WAR as Trade Policy:
Bush’s National Security Strategy

by Diane R. Swords

Diane is a long-time anti-nuclear activist and a PhD candidate in Social Science and Program On Analysis and Resolution of Conflict, Syracuse University.

If we wish to dismantle corporate globalization in favor of just and democratic structures, we must understand how it is held in place. The Security Exception of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and GW Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy Document (NSS) strengthen the links between globalization and militarism.

The question I raise is: shouldn’t we view militarism on the same level as capitalism in terms of its importance in the process of globalization? Is increasing militarism just a side effect or tool of capitalism, or do these two processes mutually reinforce each other? Will militarism disappear when global capitalism is dismantled? Is it possible to dismantle capitalism without addressing the military system that supports it?

Neo-liberals, those who claim that free trade is a basic democratic principle and favor corporate power unencumbered by government regulation, want us to believe that economics is somehow separate from politics, that market forces are determined by an “invisible hand,” free of political decisions. Viewing capitalism separately from militarism plays into this distortion. These aren’t just academic issues. The answers determine how we resist the growing oppression of most of the world’s people. Below I explain the tightening bonds between militarism and capitalism.

Militarism and Capitalism
Militarism and capitalism, or war and acquisition, have always been connected. Whenever nations and oligarchies wanted what others had, they formed armies to take it. To have a strong army you had to have wealth. But politicians, influenced by corporate interests, have constructed systems in which these links are tightening. Thus, the extent of mutual reinforcement is neither natural nor inevitable.

The institutions of globalization set up at Bretton Woods in 1944, starting with the GATT together with the strategy of containment of the USSR, built in a mechanism for military advantage described below. The founding of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 represents a further development of this process. GW Bush’s NSS goes further yet, setting a policy by which military pre-emption in effect becomes a means of trade regulation.

The Security Exception (Article XXI of the GATT) bypasses the cornerstone of all the neo-liberal trade agreements: removal of all barriers to trade. Tariffs are one kind of barrier by which governments have protected particular markets. There are also non-tariff barriers, such as subsidies to help new industries or industries struggling for survival. Free trade proponents say subsidies give unfair advantages. The WTO and other international financial institutions seek to remove them. But starting with GATT, every trade accord has a security exception allowing states to subsidize production, promote sales and impose trade embargoes that are necessary to protect “essential security interests.” Countries can protect industries only by couching them in these terms.

This means that government military spending increases as a way to promote jobs and support new industries – thereby militarizing societies all over the world. All this happens while the WTO is striking down laws that protect workers, food, water and air, or support any other sector of economic development. This also carries through in International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank loans, which are conditioned on minimizing government programs that serve social purposes. While these programs are cut, increased military spending is encouraged by global economic institutions.

At the same time, consider the result when trade cannot be regulated by government. Unless we believe in an “invisible hand” magically steering “market forces,” it is obvious that some other power will control trade in the absence of government regulation. Currently that power is the US military. This contradiction of the neo-liberal project is spelled out by Thomas Friedman in his The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Friedman, New York Times columnist and cheerleader for the “Washington Consensus,” celebrates “the triumph of liberalism and free-market capitalism as the most effective way to organize a society”(xxi). What does he mean by “free” market? Later in the book, he asserts that markets must be backed by military power: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist…McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the US Air Force F-15…” (464). This famous comment acknowledges that militarism and economics reinforce each other. What is free about markets controlled by force? Friedman’s statement implies that trade can be regulated by the fist, but not by the rule of law and of democratic oversight. He praises the fact that centuries of progress towards democratic governance is being eroded and replaced by military-backed corporate oligarchy.

Pre-emption as Trade Policy
GW Bush spells out the preference for the rule of force in his NSS, making clear that military power will be used to enforce “economic freedom.” Everyone should read this 33-page policy statement (<www.whitehouse.gov>). The document articulates what has been happening for years but was never admitted let alone declared as policy.

In its first sentence, Bush claims that there is a “single sustainable model for national success” and that is “freedom, democracy, and free enterprise” (emphasis added)(i). He claims that property ownership is a human right (i;3), but when he later calls for tax policies such that the wealthy and corporations should pay no more than low-wage workers, it is clear that he is focusing on property ownership of the wealthy. He equates democracy with capitalism and freedom with free markets (ii;17;18;27;28). “Economic freedom,” by which he actually means allowing corporations access to resources in developing countries, is set as the criterion for development assistance (iii; 10; 11;22).

In the past, the US has refused to denounce striking first, but this document makes first strike, or “pre-emption,” an official policy. The reason for pre-emption is not just the expected threat to the physical safety of the nation’s security, but also resistance to “free enterprise.” The document implies that any nation that plans to set boundaries on its penetration by international trade threatens US national security. The subtle phrase about “lower marginal tax rates” (17) is likely to be passed over by anyone not well versed in the coded language of corporate power, but it is key to understanding the document. Any country that uses its tax system to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor will be considered threatening to the US. The NSS call for missile defense is not for protecting territory or people, but to support the corporate agenda by protecting US forces wherever they intervene around the world.

It is striking that this text emphasizes “free trade” more than safety of US people or territory. A simple word count confirms this observation (see Gowans, 2002). The strategy mentions “rogue,” “terrorism,” “terror,” “enemy” and “defense” 76 times. But terms such as “free trade,” “free markets,” “private property,” “economic freedom” and “free enterprise” appear 78 times. This emphasis suggests a belief that the security of the US lies as much in maintaining low corporate taxation, as in preventing terrorism. This kind of intertwining of foreign affairs, military strategy and corporate interests has never before been made official policy.

War and Globalization
Framing US wars since September 11, 2001 as part of a “war on terrorism” obscures their relationship to globalization. Perhaps we would be more likely to see the relationship between war and globalization if we recognized the history of the policies behind these wars. Some assert that the government knew before 9/11 of plans to use airplanes to strike targets within the US (see Michael Meachem’s article, The Guardian, 9-6-03). But we need not be convinced that there was intent to allow this horror to occur to see that 9/11 has been taken as the pretext for carrying out plans that were long in the making. These plans have very little to do with the security of US citizens, but everything to do with the security of transnational corporations and their profits.

Recognition of this bond between militarism and globalization has been slow in coming. Steven Staples, now with Canada’s Polaris Institute, was a lone voice when he made this connection in a brilliant article written just after the Seattle demonstrations against the WTO. But more voices and organizations are exploring this important nexus. Many leaders in the global justice movement now address militarism systematically. Global Exchange and the Institute for Policy Studies worked together to establish the anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice. Groups known for their corporate analysis such as Corpwatch, US Labor Against the War, Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy are exposing connections between the Bush administration and companies that benefit from war such as Boeing, Bechtel and Halliburton. Outside the US, the Canadian Polaris Institute, Europe’s Transnational Institute, and South East Asia’s Focus on the Global South are researching these connections.

Groups based in Latin America where militaries have been defending US corporate interests for generations have long brought out the role militarism plays in globalization. But the first major international action linking militarism and globalization came when The Hemispheric and Global Assembly Against the FTAA and the WTO called for a week of actions in Cancun, Mexico protesting globalization and war during the WTO’s fifth ministerial in September of 2003.
According to Gowans, “If globalization is to be opposed, in favor of something that doesn’t put profits ahead of economic security for all, health care, education and freedom from exploitation, the means by which it is promoted must be understood, and the National Security Strategy is one of the principle means.” More people now agree that realizing links between globalization and militarism will strengthen the anti-globalization movement.

Gowans, Stephen (2002). “Bush’s National Security Strategy: Protecting
Americans at Home or Promoting the Interests of American Corporations
Abroad?” What’s Left? September 24, 2002.
Friedman, Thomas L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. NY, Anchor Books.
Staples, Steven (1999). “Report on the WTO and the Global War System.” <www.indg.org>.
Staples, Steven (2003). “From Sea Turtles to Smart Bombs: How the Anti-Globalization Movement is Taking on the Global War Machine.” <www.focusweb.org>.