Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Conspiracy? Naw, it's just the war system

In the field of conflict resolution we discuss the 'conflict industry,' that is, the business of those who benefit from ongoing conflict in terms of power, status, and wealth. The obvious members include those who profit obscenely from selling weapons to those whose hold on power is directly connected to their role as champion in conflict. For these members of the conflict industry, a lack of conflict is a lack of business or a loosening of a grip on power. The weapons giants contribute heavily to political campaigns and are rewarded by votes in Congress for more funding for missiles and bombs. This is not a tricky dynamic to understand.
Johan Galtung systematizes this notion by his examination of what he calls the structure of imperialism.

This structure consists of a system of wealthy nations--he calls them center nations and he means they are centers of power and wealth-- and periphery nations. But key to understanding his description is the understanding of the fluid dynamics between center and periphery nations.
Each nation has its own center and periphery, he says. The center, the elites with wealth and power, are in league with the centers of other nations. In this structure, the center of the periphery nation relies on the center (the elites) of the center nation to guarantee access to enough weapons and intelligence to maintain their hold on power. In turn, the center of the center nation expects access to cheap human and natural resources of the periphery nations.
A classic client state relationship is Iran under the Shah. The US (with England's help) took out Mossedegh in 1953 and installed the Shah. Shah made sure massive oil profits went to US corporations--the real elite, or center, of the center nation--and, in turn, Shah was put into power and kept there by supplying him with weapons and other means of suppressing dissent. This corrupt and highly profitable robbery relationship continued for a quarter century until the Iranian people overthrew Shah. Sadly, they went from poor governance exerted over them by virtue of external meddling to poor governance over themselves in their theocracy, but they did extract themselves from the global structure of imperialism.
The cover for this system was handily the Cold War for half a century. Mossedegh was nationalizing Iran's oil so he was smeared with the communist label. Same with Arbenz in Guatemala. Communists in our backyard, so we install the generallisimos and our corporations profit from cheap labor, since the military power we provide is used to kill union organizers and anyone else who threatens the supply of cheap labor. This worked for nearly a quarter century in the Philippines under our boy Marcos, until, once again, the people rose up with People Power. The purchasing power of the average Filipino/a is improved ($3,500 annual, or about $1.75/hour), but still struggling near the bottom in our 'free' trade-dominated war system (free of links to human rights).
So corruption and violence is a necessary driver and product of a war system, and it's quite complicated in many ways, but the basic idea is relatively simple. Keep a local boss in power and he'll get you cheap human and natural resources. He needs violence and the threat of violence to accomplish that, so you give him weapons.
Add to this dynamic the Naomi Klein concept of disaster capitalism and you have completed the circle of understanding the trade-off that puts the profiteers in first place when disaster occurs and makes those human-caused disasters more likely. Oil spill in the Gulf? More profits for the clean-up crews. Katrina wipes out New Orleans? More profits for Blackwater and other private mercenary armies of occupation. Saber-rattling from North Korea? Better spend more on national defense.
In Pakistan, they understand that the war system is killing them. As a result, they see conspiracy in everything. Same with Palestinians--I just told one of my Palestinian students yesterday that pursuing a study of the restorative justice possibilities in Palestine would not precipitate a Jewish conspiracy against him, his immediate worry. It may feel like conspiracy all the time, but in reality it's just the ├╝berdynamic of the war system conflated with natural bad luck or other shortcomings. Telling the difference isn't always possible, but at least if we decouple the idea of fear controlling everything we can begin to live as though we are not in a war system, thus making it more likely that the war system indeed loses its power over us.

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