Economics, Militarisation and Globalisation

Facilitation: Ellen Elster

Links between economy and militarisation as well as between the co-evolution of both profit-based and military international bodies and internal social and political conditions in different countries are visible in various parts of the world.

Ireland's neutrality, which is established in its constitution, is a clear example: Although it has prevented Ireland's membership in NATO, Ireland joined NATO's "Partnership for Peace" programme in 1999, which commits Ireland to "inter-operability" and involves "bombing for peace" operations as well. Moreover, after September 11, Irish cooperation with the US military has intensified and includes the use of Shannon Airport and 'overfly' permissions. In 2000, Ireland rejected the Nice Treaty, which gives the EU formal control over its members' military components. However, the EU does not accept the result of the Irish referendum.

More generally, the globalisation of trade and military conflicts are closely connected. The United States, backed by military alliances such as NATO, protects and defends its economic interests. In Angola, these links and interests still mirror the Cold War: The Marxist NPLA is supported by Cuba and Russia, whereas the capitalist UNITA is supported by Western countries. Even those Western countries that carry out some humanitarian work have always an eye on their interest, in particular on establishing their presence and improving their readiness to conclude lucrative contracts. The pattern is similar in both the Congo and Sudan, while Cameroon, though sharing many conditions, has avoided conflict, perhaps due to strong government. In the Congo, there are also troops from different neighbouring countries, i.e. Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola. All want to defend their interests there. The UN forces from South Africa are actually not peacekeeping forces but only observation units since no peace agreement exists. In South Africa itself, the trade embargo during apartheid led to the development of a military economy with sophisticated weaponry to defend apartheid. The inheritance is a nuclear research industry and a military economy that the new government has happily adopted.

In Africa, many of the "ethnic and tribal wars" have their background in economic problems that are linked to the global economy. Angola, for example, is suffering from a total collapse of society as a result of a war linked to the export of its resources. The warring factions have control over oil and diamonds respectively. Moreover, the factions are closely linked to international actors, all with their own economic and political interests, and other countries join out of fear that they could lose out on international trade.

Moreover, military governments are often closely associated with transnational companies (TNCs) and are therefore protected by Western governments. It can be easier for TNCs to work with corrupt or military governments, since these are easier to bribe and are often willing to put military force behind measures that work in favour of TNCs but against the people.

Although a stable economy is in many cases profitable for TNCs, particularly if capital is invested in production that requires a high level of expensive technology, there are cases where TNCs directly and indirectly feed into conflicts: e.g. profits from extractive industries such as mining can often be increased when there is instability. Furthermore, in some cases the profit or debt serving strategies of TNCs fuelled internal conflicts, e.g. in the Philippines or Indonesia. In former French colonies, colonisation facilitated the influence of TNCs in each aspect of national life. Their influence can hardly be controlled by national law.

However, the active fostering of war by TNCs or military alliances is the exception rather than the rule. It is rather the threat to the livelihood of whole tribes (or even larger societies) as a consequence of current global economic processes that causes an increasing number of internal national conflicts. These are often disguised as "ethnic" or "religious" wars and form the majority of wars today.

Globalisation itself is, however, not necessarily bad and both negative and positive aspects can be discerned. TNCs are criticized because their enormous economic power leads to political power as well, which in turn weakens democracy. Within the framework of the WTO, countries sign international agreements that control every aspect of trade with the effect that governments are losing control over basic functions. Therefore, many indebted countries cannot fulfil their promises of free social services. Their inability to invest also widens the technology gap. The kind of stability needed for foreign investment is different from that needed by employees: Labour rights are being eroded by the presence of free trade zones. Moreover, programmes introduced to pay off debts are altering infrastructures and destroying ways of life. Cultural diversity is also suffering from the dominance of Western life styles and the English language. On the other hand, globalisation has become a forum for the struggle for social justice as the visibility and awareness of common problems and political power games has grown. In addition, transparency is easier to achieve and communication is improving. In conclusion, globalisation can be a positive force, but only if social and environmental goals become its main objective rather than the profit of economic elites.

Peace/anti-war movements and the new social/anti-globalisation movements share the concept of global justice. Since the turning point of Seattle, Trade Unions, New Socialists, and Peace activists demonstrate together. While recruitment to the "symptomatic" movements that deal with conflict and reconciliation has been slowing down, young people are increasingly attracted by "causal" movements that deal with the causes of injustice and conflicts. Organisations such as ATTAC are potential allies of peace/anti-war organisations. Both should form cooperative resistance with the common theme that human values and environmental issues are more important than profit.

In this regard, the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Allegre, Brazil, is particularly interesting. It was set up as an alternative to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and took place at the same time. 60,000 people from civil society all over the world attended the WSF in January 2002. As a huge number of groups were marketing their own interests, orientation was very difficult. However, both local and an international networks were set up for correspondence and for the coordination of joint actions. The WEF, on the other hand, is a non-government forum aiming at bringing together business and other interest groups, e.g. politicians, scientists, activists, and religious groups. The world media is extremely well represented. Therefore, it might be useful to have a more firmly established network between the WSF and WEF.

Differences between the African Union and the European Union were also discussed, particularly in their structure and influence. The AU is an elite created top-down organisation; the EU developed slowly from a union of democratic countries. The case of Zimbabwe shows AU's control over African governments intervention in each others countries is not effective.

The particular role of WRI in the campaign against the negative effects of globalisation can take different forms:

  • Link with the global movement by writing an official position paper on globalisation and militarisation backed up by case studies of local effects of globalisation. This paper should be presented at a side event at the WSF by a WRI sponsored representative.
  • Delegitimise the use of military force concentrating on the question of anti-conscription. The most important issue is education, especially the difference between education against war, and education for peace. WRI should be active in defining and implementing that difference.
  • Stop the US war against Iraq. The spreading of information is the most important factor in combating this war.
  • Achieve transparency in the arms trade. WRI should encourage work to strengthen and link efforts to curb the arms trade; to draw up and encourage the acceptance of critical guidelines on investment; to encourage the use of international codes of conduct as an advocacy mechanism; to establish public campaigns by local groups on how weapons production in their own areas affects the lives of people living in other countries and campaigns for compliance with the UN registry on conventional arms.