International

Economy Of War: How Industry And Governments Come Together To Fund Forever Wars As Health And Education Take Backseat

The critics of increased military spending have trashed the 'military-industrial complex' of fuelling 'forever wars' where a purported nexus between political leaders and industry keeps on flaming unending conflicts so that the industry keeps profiting. The 'economy of war' would, of course, die if conflicts die.

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Ask around the biggest challenges in their life and people are likely to mention the cost of raising children, poor education facilities in government schools and colleges, poor healthcare facilities and missing doctors, or rising pollution and climate change. 

One would hope that these areas would figure prominently in the governments' budgetary allocations, but you would be wrong. The top-most priorities for governments across the world are war-waging and military spending. Health, education, and the environment take a backseat. 

In India, defence spending is nearly five times the health spending and that's the case in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The condition in the rest of the world is not much different, particularly as new conflicts are emerging across the world: the Ukraine War, conflicts in Africa, the Israel-Hamas War, etc. 

Al Jazeera cited a study as saying that military spending in 2022 reached an all-time high of 34 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). In value terms, it accounted for around $2.24 trillion. Of all the world's military spending, the United States accounted for around 39 per cent.  

The idea of increased military spending is that it paves the way for secure societies that enable further human development, but is that really the case? The United States spent over $2 trillion in Afghanistan over 20 years and the country still fell to the Taliban and now ranks amongst the world's worst places for women and girls as most of their rights, such as education and free movement, are denied. 

The critics of increased military spending have trashed the 'military-industrial complex' of fuelling 'forever wars' where a purported nexus between political leaders and industry keeps on flaming unending conflicts so that the industry keeps profiting. The 'economy of war' would, of course, die if conflicts die. 

While one may understand that it is important to secure societies from terrorism or other transnational threats, when such a defence comes at the cost of basic needs, one begins to question this rationale. The questioning increases when one sees that even though such large sums are spent on defence, are they really defended? The very understanding of national security is also being reconsidered. The conventional understanding of envisioning national security in terms of military security is no longer held valid. National security and the global security framework are now deemed to have components in addition to military security: food security, environmental security, and financial security, to name a few. Ironically, the over-emphasis on one aspect at the cost of the others harms the broader world security. 

Military spending at the cost of health, education

The increased military spending on defence comes at the cost of other sectors. There are, after all, no free lunches. 

For every 1 per cent hike in defence spending, there is a 0.62 per cent decline in health expenditure, according to the War Prevention Initiative (WPI).

"When military spending increases by 1 per cent, spending on health decreases by 0.62 per cent. This trade-off is more intense in poorer countries, where a 1 per cent increase in military spending results in a 0.962 per cent drop in health spending," says a study by WPI.

In India, the defence budget for 2023-24 was Rs 5.94 lakh crore and the health budget —in the midst of a pandemic unseen in living memory— was around 0.89 lakh crore, according to budget documents. The health security of the nation has clearly taken a backseat. The education budget was slightly up at around 1.12 lakh crore.

An article in The Nation said that the United States spends so much on defence that health and education sectors are left to compete for leftovers as an afterthought.

"The Pentagon now consumes more than half the federal discretionary budget, leaving priorities like public health, environmental protection, job training, and education to compete for what remains. In 2020, Lockheed Martin received $75 billion in Pentagon contracts, more than the entire budget of the State Department and the Agency for International Development combined," noted The Nation, adding that just one component of the defence budget, the F-35 fighter plane, equals the full budget of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

War millionaires and cost on societies 

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

The leaders deploy their militaries and make big-ticket defence investments with the idea of securing regional peace, driving out terrorism and insurgencies, or securing their nations. But does that actually happen?

In the past few decades, the most proactive foreign military interventions have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the botched invasion overthrew the longtime ruler Saddam Hussain and disbanded his military. The already-prevalent Islamism in the region converged with the newly disbanded soldiers to help the rise of the terrorist group ISIS, which redefined terrorism and horrors with unprecedented barbarity in the region. In Afghanistan, the US-led Western intervention overthrew the Taliban and ushered in (relative) peace, progress, and women's rights, but all of it was lost with the botched withdrawal in 2021 when the Taliban retook the country. 

The Western intervention plunged Libya into a humanitarian crisis as well. In 2017, CNN found that the country had become a hub of a new era of slave trade in Africa. Ironically, the Libyan intervention that led to such a crisis was greenlit by the then-US President Barack Obama, the first Black US President and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

So, again, the question comes: Who did all these interventions and wars profit? The natives? The military personnel or countries that sent their troops? Only two classes of people appear to benefit from such interventions. One is the military companies and their executives and the second is the politicians who greenlight such interventions — the forever wars as they are called in the United States. 

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It is also a fact that such military interventions create 'war millionaires', the middle-persons and corrupt leaders in host countries that profit from the pilferage of the aid pouring in from the West. The best case is Afghanistan where '9/11 millionaires' is actually a term for a tiny class of Afghans that enriched itself at the cost of the country by stealing the money meant for the country's poor. The poor audit and accountability on the part of the West aids such corruption. Currently, US officials are concerned that such corruption might also be taking place in Ukraine which is receiving largely unchecked aid from the West.

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"U.S. dollars also created the '9/11 millionaires', a tiny class of young, ultra-wealthy Afghans who made their fortunes working as contractors for the foreign armies. A few of these millionaires became role models for a new generation of Afghan entrepreneurs and philanthropists. But many more exploited their family ties to government officials or provincial warlords in order to secure lucrative contracts. Over time, U.S. government contracts became the fuel for a system of mass corruption that engulfed the country and, eventually, doomed its fragile democracy," reported CNBC about Afghanistan. 

Another finding is more damning. Of the less than half of the money meant for Afghan reconstruction that was audited, around 30 per cent was lost to corruption and never made it to the ground, according to VOA News.

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Then, there is the issue of corrupt military practices. In Iraq, fake bomb-detectors were purchased for around $85 million which led to hundreds of deaths as no bombs were actually detected because they were fake! In India, corruption allegations in the Bofors guns purchase in the 1980s scarred the Indian military procurement for decades. That way, not only civilians or the health or education needs, but even legitimate military and security interests are harmed by the military-industrial complex and forever wars it fuels around the world. 

While one understands that you cannot defund and disband your militaries or police forces in a world infested with terrorism, extremism, and other geopolitical threats, one cannot stress enough the need to introduce much more accountability into the military industry and curtail the forever wars that fuel the economy of war that profits from the suffering of the masses. 

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