General Dwight D. Eisenhower, at his Farewell Address as president in 1961, coined the phrase ‘The military-industrial complex’ (MIC). He alerted the nation to guard against its influence on politics. He said that the MIC typically attempts to marshal political support for increased military spending for maximising their profits.[i]

William C. Lewis (2013)in  ‘U.S. Imperialism And America’s War Machine: A Destructive Apparatus’,  has argued that Corporate Imperial Militarism controls U.S. society and wages destructive occupations abroad to serve the capitalist interests of the war-making and arms manufacturing class whose bombs eradicate human beings in its pursuit of profits.[ii]

It is important to grasp the essence of these two related concepts – the Military Industrial Complex and Corporate Imperial Militarism. If one has not understood these, one has understood nothing about the relationship between the North and the South, or between these and the rest of humanity. This systematic machinery is the backbone for an imperial nation’s continued dominance in today’s world.

What is Militarism?

By militarism I do not mean the need to have a strong military for purposes of national defence. Militarism is the glorification of the ideals of a professional military class and its prominence in the shaping of state policy.

I’ve lived in Switzerland for some years and I can understand its need to have a strong military but I do not think militarism is part of the Swiss culture.  Some argue that the United States too needs the military just as the Swiss do.  There is a fundamental difference between them best explained by Steven Staples.

Staples is the Chair of the International Network on Disarmament and Globalization in Canada. In an article for the magazine Social Justice he outlines some of the outcomes of the relationship between globalisation and militarism: ‘Globalization and the transnationalization of defence/military corporations have replaced the military-industrial complex of the Cold War economy with a military-corporate complex of the new global economy. This is based upon the dominance of corporate interests over those of the state. The weakened state is no longer able to rein in weapons corporations and is trapped increasingly by corporate interests: greater military spending, state subsidies, and a liberalization of the arms trade’.[iii]

Globalisation = imperialism

There is a general recognition of the reality of globalisation, but there a widespread denial on the part of the West of the reality of imperialism. Why?  I have sought to find an explanation in both Western culture and history to illuminate this mental blockage, but I have not come up with a good answer. I have often wondered why Hitler is described in almost all Western literature (including the left) as a ‘fascist’ but never as an imperialist. Could it be that calling Hitler an imperialist is too perilously close to reflecting a mirror image?

Imperialism is a particular kind of relationship that arose in the wake of colonialism. It may not be reduced to any kind of asymmetrical power relationship. The relations between the USA and Europe, for example, are unequal but not imperialist. In fact, at the global level they are both imperialist powers; they are partners and competitors at the same time.

To understand imperialism in our time we need to make a distinction between Imperialism and Empire.  Empires have existed throughout history – Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Pre-Columbian, Meso-American, Islamic, etc. None of these exist today. The Anglo-American-European Empire (AAEE) is today’s existential reality. Ideologically it is deeply militaristic: there is systematic co-ordination on military-security-political matters between the state and the corporations.  So it is – to coin the phrase – a Military-Industrial-Imperial-Complex .  There is a revolving door between arms dealers and the US imperial state.  Similarly, in the United Kingdom there is a revolving door between arms dealers and the Ministry of Defence (MOD). For example, the BAE – the second largest arms company in the world – has executives seconded to the MOD and arms sales unit of the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).  Whilst on secondment, their salaries are paid by the company.

Militarism as a province of accumulation

The last chapter of Rosa Luxemburg’s famous classic – The Accumulation of Capital – is entitled ‘Militarism as a province of accumulation’.[iv]  She argues that in the imperialist era the production of armament is one of the most important ways of solving difficulties inherent in the Capitalist mode of production. She argues that Marx’s reproduction schema presumes capitalism to be a ‘closed’ national system. However, Capitalism needs non-capitalist countries (colonies) to absorb surplus value produced in the centre of the system – the imperial centre. This, by the way, formed the basis in the 1950s and 60s of the so-called Latin American School of Underdevelopment where the theory divides the world into ‘the Centre and the Periphery’.

Peter Custers in his Questioning Globalized Militarism, (2007)[i] has further developed Luxemburg’s argument to explain the contemporary situation. He argues that Das Kapital‘s two Departments are not adequate to explain accumulation of wealth in the capitalist system.  There are three – not two – Departments. Custer writes:

Department III helps the capitalists of Departments I and II to realize their profits, since the owners of armament corporations buy raw materials from Department I and since its employees buy consumer goods from Department II, the commodities churned out by Department III itself are, within the domestic economy, sold to a single actor only, namely, the hegemonic capitalist state.  Four actors: the three Production Departments and the hegemonic state. (p.5)

There is, he says, a unique relationship between the military and the business cycle. The US-European economy cannot function without the military- imperial system. This system, he argues underpins the relations between the North and the South.

NATO and War Economics

War and the new economics go hand in hand. Western civilization – at least its political leadership – is caught up in a monoculture of war. Resort to war has become its default mode of operation in international relations.

The 1985-2000 Thatcher-Reagan era was dominated by economism. It has given way to post-9/11 securitisation of globalised relations. Since 9/11 a maximum-security state has emerged. Under the guise of ‘threat to national security’ the US and UK governments have taken military action without proper scrutiny by the Congress or the Parliament. (At the time of writing, the British are waiting to get the long-awaited Chilcot report whose particular focus is on evidence suggesting that Prime Minister Blair had given a firm commitment to President George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq without any evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.)

Recently released classified documents provide information on why NATO had decided well before 2011 invasion of Libya to overthrow Muammar al-Gaddafi. One of the over 3,000 Hillary Clinton emails released by the State Department in December 2015 contains damning evidence that NATO military action was not, as claimed by the West, for the protection of the people; it was to thwart Gaddafi’s attempt to create a gold-backed African currency that potentially posed a threat to the monopoly of the dollar and hegemony of the Western central banking monopoly. This is revealed in an April 2011 email – sent to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by an unofficial adviser and long-time Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal – with the subject line “France’s client and Qaddafi’s gold.” [vi]

Economists talk about “financialised capitalism” – a system where finance trumps production.  I suggest that “kleptocratic capitalism” more accurately shows that the present phenomenon is not purely economic but more fundamentally political. It is two sides of the same coin – on the economic face it is about predation (looting of resources and rent seeking) by the rich nations, and within each nation by the rich power elite; on the political-military face it is about attempt to maintain a nuclear hegemony to sustain a failing Empire.

Militarisation, Securitisation and Human Rights

In fact, the remit of the state has gone far deeper than anybody could have imagined before the ‘war on terror’. The arbitrary arrest and detention of the Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, will forever remain a stain on the justice system of the ‘democratic’ state of the United Kingdom. Despite Assange’s willingness to go to Sweden to face trial on his alleged rape, he cannot go for he risks arrest the moment he steps out of the Embassy of Ecuador in London where he has taken diplomatic asylum since June 2012.  On 4 February 2016 a United Nations panel decided that Julian Assange’s was an “arbitrary detention”. A Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman confirmed receiving panel’s finding and said “We will forward a reply to the working group tomorrow”, but the ‘tomorrow’ has not come so far.  The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond dismissed UN panel’s finding as ‘ridiculous’.

Securitisation and action against ‘home-grown’ Islamic threats have triggered western governments to actions that verge on impinging on ordinary citizens’ human rights.  Amnesty International (IA) USA’s Security with Human Rights Program campaigns to end human rights violations committed in the name of national security, ensure accountability for them, and demand that they are replaced by measures that ensure both security and human rights. The AI also says that government attacks on the encryption of online communication threaten human rights around the world.

Edward Snowden, a computer professional, former contractor for the US government and employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (as well a close associate of Julian Assange) dared to expose the  numerous global surveillance programs that cut deeply into the rights and freedoms of individual citizens. In 2013 he leaked classified files that showed intimate links between the National Security Agency (NSA) and the ‘Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance’ with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments.

Militarisation and securitisation work closely with industries. The latter use their political and financial connections with politicians, the military, and the mainstream media. I watch with horror TV screens of police action in the streets of New York, London, Paris, Brussels and Berlin as workers, women, non-white races (especially Muslims) and local communities protest against serious encroachments on their human rights and liberties. The Blacks Lives Matter protestors in Ferguson, indigenous protestors in Peru, and women workers in the extractive industries in South Africa – all face this horrendous deprivation of their civil liberties. The security expert Ben Hayes calls it a “new kind of arms race, one in which all the weapons are pointing inwards.”[vii]

Militarisation, Securitisation and Climate Change

In the process of militarisation and securitisation it is not just human rights that are compromised, so also is the environment. Environmental activists have praised President Obama’s concern for climate change. In his March 2016 interview with the Atlantic magazine, he said: “ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States. Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it”. The Atlantic dubbed it as “the Obama Doctrine”.[viii]

Obama is a realpolitik statesman. For sure, he is concerned about climate change. But he has a very different perspective from you and I. Obama has not suddenly “gone green”.  As a realist he knows that climate change also has serious potential consequences for United States’ security. US security comes first, climate comes second.

Consider what has been happening since the last Paris Agreement (PA) on Climate. The United States and Europe have taken the position that the PA does not differentiate between developed and developing countries, thus denying the framework agreement under the Kyoto protocol which clearly set out that the developed and developing countries have differential obligations and responsibilities on climate change.


Imperialism, as Lenin correctly characterised it, is the “highest stage of capitalism”. It has mutated in our times with a complex synthesis of neo-colonialism and militarism. Militarism, as Rosa Luxemburg and Peter Custers correctly analyse, is a province of accumulation of “surplus capital”. Capitalism needs colonies (and neo-colonies) to absorb surplus value produced in the centre of the system, as also it needs to perpetuate wars to make use of the armaments whose production is necessary for the survival of the system.

Imperialism and militarism go hand in hand. NATO and War Economics have become an integral part of the Empire. Militarisation and Securitisation have compromised not only the human rights of the people in the Global South but also the human rights and liberties of the ordinary citizens of the Empire. Furthermore, despite the rhetoric the Empire cares two hoots about climate change.  As far as the Empire is concerned, the climate can go to the dogs. It is the security of the Empire that comes first.

In the South there are countries that are turning away from militarism. Costa Rica, for example, has decided since 1948 to abolish the military altogether in favour or putting resources into preserving the country’s biodiversity and sustainable livelihood. Also, the biggest thing going for the Global South and the ordinary citizens of the North is that Imperialism’s internal contradictions are intensifying at both national and global levels.


So this is not the end of our story. My analysis of these contradictions continues.

@Yash Tandon




[iv] See: Luxemburg, Rosa (1913) The Accumulation of Capital, London: Routledge, 2003.

[v] Custers  Peter 2007 Questioning Globalized Militarism Tulika Books





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