Wars for profit —Shaukat Qadir

Wars are no longer economically profitable ventures for any nation unless someone can be made to pay for them, least of all at a stage when the world’s economy is being strained to meet expenses

From the beginning of time, the most common cause for wars has been economic betterment, whether through territorial expansion, Mahmud Ghaznavi-type raids, or conquering a new country, as did William the Conqueror. Nowhere is this aspect better recorded than in the history of William who, as Duke of Normandy, was a French vassal, but dreamed of an independent homeland for the Normans, which he ultimately found in England.

In the Napoleonic era, it was the economic stranglehold that England held over Europe and the rest of the world it had colonised that Napoleon sought, but failed, to break.

The 20th century witnessed a new phenomenon: the Post-WWI Great Depression that ended with the outbreak of the Second World War. The flurry of economic activity to produce weapons and munitions of war, particularly in the United States, created jobs and made individuals and the nation very wealthy. So wealthy that, as many economists have warned, the US is still surviving on the impetus provided by that period. It appears that inertia has finally begun to set in, and the American economy is facing disaster. So does the rest of the world.

Economists like John Maynard Keynes were a product of the Great Depression era and he became most famous for presenting a theoretical explanation and solution of the causes of a worldwide recession. His theories were pruned by other economists, and followed successfully by both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank till the 1980s when, between Thatcher and Reagan, they decided to adopt the theory of ‘market perfection’, the exact opposite of the Keynesian theory.

Perhaps a policy of better utilisation of resources combined with a return to the Keynesian theory could still delay, if not totally halt, the rot. Even I can find much sound and profound advice in detail on the internet on how to ‘fix’ the US economy.

However, there are some more inventive minds who appear only to recall the fact that the American economy and, because of it, the world economy, improved due to World War II. We are now told that the RAND corporation, generally considered to be the Pentagon’s think thank, has recommended that the US initiate another war, this time with a far stronger power so as to boost its economy! Russia, China, Iran, and even Japan are possible candidates for this economic venture.

This report may be dubious but one still needs to debate this logic. During WWII, the US was initially selling munitions of war to both Germany and Britain and its allies. After it ceased sales to Germany, it continued to amass wealth through sales to the allied forces until Pearl Harbour was attacked, forcing America to enter the war.

At the conclusion of the war, huge war indemnities were imposed on the losers that more than compensated the allies for their expenses. Consequently, after making money by supplying weapons and munitions to both sides, the US was compensated for its own expenses during the war, with funds to spare, for research and development. Now that was a profitable war for the US.

The US attack on Iraq in the early 1990s — Operation Desert Storm — which destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure but left Saddam Hussein for another day, was a war that Saudi Arabia paid for twice over. That too was a profitable war.

On the other hand, whenever any country, including the US, initiates military action to capture territory, as was the case in Afghanistan and Iraq, it does so at considerable cost, paid for by its own exchequer. These wars are not profitable ventures.

However, if, at the conclusion of war, resources of the conquered territory — oil in the case of Iraq — or resources of its neighbouring territory — proximity to Central Asian oil and gas in the case of Afghanistan — are available for exploitation, the war can conclude in an economically profitable manner.

On the other hand, if, as in the case of both Iraq and Afghanistan, the outcome is a people unfriendly to the invading country, the people will ensure the denial of their resources to the conqueror. What is more, the people’s resistance will continue to bleed the conqueror, extracting an increasing price for the occupation of their country.

Is that not as obvious as the nose on anyone’s face? Is this not a lesson that has only just been taught and re-taught to the US? Is it possible that initiating a war with Russia or China or Iran or Japan can be won at lesser cost to the American exchequer?

Even if the US emerges victorious from such a conflict, without the use of nuclear weapons, is it possible that RAND psychiatrists are of the view that the conquered people of these countries are more likely to be affectionate towards their conquerors?

Wars are no longer economically profitable ventures for any nation unless someone can be made to pay for them, least of all at a stage when the world’s economy is being strained to meet expenses and when millions are starving around the world, including the US. One can only hope that the report was, as RAND now states, ‘at best a hoax’.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

Reproduced by permission of The Daily Times




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