Militarism underpins globalisation

By Francisco Pascual

Francisco Pascual is the executive director of the Resource Center for People's Development, Manila, and a member of the International Coordinating Committee and coordinator of the International Secretariat, International South Group Network. This paper was presented at the Asian Workshop on "Women and Globalisation", November 22-24, 2001, in Manila.

Is there a military aspect of globalisation? The answer of course is, Yes, there is. In the current discourse, globalisation is not usually linked to a politico-military aspect; it is often referred to as an economic phenomenon impelled by purely economic forces and independent of politico-military forces. The driving forces of this phenomenon are allegedly the market and high technology, among others. Moreover, the end of the Cold War paves the way for globalisation to go on unhampered through the simple operation of some obviously mythical "economic laws".

Globalisation—the so-called "inevitable integration of the world economy"—is underpinned by force, without which it would stop dead in its tracks. This is not usually recognised and, in fact, is deliberately left out of the discourse because the "theory of globalisation" deliberately excludes the political and military contexts and abstracts economic phenomena from the existing international power relations.

Globalisation as an economic process

In the sense that there is a historical process of integration of the world economy under the dominant economic system, globalisation is not new. In the past 500 years, colonial conquest brought the distant countries into the orbit of the expanding world economy, not to mention earlier epochs of the conquest of backward by more advanced civilisations. Colonial conquest was driven by economic imperatives of the dominant order. Plunder of distant lands is clearly the result of the insatiable greed for wealth of the feudal nobility. Under capitalism the control of raw materials and of distant markets fuelled the conquest of colonies. We are of course aware of the nature of capitalism, which conquers the globe in search of profits.

Colonial conquest was driven by economic imperatives and accomplished by military means. Likewise, neo-colonialism is underpinned by force, notwithstanding its benevolent facade of granting political independence to the former colonies.

In contrast, the proponents of the "theory of globalisation" insist that its imperatives and driving force are purely economic and are the inevitable result of certain economic laws. The era of globalisation is made to be a qualitatively different era from earlier periods of colonialism and neo-colonialism. History has ended, so they say. The market and the high degree of development of technology, among other economic forces, supposedly impel globalisation in such a way that it becomes inevitable.

Of course we know that the so-called "free market" and the "level playing field" are myths, that at the international level markets are neither free nor fair. They are controlled by monopolies. Witness the rise of gigantic mergers in every major line of industry while markets are forced open and national boundaries are brought down.

What about technology? Is it the driving force behind economic integration? Has the high level of technological development made globalisation possible, if not inevitable? Technology by any reckoning is not the driving force behind globalisation, although it facilitates it. The application of high technology in the processes of production enables corporations to automate production, lay off workers and transfer labour-intensive processes to the low-waged economies of the Third World while keeping their monopoly of core industrial processes in their home countries. Of course the application of high technology in production and the modern means of communication facilitate this division of the production process.

The fact is that globalisation is driven by the profit motive. In the latter part of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth century, investment of surplus capital in foreign countries from the industrial countries was even larger as a percentage of GDP than it is today. This surge was the result of high returns on foreign investments during that period. Today foreign investments go to Third World countries to take advantage of cheap labour, favourable investment climates (e.g., tax holidays, suppression of core worker rights), and to penetrate the local market. In short, foreign direct investment, a key aspect of globalisation, is driven by high rates of return.

This is not to say that globalisation has no specific features. Globalisation, while being driven by the basically unchanged unequal relations in the world economy, has specific characteristics because of the specific needs of capital in the present period. The process of production is certainly socialised to a higher degree than at anytime in the past. Production processes are dispersed throughout the globe. High technology is applied extensively. Informatics and genetic engineering are at the cutting edge of the development of production. There is increased mobility of capital, which exploits the limited labour mobility and the cheap labour of national markets.

But the fundamental processes underlying the international capitalist economy remain the same. Globalisation is not a qualitatively different process from nineteenth and twentieth century capitalism; the same imperatives of profit accumulation and ever expanding markets for an ever growing accumulation drive the globalisation of the international economy.

In essence globalisation is the process of further penetration of capital into the economies of the South. This imperative stems from the unprecedented accumulation of capital on the one hand and shrinking markets on the other. The forcible opening of the national markets of the Third World countries must therefore be seen in the light of this crisis of capital. Globalisation is a smokescreen for opening up markets for both goods and capital in an attempt to avert this crisis.

Ideological blinders

Clearly globalisation is a process that is driven by class forces. As it was in all other systems of economic exploitation in the past, the globalisation scheme has its own ideological justification. Moreover, it is underpinned by political control mechanisms in which the modern state is key. It is underpinned by force. But first let us briefly go over the ideological means of control.

The first of the ideological blinders is the concept of globalisation. In a clever manipulation of economic reality, globalisation is presented as if it were a process iöndependent of vested economic interests and class forces. It is allegedly the result of independent forces in the economy, of the development of technology, of the invisible hand of the market, which punishes the inefficient and rewards the efficient. This theory does not help us understand the internal workings of the economy. Rather than clarify, it blurs the internal contradictions that cause periodic crisis. "Free market" and "free trade" are treated as dogmas that are inherently good for everyone. Hence, they become ends in themselves.

Take the assumption of many, including many of those who oppose globalisation, that there is a need for international rules of trade and what needs to be done is to ensure that trade is not only "free" but also "fair". But these rules cannot exist outside of, and must be seen in the context of, present power relations. In the context of the present world economy, "free markets" means just the opposite—markets controlled by monopolies.

Another blinder is the concept of democracy and good governce. Elite democracy, especially the US type, is considered the appropriate political shell for "free markets" and "free trade". The restoration of formal democratic rights in Third World countries prepares the creation of and the conditions for the development of free markets. But the formal democratic processes provide a smokescreen for the essential lack of democracy for the majority of citizens. Within the bounds of these formal democratic processes, protests are diverted into safe channels, contained within safe bounds so that the system is not imperiled.

Ideological control is effected by, among other things, control of the mass media and facilitated by modern means of communication. Consider how the whole world is being treated every day, hour by hour, to the spectacle of the mighty US war machine pounding and routing the "evil forces" of the Taliban, portraying civilian casualties and massive displacement of whole populations as necessary consequences of the war against "evil". We are seeing the war and the world the way George W. Bush and Tony Blair want us to see them—courtesy of the "free press" of the USA and UK.

The ideological justification serves the political and military forms of control. The structures of globalisation are far more developed today than in earlier periods of history. There have evolved very powerful regulatory bodies of globalisation, exercising unprecedented control over the world economy. But on top of this, the military forces of the US are even more spread out at present than during the years of the Cold War to preempt any challenge to the international order.

The G7 and the regulatory mechanisms of globalisation

As regulatory bodies in the service of globalisation, the WTO and the IMF/WB have evolved into very powerful bodies to serve the needs of transnational capital. These institutions have arrogated unto themselves unprecedented power over the world economy. These powers, which are directed against the sovereign states of the Third World, force them to implement structural adjustment programs (SAPs) that wreak havoc on whole economies. They bring economic hardships to practically whole populations but especially to peasants, workers and women, who are doubly oppressed.

Today the IMF/WB and the WTO are symbols of the predatory and destructive neo-liberal policies the world over. Hence, they present themselves as the most visible targets of the international movement against globalisation. Together with the regular meetings of the G7, the activities of the IMF/WB and the WTO have become occasions for massive protest actions against globalisation and its major components.

The IMF/WB were initially built upon a specific mandate limited to providing financial assistance to countries experiencing temporary balance of payment deficits. But through five decades of their existence these multilateral finance institutions have evolved into powerful regulatory bodies that not only dictate macroeconomic policies but also micro-manage the Third World countries. Even before the WTO put the trade rules into place, the IMF structural adjustment programs had forced open the economies of the Third World to the further incursion of transnational capital.

The WTO further consolidates this control by raising structural adjustment programs to the level of international law. Unlike the earlier generation of international bodies (e.g. UNCTAD), the WTO is vested with police powers and can impose sanctions and other punitive actions against states considered to have violated its trade rules.

But the IMF/WB and the WTO, however great the powers they have acquired, are only regulatory bodies acting for and on behalf of transnational capital and their states. Actual power resides in the imperialist states. We are all familiar with the internal workings of the IMF/WB and the WTO, and this does not need elaboration. The US is the biggest stockholders in both the IMF and WB, and together with the other G7 nations has absolute control over them. The agreements in the WTO are actually dictated by the US, EU, Japan and a few other countries. In short, these institutions are not independent of the US and the other G7 states. In fact, they are at the beck and call of the G7 and US.

In the days of the Asian economic bubble, there were those in the Philippines and elsewhere, who, taken for a ride on the newly industrialising country illusion, put forward the idea that the state is fading away or rendered superfluous by globalisation. They portrayed the so-called "institutions of international governance", which actually are instruments of the G7 states, as eroding the powers of the state. They also pointed to the neo-liberal policies of deregulation, privatisation and liberalisation (in short, the "withdrawal" of the state from economic intervention) as a proof of the weakening of the state.

This notion of a weakening state is without any basis at all. The state remains the most decisive instrument for protecting economic groups and for the implementation of economic programs, including globalisation. For example, the state comes to the rescue of big capital when bankruptcy is imminent and as a matter of routine. There is no dearth of examples, from the rescue of Long Term Capital to the airline industry after the September 11 attack or even the growing subsidies to agriculture that are being gobbled up by multinational corporations in their destructive competition against rival capitals. In the South, states nationalise the bad debts of big corporation as a matter of routine to save the profits of the multinational banks.

The states also fight for their respective capitals in the multilateral trading bodies like the WTO and the regional trade blocs—NAFTA, AFTA, APEC etc. The US, EU and Japan fight for their own capitals within the WTO, as demonstrated by some of the highlighted disputes within the WTO since its establishment—bananas, textiles and so on. But they come to a consensus and band together with regard to their conflicts with the South. As far as the South is concerned, the economies must be pried wide open for multinational capital to exploit.

The most important thing, however, is the military power of these states. The military might of the US and its allies is the most important factor that underpins globalisation. Today, in spite of the end of the Cold War, US military forces are more spread out internationally, employ more sophisticated weaponry, brazenly threaten sovereign countries and unilaterally wages wars of aggression under various pretexts. This deployment is definitely linked to globalisation—to the opening up of markets and the protection of US and other investments overseas.

Deployment of US and allied military forces

One would think that the end of the Cold War would logically reduce the deployment of US military forces around the world. The fact is that the US military forces are more spread out today than in the past; despite the absence of any imminent threat to its security, the US is developing a new generation of weapons, including fighter planes and missile "defence" systems.

US forces are deployed strategically in various military bases, as well as on the oceans through mobile aircraft carriers and submarines around the world. The US also maintains an arsenal of strategic intercontinental ballistic missiles pre-aimed at targets around the world and maintains a high level of alert that enables its air force to strike at targets anywhere in the world with short notice.

In Asia and the Pacific, the US maintains troops in Okinawa, Korea, Guam, the Marianas and Diego Garcia. It has military treaties with the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and Pakistan. In spite of the termination of the basing agreement and the pull-out of military forces from Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base in the Philippines, US forces have access to Philippine territory through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). In Europe, US forces form the bulk of the NATO forces and maintain bases in Germany, Turkey etc.

These forward deployments of military forces must be viewed in the context of the stated imperatives of US foreign policy, which remains the same even in the post-Cold War era. According to the US Department of Defense:

The US National Security Strategy ... is based on enlarging the community of market democracies while deterring and containing a range of threats to our nation, our allies and our interests. Focusing on new threats and new opportunities, its central goals are to enhance security by maintaining a strong defense capability and promoting cooperative security measures; to open foreign markets and spur global economic growth and promote democracy abroad.1

In the jargon of the US Department of Defense, these aims are justified in terms of protecting us strategic national interests. Specifically, it means providing the security and stability for economic "development", protecting US investments and markets and securing sea lanes and lines of communication that are essential for the transport of critical materials like oil.

Brought down to specific regions of the world, this is how deployment in the Asia-Pacific region is justified:

The Asia–Pacific region is currently the most economically dynamic region in the world and on that basis alone its security would be critical to America’s future. The prosperity of Asia is, in part, a result of successful American policies that have underwritten Asian security and have underpinned Asia’s economic development ... Asia’s prosperous stability is in turn vital to America’s health and to the world’s security.

So the US Defense Department credits the "success" of the Asian economies to US military hegemony in the region.

At the core of US military strategy in the post-Cold War era is the projection of its military might. This is achieved through basing agreements with other countries, security agreements that even without bases allow US access to foreign territories (e.g. VFA) and the forcible deployment of military forces in various regions of the world (e.g. Kosova). This is made clear in the case of Iraq, where US forces still control the airspace. It gained basing rights in Saudi Arabia and in Kosova, where NATO forces remain and intervene in the affairs of the Balkan states even after the avowed military objectives have been achieved. In Afghanistan, US forces are already on the ground setting the stage for long-term intervention in Central Asia. Clearly the aim is complete control not only at the world strategic level but also superiority in every possible specific theater of engagement. It is in this light that the build-up rather than scaling down of forward military deployment must be understood. The wars in Iraq, Kosova and now Afghanistan are also conducted to achieve not only the avowed objectives but rather the broader politico-military objective of military superiority in specific regions of the world.

The 'war against terrorism'

In the light of overall US objectives, it would certainly be naive to take the US government’s response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington at face value. The "war on terrorism" certainly goes far beyond the label the US has put on its latest offensive. It is in fact a politico-military offensive that serves US hegemonic designs, especially globalisation. It is, therefore, of major importance to the international situation and particularly to the struggle against globalisation.

The September 11 attack was on a far bigger scale than any other single terrorist act in recent years, including those that were perpetrated by the CIA, Zionism and other right-wing forces. Hence it generated widespread anger on an international scale as well as creating political divisions and open political conflicts in many countries.

Capitalising on the widespread outrage against these terrorist acts, Bush wants to turn the situation into a political bonanza for his administration. He is playing the anti-terrorist paranoia and false patriotism to cover up the deepening crisis of the US and the world economy and launch an attack on the people and sovereign state of Afghanistan and threaten other countries that are opposed to us designs.

The specific geo-political objective of the war on Afghanistan is the defeat of the Taliban and the installation of a pro-US regime, the projection of US military might and the possible deployment of military forces in the region where us influence is traditionally weak or absent.

The US is now conditioning the minds of its and other peoples of the world to a long military intervention in Afghanistan and the region. The war, according to Bush, is "not easy, and the American people must be patient." But this offensive is not only about terrorism; it is a facade for forcing the whole US agenda on the peoples of the world, including the US people. It includes justifying and putting into place the worst hegemonic designs—from a massive build-up of the US war machine to the curtailment of civil liberties of ordinary citizens, including the legalisation of assassinations by the CIA under the pretext of combating terrorism. Bush claims he has public support for the worst programs that otherwise would have been opposed by a wide spectrum of the US public and the international community.

Now even with the end of the Cold War and the obvious absence of any external threat to the US, Bush wants more military spending. This includes the controversial Star Wars program originally proposed by Reagan and directed against the Soviet Union. The biggest defence contract ever ($200 billion) has been signed by the US government to build a new generation of warplanes. The imperatives of the massive spending have more to do with reviving the us economy and developing more sophisticated military hardware for US wars of aggression than defence of the US homeland.

New security measures have been put into place supposedly as a reaction to the September 11 attacks and to combat terrorism, but they threaten the civil liberties of US citizens more than terrorism. This assault on civil liberties and the attendant witch-hunt is directed at a wide range of individuals, groups and organisations that oppose US policies. The US Congress has approved the setting up of a new Department of Home Defense with an appropriation of $20 billion. A new law allows the wire-tapping of the telephones of suspected "terrorists". The CIA is pushing to be explicitly allowed to use some of the most atrocious tricks it has used or is using, like assassinations and torture. It is also pushing for a policy that would allow it to employ criminals in the name of the anti-terrorist campaign.2

Even the free trade agenda is taken on board the anti-terrorism bandwagon. The US secretary of trade calls on the international community to use "free trade" to combat terrorism! The new round of WTO negotiations is being justified in the same vein. It is obvious that the September 11 incidents are being used in every conceivable agenda of the US—from wars of aggression to the curtailment of civil liberties to the expansion of markets for US corporations.

The crisis of the international economy

The September 11 attacks and the "war on terrorism" have for some time overshadowed the crisis of the economy, which was already advanced before September 11. George Bush and Tony Blair have not only been temporarily spared from criticism for their responsibility for the economic crisis and the negative impact of their neo-liberal policies. They also attempt to undercut the opposition to globalisation by hollow moves like the restructuring of Pakistan’s debt to reward the latter’s subservience to the US, and the fantastic claim of "liberating" Afghan women.

The economic crisis is recoiling on the centres of the world economy. Unlike the last crisis, which broke out in the so-called growth areas of Asia before spreading to Russia and then to South America, the present crisis broke out at the very centre of the capitalist system. Japan’s economy has been stagnating for the last decade. Now the US economy is constricting, and the most optimistic forecast is that recovery will come only at the end of next year. Indicators show that Germany, the third biggest economy, is also headed for a recession.

There is a crisis of overproduction in every major line of industry—steel, car manufacturing, computers and electronics, shipbuilding, telecommunications. The markets are saturated with goods, there is "weak demand" and prices are falling. Even the biggest corporations are not spared. These include the biggest corporations in the major industry lines—computers, steel, airlines, cars, etc. Globalisation cannot prevent the crisis, but in fact aggravates it.

Now government must come to rescue of big capital. Twenty billion dollars are needed to save the US airline industry alone. The aeronautics industry is handed a $200 billion contract (the biggest ever) for the next ten years to build a new generation of warplanes. Even agriculture is allocated over $70 billion in the next ten years. So much for all the talk about private capital as the engine of the economy, less government intervention and all the neo-liberal crap!

The stock markets are collapsing. The financial bloat and the abuse of financial instruments are hitting the capitalists through this crash. The frenzy for mega-mergers preceding the explosion of the crisis and for control of the global markets could neither avert nor mitigate the crisis. In fact these mergers are in a significant way responsible for the bubble that is now bursting. The so-called cutting edge of the international economy, the fashionable dot-coms, proved to be the most vulnerable and the first to fall. This only goes to show that there are limits to the generation of paper profits that bear no relation to the development of production in the physical economy.

In the standard response to a crisis, corporations are resorting to massive retrenchments and reducing the level of production. Workers are being fired from their jobs by the thousands. Wages are cut and welfare benefits are withdrawn as a way of preserving the profits of the capitalist class. The means of production are left idle on a large scale as corporations reduce production to reduce inventories. Today only 70 per cent of the productive capacity of the international economy is being utilised. This massive destruction of the means of production is being done in the context of increasing unemployment in the First World countries and widespread poverty and deepening underdevelopment in the Third World and the former socialist countries.

The massive retrenchment of workers, the cut in wages and welfare benefits and in general the cost-cutting schemes of the capitalist only deepen the crisis by further constricting the market.

The crisis directly impacts and is immediately brought into the economies of the Third World as it spreads worldwide. The inherent disadvantage of the Third World is that of being assigned a specific role as producers of a few agricultural products, a production base for labour-intensive and low technology processes and as markets for the surpluses of the industrial economies. Hence, the Third World economies plunge as demand for their few exports falls, as the transnational corporations cut production due to the crisis in their home markets and as the latter dump their surpluses in the underdeveloped countries.

Many Third World economies are in danger of defaulting on their massive debts—Argentina, Indonesia and the Philippines because of falling demand for their exports as well as deteriorating terms of trade. Argentina, now in the third year of a deep recession, is the most likely to default. Others may follow. The multilateral as well as commercial banks are worried that this could lead to unilateral declarations of non-payment because of the deteriorating economic situation, thus undermining the legitimacy of the Third World debts and the conditions under which they were contracted.

The crisis engenders intense rivalries and trade wars among the various national capitals. They fight for control of the world markets. Bigger and bigger mergers are formed as the competing capitals outmanoeuvre each other to capture markets, increase the size of capital and monopolise production. In the multilateral trade bodies like the WTO, ASEAN and NAFTA, the few industrial nations exert pressure and twist arms. While they are one in pushing for further liberalisation of the economies of the Third World, they also compete fiercely against each other.

Once more, the inherent contradictions of capitalism are rudely showing, especially to the ideologues, that globalisation is a farce. It is not an integration of the world economy; neither is its development driven by this integration. It is the penetration of the world economy by monopoly capital to expand and control markets. But even this unhampered access to the markets for goods and capital cannot avert the inherent crisis of capitalism. As globalisation intensifies, so does the crisis of the global capitalist system.

Opposition to globalisation

The rationale for the "war on terrorism" is wearing thin, and the political bonanza is rapidly being spent as the falsity of the US view of terrorism is exposed and as it becomes evident that the war is a disguise for us hegemonic designs. As the economy worsens, it will become increasingly difficult for the us and every G7 government to hide behind the so-called war against terrorism to escape responsibility for the crisis of the globalising world economy.

The September 11 attacks and "war against terrorism" only accelerated the economic crisis, which is bound to engender massive protest. There is widespread protest against the US war in Afghanistan, despite the advantage of the US in terms of political and military initiative. There are also cracks in the anti-terrorist alliance.

In the past several years, the IMF/World Bank, WTO and the G7/G8 summits have been the object of massive and intense protest for their responsibility for all the evils of globalisation. Many Third World governments also resent the bullying of the industrial powers. They resent the fact that they are, in fact, excluded from the WTO and other multilateral negotiations. They know that in the new round of negotiations, the industrial powers are going to force and in the end extract more favourable trade rules for themselves.

It is important for the movement against imperialist globalisation to expose US militarism as the main threat to world peace and as underpinning globalisation. US militarism should not be spared the just wrath of the peoples of the world. The women’s movement is an integral part of the movement against imperialist globalisation. Women are oppressed as women, through gender, race and class. Under globalisation they are even more exploited and oppressed because of their secondary status. The women’s movement must link up with the movement against imperialist globalisation.


1. See "US Strategy for East-Asia Pacific Region," US Department of Defense.

2. The CIA is reported to be campaigning for repeal of a 25-year-old law that prohibits assassinations of political opponents of the US.