Who profits from the war economy?

The Military-Industrial Complex is in the thick of the action as multiple conflicts break out and regional instability grows

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Allan Jacob

Published: Tue 9 Aug 2022, 10:37 PM

Love ends, war is endless. Call it forever war when military action simply moves from one conflict zone to another. Just when the world thought that the two-decade-old Afghanistan war was over with American troops exiting the country under a cloud of humiliation, along comes the Ukraine conflict in February. Yemen, meanwhile, is cooling off with a truce but is simmering beneath the surface; Iraq lies in ruins after the disastrous War on Terror, and Taiwan is boiling after Nancy Pelosi’s visit that was meant to provoke Beijing.

The world appears content with normalizing conflict, which makes the next war inevitable and waiting to be waged. Proxies keep them brewing for the pecuniary gains of the defense industry and arms contractors - it pays to stir the pot for the production and supply of weapons.

For the media, there’s always action with an eye on ratings, and audiences are streaming in for 24/7 coverage. In Ukraine, the early excitement (and fear) has now given way to fatigue. This is Russia’s war of attrition. Ordinary Ukrainians, meanwhile, are coming to terms with the daily violence while living through the grief and the destruction. Seven months later, embedded journalists who covered the conflict ‘exclusively’ have since slipped away from the action zones as the fighting shifts to other fronts.

Modern war is about conflicts within conflicts; they are staggered and the winning formula is to make them last. Ukraine currently appears to be a lost cause for both sides as they set conditions for talks. The only consolation is that a deal has been reached to transport Ukrainian wheat from the war zone. But the level of disengagement from dialogue is disheartening, and the United Nations has yet to appoint a special envoy for peace as the conflict puts millions of lives at risk. Amin Awad’s appointment as the United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine is to contain the fallout of the conflict on people, but there has been negligible effort to mediate for peace.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has confirmed 5,237 civilian deaths in the Russian offensive as of last month. The numbers could be higher. Headlines have since moved from the Ukraine war. Yet conflict zones are expanding as leaders crave attention and validation as they want to be taken seriously in global affairs. It seems that somebody somewhere is desperate to keep the war machine oiled and running.

War for profits and the economy are often mentioned in the same breath. Blame is often placed on what has been called the Military-industrial Complex which is as complex as it sounds while also being conspiratorial to some. One has only to analyze the surge in fighting during the past months to understand what’s going on. George Orwell, in 1984, describes such a state as ‘continuous’. But how do you end a war that hasn’t been even been called a war by one party?

The phrase Military-Industrial Complex is not new. It was first used by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address to the nation in which he warned of dangers of a war economy. “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together,” he said.

But successive US administrations have chosen to ignore Eisenhower’s words. Since then, American troops have been has engaged in long wars in Vietnam (1955-1975), Afghanistan (2001–2021), and Iraq (2003-2011). According to Brown University’s Watson Institute of International Affairs, the US spent a whopping $8 trillion in wars post 9/11. This is not factoring in the $40 billion the US cleared for the war effort in Ukraine which includes humanitarian assistance. That’s $100 million per day to keep the war effort going in Ukraine. Washington has earmarked $8.5 billion for weapons alone and defence contractors and arms companies are seeing a windfall.

In modern conflict, however, there can be no clear victors as the US superpower experience has shown over decades. Now Russia’s bid at regaining its Cold War superpower status with a 'special operation' has met with dogged Ukrainian resistance. The theatre of war is now expanding to the south of the country as the leaders draw farther apart and shun negotiations. Peace, it seems, has no fighting chance with the Military-Industrial Complex laughing all the way to the bank.


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