Military spending is the capitalist world’s fuel

It is common for activists to decry the enormous sums of money spent on the military. Any number of social programs, or schools, or other public benefits could instead be funded.

Not least is this the case with the United States, which by far spends the most of any country on its military. The official Pentagon budget for 2015 was $596 billion, but actual spending is far higher. (Figures for 2015 will be used because that is the latest year for which data is available to make international comparisons.) If we add military spending parked in other portions of the U.S. federal government budget, we’re up to $786 billion, according to a study by the War Resisters League. Veterans benefits add another $157 billion. WRL also assigns 80 percent of the interest on the budget deficit, and that puts the grand total well above $1 trillion.

The War Resisters League notes that other organizations estimate that 50 to 60 percent of the interest would be more accurate. Let’s split the difference — if we assign 65 percent of the interest payments to past military spending (midway between the high and low estimates), then the true amount of U.S. military spending was $1.25 trillion. Yes, that is a gigantic sum of money. So gigantic that it was more than the military spending of every other country on Earth combined.

(Cartoon by Carlos Latuff)

(Cartoon by Carlos Latuff)

China is second in military spending, but far behind at US$215 billion in 2015, according to an estimate by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Saudi Arabia ($87.2 billion), Russia ($66.4 billion) and Britain ($55.5 billion) round out the top five. And lest we chalk up the bloated Pentagon budget to the size of the U.S. economy, the official $596 billion budget constituted 3.5 percent of its gross domestic product, the fourth-highest ratio in the world, while China spent 2.1 percent of its GDP on its military. But if we use the actual total of U.S. military spending, then U.S. spending as a share of GDP leaps to second place, trailing only Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. maintains military bases in 80 countries, and has military personnel in about 160 foreign countries and territories. Another way of looking at this question is the number of foreign military bases: The U.S. has around 800 while the rest of the world combined has perhaps 30, according to an analysis published in The Nation. Almost half of those 30 belong to Britain or France.

Asking others to pay more is endorsing imperialism

Is there some sort of altruism in the U.S. setting itself up as the gendarme of the world? Well, that’s a rhetorical question, obviously, but such self-deception is widespread, and not just among the foreign-policy establishment.

One line of critique sometimes heard, especially during this year’s presidential campaign, is that the U.S. should demand its allies “pay their fair share.” It’s not only from Right-wing quarters that phrase is heard, but even from Left populist Bernie Sanders, who insisted during this month’s Brooklyn debate with Hillary Clinton that other members of NATO ought to pay more so the Pentagon budget can be cut. Senator Sanders said this in the context of pointing out the superior social benefits across Europe as compared to the U.S., but what it really implies is that militarism is justified.

Setting aside that Senator Sanders’ record on imperialism is not nearly as distant from Secretary Clinton’s as his supporters believe, it is a reflection of how deeply imperialism is in the bones of United Statesians when even the candidate positioning himself as a Left insurgent doesn’t seriously question the scale of military operations or their purpose.

So why is U.S. military spending so high? It’s because the repeated use of force is what is necessary to maintain the capitalist system. As top dog in the world capitalist system, it’s up to the U.S. to do what is necessary to keep itself, and its multi-national corporations, in the driver’s seat. That has been a successful project. U.S.-based multi-nationals hold the world’s highest share in 18 of 25 broad industrial sectors, according to an analysis in New Left Review, and often by commanding margins — U.S. multi-nationals hold at least a 40 percent global share in 10 of those sectors.

A partial list of U.S. interventions from 1890, as compiled by Zoltán Grossman, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington state, lists more than 130 foreign military interventions (not including the use of troops to put down strikes within the U.S.). Consistently, these were used to impose U.S. dictates on smaller countries.

At the beginning of the 20th century, U.S. President William Howard Taft declared that his foreign policy was “to include active intervention to secure our merchandise and our capitalists opportunity for profitable investment” abroad. Taft overthrew the government of Nicaragua to punish it for taking a loan from a British bank rather than a U.S. bank, and then put Nicaragua’s customs collections under U.S. control and handed two U.S. banks control of Nicaragua’s national bank and railroad. Little has changed since, including the overthrows of the governments of Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964) and Chile (1973), and more recently the invasion of Iraq and the attempted overthrow of the Venezuelan government.

Muscle men for big business

We need only recall the statement of Marine Corps general Smedley Butler, who summarized his highly decorated career in 1935, in this manner:

“I spent thirty three years and four months [in] the Marine Corps. … [D]uring that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

The bipartisan refusal to acknowledge this is exemplified in U.S. narratives concerning the Vietnam War. The “debate” that is conducted in the corporate media is only between two “acceptable” viewpoints — an honorable effort that tragically failed or a well-intentioned but flawed effort that should not have been undertaken if the U.S. was not going to be “serious” about fighting. Never mind that tonnage of bombs dropped on Vietnam were greater than what was dropped by all combatants in World War II combined, 3 million Vietnamese were killed, cities were reduced to rubble and millions of acres of farmland was destroyed. By what sane measure could this be said to be fighting “without really trying,” as Right-wing mythology still asserts?

No modern corporate enterprise would be complete without subcontracting, and the Pentagon has not stinted here. That is not a reference to the massive, and often guaranteed, profits that military contractors enjoy as more supply operations are handed over to connected companies, but rather to the teaching of torture techniques to other militaries so that some of the dirty work of maintaining capitalism can be undertaken locally.

military bases surround RussiaThe U.S. Army’s infamous School of the Americas, lately masquerading under the deceptively bland-sounding name Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, has long been a finishing school for the personnel enforcing the rule of military and civilian dictatorships throughout Latin America. Major Joe Blair, who was the director of instruction at the School of the Americas from 1986 to 1989, had this to say about the curriculum:

“The doctrine that was taught was that if you want information you use physical abuse, false imprisonment, threats to family members, and killing. If you can’t get the information you want, if you can’t get that person to shut up or stop what they’re doing, you assassinate them—and you assassinate them with one of your death squads.”

The change of the name more than a decade ago was cosmetic, Major Blair said while testifying at a 2002 trial of School of the Americas protestors:

“There are no substantive changes besides the name. They teach the identical courses that I taught, and changed the course names and use the same manuals.”

The entire history of capitalism is built on violence, and violence has been used to both impose and maintain the system from its earliest days. Slavery, colonialism, dispossession of the commons, draconian laws forcing peasants into factories and control of the state to suppress all opposition to economic coercion built capitalism. The forms of domination change over the years, and are often financial rather than openly militaristic today (although the armed fist lurks in the background); regardless, exploitation is the lifeblood of wealth. Demanding that the cost of this should be spread around is a demand to continue exploitation, domination and imperialism, and nothing more.

36 comments on “Military spending is the capitalist world’s fuel

  1. It’s more than just the policing. It’s also a major stimulus in a system that requires huge and growing waste streams.

  2. DemolishingBS says:

    Perhaps I’m just a naive 26 year old, but it confuses and bewilders me that to this day, most people I talk to, whether family, friends, strangers, most Americans I interact with in other words, just do not give a fuck much about America’s military footprint and actions. This is especially true with Sanders supporters (I begrudgingly plan to vote for Sanders) who know of his troubling foreign policy record in Congress (contrasted with his anti imperialist rhetoric while mayor of Burlington), who in my experience admittedly either don’t give a shit about it or think his policies are awesome. I feel like I’m all alone on this issue, as I actually care about our foreign policy and want to end our massive militarization…

    • Most United Statesians have so thoroughly absorbed the propaganda of “the indispensable nation” that they can’t even conceive of the reality of U.S. foreign policy.

      The isolation of people who never venture beyond their national borders, who have less direct experience of other cultures and experiences that the people of any other country, does much to keep the particularly virulent form of nationalism so widespread. It is only possible for United Statesians to believe they have it better than anywhere else by having little knowledge of other countries. And, thus, to believe the lies the corporate media, and almost every institution, endless spoon-feed them.

      But it does appear the longtime consensus is beginning to break down; people of your age are much more open to socialism because capitalism is pressing down on them so harshly. Nothing of human creations lasts forever.

      • DemolishingBS says:

        Undoubtedly the cultural insulation of Americans in the manner you describe (something any sane government would wish to combat) is a major factor, hell perhaps the leading factor in why Americans by and large, at least when it comes to the voting booth and serious political action, electoral or otherwise, don’t seem to care about foreign policy. What makes this somewhat baffling is the fact that as the population becomes more receptive of “socialism” and left wing politics in general, this attitude, at least from what I’ve read and experienced, hasn’t changed much at all. When a self-proclaimed socialist still supports Americas foreign policy, even if in a less extreme manner, then you know there’s a problem.

        And even if most Americans don’t give a fuck about the ethics of our foreign policy, they should at least care that they’re being sucked dry by such policies. Bernie Sanders should care that his state is facing austerity that has gutted their universal health care aspirations, partially due to lack of funds due to high military spending…oh well

        • Bernie Sanders completely fails to grasp the connection between austerity at home and imperialism abroad. He’s not necessarily an opponent of militarism even at home — he supported the stationing of Air Force bombers in Burlington against the wishes of his constituents.

          Although he cites the high military budget as a cause of a torn social safety net, he only discusses that in the abstract, not in the actual concrete ramifications, particularly as those ramifications manifest outside the borders of the U.S.

          • DemolishingBS says:

            Nah, I don’t think he fails to grasp the connection, I think he knows deep down there is a major connection. Of course I cannot read his mind, I only presume this given what he said about militarism vis-à-vis social spending in the 1980s, a situation that hasn’t changed much, and I doubt (at least I hope not) that Sanders believes the situation has changed. I think he’s just significantly watered himself down to be more mainstream, a description that would make his millions of rabid fan’s heads explode, but it is what it is. He’s not this outsider “rebel” that his campaign has made him out to be.

            As for the Air Force bombers in Burlington, do you mean the F-35? Do you have any evidence the placement of those jets is unpopular with the residents of Burlington? I’d love to read about this.

            And yes, Sanders offers vague, generic and general at best condemnations of American militarism, but that’s not even really what annoys me. What annoys me is when I try to talk about this with friends and family who “feel the bern”, they are either immediately dismissive or simply affirm how it’s not a “deal breaker” and they flat out simply don’t give a shit, since Sanders is their white knight out to save the day. Blegh. It shows most American’s do not care about this issue, and that’s actually very frightening prospects for our future.

            At least now I can admit I never planned to vote for him in the general, and simply plan to vote for him in the primary (though he’s going to lose now regardless) to get the actual “lesser of two evils” on the ballot, while I always planned to vote for the Greens in the general, as Sanders honestly, ironically despite his image, really is a piss-poor candidate of “the Left”. He’s also doing jack shit to help destroy the two-party system so to me he’s totally useless.

  3. revsgroup says:

    Hi Pete…Does the military budget listed above include intelligence agencies and/or police that are integrated into the national military infrastructure?

    • Among the categories that are included are the military operations of the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the FBI. Additionally, there is $17 billion listed as “Opportunity, Growth, Security Initiative” allowances. The War Resisters League’s pie chart doesn’t specifically list intelligence agencies, but the budget for the CIA, for example, is never shown in the federal budget but rather is hidden within various government agencies.

      Between the regular Pentagon budget and the various entries from outside the Department of Defense, at least a significant portion of the intelligence agencies and police integration are likely included; to what specific extent I can not reliably determine. The “Opportunity, Growth, Security Initiative” might include some of that. The Pentagon also has given away billions of dollars worth of military equipment to local police departments across the country, and that likely does not show up as a line in the budget as it’s materiel previously bought.

  4. I have recently become acquainted with the work of Chalmers Johnson in this area. His writing on the brutal US occupation of South Korea (until 1993) and Okinawa (which continues to the present day) is extremely illuminating. It’s a subject that’s totally obliterated from US history books.

    • South Korean workers are among the world’s most militant, forcing significant improvements in living standards out of a quite brutal right-wing military dictatorship. Okinawans continue to resist the domination of their island by U.S. military bases, and having to fight Tokyo on this issue as well.

      Working people everywhere really do need to understand we need to link up internationally. The capitalists already have; we can’t get to a better world without cross-border solidarity.

      • DemolishingBS says:

        South Korea actually hasn’t been a dictatorship since the late 80s, when it fell apart. Though the fact that it was a dictatorship at all would surprise many Americans.

  5. jibarican says:

    One doesn’t have to look further than the federalist papers to understand that our militarily’ purpose is to support American capitalism.

  6. Very true and candid observations. Military is running the economy world over..and it is dangerous..

  7. Mossi says:

    A brilliant and timely intervention, Pete. I did a song a while back which is very concordant with your observations:

    Right down to the Smedley Butler reference!

  8. “Setting aside that Senator Sanders’ record on imperialism is not nearly as distant from Secretary Clinton’s as his supporters believe, it is a reflection of how deeply imperialism is in the bones of United Statesians when even the candidate positioning himself as a Left insurgent doesn’t seriously question the scale of military operations or their purpose.”

    Keep ripping Sanders and, unless she’s hit with scandal, certainly Clinton wins the presidency. Such wisdom from the progressive movement to bash Sanders, when he’s trying to eliminate the true psychopath war-mongerer Clinton. The U.S. progressive community better wake the f$%k up, get a clue, stop bashing Sanders and get after Clinton, because the hour is getting late.

    • DemolishingBS says:

      I don’t see how this one paragraph is “ripping” into Sanders, however I fail to see how Sanders foreign policy differs all that much from Clinton. In that case, they’re both psychopathic according to your logic.

      The “progressive community” worships Sanders like a god, what the hell are you talking about?

      • “What the hell are you talking about?…” Brilliant response from “Demolishing BS”. Paul Craig Roberts says it better than I:

        Sure, Sanders is going to campaign to win the presidency by alienating the workers at each MIC factory located in every congressional district, the MIC being the major manufacturing sector employer in America; while people rip him for wise strategy, the same brilliant political analysts discourage readers on the internet/alternate media, equating Sanders with Clinton, describing their shared “imperialist, psychopathic, war-mongering characteristics”. Get real.. Like you’re going to see Bernie Sanders exclaim “We came, we saw, he died!” Get real.. Just acknowledging a Sanders win keeps Clinton out of power should make it clear as day the insanity associated with saying or writing one negative iota about Sanders.

        • Sorry, Jerry, but although there are clear differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a candidate who supports some U.S. military interventions is not necessarily a far superior candidate than the one who supports a larger number of U.S. military interventions. I don’t think we help ourselves with hero-worshipping; in my opinion we’d be much better served by observing with a clear, analytical eye at our material conditions.

          What we actually need is a broad movement rooted in communities around the world that acts and builds on practical experience, with full international solidarity. No single personality, not even one better than Bernie Sanders, can substitute for a large movement. Bernie Sanders does not question capitalism; he wishes to significantly ameliorate the conditions of capitalism. I am no opponent of meaningful reforms, but reforms can be and will be taken back. The past 35 years have been abundantly clear on that point.

          Vote for whomever you think is the superior candidate by all means. But that should be the very least thing any of us do.

        • DemolishingBS says:

          The irony about your “workers in each MIC factory” rhetoric is Sanders used to denounce this approach and strategy himself, saying it fed the “MIC”

        • DemolishingBS says:

          Also I notice your link also tells the “progressive left” to support Donald Trump. Yeah, I don’t take that website at all seriously after that…

          • You’re not going to take Paul Craig Roberts seriously? More overwhelming, pseudo-intellectual brilliance. While the punkass discussion continues, Green Party candidate Jill Stein has said she’d collaborate with Sanders if he doesn’t get the nomination over Clinton. If it’s not Sanders, not Stein, then who the f$%k are you supporting for President? Get serious.

            • Jerry, you are crossing the line into personal attacks, which is verboten here. Keep the debate to issues and ideas.

            • DemolishingBS says:

              I don’t know why you’re insulting me, but no, I don’t take conspiracy resources very seriously, nor someone claiming Donald Trump is some honest guy out to clean up politics.

              I don’t particularly support anyone for President, for a variety of reasons. I do vote, but always “third party” to give a bit to helping destroy the “two party” system thats wrecking the country. Baby steps…

            • DemolishingBS says:

              I’m actually totally cool and supportive with Stein and others trying to work with Sanders, the problem is Sanders has no interest with independent politics, so he won’t accept any such offers. He’s said as much a week ago. If Sanders actually wanted to work with them, I’d totally support the effort despite my differences with Sanders, but as I said, he isn’t interested. Don’t fool yourself, his campaign at this point is a dead end.

  9. Great article! This is now my favorite blog along with cluborlov and RD Wolff

  10. […] Le 20 avril 2016 – Systemic Disorder Article original: […]

  11. SomethingScanning says:

    Not only that, but military might is in fact the MONETARY LEVERAGE of the USA. Lybia, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and, to an extent also Russia all at some point faced, or still do face, economic, political and military aggression towards themselves from the USA and its allies as reprisal for trying to reduce the US dollar’s grip on their commercial spheres of influence.
    The most expensive, most stable, most accepted currencies all belong to the USA and its immediate allies, all of whom rely on the Pentagon to exert physical force. It’s important to note here that those geographical regions, where the US dollar has the biggest influence, and those regions, where US military presence is either strong – or not required due to political or commercial influence – coincide almost perfectly.

    Countries that use the dollar, get the benefit of US “protection”. Countries that were forcefully occupied have their own currency destroyed ans are made rely on the dollar.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s