The U.S. and the business of war

In 1973 a sector of the financial and business elite in the United States announced the creation of the Trilateral Commission chaired by the magnate David Rockefeller.

It consisted of calling politicians, businessmen and intellectuals from that country, Western Europe, Japan and Canada, to recommend measures capable of providing greater stability to the capitalist world market. Among his proposals was promoting greater integration of their economies, reinforcing multilateralism for the shared management of global problems, alleviating tensions and expanding trade relations with the then Soviet Union, as well as reviewing their policies towards the Third World, with a view of improving the development of these countries and thus avoiding revolts and revolutions.

The election of one of its founders, Jimmy Carter, as president of the United States, just three years after the Commission was created, was a sign that “benign imperialism,” as the trilateralist proposal was described, was possible and corresponded with the Soviet intention of advancing in “peaceful coexistence” between both systems.

However, the attempt was quickly thwarted, both by the inability of the Carter administration to resolve the complex problems it had to face and by the advance of a powerful conservative offensive, which led to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Along with other ideas related to the role of the State, the organization of the economy, public assistance and international relations, the Reagan victory constituted the consolidation of the militarist tendency in the design of the U.S. political system.

What Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” spread to almost all components of the U.S. economy, giving shape to a system that requires its own ideology and a specific policy to sustain itself. One of its consequences has been, against hegemonic logic itself, turning the United States into a factor of global instability, even within its own spheres of domination. Precisely what the trilateralists tried to avoid, but both its managers and the project disappeared. Even the “smart power” of Barack Obama took care to preserve the role of militarism in American politics.

By exalting the supposed threats of the “evil empire,” as Reagan called the Soviets, and asserting a false military inferiority for the United States to confront them, Reagan’s policy was aimed at rearming America. The defense budget was increased by 67% and, in order to overcome the so-called “Vietnam syndrome,” a slew of military interventions were started which included the small island of Grenada, in the Caribbean, and quickly spread to the Middle East, Africa, Central America, even into space, with the so-called Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars,” which only existed in the minds of the president and some of his advisers, but which justified a huge increase in military investment.

Not even the end of the cold war, which had served as an excuse for the militarization of the U.S. economy, could stop the business of war. Although, ever since Kennedy the Third World had been defined as the fundamental objective of the struggles for the predominance of North American hegemony against the socialist camp, now the majority of Americans was convinced that the United States was the “indispensable country” to put order in a world full of “failed states.”

In his 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton argued that since the Soviet threat no longer existed it was appropriate to reduce the military budget and concentrate investment in the domestic economy. Thanks to this speech, summed up in his slogan of “it’s the economy stupid,” he won the election. However, once in power he carried out active interventionist campaigns — which included bombing several countries in the Middle East, the war against Yugoslavia and the largest increase in the military budget approved up to that moment.

With George W. Bush, militarism reached its apotheosis. The attacks of September 11 served as an excuse for the so-called ‘war against terrorism,’ conceived without space or time limits, and a budget equivalent to 40% of the military spending of the rest of the countries on earth. Add to that the enormous costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, undertaken under false pretenses, or the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

It was a feast of plenty for large arms producers, as well as the rise of huge paramilitary companies, many of them linked to government teams in charge of ‘privatizing’ the war to avoid its adverse political effects on the U.S. public. In this way a corporate system was completed that, based on the excuse of national security, extends throughout the country, links the most varied companies and financial institutions, and corrupts politicians and officials at all levels of government.

The defense and security budget of the United States is around 1 trillion dollars and is estimated to comprise around 4% of the GDP of the world’s largest economy. It is a closed market with supplies chosen by the government, generally paid in advance, or the financing of research projects, which end up being owned by the private companies that carry them out. It is a perfect business for these companies and their beneficiaries, among them the rulers who approve the contracts.

Military spending is largely responsible for a fiscal deficit that in 2022 is expected to be about 1 trillion dollars and a public debt that exceeds 28 trillion dollars, in fact a mortgage that someone will have to pay one day. When talking about the role of arms production as a stimulus for the U.S. economy, it is oftentimes forgotten that this investment generally does not reproduce the value invested and has a negative impact on other aspects of public spending — such as infrastructure and social assistance. Fortunately, in most cases, weapons end up being thrown away before being used.

The war in Ukraine has been a great deal for the United States, especially for the military complex, since it has served as an excuse for a record increase in the military budget and weapons have been sold at record levels, to the point of depleting reserves in some cases. Although the real buyer, as always, has been U.S. taxpayers, they have managed to engage NATO in a new arms race for the benefit of U.S. arms producers, and all without risking a single soldier in the conflict. Under these circumstances it is easy to understand the reasons for the support and solidarity of the United States for Ukrainians and their interest in extending this war as long as possible.

What Donald Trump could not accomplish by sheer rudeness, liberal democrats have achieved by subordinating their European allies to the interests of the American militarist complex. Although it is not the only factor that explains the contradictions, the arms business feeds on the exacerbation of tensions with Russia and China; of the reconstruction of areas of influence in permanent conflict; as well as the promotion of ungovernability everywhere.

It is not even the imperialist interest that explains U.S. warmongering, war has ceased to be “the continuation of policy with other means,” in the words of Carl von Clausewitz, and has become a business in itself that acts under its own rules within the capitalist market. The profits are extraordinary and the byproduct is death and destruction.