Monopolism might not as easily define the configurations of the 21st century globe. Last fortnight, the retired archbishop and 1984 Nobel peace prize winner Desmond Tutu decided to pull out of a summit in Johannesburg on the grounds that he “felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on ‘leadership’ with Mr Blair".
Later in a signed piece in The Observer, Tutu extended his disapproval: “On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers’ circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr Bush’s chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?"
It isn’t the first time someone has questioned the US-led invasion of Iraq and in any case Blair was the support player in the act. It was America’s war and Blair went along because he wanted to be seen as the great American ally.
For the US though, it is time to face up to its inner demons. In a country where the Second Amendment guarantees the right to have a gun in your home, war and violence have become almost a part of the national DNA.
Author and foreign policy hawk Robert Kagan wrote in The Weekly Standard a year ago, that the US has undertaken 25 overseas interventions since 1898. That is one intervention every 4.5 years on average. Overall, the US has intervened or been engaged in combat somewhere in 52 of the last 112 years, or roughly 47% of the time. What’s worse, since the end of the Cold War, the rate of US interventions has actually increased, with an intervention roughly once every 2.5 years and American troops intervening or engaged in combat in 16 of 22 years, or over 70% of the time, since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This is the consequence or perhaps the reason for having the largest armaments industry in the world. The fact is, at home and abroad, America needs violence to play along with the powerful domestic arms lobby. After each successive shootout, hundreds of otherwise peace-loving Americans will go out to buy small arms in the futile hope of protecting themselves and their families from the next trigger-happy mad man. Yet there is no crackdown on small (or big) arms. In fact, over the last 30 years, the laws have been tweaked to make it easier to get a gun.
As it is for men so it is for countries. You arm one country and you force its neighbours to gear up as well. So it isn’t just the Israelis who are threatened by a belligerent Iran. Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), shows that Saudi Arabia spends 10% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on military equipment, Oman 8.5% and Jordan 5%; among the highest rates in the world, and why? Because in 1988, Israel’s military spend was nearly 15%.
At a time when the US is trying to reduce its own spending on defence, the vast armaments industry in the country needs wealthy overseas buyers. War hysteria then becomes just a part of the marketing strategy.
According to a report in October 2004 by William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca for the World Policy Institute titled The Ties that Bind: Arms Industry Influence in the Bush Administration and Beyond, contracts to the Pentagon’s top 10 contractors jumped from $46 billion in 2001 to $80 billion in 2003, an increase of nearly 75%. Halliburton’s contracts jumped more than nine times their 2001 levels by 2003, from $400 million to $3.9 billion. Northrop Grumman’s contracts doubled, from $5.2 billion to $11.1 billion, over the same time frame; and the nation’s largest weapons contractor, Lockheed Martin, saw a 50% increase, from $14.7 billion to $21.9 billion.
In the cultural discourse of this conflict, the Euro-US political axis has demonized the enemy symbolically by dreaming up the weapons of mass destruction just as another regime dreamed up a superior race. The whole discourse is salted generously with what in old-fashioned times was called lies. The US has extended the giant bloody claw prints over vast geographies meddling in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Korea, Somalia, Vietnam and now Iran. The violent legacy of a nation founded on genocide is potholed with its exceptionalism that demands nothing more than a ‘regime change’ in whichever region of the world it decrees.
The slur of being the arms supplier to world doesn’t suit a nation that is the innovation capital and the creative source spring of our contemporary civilization. Bishop Tutu’s words may be harsh, his sentence for Bush a voice in the wilderness, but the import of his words shouldn’t be lost on a great country.