Sunday, 9 March 2014

In these New Times of International Tension out of Ukraine: Remember the Military Industrial Complex!

I suppose no one has missed the turbulent events in Ukraine the last couple of weeks and there are, of course, many things one might say about those. At the moment, there appears to be a stalemate, where sympathies are allocated according to (i) what leadership orientation is preferred, and (ii) how one assesses the legality of the initial shift of power in Kiev, when the 2010 democratically elected president Yanukovych was replaced by the current provisional rule. If (ii) is assessed as illegal, it follows that Yanukovych is still legitimate president and then the presence of, if nothing else, Russian supported (but this charade is believed by no one, so let's say Russian, shall we?) troops on Crimea is perfectly in accord with international law, as a legitimate country leader may of course request foreign military assistance in times of national crisis. If (ii) is assessed as legal, the opposite conclusion follows and, in fact, we have a case of an aggressive invasion. Similarly, if (i) is assessed so that the new Kiev regime is judged as more desirable than the old, the shift of power is seen as desirable (for instance by pointing to the knee-deep corruption), and the Russian military activities as undesirable. If (i) is assessed differently (for instance by pointing to the strong presence of the neo-nazi party Svoboda in the provisional Kiev government, the national prosecution office, as well as the militia currently upholding order in absence of a defunct police organisation). However, I want to highlight another aspect of the Ukrainian crisis, linked more the way it's been spun in the surrounding world – especially that of Europe and, not least, Scandinavia.

In Sweden, there's been an immediate collective official political panic (see, for instance, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) connected to the fact that it might look like a real "Russian threat" akin to the cold war era is back on the European menu. And, for instance, Poland and some Baltic countries have made some pretty strong calls for NATO to beef up its eastern Europe readiness and presence. On the Russian side of the fence, the rhetoric is no less tough, as you all know, and may be said to mirror perfectly that of the Western European stance.

Now, I'm no expert on foreign policy or international security analysis (although I'm on record as being quite skeptical to all claims to such expertise), but it would seem to me that there's a general tendency of all of these developments taken together that needs to be taken into the equation. This is no innovation of mine, but was in fact eloquently formulated by the at the time exiting U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961. What he pointed to was the close institutionalised alliance between political forces of whatever colour or brand desiring armed conflict for whatever reason and the vested interests of the wide variety of business and industry making money on such ventures and thriving in the atmosphere of increased international political tension. In these times of general hollering for more of military action, presence, visibility and readiness, this is a crucial factor to consider and what better way to remind about it than simple listening to Eisenhower's words once more, after which you may ask yourself who – unwittingly or not – those on all sides making the pitch of violence are servants of.


  1. I'd like to make two observations:
    1) Sweden, like every other country with a defence industry, has a military industrial complex but that doesn't delegitimize the need for national defence. What it does do is risk skewing the procurement and force structure to benefit other needs like employment.

    An example is whether Sweden focuses on fighters and submarines because these are strong sectors within the defence industry OR if these sectors within the defence industry are strong because these platforms are vital for our national defence.

    2) Who's calling for military action? That's a very thin straw man. I'd say you're the one who's making a pitch for violence by advocating a not only pacifist but 'passivist' response to naked aggression.

    Nothing provokes a bully to action like cowering before him.

  2. Oh another lobbyist in the making, I see :) Happy to have provoked you!

    No, seriously, of course the structural argument implied by Eisenhower, cannot be made to one country in isolation. As you imply, once a (possible) threat is present it is prudent and responsible to prepare for defense. However, is there a threat? Who says? On what evidence? And to serve what interest? To be true, Ukraina is under threat - but Gotland??? You could argue as Ove Bring that the Russian action is unprecedented since the end of WW2. It's just that it isn't. We've seen military action unsupported by the UN in Kosovo, in Georgia, in Iraq, in Libya, and so on. The present situation is as much an argument for "a new doctrine" as any of those events, unless any further concrete evidence is suggested. This is the thing to understand about the MIC - it's a part of a business model thriwing on the fear of international conflict. Once the fear is established all else follows as a rational response.

  3. Swedish disarmament since the late 90's was based on several publicly stated assumptions:
    * That Russia was unable to pose a military threat to it's neighbours
    * That Russia was unwilling to use military means to influence it's neighbours
    * That Russia was going to integrate with European structures and adopt a European political system
    * That the EU is a relevant actor in European security comparable to NATO
    * That membership in Partnership for Peace is essentially the same as full NATO membership (without having to admit that Swedish foreign policy during the cold war was morally abhorrent)

    All of these assumptions has now proved very incorrect.

    I would disagree with Bring. It's on a greater scale but the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not that dissimilar in nature to the invasion of Georgia which should have been enough to reverse course (especially as Russian policy towards Georgia was explicitly mentioned as a litmus test for Russian intentions towards the near abroad in the parliamentary paper, "Försvarsberedningen 2007", preceding the 2008 defence act).

    If Russia had been successful in provoking an armed response from the Ukrainian armed forces these past few weeks they'd be even more similar; not that it's necessarily too late for that.

    Gotland is the most valuable piece of military real estate in the Baltic because whomever controls it and bases modern long range anti-air and anti-ship systems there can effectively deny any hostile power the use of the Baltic Sea, and the airspace above it, from Åland down to Poland.

    Whataboutery is such a pitiful argument that I'm embarrassed on you behalf.

  4. Thank you for the courtesy, it does says more about you, you know. But you seem to assume things about me not said in the text - like being against a defense. Of course, I'm not - as I said, having a defense is rational given the presence of threats. But what forces see to it that threats arise? Insecurity and fear of war is good business.

  5. I interpreted your original point as the military industrial complex exploiting irrational fear of Russia ("rysskräck"); are you now implying that it's the MIC that's stoking the flames (seeing to it that threats arise)?

    There's anyway nothing irrational about about it. If what's going of in Ukraine right now doesn't scare you you're not paying enough attention.

    Every event that was meant to trigger rearmament ("återtagande") has now fired. What would be irrational would be to continue acting accordingly to the best case scenario when the worst case is playing out all around us.

    I wonder if you realize just how minuscule the current Swedish armed forces are and how insignificant their capabilities are when it comes to national defence?

    If you care to find out I'd recommend the national audit office's report from last year Försvarsmaktens förmåga till uthålliga insatser (RiR 2013:22) and if you're then curious how we got there I'd recommend Fredens illusioner: det svenska nationella förvarets nedgång och fall by Wilhelm Agrell (Atlantis 2010).

  6. Yes, of course that's the point - this is what the thesis has always been about. The fear is rational, given the threat created, but the threat is exactly that, a creation. Eisenhower certainly didn't argue against a US defense. It's you who for no good reason has made an implausible conjecture that I ever implied anything else.

  7. Eisenhower did not state that the cold war was a creation of the military industrial complex. He was warning about how a constant state of (cold) war was influencing US politics.

    The MIC is the nexus between politics, bureaucracy and industry influencing policy and it acts within a national polity. So to avoid conjecture, plausible or not, please enlighten me as exactly whom you are suspecting of what.

    Who's responsible for the Russian annexation of Crimea?

    1. Ok, so let's start with the last no-brainer: the Russian state, of course. Just as particular political bodies were responsible for the change of power in Kiev. Just as any state is responsible for its actions - didn't you know? None of that is under discussion here, so could you please stop pretend otherwise. Or perhaps you're the troll your Gotland ramblings in opposition to our commander in chief make you out to be, who knows?

      In any case, I disagree on your interpretation of E's speech. For sure, he uses the US as example, but the example is not the principle, rather the illustration of the principle. Built into that example is how conglomerates of manufacturing industries and army organisations have a common interest of creating sufficiently nasty conflicts, or impression of nastiness of less nasty conflicts, to justify further investment. That is, the mechanism you claim without argument to be restricted only to localised sections of these organisations are in fact at work in them taken as wholes. Just as any other corporation or state agency have a tendency to create circumstances where they are more likely to thrive. The fact that they deal in the infrastructure of killing lots of people doesn't affect that analysis one iota.

    2. No, you're rambling and avoiding being specific about whom you're suspecting of what. Which country's military industrial complex is exacerbating this conflict? What are the signs of this?

      The MIC affects defence policy; more specifically the size and allocation of the defence budget.

      You are presupposing that arms races cause conflicts (rather than the other way around); the concept of the military industrial complex makes no such assumptions one way or the other - regardless if we're talking about Eisenhowers original speech or the common use of the term since.

      You do realise that when you make up new definitions of words that already mean something you need to tell other people when you use them? Unless you're to ignorant to know what they actually mean or assume that your readers are.

    3. By the way just to be clear: although I don't agree with his position there's nothing in Sverker Göransons article that contradicts what I wrote about the status of the Swedish armed forces and the strategic significance of Gotland.


      You were the one who brought up the island with a carelessly phrased rhetorical question not I (don't ask rhetorical questions with well known answers not to your liking).

    4. I'm not suspecting anybody, since I'm not professing a conspiracy theory, just as the MIC thesis is not such a theory, but merely a thesis of where normal market-forces lead. It's simply good businesses for arms dealers and defense contractors, as it is for defense organisations, to promote images of insecurity, threat and so on and we may expect them to spontaneously coordinate to do that. It's up to you if you want to choose an interpretation of E according to which the MIC thesis is only about the defense budget negotiations (in the USA, if we are to specifically following that route of understanding). I do differ, however, on the claim that this should be the received one among conflict and peace researchers applying the idea to global security issues. As to Gotland, Göransson's article contradicted in quite strong terms all of those self-made expert voices recently claiming the need for a new defense doctrine re Gotland because of Ukraine - that was what I was talking about, not whether or not Gotland needs to be defended, just as I never questioned the need for a national defense. So once again, we seem mostly to talk about different things.

  8. Playing up threats to increase defence spending, and focusing it on what benefits your service/company/constituency, is something fundamentally different from creating conflict - which was your somewhat ridiculous claim.

    We don't just talk about different things, we live in completely different worlds. Other than a common acquaintance I can't think of a single thing we have in common; certainly not perception of reality or morality.

  9. I'll certainly second the latter, but not the former, which, I suppose, confirms the first. Ta!