Militarism and Globalism

Militarism and Globalism

Colin Powell, George W. Bush’s bedazzling secretary of state, emphasized the importance in his Senate confirmation hearings of tightening ties between trade and national security. There is a need, he asserted, for better coordination of American foreign economic and military policies. What, concretely, does Powell mean?

Consider the entanglement of global economic and political power characteristic of Britain’s early rise:

For more than a century, when the British economy was on its way to maturity as the workshop of the world, its governments were not particularly liberal nor wedded ideologically to laissez-faire. Like the proverbial hedgehog of Aeschalus, the Hanoverian Governments [1688-1815] knew some big things, namely that security, trade, Empire and military power really mattered. In fruitful (if uneasy) partnership with bourgeois merchants and industrialists they poured millions into strategic objectives which we can see (with hindsight) formed preconditions for the market economy and night-watchman state of Victorian England, as well as the British world order which flourished under British hegemony from 1846 to 1914. By that time men of the pen, especially the pens of the political economy, had forgotten, and did not wish to be reminded, what the first industrial nation owed to men of the sword. (Emphasis added)E. Silbner, The Problems of War in Nineteenth Century Economic Thought (Princeton University Press, 1972).

The United States, too, recognized that security, trade, empire, and military power really mattered. Washington used politics, in the form of gunboats and colonial annexation (in the Philippines and Cuba, for example) to further American economic goals.

The Vietnam War, however, was possibly a turning point in the crude relationship between political intervention and economic gain. Even the coldest warrior could find no economic rationale for fighting in Vietnam, which had few raw materials and was of little use to American investors or traders. When the business community’s support for the war waned, antiwar activism carried the day, and one of the costliest U.S. military exploits ended in failure.

Since then, the mixture of security, trade, empire, and military power has become less holistic. Economic threats to the United States have largely been countered by economic reprisals; and political threats, real or imagined, have brought political responses, including the use of overt or covert force. Whereas gunboat diplomacy was used to pry open markets in the past, Japan’s elusive markets in the 1980s did not suggest the usefulness of another A-bomb attack; we even pressured Japan to increase its own military spending so as to relieve the American defense “burden.” ...