What do we want? War! When do we want it? Continually!

Post 9/11 the US embarked on a series of wars to ‘make the world safe’ and more importantly settle old and new scores.

The consequences – death and devastation – across much of the globe. It may not equal the impact of the 20th century’s two world wars, but they make Europe’s 17th century 30 Years War look like a skirmish.

All in all the US has been at war for 228 years of the 247 years since its formation in 1776 and the ones since 2001 have had a devastating impact on Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia – places where the US has intervened directly or acted by proxies. The US is also conducting ‘counterterror activities’ in 85 countries.

Recently the Brown University Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs has sought to estimate the costs of these wars.

They found that:

  • At least 929,000people have died due to direct war violence, including armed forces on all sides of the conflicts, contractors, civilians, journalists, and humanitarian workers.  More have died due to ripple effects like malnutrition, damaged infrastructure, and environmental degradation.
  • Taking into account compounding factors such as economic collapse, climate chaos, environmental contamination, reverberating trauma and violent destruction of public services and health infrastructure may have resulted in 4.5 million deaths.
  • Over 387,000civilians have been killed in direct violence by all parties to these conflicts.
  • More than 7,050 soldiers have died in the wars and many more have been injured or made ill. Some 8000 US contractors have been killed.
  • 38 million people have been displaced by the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines.
  • The post-9/11 wars have contributed significantly to climate change as the Defense Department is one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.
  • Most of the money allocated to humanitarian relief and rebuilding civil society has been lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.
  • The cost of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and elsewhere totals about $8 trillion. This does not include future interest costs on borrowing for the wars.

Needless to say Australia has done its bit to add to all of them.

…and now we are contemplating a further war – this time with China. Many commentators are invoking the ‘Thucydides Trap’, the term coined by Harvard professor Graham Allison, to depict the conflict which arises when an existing great power is confronted with a rising state. As the new power rises the two are more likely to engage in violent conflict as the new power displaces the old.

Using this template, the strategists postulate that China is the rising state and the US is the existing great power. Cynics might respond to this by suggesting that both states are actually in decline – China with massive demographic and debt problems and the US showing all the signs of being a failed democracy – failing but ever dangerous.

There are various estimates of the respective military capabilities. One view is that in terms of global military spending the United States accounts for 39% and China 13% – both higher than the next rated countries by a large margin.

Peter Robertson Professor, The University of Western Australia writing in The Conversation (2/10/21) qualifies this arguing that China’s annual military budget is estimated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute to be about 1.7 trillion yuan. This is about 1.9% of China’s GDP. How much the situation has changed is uncertain beyond thinking more, more and yet more on both parts.

“Using market exchange rates, China’s annual military spending converts to about US$228 billion. By comparison, the US military budget is US$649 billion – or 3.2% of US GDP.

Hence China’s military budget is usually thought of about 40% that of the US – which is often characterised as spending more on its military than the next 10 countries combined,” he said.

However, he warns this approach “dramatically overstates US military capacity – and understates China’s. In real terms, China’s spending is worth about 75% that of the US.”

As both powers have nuclear weapons the difference may be irrelevant but nevertheless the Chinese may think their one billion population might better survive a war than would the US’s smaller one. It’s a calculation which is great in theory but highly dangerous in practice.

To urge on the war mongers Australia and the US have a long history of revolving doors between the military, the weapons industry and governments. The extent in Australia will soon become clearer as the Undue Influence group has been given funding from the Jan de Voogd Peace Fund to create an Australian-first database on the extent of the revolving door.

 Undue Influence says: “With AUKUS expected to cost Australian taxpayers more than $350 billion, at a time of decreasing transparency and poor accountability for record expenditure on armaments, the need for this database has never been greater. Exposing the insidious links between global weapons corporations and the government is now essential. Before an egregious practice can be stamped out, it must be documented.

“When senior people depart politics, the military, or the public service for roles in the weapons industry they take with them extensive national and international contacts, deep institutional knowledge and rare and privileged access to the highest levels of government. Their inside knowledge, contact books and high-level access entrenches the undue influence of the weapons industry on government decision-making, which can undermine integrity and open the door to corruption.”

The data base is modelled on the US Project On Government Oversight (POGO) Pentagon Revolving Door website.

A good starting place for the data base will be NIOA which is the largest Australian-owned supplier of munitions to the Australian and NZ defence forces. Its advisory board includes Christopher Pyne (Chair); a former US Under Secretary for Defence procurement; David Feeney a former Labor Senator, Mark Donaldson VC; and Dr Ken Armstrong former Chief of the Aerospace Division of the Defence Science and Technology Group.

The NIOA website discloses that it’s Canberra office is “strategically located next to our Defence customer” and the Melbourne office is located “opposite Victoria Barracks which houses Defence’s System Division of Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group.” All very convenient and cosy.

NIOA’s existence and activities were brought to the blog’s attention by his friend John Dyett.