Introduction to this Book

While they may have been immoral, external military operations of past empires often proved profitable and, therefore, justifiable on economic grounds. Military actions abroad usually brought economic benefits not only to the imperial ruling classes, but also (through “trickle-down” effects) to their citizens. This was the case with both pre-capitalist empires of distant past and the capitalist imperial powers of Europe. Thus, for example, imperialism paid significant dividends to Britain, France, the Dutch, and other European powers of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. As the imperial economic gains helped develop their economies, they also helped improve the living conditions of their working people and elevate the standards of living of their citizens.

The United States, too, has often used military power as a means for economic and territorial gains. These include not only the expansion of its territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but also the considerable non-territorial economic gains abroad, especially in the immediate aftermath of Word War II. Whether external economic advantages were pursued through policies of “benign imperialism” (that is, through free trade and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF), or through combinations of military and covert operations of overthrowing elected governments (for example, in Iran, Chile, and Ecuador), the fact remains that the resulting economic gains significantly contributed to the long cycle of economic expansion of the immediate post-war years. Gross national product in real terms, that is, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled between 1950 and 1970, and real earnings of both businesses and working people followed accordingly. Poverty was drastically reduced by the early 1970s and, for the most part, the American people enjoyed a degree of economic security and a level of material amenities that seemed impossible barely three decades earlier.

This pattern of economic gains flowing from imperial military operations, however, seems to have somewhat changed in recent years, especially in the post-Cold War world. Moralities aside, U.S. military expeditions and operations of late are not justifiable even on imperialistic economic grounds. Indeed, escalating U.S. military expansions and aggressions have become ever more wasteful and cost-inefficient in the post-Cold War era. As shown in Chapter 6 of this study, even the widely-held claim that such expansions and aggressions are driven largely by concerns for fossil fuels seems increasingly dubious. Not surprisingly, official justifications for the post-Cold War military actions have become increasingly fuzzy: humanitarian concerns, international drug trafficking, global terrorism, militant Islam, or democratic ideals. The fact that external U.S. military operations of late have become economically burdensome has also undermined traditional or classical theories of imperialism that tend to explain imperial military expeditions and operations in terms of economic gains and objectives.

So, if it is not economic (or classic) imperialism, how are, then, the escalating military aggressions of the United States in recent years to be characterized? What are the driving forces behind these military expansions, expeditions, and operations?

Critics have offered a number of explanations. One of the most popular explanations attributes the rise of unilateral U.S. military adventures to the ascendance to power of the cabal of the so-called neoconservative militarists: the small but influential cabal of starry-eyed ideologues, bent on spreading the U.S. economic and political system, along with American power and influence, has effectively managed to drive the country to the path of war and militarism. A second popular theory attributes the increasing militarization of U.S. foreign policy to political and intellectual inadequacies of George W. Bush as President, his near-missionary approach to politics, his political need to maintain his 9/11-induced strong status as Commander-in-Chief, and his tendency to cherish the status of a “war President.” A widely-shared third view, especially outside of the United States, attributes the recent rise of U.S. militarism, especially the invasion of Iraq, to the geopolitical imperatives of Israel and the concomitant influence of the Zionist lobby. Some of the proponents of this view go so far as to argue that the U.S. foreign and/or military policies in the Middle East are made by leading forces or figures of militant Zionism. Fourth, and perhaps the most widely-held, view of the surge in U.S. military expansions in the Middle East and central Asia is that the recently heightened military activities in those regions are prompted by U.S. designs to gain access to more and cheaper sources of gas and oil.

Without denying the contributory roles of these factors, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism points to a more crucial force behind the drive to war and militarism: the powerful beneficiaries of military expansion and war dividends, or the military-industrial complex and related influential interests that are vested in the business of war and military expansion. Drawing on a number of preeminent theories and empirical accounts on imperialism and militarism,i this study makes a clear distinction between “classical” or economic imperialism, on the one hand, and militaristic, cost-inefficient, or parasitic imperialism, on the other.

Historically, parasitic military imperialism has almost always evolved out of a higher stage of economic or classical imperialism: a prolonged reliance on military power for economic, territorial, or geopolitical gains gradually creates a dynamic out of which evolves a large standing military apparatus that tends to perpetuate itself—and develop into a bureaucratic military empire. Whereas military force in the economic sense of imperialism is usually a means for economic, territorial, or geopolitical gains, under parasitic military imperialism it becomes an end in itself. Accordingly, under parasitic imperialism, military adventures abroad are often prompted not necessarily by a desire to expand the empire’s wealth beyond the existing levels but by a desire to appropriate the lion’s share of the existing wealth and treasure for the military establishment. It is at such stages—as when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon—that military operations abroad tend to tip the scales in the direction of cost inefficiency and drain a national economy.

In a similar fashion, as the U.S. military establishment has grown in size, it has also evolved in quality and character: it is no longer just a means for economic or geopolitical gains but, perhaps more importantly, an end in itself. Accordingly, rising militarization of U.S. foreign policy in recent years is driven not so much by some general or abstract national interests, or by the interests of big oil, as it is by the special interests vested in the military-industrial complex and related businesses that need an atmosphere of war and militarism in order to justify their lion’s share of the public money. Indeed, as shown in Chapter 8 of this study, most non-military transnational corporations, including big oil, no longer welcome global U.S. military adventures.

Viewed in this light, militaristic tendencies to war abroad can be seen largely as reflections of the metaphorical fights over allocation of the public finance at home, of a subtle or insidious strategy to redistribute national resources in favor of the wealthy, to cut public spending on socio-economic infrastructure, and to reverse the New Deal reforms by expanding military spending. Increased military adventures abroad can also be seen, in part, as reflections of the conflict between the two major competing factions within the ruling elite at home: multilateralist proponents of neoliberalism, representing primarily the interests of non-military transnational capital, on the one hand, and unilateralist advocates of nationalism and militarism, who tend to represent the interests of military industries and of the internationally-noncompetitive businesses, on the other. As the former faction has been effectively outmaneuvered and marginalized in recent years by the latter faction, and as the pressure from below, that is, form potential opponents of war and militarism, has been successfully dissipated to negligible levels for the last three decades or so, military expansion and aggression has escalated accordingly.

Although The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism has drawn inspiration and information from a number of major scholarly works on militarism and imperialism, it differs from, and goes beyond, these important works in a number of significant ways—adding a unique perspective to the ongoing debate on the issue.

To begin with, it challenges and documents a case against the dominant view that the surge in U.S. military expansions in the Middle East and central Asia is driven mainly by oil interest. The study suggests that although oil is indubitably a concern, and that the United States has used military force in the past for energy purposes, these precedents fail to explain the recently heightened U.S. military operations abroad. As shown in Chapter 6 of the study, there is strong evidence that major oil companies no longer favor war in the Middle East or other sources of Energy, because they prefer stability and predictability to periodic spikes in the oil price that result from war and political convulsion. There is also strong evidence that the powerful interests vested in war and militarism might be using oil as a pretext to justify military adventures in order to derive higher dividends from the business of war.

Second, unlike most critics, this study cautions against attributing all the power and influence of the neoconservative militarists in and around the Bush administration to pure ideology, political persona, or the role of individual politicians; that is, against the widely-circulated conspiracy theories that attribute the rise of U.S. militarism to a political coup ď etat by the cabal of neoconservative warmongers.ii Instead, it focuses on the larger, but mostly submerged, picture: the powerful institutional and politico-economic interests that lie behind the façade of the cabal of neoconservative figures. Professional records of the key neoconservative players in the administration show that, for example, “32 major administration appointees…are former executives with, consultants for, or significant shareholders of top defense contractors.”iii (This issue is discussed in Chapter 6, under the subheading “The Role of the Cabal of Neoconservatives.”)

Third, this study also cautions against the view that tends to paint all the recently heightened militaristic tendencies as an exclusive product of the Bush administration. It suggests that such views need to be tempered against the evidence that the evolution of the military-industrial complex in the direction of an imperial military machine began long before George W. Bush arrived in the White House. Accordingly, major components of the neoconservative agenda, which is essentially the agenda of the beneficiaries of war and militarism, were designed long before George W. Bush’s Presidency. Undoubtedly, the Bush administration played a major role in the further growth of militarism. But the roots of militarism descend far back into the past. The old cliché that Rome was not built in one day is quite relevant here—and just as Rome was not built in a day, it won’t be demolished in one day either. (Discussion of this issue is provided in Chapter 3, under the subheading “Decline of ‘Benign Imperialism’ and the Rise of Military Imperialism,” and in Chapter 6, under subheadings “The Role of the Military-Industrial Complex” and “Defining the President’s Mission.”)

Fourth, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism also cautions against simplifications and exaggerations of the power and influence of the Zionist lobby over the U.S. policy in the Middle East. It is true that most of the neo-conservative militarists who have been behind the recent U.S. military expansion and aggression, and who played an instrumental role in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, have long been active supporters of Israel’s right-wing politicians and/or leaders. It is also no secret that there is a close collaboration over issues of war and militarism between militant Zionism, neoconservative forces in and around the Bush administration, and jingoistic think tanks of the military-industrial complex. It does not follow, however, that, as some critics argue, the U.S.-Israeli relationship represents a case of “tail wagging the dog,” that is, the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is shaped by the Israeli/Zionist leaders. While, no doubt, the powerful Zionist lobby exerts considerable influence over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, the efficacy and the extent of that influence depend, ultimately, on the real economic and geopolitical interests of U.S. foreign policy makers. In other words, U.S. policy makers in the Middle East would go along with the desires and demands of the radical Zionist lobby only if such demands also tend to serve the special interests that those policy makers represent or serve, that is, if there is a convergence of interests over those demands. Aggressive existential tendencies of the U.S. military-industrial empire to war and militarism are shaped by its own internal or intrinsic dynamics. Conjunctural or reinforcing factors such as the horrors of 9/11, or the Zionist lobby, or the party in power, or the resident of the White House will, no doubt, exert significant influences. But, as shown in Chapter 6 of this study, such supporting influences remain essentially contributory, not defining or determining.

Fifth, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism examines the expansion of military spending as an integral part of the development of U.S. economy and, accordingly, studies the rise of militarism in the context of both conflicting and converging group and/or class interests over military expenditures. This stands in sharp contrast to a number of studies that tend to explain the surge in U.S. militarism by some abstract and ahistorical patterns of the rise of militarism in general—for example, by cultural fascinations with military power as a measure of national greatness, or by inherent tendencies in the ranks of military hierarchies to build bureaucratic-military empires.iv Surely, disposition to build bureaucratic empires have almost always existed in the ranks of military hierarchies. By itself, this is not what makes the U.S. military-industrial complex unique or more dangerous than the military powers of the past. What makes it distinctive and more dangerous is the “industrial” part of the complex. In contrast to the United States’ military industry, arms industries of past empires were not subject to capitalist market imperatives. Furthermore, those industries were often owned and operated by imperial governments, not by market-driven giant corporations. Consequently, as a rule, arms production was dictated by war requirements, not by market or profit imperatives. Thus, private ownership and the market-driven character of the United States’ arms industry have drastically modified the conventional relationship between the supply of and demand for arms: it is now often the supply (or profit) imperatives that drive demand for arms. In other words, imperial wars and demand for arms are nowadays precipitated more by sales and/or profit prerequisites than the other way around, as was the case with imperial powers of the past. President Eisenhower’s warnings near the end of his second term against the potential dangers of the military-industrial complex seem to have been prompted by this intrinsic tendency of the complex to war and militarism.

Sixth, following Paul Kennedy’s ground-breaking work on the destructive effects of overextended military establishments, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Vintage books, 1989), most of the recently published critical books of U.S. militarism tend to draw too close parallels between the post-Rubicon, old or declining Roman Empire, on the one hand, and the currently militaristic imperial status of the United States, on the other. Specifically, these critics argue that the widespread power and influence of the U.S. military establishment may well have transformed the Unites States from a republic to a military empire with irreversible consequences, that is, decline and decay after the model of the post-Rubicon Rome. This study argues, by contrast, that while the possibility that U.S. imperialism may follow the historical trajectory of Old Rome cannot be ruled out altogether, it is nonetheless more likely that the decline or contraction of the U.S. military-imperial apparatus would take a different pattern, a pattern more in tune with the decline of an advanced capitalist or market structure than a pre-capitalist formation. Theories and actual developments that can serviceably be employed to explain the rise and fall of pre-capitalist imperial powers cannot easily be extended or extrapolated to explain the rise and fall of capitalist empires. Capitalism, like other “modes of production” before it, has its own “historically-specific laws of motion,” as Karl Marx put it. Accordingly, the fate of the U.S. military-imperial power is more likely to resemble the pattern of the British Empire than that of the Roman Empire; that is, a cyclical pattern of ebbs and flows, of expansions and retrenchments, depending on both economic (budgetary) constraints and social challenges from below—for example, a widespread and effective challenge similar to the anti-war movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. This is not to subscribe to Francis Fukuyama’s theory of the “end of history” (i.e., of the permanent or endless capitalism), but to point out that there is no automatic collapse for capitalism either. The future of the U.S. military-imperial power (and of capitalism in general) depends, ultimately on the balance of social forces and the outcome of class struggle. (For a detailed discussion of this issue please see Chapters 2 and 9 of this study)

Seventh, a careful study of both the market forces behind and economic consequences of military spending is another distinguishing feature of this book. Some of the economic effects of military spending that the book examines are: stimulating vs. retarding effects; employment, demand-management, and investment effects; technological “spin-off” and innovation effects; “crowding-out” effects, or the opportunity costs of military spending in terms of social spending; redistributive, or income distribution, effects; waste, inefficiency, and corrupting effects; and the economic or financial limits of military spending, which are crucial to the limits of militarism. Most of the recently published books on U.S. militarism do not adequately discuss the contradictory economic effects of military spending. By vaguely and sporadically highlighting the long-term draining economic effects of military spending, they tend to overlook the fact that military spending can have short-term stimulating effects, especially during periods of high unemployment and economic contraction; and that, therefore, this stimulus property of military spending, known as military Keynesianism, has played an important role in the expansion of military expenditures. (This issue is discussed in some detail in Chapter 8.)

Eighth, most of the recent books on the rise of U.S. militarism fail to take account of the long and important debate between the two major factions within the U.S. ruling class over military spending and international relations; that is, the debate between proponents of neoliberal multilateralism, or free trade imperialism, on the one hand, and those of neoconservative unilateralism, or military imperialism, on the other. Consequently, they seem to argue that the forces or economic interests that once advocated neoliberalism are now advocating unilateral militarism, and that the forces of unilateral militarism may well have irrevocably replaced those of neoliberalism.v Yet, for example, the change from the neoliberal multilateralism of the 1990s to the unilateral militarism that has replaced it is obviously the result of the victory of one faction of the ruling class over the other. Furthermore, as pointed out in Chapter 3 of this study, the history of the leading capitalist countries shows that, depending on the degree of their economic competitiveness in global markets, world capitalist powers always tend to alternated policies of economic liberalism/neoliberalism with those of unilateral militarism.

Ninth, The political Economy of U.S. militarism fills yet another gap in the ongoing discussions and critiques of U.S. militarism: The complex relationship between military expansion, economic interests (both domestic and international), and the long waves of economic expansion and contraction. It shows how, for example, long periods of economic slowdown and high unemployment are more conducive to military expansion than those of economic prosperity, because during such times of sluggish sales competition in global markets tends to intensify, which will then induce the internationally-noncompetitive capitalists to call for protection and military muscle flexing. Furthermore, to help stimulate such lackluster economic conditions, increases in military spending are often used as fiscal policy tools to contain or reverse those recessionary cycles. Thus, the military-industrial complex handsomely benefits from this symbiotic relationship between fiscal policy needs of the ruling elite to stimulate the economy by increasing military spending and the protectionist needs of the internationally non-competitive industries. Not surprisingly, the drastic increases in military spending in the early 1950s, the early 1980s, and the early 2000s all came about on the heels of the respective recessionary cycles of those times. By contrast, during periods of long expansionary cycles and economic prosperity, economic nationalism and unilateral militarism tend to recede to the background while economic liberalism and multilateralism will appear as preferred economic policy. For during periods of economic expansion, of strong demand, and of brisk sales all or most businesses (both domestic and transnational) would prefer stability and predictability to international political convulsions and military adventures. (Discussion of these issues is provided in Chapters 3 and 8.)

Finally, this study is unique not only for its examination of the factors and forces that have been directly behind the U.S. drive to war and militarism, but also for its careful analysis of a series of closely related topics that may appear as digressions but, in fact, help shed more light on the main journey. For example, it provides a distinct perspective on the roots of conflict between the Muslim world and the West. It also presents a rare viewpoint on religious fundamentalism, both Islamic and Judeo-Christian Fundamentalisms, and its role in the expansion of war and militarism in the United States. The study further offers an uncommon analysis of the theory of the clash of civilizations and its subtle impact on the rise of U.S. militarism. (These issues are discussed in Chapter 5.)

In sum, by focusing primarily on the intrinsic dynamics of the military-industrial complex as an internally-driven juggernaut to war and militarism, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism provides a welcome challenge to most of the prevailing critiques that attribute the rising militarization of U.S. foreign policy to big oil, to the ideological power of the neoconservatives, to the Zionist lobby, to the cultural or attitudinal fascination of the United States with military might as a sign of national greatness, to America’s idealism to spread democracy, or to George W. Bush’s near-missionary approach to Presidency and his desire to be a war President. By highlighting the critical influences of special economic interests and of market imperatives over the dynamics of the U.S. military-industrial complex, the study examines the escalating appropriations of the Pentagon largely as a roundabout way of cutting public spending on socio-economic infrastructure, as an insidious strategy to reverse the New Deal and other social safety net programs, and as a regulatory mechanism to redistribute national income/resources in favor of the wealthy—especially of the beneficiaries of war dividends.

1. These include Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Vintage Books, 1989); Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004); Sidney Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex (Kansas City, Missouri: Pilgrim Press & the National Catholic Reporter, 1970); Alfred Vagts, A History of Militarism: Civilian and Military (London: Hollis & Carter, 1959); and Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism (Oxford University Press, 2005).

2. See, for example, Paul Craig Roberts, “Neo-Jacobins Push for World War IV,” <;; Gordon Prather, “Neo-Crazy Coup d’Etat,” <;.

3. William Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca, “The Military-Industrial-Think Thank Complex,” Multinational Monitor 24, nos. 1 &2 (Jan/Feb 2003): <;.

4. See, for example, Bacevich, The New American Militarism.

5. See, for example, Johnson, Chapter 9.