Issue 8 - Winter 2004
Dreams of Global Hegemony and the Technology of War (page 1 of 2)
by Jerry Harris

After W.W. II the U.S. had unquestioned hegemony throughout the capitalist world. But in the early 1970s U.S. power began a long decline, particularly as the economies in Europe and Japan recovered. Nevertheless, the confrontation with the Soviet Union allowed the U.S. to maintain leadership by providing military security for the West. But the collapse of the USSR created a crisis. U.S. military might was no longer needed and its economic hegemony had long passed its peak.

Alongside this strategic change was the emerging revolution in information technology. As information capitalism became firmly rooted in all the advanced countries a system of economic and political globalization rapidly developed. These changing world conditions presented two choices to the U.S. ruling class; either fully integrate into a globalized system of world capitalism or reassert hegemony through military power and war.

Globalization was the choice of consensus, backed by rapidly growing transnational corporations, the immense power of speculative finance, a surge in cross cultural exchanges and a technological boom that pointed to a new economy. But beneath the new global system remained a powerful nationalist wing within the U.S. capitalist class. These elements retained a solid base of support in the military/industrial complex (MIC), the structural heart of U.S. superpower status. Ideologically the hegemonists grouped around a circle of neoconservatives and geopolitical realists including Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle.

Their views began to take shape during the first Bush administration at which time they occupied a minority position within the government. But after the election of George W. Bush the new president filled his administration with neoconservatives including all key positions in the Pentagon. This produced major policy shifts, displacing the globalists who had dominated Washington since the Reagan years. At first the globalist/hegemonist split was covered over by their initial unity in the post 9-11 period. But as hegemonist strategy unfolded the internal class consensus began to fray and differences crystallized over the war with Iraq.

For most economic and political leaders in the West the Soviet collapse created the conditions to build a multilateral system of global capital. But hegemonists held a different viewpoint, that the defeat of the USSR created an opportunity for a unilateral U.S. empire. This strategy was laid-out in a pivotal policy paper published in 2000 by the neo-conservative think tank Project for the New American Century, and signed onto by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and other top White House advisors. As the paper reads, “Having led the West to victory America faces an opportunity and a challenge…Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests? What is required is a military that is strong…a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United State’s global responsibilities…At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.” This dominance rests on “a secure foundation (of) unquestioned U.S. military preeminence.” A preeminence that will not “allow others an opportunity to shape the world in ways antithetical to American interests.” In turn, military preeminence rests on the application of information technology to warfare, or what the Pentagon terms the “revolution in military affairs (RMA).” The ultimate aim is to build “a global security order that is uniquely friendly to American principles and prosperity.” (1) This political vision drives U.S. policy today.

RMA is the key to Washington’s strategic aims because such an extended empire is virtually impossible under the physical constraints of traditional military organization. Establishing a strong presence in countries extending from the African Horn to Indonesia, with the spread of possible armed conflicts, would simply over tax U.S. military manpower if these occupations were carried out under the “overwhelming force” doctrine of Colin Powell. This doctrine argues that the U.S. should only engaged when its vital interests are at stake and do so with such overwhelming initial force that resistance would quickly prove futile. It has widespread support inside the Pentagon because this approach protects big weapon systems, large troop size, and the budgets and careers of numerous top officers while providing a job base in many congressional districts.

But under the aggressive preemptive doctrine favored by Cheney, Rumsfled and their cadre of neoconservatives RMA makes military preeminence achievable. A hightech military creates smaller forces at less risk with the speed and flexibility to roam the world. With less troops and heavy equipment both the political and economic costs are lowered to an acceptable level at home, while the effectiveness of Special Forces and precision weapons leave a smaller footprint lowering the social and political costs of occupation. As pointed out by the Naval Postgraduate School, “RMA proponents argue the United States should take advantage of its current technological edge to accelerate a revolution in warfare that will sustain U.S. power and leadership into the future and can be exploited in U.S. foreign policy to build an international system to the nation’s liking.” (2)

These two doctrines, RMA and overwhelming force, with all their strategic political and economic implications have caused the swirling controversies that have swept through the halls of the Pentagon over the invasion of Iraq. Iraq was to be a showcase cementing new IT military theories, consolidating hegemonists/RMA leadership inside the Department of Defense and opening the door for further attacks against Iran and Syria. While the war was a significant step towards these aims the internal contradictions are far from resolved.

The Impact of Information Technology

The RMA military doctrine seeks to transform the command, communications and control of military organization in the same manner that information technologies transformed the organization of transnational corporations. Although microprocessors are thoroughly integrated into the production and products of the defense industry, military organizations are still debating how to expand and integrate their new weapons into warfare and organizational strategy. These weapons are designed to make use of information technologies but are often tied to non-informational warfare strategies. The effort is to switch from platform-centric models of operation that rely on large individual military assets that engage targets head-to-head, to decentralized networks of smaller, faster weapon nodes that engage more rapidly and maintain information awareness of the entire battlefield. This transformation parallels the period over a decade ago when corporations were tied to large mainframe computers and didn’t understand how to structure themselves around PCs. Only when corporations learned to use networked productive capacities did informational capitalism take-off. They had to adopt their business strategies to their new organizational capabilities, not use the new technology with old strategies. This corporate debate was often structured around the transformation from industrial to informational capitalism.

The military faces this same debate today. As one study points out, “the growing ubiquity of personal computers and other information technologies is viewed not only as the basis for a new societal age but as the foundation for a new form of warfare as well.” (3) While some question whether networked organizational methods can succeed in such a highly bureaucratic and hierarchical institution as the military widespread support for RMA is evident. An important Army project titled ‘Force XXI,’ states its goal “is to create the 21st century army that is ‘digitized and redesigned to harness the power of information-age warfare.’ ” (4) Support is also evident in the Navy, as another study notes, “ Every Sailor and Marine has an opportunity to be a part of something significant, since transformations of this magnitude—from an industrial-age Navy to an information-age Navy—rarely occur.” (5)

Part of RMA is to create Networked Centric Warfare (NCW) that promoters believe will change “doctrine, platforms, training and culture.” The core focus is on networked information of “unprecedented pace and intensity.” This would give officers and troops real-time “situational awareness to rule the battlespace.” (6) Just-in-time warfare could let commanders coordinate a vast system of troops and machines that rapidly respond to changing conditions and out maneuver their competition. In adopting NCW the military looks towards “applying the lessons learned from the commercial sector…to become a ‘brain-rich organization.” (7) This IT scenario has obvious links to transnational corporate strategies rooted in speed, creative intellectual capital and greater centralization of command.

But while some advocate “developing human capital” others see removing the “human element” and creating automated cybernetic systems to do much of the fighting. (8) This parallels corporate discussions on how to use intellectual capital to create machines that can minimize human labor and lower the cost of production. For the military IT fighting machines can minimize the cost of war with fewer U.S. casualties. Some in the military argue that “RMA with its prospect of ‘immaculate’ war-making (will) change the equation between cost and benefit, and make war more bearable in the public eye.” (9). Such political considerations are important points in the military’s long sought solution to the Vietnam syndrome of extended wars and high causalities undermining popular support. As another study notes, “the technological and organizational innovations springing from the RMA may make US military objectives attainable at lower costs than ever before—a consideration that stands to shape US commitment to military coercion…a President able to control casualties is in a better position to maintain popular support for his own war policy (and) domestic legitimacy for military intervention. ” (10).

Corporate IT Links

Military Keynesianism has been an important part of the U.S. economy since W.W. II. With a stock market in decline and stagnating production government spending accounts for almost 25% of anticipated GDP growth in 2003. Most of this jolt has come through the nearly $400 billion defense budget and homeland security spending spree. This money is being put into key areas of the economy that were hard hit in the stock market crash, telecommunications, hightech electronics, information technologies and aerospace.

Over the next five years the Bush administration has earmarked $136 billion for new military technologies. Rumsfeld has called for a 125% increase in spending for information technology, a 145% increase in space capabilities, and a 28% increase in programs that can attack enemy information networks. This budget is a major boom to the military industry that saw procurement spending drop an average of $40 billion a year under Clinton. Much of the new spending is headed for southern California, which already employs 50,000 workers in the defense industry. Companies that focus on high-tech weapons are seeing their stocks jump. Raytheon is up 30%, Northrop Grumman by 72%, and TRW stocks rose 75%. (11)

Palmdale’s Plant 42 is a key production center that gathers together over 7,300 workers from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. As one executive commented, “you have just about the whole modern Air Force in one place being worked on.” Everyone recognizes the new emphasis on high-tech weapons, says business executive David Myers, “Before it was more production oriented, and now the people are more R&D type engineers. They’re more specialized.” Northrup’s spokesperson adds, “The hottest job now is software engineers.” (12)

New defense spending has also revived the sinking fortunes around Silicon Valley in northern California. Over 900 Bay Area companies have recently received $4 billion in Pentagon contracts. Lockheed Martin, whose Space and Strategic Missile division is housed in Sunnyvale, received $2.2 billion and now employs more area workers than Intel, Apple or Yahoo. As Business Week commented, “Silicon Valley is more than a business center now. It’s an arsenal.” (13)

With the Pentagon’s need to analyze and integrate huge amounts of information they need many of the same servers, fiber-optic networks and software developed by the private sector. But most Pentagon high-tech contracts go through MIC connected companies. The biggest in-house producer is Northrop Grumman whose IT division Logicon Inc. employs 23,000 workers. Since 1991 it has acquired 16 companies, mostly focused on IT specialties, with revenues jumping 150% in the last two years. Raytheon runs America’s largest electronic intelligence downlink facility at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, and General Dynamics has undergone a major shift creating a $3.7 billion Information Systems and Technology unit. Lockheed Martin has also joined the race for new IT contracts. Its expanded Systems Integration section accounted for 36% of the company’s total revenues, 48% of its operating profits and brought in $9.6 billion in sales. (14) Besides the big players the Pentagon has handed out IT jobs to Booz Allen and Hamilton, The Schafer Corporation, SRS Technology, SRI International, CACI Dynamic Systems, Adroit Systems, Syntek Technologeis and Asi Systems International. (15) Not your usual line-up of global IT leaders.

Much of the work is focused on “interoperability and connectivity” which integrates intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in computerized systems. Other areas specialize in unmanned vehicles and planes, precision-guided bombs, and space. For example, in Iraq a soldier using laser binoculars with a global positioning device could transmit the coordinates of a target back to military headquarters in Qatar from a field computer via a Boeing satellite. An unmanned predator drone could then capture video of the same target giving commanders in Qatar a live picture. Using a satellite the command center quickly sends the coordinates to a nearby B-2 bomber whose pilot, using a Lockheed Martin global positioning satellite, can then drop his bomb correcting its course and guiding it to the target. (16) Fast, precise and interconnected RMA was proving itself in Iraq. More >>


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