The world can find money for war but not for peace. The world is now spending each year approximately US$2.1 Trillion on military expenditure.

We could remake the world for that amount of money. Instead, we just seem to have wars and threats of war. Meanwhile, there is the collapse of Cold War nuclear weapon treaty system and speculation on the use of nuclear warfare over Ukraine. 

We need to think about peace and disarmament differently. Here is an idea for a “Peace-Industrial Complex”.

The term “Military-Industrial Complex” was popularised by President Eisenhower in his 1961 Farewell Address to Congress. He had been a professional soldier for most of his working life and had seen how the US military had been transformed from a small fighting force into a large permanent warfighting establishment.

In 1940 the Greek army was larger than the US army. The US entered World War II on December 7 1941 (after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour) and so there was a rapid expansion of the US defence forces. The US was transformed during 1941-5 and so ended the war as the world’s major military power.

Eisenhower had lived through all this. As a traditional “small government” Republican he worried about how a new expensive industrial complex had been created to exploit the new military era – all at great cost to taxpayers. (The US now spends 38 per cent of the world’s total military expenditure, but can’t seem to win wars).

The small number of corporations in the Military-Industrial Complex are not necessarily violent or warlike: they just want to make a profit.  The workers in the Military-Industrial Complex are not necessarily violent or warlike: they just want a job.

The factories and other facilities are scattered around the US. Any attempt (as President Clinton found out in the post-Cold War 1990s) to cut back on military expenditure will hurt some voters in a constituency and so they lobby their member of Congress to protect their jobs.

In retrospect Clinton failed to provide a vision of what the conversion of military facilities to peaceful uses would entail. For example, all military contracts should contain a provision requiring the contractor to have alternative plans to cope with the ending of a military contract and the redeployment of the workers to peaceful purposes.

In my second PhD, I looked at the need for the creation of a “Peace-Industrial Complex”. There is not a lack of ideas for disarmament – but a lack of political will. The creation of a Peace-Industrial Complex would be a way of generating political will.

Money is important for the shaping of US politics and so perhaps that same reasoning could be applied to ending the arms race: corporations could use their influence in the interests of peace.

Only a handful of companies make money out of war. Many more benefit from peace (such as health, law, education, tourism, and fast food outlets).

Joan Kroc (1928-2003), the widow of the McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc, gave US$50million for the University of Notre Dame for the Joan B Kroc Institute for Peace Studies. Her argument was that in the event of World War III there would not be a market for fast food. Therefore it would be necessary to mobilise businesses for peaceful interests. So the proposed Peace-Industrial Complex would need to campaign to ensure that as defence jobs declined, there would be a compensatory rise in the non-defence employment sector. (Health, education, welfare and public transport are all very labour intensive.)

A campaign for a Peace-Industrial Complex would require some new ways of thinking; such as new coalition thinking. It would require peace groups to be in a dialogue with business interests and business councils, such as institutes of company directors. 

If we redefine “national security” from just a focus on military matters to also include economic and social indicators, then a Peace-Industrial Complex would also attract support from welfare and anti-poverty groups.

The growing popular action on climate change has already generated some new coalitions; such as the insurance industry being aware of the economic impact of climate change. We could finance environmental programmes via the conversion of military expenditure to environmental protection.

So the campaign for a Peace-Industrial Complex would require our creating a holistic vision of future society to inspire a wide variety of organisations, companies and individuals to work together. 


Keith Suter

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