Profit and the Arms Economy

Philip Roddis

Three years ago, Global Research showed that interests backing Trident also finance Russia’s nuclear programme.

This news, relayed a few months later by the Canary, should have caused a storm in anti-war circles. In fact few noticed. Debate around Trident continued to centre on whether or not it was (a) insurance against a credible threat, (b) worth a price tag running to hundreds of billions,[1] (c) a diversion from more efficient uses of arms spend, or (d) intrinsically deranged.

That last comes closest to the truth, to be sure, but too few of those who see nuclear weapons as monstrous are taking in the full picture. That ‘deterrence’ industries operate to a rule book written by Catch-22’s Milo Minderbinder, aka the demented laws of capital accumulation, is an aspect frequently lost sight of when discussion is confined on the one hand to pragmatics, on the other to moral absolutes.[2]

Bear with me a moment. Back in the eighties, with the world again on the brink of realising its worst nightmare, Socialist Workers Party had the strap line, “Neither Washington nor Moscow”. Other left sects denounced this as a sop to popular sentiment created by market driven media in what Herman and Chomsky would later call the manufacture of opinion.

Those sects were no less dismissive than SWP of a USSR leadership they saw as freeloading on the property gains of 1917 while incapable of defending said gains against a Western imperialism that would never accept – could never accept, other than as a temporary setback – the closing off of one sixth of the world’s land mass to profit.

All the same, SWP’s left critics rejected the moral equivalence implicit in ‘neither Washington nor Moscow’. There were many aspects to this but what matters here is that the very natures of capitalism on the one hand, top-down economic planning[3] on the other, have hugely different implications for their arms sectors. Every dollar spent by the US on arms is:

  • enabled by a unique advantage conferred by Bretton Woods and altered but in no way negated by Nixon’s 1971 removal of the dollar from gold parity[4]
  • a boost to its grotesquely distorted economy
  • a transfer of wealth within the USA from the many to the few
  • a means, with US military bases across the globe vastly outnumbering those of all other states combined, of enforcing its imperialist will, defined in the last analysis by the export of monopoly capital and repatriation of profits.

In stark contrast, every rouble spent on arms by the USSR was a drain on its economy. Indeed, forcing that economy to its knees via the diversion of labour values from industrial and welfare infrastructure to a spiralling arms race was an explicit goal of the Reagan era.

So what? The USSR is history. It is, but the arms industry of today’s Russia shares two striking features with its pre-1990 ancestor. First, it is largely under state control, which is not quite the same as being state funded – though it is that, and to a degree America’s pork barrel senators would denounce as communistical.[5]

Second, it continues to be a drain on the Russian economy, holding back the gains made since the departure of the drunken buffoon, Yeltsin. A drain on the economy. Think about that. Arms spend, in a sane world, bloody well should be a drain! That a Western public has ‘learned’ to accept arms for profit as normal and even desirable is of itself a pretty clear indicator of how far we’ve travelled the road of moral turpitude, and imbibed the logic of Alice in Wonderland.

I’ll close by handing over to Eric Zuesse. Writing in OffGuardian, he begins:

Unlike a regular corporation, the corporations that manufacture and sell weapons to their government are virtually 100% dependent upon their government and its military allies, for their own success; their markets are only those governments, not individuals (such as is the case for normal corporations).

Consequently, either their government will control them, and those firms won’t have any effective control over their own markets, or else those firms will, themselves, control their government, and thereby effectively control their markets, via the government’s foreign policies — not only via expanding its military alliances (those firms’ foreign markets), but via its designating ‘enemy’ nations that it and its ‘allies’ (those arms-producers’ foreign markets) can then use those weapons against.

In countries such as the United States, arms-producers are benefiting and controlled by the country’s billionaires, instead of (as in Russia, for example) benefiting and controlled by the government. These totally profit-driven arms-producers need to have market-nations that are called ‘allied’ governments, but they also need to have some target-nations that are called ‘enemy’ governments, so as to ‘justify’ more arms-production by these firms, against which to use these weapons. Only in nations where arms-producers are privately instead of publicly controlled are the government’s foreign polices predominantly controlled by the country’s arms-producers. That’s the way it is in America.

Full piece here.


[1] Even some trade unionists defend Trident on the ground it creates 30,000 jobs. Do the sums. CND puts Trident costs at £200bn. Divide by 30k and we see that each worker could be given £6.6m each and sent home. OK, CND may be inflating the figure – though long experience suggests costings for such projects are invariably underestimated – but however we slice it the jobs argument for Trident is absurd.

[2] Speaking of moral absolutes, while nuclear weapons terrify me, in the here and now it would be madness for North Korea to ditch them, and madness for Iran not to make their acquisition a burning priority.

[3] “Soviet Union” was a misnomer, Stalin having abolished the soviets, one of whose functions would have been more responsive bottom-up economic planning, in the late twenties.

[4] In The Global Minotaur, Yannis Varoufakis sets out how – in the context of the need of all ruling classes not only to extract surplus value but to store and/or recycle it – post WW2 America became the first economy ever to make permanent debt profitable.

[5] There are those in arms geek circles who say Russia makes better weapons – SAMS, tanks and small arms in particular – because their primary purpose is to deter and if necessary kill, whereas the primary purpose of armaments in the USA is, one way or another, to make profits.