Russian territory. The de facto state of Taiwan occupies a very strategic and important place geopolitically. Although geographically not located in the region one cannot exclude the United States, a country that exercises the greatest influence and the most powerful state actor geopolitically in the region.
The Korean peninsula occupies a particularly important place geopolitically in North East Asia. Over the past centuries there has been a series of wars including the Imjin War (the Japanese Invasion of Korea in 1592) and the Manchu War of 1636, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 towards the latter period of the Choson Dynasty, the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905, and the colonization of the Korean peninsula by Japan followed by the division of the peninsula, the Korean War and subsequent armistice. Geopolitically, the Korean peninsula has increasingly become a highly sensitive region. If maritime powers such as Japan and the United States continue to expand, territorial powers such as China and Russia will seek to use the Korean peninsula as a buffer zone to check this expansion. On the other hand if territorial powers continue their expansion then Japan and the United States would be very wary of the threat of territorial powers using the peninsula to exert force against Japan.
In 2014, according to the IHS Global Defence Trade Report, global defence trade increased to $64.4 billion, up from $56.8 billion the previous year. The report underscored that the US supplied one-third of all exports followed by the Russian Federation, France, UK and Germany. Seven of the top 10 defence importers were from Asia-Pacific: India, China, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia and Pakistan. The top 5 company exporters are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Airbus Group and UAC. The first three are US companies while the last two have headquarters in France and Russia, respectively.1
SIPRI reported that global military expenditures in 2014 reached US$1776 billion with China, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia on the Top 15 of countries with the highest military expenditures.2
At the end of the Stopping the War Business international seminar, three participants shared their reflections from the meeting. Here they are below.
It's good to be in South Korea. I'm from a country which still maintains conscription and I've used half of my life working with issues related to conscientious objection. That is one reason why it feels so special to be in Seoul, as I've heard so much about the campaings that our South Korean friends have been doing here.
Anyway, war profiteering is not the strongest area of my knowledge so I've learned a lot during this seminar. Thanks for the really interesting keynote speakers as well as workshops!
In this seminar we discussed about the consecuenses of war profiteering for the individual people. We also discussed about the vast and dark structures of the war profiteering. Sometimes these structures make me feel very small.
For the first time, WRI's magazine The Broken Rifle will focus on climate change and antimilitarism, looking at the links between environmental and peace movements, the connections between our analyses of control, exploitation and power, and the links between seemingly 'single issue' social movements.
Amongst other things, we would like to hear from people who would like to write on the following topics: