Bloom Blog

Insights from Michael Bloomfield, Founder and Executive Director of the Harmony Foundation

Plutocrats, Businessmen and War

The costs of war vs. the cost of a healthy society

A newly released report “Cost of Major U.S. Wars,” compares the expenses for wars over the past 230 years, from the American Revolution and until today. The result is that the expenses for the so-called war on terror, meaning all military activity post 9/11, have now exceeded the costs of the Second World War. So far American taxpayers have contributed 1,046 billion dollars to interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places and thousands of lives.

What is wrong with this picture?

We all know that war is gruesome and detrimental to the welfare of nations and citizens of the world. However, what the US Congress’ newly released report clearly shows is that war is also extremely costly. As warfare gets more technologically sophisticated the price goes up. The fact that taxpayers in the US are pouring exorbitant amounts of money into post 9/11 military activities has neither helped the US “win” more wars nor diminished the extent and detrimental effects of violent conflict. Warfare fosters further conflict, which in turn demands more expenditures for military activities, as well as rebuilding of societies and the lives of scores of innocent people harmed by war.

While more and more money is poured into conflict, the world faces health and education and environmental deficits that should worry us more than how to most efficiently kill each other. What is the sense in spending huge sums of money on mutual destruction, when we could build healthier, happier and more just societies by putting the money into advancing health care, education, and the environment? War only worsens these pressing crises, leaving countries in ruins.

Who wants war?

There are sixteen active wars in the world at the moment and twenty-seven armed conflicts that have led to thousands of deaths. Why? Because war is big business and while thousands die, some greatly enrich themselves and benefit from other people’s suffering. While war represents the horrors of death and destruction to most, some have dollar signs in their eyes when the talk is on war. Some people, including politicians and businessmen, are so entangled in both the political, moral and economic aspects of war that they may no longer be able to distinguish between these motivations.

A report from 2008 disseminated by Human Rights First, a New York based NGO, examines the many problems with outsourcing security measurements and indeed military interventions to private contractors. The greatest problem is that private contractors who engage in war on behalf of war-faring nations are by and large unaccountable for their behaviour. As long as the job gets done, the methods used are not questioned. It is a horrible reality show in the crudest possible way that war is today a business, regardless of the human lives that are at risked and ruined in armed conflicts.

While the war business may carry its own inner and self-interested logic to arms brokers and other stakeholders, this idea and these behaviours only escalate conflicts around the world. It is only too well known that rich and well-armed countries such as the US have generated income through selling weapons to many other nations at war, sometimes to both parties of a conflict. War breeds more war, but unfortunately, too many world leaders see this vicious cycle as an opportunity for personal gain. Douglas Mattern of the New York based War and Peace Foundation has said: “The war business is the world’s ultimate criminal activity.” But how can we prosecute and ultimately stop the criminals when they are our leaders in politics and business?

Is it really worth it?

War is always justified by its purveyors as self-defense, preemptive or reactive. Sometimes it is, but far more frequently this rhetorical strategy simply obscures the fact that all war is an act of aggression, resulting in death and destruction. More importantly, does it matter who threw the first stone when we are mourning our dead? Are human lives and the survival of humankind not worth more than a vague concept of “winning” the war or the money military industries and arms brokers make of such conflicts? The challenge to each of us then is to work together to build a civilization of humanity, respect and human rights, and drive the arms dealers and their partners in politics and business from positions of influence and power to the rubbish pile of history where they belong.

Recommended further readings and links

Keller, William W. (1995): Arm in Arm: The Political Economy of the Global Arms Trade. Basic Books.

Singer, Peter (2003): Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.



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This entry was posted on September 14, 2010 by in Ethics, Ecology, Sustainable Development Series.
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