JIM COOMBS. “Just good business” or gun-running.

Aug 11, 2017

The “Neo-liberal” language speaks of arms sales as just good business, notwithstanding the concomitant death and destruction.

How times have changed. The purveyors of weapons and defence equipment are now the darlings of the stock market and strut in high society.

Yet, in my living memory, the much loved retiring US President, Dwight D Eisenhower, said, as he laid down the cares of office in 1961, that we should be wary of the “Military-Industrial Complex”, as the combined power of the two could lead to evil consequences. Another voice heard in those times was that of C. Wright Mills, an influential, mainstream sociologist, economic and political thinker, who described the same phenomenon in “The Power Elite”. Not learning the lessons of history forces us to repeat its mistakes.  It is not entirely fanciful to apply this analysis to George W Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Rumsfeld. It was certainly in the interest of the military-industrial complex to have a high technology assault on Iraq on the basis of ‘evidence’ of weapons of mass destruction which was false. We should all acknowledge the untruth and consider who benefited, when the cost has been the horror that is now the middle east: death and destruction.

Alfred Nobel, seeing the destruction caused by his firm’s development of high explosives, sought to assuage his feeling of guilt with the Nobel Prizes.  Not much of that these days. Selling guns is “just good business”, making profits. Heaven forefend that we should call them “Gun-Runners”. Even as recently as the ‘70s, weapons dealers like Adnan Khashoggi were regarded as somewhat less than respectable. The moral compass of neo-liberal economics seems to have changed all that.  The idea seems to be that if it makes a profit, that’s just “business”, and that’s OK, then.

If you don’t think that’s OK, then what’s a chap to do? Treat the gun-runners as the agents of death that they are? Ban arms sales from rich western countries? But the military-industrial complex is powerful and politically influential; even our Minister for Defence Materiel, Christopher Pyne, seems keen to get in on the act, selling military gear to all comers.

How to respond? Firstly we need to come clean and admit that our support for the invasion of Iraq was a colossal mistake based upon an untruth (and likely lie) and that our continued support is consequently tainted.  We should also come clean as to the fact that we are unlikely to comprehend, let alone solve, the problems created in Iraq and Syria and the rest of the Middle East and most of north Africa. Tell the truth and shame the devil.

The next step must be to accept responsibility for the evil that has followed. We need to accept that what was once decried as the evil of gun-running is now passed off as “just good business” because we have, perhaps unwittingly, adopted the neo-liberal (whatever that means) view that an activity, if it turns a profit, is OK (Jobs and Growth anyone?). We need to judge the value of what is done, apart from the immediate dollar win. We might be able to reduce human suffering that way. Spending less on arms in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria and more on aid to the devastated people is more likely to have genuine value, and might go some way to reduce the hatred that the invasions engendered. When interviewed, the “terrorists” from Bin Laden on, don’t claim Islam as their motivation: it is hatred of the US and its invading allies.

Which takes us to the world economic question: The world cannot sustain consumption of its resources by the rich, let alone the rest, at its present rate. The extensive use of resources in weapons of mass destruction, on our side or not, is a misuse of scarce resources which indisputably would be better put to the alleviation of poverty, sickness and global inequality.

Do we want the disaster of mass starvation and war over resources, or can we learn to do what is best (not just profitable) for us all. I think that Ted Trainer chap said something like that. He’s undoubtedly right.

Jim Coombs is a retired magistrate and sometime economist and barrister

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