Back in July 2010, I discovered two South Korean naval vessels berthed at Lonsdale Quay, with invitations posted for the public to board. I marched up a gangplank and wandered about, impressed with all the hardware. I was also intrigued with the advertisements displayed inside for various South Korean arms manufacturers.
It seems every other nation is in on the arms contracting game. During a visit to Sweden in 2005, my sentimental notions of Nordic pacifism went into the deep-freeze when I learned that Saab Group is an exporter of fighter jets, missiles and antitank weapons.
Yet I was still surprised by a recent edition of Monocle, a slick, London-based publication devoted to “global affairs, business, culture and design.” This particular issue was devoted to “a global survey of flashpoints and fighting forces” and littered with advertisements for high-end brands. An ad for Tiffany’s jewelry dangled next to copy about a Taiwanese firm’s contract to build “a Banshee unmanned drone aircraft for Britain’s Meggit Defence Systems.” A dapper metrosex-ual in a J. Crew ad leaned up against a column of text describing two “French-built amphibious assault ships” with the unlikely names Vladivostok and Sevastapol.
A photo spread featured concrete bungalows from the Second World War, built to house U.S. troops on Okinawa, which “are becoming a popular option for young Japanese looking for more living space.” The lifestyle angle trumped the thorny issue of regular, massive Japanese protests against the ongoing American occupation of the island.
You get the picture: the stylish conjugation of bling and bang. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, would have vomited.
Another photo spread featured Nepalese Ghurkas (British fighting forces for over 200 years) posing in high-end threads by Dunhill, Zanone and other brands outside my fashion radar and pay grade. A few pages on I marvelled at a Rolex-wearing Grim Reaper with a glass of Glenfiddich in its bony hand, toasting a widescreen television image of Lindsey Lohan sliding her tongue along the nosecone of a Hellfire missile (OK, so I made that last one up).
The most telling Monocle feature highlighted the private players in the global defence industry. Korean carmaker Hyundai sealed a $400 million deal in 2008 to deliver battle tank technology to Turkey. The California maker of sunglasses, Oakley, supplies goggles, gloves and backpacks to the FBI and police SWAT teams. Mitsubushi has become a major player in the Japanese arms industry “after the country dropped its self-imposed ban on military exports,” which was news to me. Rolls Royce is the “world’s military motor,” building engines for fighter jets and aircraft carriers.
Volvo, Caterpillar, John Deere, Samsung, Panasonic, Dell; the list of military-pollinated merchants went on and on.
My point? The global manufacturing sector is dependent on arms contracts in the same way Breaking Bad’s crystal-meth cook, Walter White, has a jones for precursor chemicals. There will be no end to geopolitical trouble spots as long as this combat-skewed Keynesianism continues, because the world economy now depends on constant, low intensity conflict and the occasional terror strike for its very existence.
The U.S. is the biggest player in the global arms marketing game. Not surprisingly, since 2001, “the base defense budget has soared from $287 billion to $530 billion – and that’s before accounting for the primary costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” notes The Washington Post. That’s a public subsidy so immense you’d think the Tea Party crowd would brand it as communist central planning.
The U.S. must maintain a posture of believable threat to protect the petrodollar, the world’s reserve currency – but a nuclear stalemate is the same as a Mexican standoff. So what’s a debt-ridden superpower and its defense contractors to do, what with China the biggest foreign holder of U.S. debt and the Federal Reserve’s printing presses working harder than Adele’s lungs to keep the casino/commando economy going?
Think drones. In an age of austerity, they’re the new, cost-conscious weapons of choice. And glory be, some of the weapon systems to defend against them are WalMart-priced, too. According to a report in The Weekly Guardian, the U.S .Navy has “used a powerful laser canon to shoot down drone aircraft and will start deploying the weapon on its ships.” Because the cannon runs on electricity, “it can fire at less than $1 per shot, says the navy.”
The Vancouver Courier, June 7