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<nettime> war is big bucks for britain
Lennaart & Smadar on Fri, 21 May 1999 06:56:44 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> war is big bucks for britain


Found this hidden in the financial pages of the guardian
http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,3865803,00.html

britain and the usa are of course way ahead of everybody in arms exports.
anybody know exactly where and when the air show happens?
any chance for underground videomakers?

lenn

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West lines up for the third way war

By Larry Elliott
Monday May 17, 1999



Last week the Chinese embassy. This week 100 ethnic
Albanians. As the list of Nato cock-ups in the Balkans grows
longer, it is only a matter of time before the charts are
graced with a reissue of Edwin Starr's classic Motown hit,
War. The first line, from memory, goes: 'War! Huh! What is
it good for? Absolutely nothing.'

 Britain's defence industry would doubtless disagree with
this proposition. When the Paris air show opens next month,
the tents will be full of executives showing their lunch
guests slow-motion videos of 'smart' (ie, expensive)
missiles being guided with pinpoint accuracy to their
intended target. There will, presumably, be no shots of
those that hit buses or Bulgaria.

The defence secretary, George Robertson, made clear last
week that the war against Serbia ruled out any further cuts
in Britain's defence budget, which stands at around 3% of
GDP. Indeed, the talk is of Europe working towards its own
army so it is less reliant on America for dealing with
trouble in its own back yard.

Before we accept this argument, however, it is worth making
a couple of points. First, 3% of GDP on defence is still
double what Britain was spending 100 years ago in the days
when the sun never set on the empire. Only the ludicrous
sums spent during the cold war make the recent reductions
seem impressive.

Secondly, the creation of a European army will require a
beefed-up European defence industry, which will see
contracts and subsidies ladled out to all parts of the EU in
what will inevitably become a mark 2 common agricultural
policy.

The third point is to ask why Europe is so reliant on the
US. The spin is that Tony Blair would love to send British
ground troops yomping across Kosovo but that this remains a
 pipedream unless Bill Clinton agrees to deploy US troops.

This seems rather bizarre. Britain, France, Germany and
 Italy have a combined GDP of about $5 trillion a year and
they are spending 2-3% of GDP each on defence every year.
That means $100bn-$150bn. If Europe is dependent on American
transport planes, assault troops and armoured vehicles for a
land war against one of Europe's smallest and poorest
countries, shouldn't we be asking what we are getting for
all this money?

Where is Ofmod to regulate what is effectively the last
great nationalised industry, living off an endless stream of
subsidies in a jealously protected market? Where is the MoD
equivalent of Chris Woodhead, telling brasshats that they
will be sacked for incompetence unless they buck their ideas
up?

Two explanations spring to mind. The first is that Europe
does not have what it takes to fight a conventional war
against Milosevic. Britain and France have nuclear
deterrents for use against an enemy that no longer exists and
conventional forces that are not up to the job. The fact
that only America has the transport aircraft to ferry troops
around suggests this might be the case. The second
explanation is that Europe does have the military might but
will never use it for fear of upsetting public opinion.

Either way, this seems to be a grotesque waste of resources,
particularly in a world where the United Nations calculates
the chances of death from social neglect are 33 times as
high as from war started by external aggression.

Defence is a big industry. It employs around one in 10
workers in Britain's shrunken manufacturing sector and
gobbles up a vast chunk of the UK's spending on research and
development. The consequences for the national economy have
been deleterious. Analysts talk of the so-called golden
banana, a swath of defence firms in a crescent stretching
from Norwich through Cambridge to north London and out along
the M4. But the reality is that investment in defence has
crowded out non-military investment while failing to match
the Pentagon's military Keynesianism, which has at least had
some spin-offs in IT and biotechnology.

Market discipline seen as crucial when it comes to value for
money in the NHS or state schools has been noticeable by its
absence in the defence sector, where the taxpayer has paid
through the nose for products which have tended to be of
dubious quality, even when they have made it into
production.

Britain, indeed, exemplifies what Paul Kennedy was driving
at in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers when he said:
'If... too large a proportion of the state's resources is
diverted from wealth creation and allocated instead to
military purposes, then that is likely to lead to a
weakening of national power over the medium term.'

The most sensible course for Britain and for the rest of
Europe, too, would be to work out what is really needed for
defence and then buy all its equipment from the US, which
tends to produce better weaponry at a lower cost as a result
of economies of scale.

But the real point about defence spending in Britain (and
France) is not about defence at all but about exports. There
are almost 200 sovereign states across the globe, many of
them politically unstable and controlled by ruthless regimes
pursuing local wars and internal repression. There is money
to be made provided that not too many questions are asked.

Professor Paul Dunne of Middlesex University says there is
overcapacity in the defence industry, which is desperate to
find new markets. 'This has clear dangers as there is no
international agency which can control the arms transfers.
We could end up with huge multinational or transnational
companies moving weapons at will to areas of conflict with
no constraints by the international community.'

In the case of the Balkans, the arms companies have the
perfect political cover. Nato says it is waging a
humanitarian campaign which just happens to be conducted by
dropping bombs from 15,000 feet so that there is no risk to
its service personnel. Just as there is a third way to
tackle poverty, where the rich are assured that they will
suffer no collateral damage, so this is a third-way war.

Military strategists know that air power will not win this
war. Nato might just as well jam Serbian TV and radio with
the recent Reith lectures by Anthony Giddens explaining what
the third way is all about. A couple of doses of global
cosmopolitanism and reflexivity would probably do the trick,
and be cheaper to boot.

The longer Nato persists with its current tactics, the
stronger will grow the suspicion that the bombing campaign
will do more to foster globalisation than to secure
humanitarian goals. If Serbia really is the new Nazi Germany
and Milosevic the new Hitler, then the risk of casualties
logically should not stand in the way of full-scale
intervention by the west.

Unless the west is prepared to do that which of course it
isn't the war will end with a deal (carefully spun, of
course) that will fall well short of unconditional surrender
and be followed by the arrival of western finance, western
multinationals and western contracts for the big clean-up
operation. As the New Statesman put it recently: 'Just as
markets were once secured for the East India Company, so now
they will be secured for Microsoft or McDonald's, since our
belief in the civilising benefits of western trade and
capital is quite as strong as our ancestors.'

Or as Billy Bragg put in his reworking of Edwin Starr's hit:
'War! What is it good for? It's good for business.'


Guardian Newspapers Limited 1999

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