Paul Holden / The Guardian & Petition / Nation of Change – 2017-03-31 00:03:22
Shock Tactics: How the Arms Industry Trades on Our Fear of Terrorism
In his book Indefensible — Seven Myths That Sustain the Global Arms Trade, Paul Holden points to the weapons industry’s role in generating today’s wars
Paul Holden / The Guardian
(March 20, 2017) — A few years after the millennium, the world was at its most peaceable in recorded history. Nonetheless, a 2006 Gallup poll revealed that 76% of Americans believed that the world was, in that year, more dangerous than it had been any time in the recent past.
What might explain this? Some reasons lie in the psychology of threat perception. Threats that are new and unknown will figure more highly than those that are familiar — even if the latter are objectively greater. Threats that are incalculable or somehow alien will be seen as their worst possible manifestations. We are irrationally scared of sharks. Events that are on the TV news will be more salient than those we read about in the papers or in specialist articles, or which never reach the media at all.
Other reasons lie in the deliberate or casual misrepresentation by politicians. Playing to people’s fears — including exaggerating those fears — is the oldest trick in the politician’s playbook. This is where the arms business enters, as an accessory to this trick.
And there can be no doubt that the terrorist crime of 11 September 2001 generated deep fears among western (and especially American) publics. Not only were civilian airliners turned into weapons of conspicuous destruction, but the subsequent anthrax scare drew attention to the dangers of chemical and biological warfare agents in the hands of non-state actors bent solely on devastation.
The fear that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons ready to launch on a hair trigger evoked still deeper fears. The ideologies of al-Qaida militants, and more recently Isis, are so alien and demonic that people are deeply afraid that the worst may transpire.
Fortunately, those fears are massively disproportionate to the actual threats. In 2013, for example, [a Gallup poll showed that] 11% of US citizens were very worried, and 29% somewhat worried, that someone in their family would be a victim of terrorism.
But, that same year, the US government confirmed that only 16 American citizens (not including soldiers) had been killed as a result of terrorism worldwide. In fact, you are more likely as a US citizen to drown in your bathtub (a one in 800,000 chance) than die from terrorism (a one in 3.8 million chance).
And even this may be an overestimate: in 2013 the Washington Post reported that, based on the previous five years, there was only a one in 20 million chance of dying in a terrorist attack: two times less likely than dying from a lightning strike. Toddlers, using weapons found in their own homes, have killed more Americans than terrorists in recent years.
Of course, one would hope that the US government’s spending on the “war on terror” would make America safe (or at least safer) from terrorist attacks. The low numbers of Americans killed by foreign terrorists could equally be taken as a sign that the US Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense are doing their job well.
However, it is crucial to consider that the “war on terror” might have been a horrendous error. Such an argument runs like this: the attempt to impose a military solution on complicated political problems was simplified thinking with a false promise of total national safety.
In turn, the militarisation of the response — as seen in the massive expansion of military deployments, arms spending, and the license to do anything in pursuit of national security — has in reality worsened the problem of armed violence in the world.
This argument begins with an important fact: transnational terrorism is on the decline. As Todd Sandler argues in a 2014 article assessing how we study and track acts of terrorism, by the major indices that detail terrorism, the decline is substantial.
[This] decline had set in well before 2001. If we take the number of fatalities caused by terrorists, 2001 marks a clear spike, because of 11 September. But a single spike, however terrible, is not indicative of a statistical trend.
Looking back, it seems that the counter-terror policies of the 1980s and 1990s, aimed at pressuring governments to end state sponsorship of terrorist organisations, was actually working, and 9/11 was an exceptional and tragic outlier.
One thing that happened in the aftermath of the trauma of 9/11 was “threat inflation”: political leaders and pundits inflated the perils that America was facing.
Threat inflation is remarkably easy to do.The difference between popular fears and realities is well known to domestic politicians and policemen. A 2011 Gallup poll found that 68% of Americans think crime is on the rise. In fact, between 1993 and 2012, the violent crime rate (homicide, robbery, rape and aggravated assault) in the United States dropped by just under 50%.
The security sector has a strong record of engaging in threat inflation. During the early stages of the cold war, for example, American policymakers and military leaders loudly worried about first a “bomber gap” and then a “missile gap”, claiming that the USSR was massively outpacing US production of bombers and nuclear missiles.
In 1959, US intelligence estimates suggested that the USSR would be in possession of between 1,000 and 1,500 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) compared to America’s paltry 100. In reality, by September 1961, the USSR had only four ICBMs at its disposal, “less than one half of one percent of the missiles expected by US intelligence”, as Stephen Van Evera points out. More recently, Saddam Hussein turned out not to possess weapons of mass destruction after all.
The practice extends, as retired Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel William Astore notes, to North Korean ballistic missiles, Iranian nuclear weapons production and increased Chinese military production.
While all are real concerns, they “pale in comparison to the global reach and global power of the United States military . . . All this breathless threat inflation keeps the money rolling (along with the caissons) into the military”.
[There is a] tendency to conflate a sense of security with one’s actual security, which can often be hugely different. It is entirely possible to feel secure when you’re actually very insecure (sitting in your cosy home on a normal night when there is in fact an intruder outside), and feel very insecure when you’re really safe.
If you are bombarded with images of violence and war, especially if those images are framed in terms of threat, they are likely to make you feel deeply insecure, even if the reality is somewhat different.
Nowhere is this tendency more pronounced than in relation to defence issues and the global arms industry. Many scholars point to how particular players — the defence industry, the military, like-minded leaders and a pliant commercial press — can collude to create magnified perceptions of threat to justify unpopular military endeavours, pursue particular foreign policy ideologies and divert massive financial resources to the industries and individuals who will be paid to defuse the threat . . .
. . . The blowback — or perhaps “blow-around” — from the 2003 invasion of Iraq is turning out to be [extremely] serious. Where do we see the most significant uptick in armed violence over the last decade? The places are all those affected by the Iraqi civil war and attendant militant extremism (Iraq itself, Syria), or by attempts to win the “war on terror” primarily by military means (Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen), or the fallout of western military intervention (Libya and the Sahara).
The South Sudanese civil war is an outlier — but the South Sudanese leadership was initially embraced by the US as a bulwark against terrorists in Khartoum and western governments turned a blind eye to their vast and corrupt arms purchases.
And Russian president Vladimir Putin explains and justifies his bellicose posture, including his actions in Ukraine and involvement in Syria, as no more than exercising the right of national security to override international norms, as the US invoked in Iraq.
Take the conflict that has almost single-handedly pushed up current conflict deaths to early 1990s levels — the devastating civil war in Syria. While the conflict in that country is driven by multiple factors — a dictatorial regime, regional spillovers of extremism, an international community that has shifted between vacillation and interference — there is no doubt that the level of violence in that country is a direct result of decades of arms transfers to the region.
As we’ve discussed previously, the spectacular success of Isis in Syria and more widely has in large part been facilitated by the fact that they have been able to seize enormous quantities of arms, particularly in Iraq. There are, in fact, so many arms in the region, and more arriving every day, that if parties want to carry on fighting, they could do so for generations.
In short, almost everywhere we see a recently escalating conflict, the fingerprints of the global arms business and its political fellow travellers can be found, both in provoking conflict and in profiting from it.
To repeat: we do not argue that these wars are deliberately engineered by arms manufacturers and traders. But the entanglement of the arms business in the political decisions generating today’s wars demands our scrutiny. We cannot take the claims of the defence and security lobbies at face value.
Indefensible: Seven Myths That Sustain the Global Arms Trade, written by Paul Holden, is published by Zed Books (Â£12.99). Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
ACTION ALERT: End the US Policy of Perpetual War
By Bullhorn / Nation of Change
(January 15, 2017) — As Michael Payne puts it, “The War on Terror is not a war unto itself; it is just one facet of the larger agenda of perpetual war that this government, filled with bloodthirsty war hawks, has conducted for far too long.”
For the last 15 years America has been engaged in perpetual war.
Our government tells us to be afraid, and that terrorist groups pose a great threat to our country. But America has played the largest role in the origin, spread, and cultivation of these terrorist groups with our constant aggressive military policies.
It is time for the United States to end this state of perpetual war, to bring our troops home, and to cease our aggressive military policies.
Please join us in telling President Obama to stop the war on terror. We need to promote peace and communication between countries, not aggressive foreign policy and military practices.
For every 1,000 signatures, NationofChange will send a letter to President Trump, telling him to end the US policy of perpetual war.
Update 3/16/17: We have sent the first letter to President Trump with 1,000+ of your signatures. We will continue to send letters every 1,000 signatures. Thank you!
ACTION: End the US Policy of Perpetual War. Sing here.
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Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.