The Relationship Between
Globalization and Militarism

by Steven Staples

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


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 its use is threatened-to protect the investments of transnational corporations and their shareholders.

1. Globalization Promotes Inequality, Unrest, and Conflict

Economic inequality is growing; more conflict and civil wars are emerging. It is important to see a connection between these two situations.

Proponents of global economic integration argue that globalization promotes peace and economic development of the Third World. They assert that "all boats rise with the tide" when investors and corporations make higher profits. However, there is precious little evidence that this is true and substantial evidence of the opposite.

The United Nation's Human Development Report (U.N. Development Programme, 1999: 3) noted that globalization is creating new threats to human security. Economic inequality between Northern and Southern nations has worsened, not improved. There are more wars being fought today-mostly in the Third World-than there were during the Cold War. Most are not wars between countries, but are civil wars where the majority of deaths are civilians, not soldiers.

The mainstream media frequently oversimplify the causes of the wars, with claims they are rooted in religious or ethnic differences. A closer inspection reveals that the underlying source of such conflicts is economic in nature. Financial instability, economic inequality, competition for resources, and environmental degradation-all root causes of war-are exacerbated by globalization.

The Asian financial meltdown of 1997 to 1999 involved a terrible human cost. The economies of Thailand, South Korea, and Indonesia crumbled in the crisis. These countries, previously held up by neoliberal economists as the darlings of globalization, were reduced to riots and financial ruin. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stepped in to rescue foreign investors and impose austerity programs that opened the way for an invasion by foreign corporations that bought up assets devalued by capital flight and threw millions of people out of work. Political upheaval and conflict ensued, costing thousands of lives.

Meanwhile, other countries watched as their neighbors suffered the consequences of greater global integration. In India, citizens faced corporate recolonization, which spawned a nationalistic political movement. Part of the political program was the development of nuclear weapons-seen by many as the internationally accepted currency of power. Nuclear tests have put an already conflict-ridden region on the brink of nuclear war.

2. Globalization Fuels the Means to Wage War

The world economic system promotes military economies over civilian economies, pushing national economic policies toward military spending. The World Trade Organization (WTO), one of the main instruments of globalization, is largely based on the premise that the only legitimate role for a government is to provide for a military to protect the interests of the country and a police force to ensure order within. The WTO attacks governments' social and environmental policies that reduce corporate profits, and it has succeeded in having national laws that protect the environment struck down. Yet the WTO gives exemplary protection to government actions that develop, arm, and deploy armed forces and supply a military establishment. Article X~ of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) allows governments free reign for actions taken in the interest of national security.


The Military-Corporate Complex

Since the end of the Cold War, President Eisenhower's 196.0s-era military-industrial complex has been fundamentally challenged by globalization. Globalization has weakened the powers of the nation-state, while freeing corporations to move profits and operations across national boundaries. Defense/military contractors, once considered part of the national industrial base and regulated and nurtured as such, are becoming detached from the nation-state and are able to pursue their interests independently.

Globalization and the transnationalization of defense / military corporations have replaced the military-industrial complex of the Cold War economy with a military-corporate complex of the new global economy. This is based upon the dominance of corporate interests over those of the state. The weakened state is no longer able to reign in weapons corporations and is trapped increasingly by corporate interests: greater military spending, state subsidies, and a liberalization of the arms trade.


The Threat of Military Force Is Used to Protect Corporate Interests

According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, "the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps" (Friedman, 1999).

Friedman illuminates the strategic relationship that exists between corporations and militaries. As globalization extends the reach of corporate interests around the world, a matching military capacity must be deployed to protect those interests. This is the underlying reason the U.S. military maintains the capacity wage two major wars in different regions of the world simultaneously.



Globalization is driving a global war economy and creating the conditions for tremendous loss of human life. Many writers and researchers have documented the decline in human rights, social justice, environmental standards, and democracy caused by globalization. The inevitable outcome of globalization will be more wars-especially in the Third World where globalization has its harshest effects. Meanwhile, the elites of the industrialized world are confident that the global economy will continue to provide them with wealth created from the resources and labor of the Third World. Their technologically advanced militaries will protect them and their investments, insulating them from the violent effects of globalization.

What is required is a complete reassessment of the current global economic system, with the goal of promoting genuine human security and development. Global financial institutions, such as the World Trade Organization, that do not promote these goals must be revised or scrapped completely and replaced with a system based upon principles of equity, peace, and democracy.


Steven Staples is the Chair of the International Network on Disarmament and Globalization (405 - 825 Granville Street, Vancouver, BC, V6Z IK9 Canada; e-mail:, a network of activists and researchers in over 30 countries who are concerned about the new global economy and the need for peace, disarmament, and the funding of human needs.

For more information, visit the International Network on Disarmament and Globalization at, or e-mail

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