Neoliberalism, Militarism,
and Armed Conflict

by Gwyn Kirk and Margo Okazawa-Rey

Social Justice magazine, Vol. 27, No. 4 (2000)


The trend toward a neoliberal economy and the prevalence of militaries and militarism worldwide are often treated as separate, unrelated phenomena. Many activists and scholars who critique and challenge the negative effects of increasing global integration emphasize economic factors (e.g., Bales, 1999; Chossudovsky, 1997; Greider, 1997; Mander and Goldsmith, 1996; Sassen, 1998; Teeple, 1995). These include the fact that workers in one country are pitted against those of another as corporate managers seek to maximize profits, that systems of inequality based on gender, race, class, and nation are inherent in the international division of labor, that nation-states are cutting social welfare supports, that women and children experience superexploitation especially in countries of the global South, and that there is increasing polarization of material wealth between rich and poor countries, as well as within richer countries. Critics also point to the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which require structural changes to make economies more profitable for private investors and to open markets for so-called free trade.

... Around 50% of U.S. federal discretionary spending is directed toward the military, amounting to $309 billion in FY 2001-more than the military budgets of the next 12 countries combined. Military budgets, bases, and operations have negative effects on communities in many parts of the world, as well as in the United States. Military spending has been kept at very high levels while socially useful spending on education, health, job training, social services, and welfare supports have been cut. This disinvestment, which disproportionately affects poor communities, together with automation and the movement of manufacturing jobs overseas, has led to high unemployment for young working-class and poor African Americans and Latinos. Their main "choices" are to join the military or to work in the informal economy, often ending up in jails and prisons. In the United States, military recruitment and the criminalization of people of color are two aspects of increasing global economic integration.

Outline of this Issue

Worldwide military spending totaled a massive $785 billion in 1998, of which the United States accounted for 30% (National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, 2000). Indeed, the U.S. has had what Seymour Melman (1970; 1974) termed a permanent war economy since World War II. A Department of Defense website currently describes the Pentagon as "not only America's largest company, but its busiest and most successful," and boasts a budget considerably larger than that of ExxonMobil, Ford, or General Motors. Addressing CEOs of major U.S. corporations in October 1998, William Cohen, then the U.S. Secretary of Defense, expressed the relationship between economic investment and military activity in the most basic terms:

Business follows the flag.... We provide the kind of security and stability. You provide the kind of profits that guarantee investment and profit for the local communities who in turn will buy our products.... We need to continue to have this relationship where we provide the security and you provide the investment.

As Friedman (1999: 40) put it, McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas.

The current integration of the world economy into a neocolonial system of capitalist production, consumption, and reproduction requires access to and control of resources-including labor-so that transnational corporations can maximize profits. Corporations need the assurance of political stability and protection of their investments. As part of the nation-state apparatus, the military is on hand whenever necessary to intimidate and repress popular resistance to exploitative working conditions, to structural adjustment programs, or the privatization of resources in aid of profit accumulation.

Steven Staples argues:

The relationship between globalization and militarism should be seen as two sides of the same coin. On one side, globalization promotes the conditions that lead to unrest, inequality, conflict, and, ultimately, war. On the other side, globalization fuels the means to wage war by protecting and promoting the military industries needed to produce sophisticated weaponry. This weaponry, in turn, is used or is threatened to be used to protect the investments of transnational corporations and their shareholders.

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