Archive for category: Imperialism
In her novel Everything is Known, Liza Elliott describes a future dystopia where five global mega corporations, dubbed Affiliations, rule the planet. “Infested with the inescapable surveillance industry, the five global Affiliations manipulated Big Data to commodify and commercialize all human activity for profit.” The Affiliations had subordinated states to their domination: “George Orwell got it wrong. Big Brother did not come from a totalitarian state, but from a totalitarian non-state.” Big Data was “a relentless cybernetic grandmaster who with sneaky eyes and listening ears spied on everything: your clothes, your friends, recording every word you spoke or wrote. It kept account of all this and more to amass the info power it needed to control the market, the heartbeat of the money economy.” The world’s population had become divided into three segregated social clusters, the members of the Core, the Peripherals, and the Outliers who comprised a majority of humanity:
Outliers were the discarded people. If they could not function in the Affiliation run world, they were cast off. Their lives, such as they happened, were their own fault. There would never be sympathy. They scrounged out a life with the dregs, the overruns, and the un-sellable excesses from the opulent Core and stark Periphery. Some worked unpredictable marginal field-labor jobs while others scrounged in the leftovers, the scraps, and the trash.
The world Elliott describes could well be, with not much of a stretch, a portrait of the one we live in. The unprecedented concentration of capital at the global level has cemented the financial power of a transnational corporate elite that uses its economic power to wield political influence and control states. In 2018, just 17 global financial conglomerates collectively managed $41.1 trillion, more than half the GDP of the entire planet. That same year, the richest one percent of humanity, led by 36 million millionaires and 2,400 billionaires, controlled more than half of the world’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent had to make do with just 4.5 percent of this wealth. It is this mass of downcast humanity that make up Elliott’s Peripherals and Outliers, what in the pages to follow are referred to as surplus humanity.
Yet the technical infrastructure of the twenty-first century is producing the resources in which a political and economic system very different from the global capitalism in which we live could be achieved. Through popular political control of the new technologies we could collectively transform our world for the better. Machines are accomplishing tasks that were unimaginable a decade ago. As Srnicek and Williams remind us, the internet and social media are giving a voice to billions who previously went unheard, bringing global participative democracy closer than ever to existence. Open-source designs, copyleft creativity, and 3D printing all portend a world where the scarcity of many products might be overcome. New forms of computer simulation could rejuvenate economic planning and give us the ability to direct economies rationally in unprecedented ways. The newest wave of automation is creating the possibility for huge swathes of boring and demeaning work to be permanently eliminated. Clean energy technologies make possible virtually limitless and environmentally sustainable forms of power production. And new medical technologies not only enable a longer, healthier life, but also make possible new experiments with gender and sexual identity.
If we are to free ourselves through these new technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, however, we would first need to overthrow the oppressive and archaic social relations of global capitalism. At a time when both fascism and socialism again appear to be on the agenda around the world, it behooves us to study the system of global capitalism, less as an intellectual exercise in itself than in order to struggle against its depredations with a view towards replacing it with one that can avert catastrophe and meet the material and spiritual needs of humanity. Rather than serving to liberate humanity, the new technologies are being applied at this time by the agents of this system to bring about a global police state.
While I am hardly the first to talk about a police state, I mean in this book considerably more than what we typically associate with a police state — police and military repression, authoritarian government, the suppression of civil liberties and human rights. Certainly, we see this, and more, around the world. In this study, however, I want to develop the concept of global police state to identify more broadly the emerging character of the global economy and society as a repressive totality whose logic is as much economic and cultural as it is political. By global police state I refer to three interrelated developments.
First is the ever more omnipresent systems of mass social control, repression and warfare promoted by the ruling groups to contain the real and the potential rebellion of the global working class and surplus humanity. Savage global inequalities are politically explosive and to the extent that the system is simply unable to incorporate surplus humanity it turns to ever more violent forms of containment. The methods of control include sealing out the surplus population through border and other containment walls, deportation regimes, mass incarceration and spatial apartheid, alongside omnipresent new systems of state and private surveillance and criminalization of the poor and working classes. They also include the deadly new modalities of policing and repression made possible by applications of digitalization and fourth industrial revolution technologies. The global police state brings all of global society into what in Pentagon jargon is called “battlespace,” concentrated in the world’s megacities that are now home to more than half of humanity.
Second is how the global economy is itself based more and more on the development and deployment of these systems of warfare, social control, and repression simply as a means of making profit and continuing to accumulate capital in the face of stagnation — what I term militarized accumulation, or accumulation by repression. If it is evident that unprecedented global inequalities can only be sustained by ubiquitous systems of social control and repression, it has become equally evident that quite apart from political considerations, the ruling groups have acquired a vested interest in war, conflict, and repression as a means of accumulation. As war and state-sponsored violence become increasingly privatized, the interests of a broad array of capitalist groups shift the political, social, and ideological climate towards generating and sustaining social conflict — such as in the Middle East — and in expanding systems of warfare, repression, surveillance and social control. The bogus wars against drugs, terror, immigrants and refugees are enormously profitable enterprises. We are now living in a veritable global war economy.
And third is the increasing move towards political systems that can be characterized as twenty-first century fascism, or even in a broader sense, as totalitarian. The increasing influence around the world of neo-fascist, authoritarian, and rightwing populist parties and movements, symbolized above all by Trumpism in the United States, has sparked a flurry of debate on whether fascism is again on the rise. There has been a sharp polarization around the world between insurgent left and popular forces, on the one hand, and an insurgent far Right, on the other, at whose fringe are openly fascist tendencies.
A project of twenty-first century fascism is on the ascent in the civil societies of many countries around the world. The project has made significant advances in recent years in its competition to win state power, and in some cases, it has gained a foothold in the capitalist state. At the same time a neo-fascist culture appears to be emerging through militarism, misogyny, extreme masculinization and racism. Such a culture generates a climate conducive to mass violence, often directed against the racially oppressed, ethnically persecuted, women, and poor, vulnerable communities. But a fascist outcome is not inevitable. Whether or not a fascist project manages to congeal is entirely contingent on how the struggle among social and political forces unfolds in the coming years.
This global police state is emerging at a time when world capitalism descends into a crisis that is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the sheer scale of the means of violence that is now deployed around the world. In the first instance, the global police state is a story of control and repression of the poor and working classes. There are growing movements against the many expressions of global police state — mass incarceration, police violence, U.S.-led wars around the world, the persecution of immigrants and refugees, the repression of environmental justice activists.
Yet often these movements are based on moral appeal to social justice, which by itself begets, at best, mild reform. If these movements are to attack the global police state in its jugular vein, they must identify global capitalism as the driver of the systems of social control and repression that they are combating. This book attempts to do just that. It sets out to identify the contemporary dynamics of capitalist transformation and the novel forms that are emerging. This concept of a global police state allows us to specify how the economic dimensions of global capitalist transformation intersect in new ways with political, ideological and military dimensions of this transformation….
I offer a “big picture” of the emerging global police state in a short book that is eminently readable. The book may startle many readers and make them angry. I trust the work will serve as a warning to the dystopic future that is upon us. More importantly, by exposing the nature and dynamics of this out-of-control system, I hope it will contribute to the struggles to bring about an alternative future based on human freedom and liberation. We do face a crisis of humanity. The destruction under global capitalism of the social fabric worldwide and the extreme alienation of labor, our very species being, raises fundamental questions about what it means to be human and how to recover our humanity. It is in the nature of our species to work together to assure our collective existence. But the capitalist system that throws up a global police state turns such cooperation into a process of destruction for masses of humanity as we are made to compete with one another to survive. Crises of values, identity, meaning, and community ensue.
If we are to recover our humanity we must — contra capital — re-embed ourselves in relations of reciprocity and mutual well-being. [What are] the prospects for a renewal of emancipatory projects around the world? [We must] face [the] challenge of revitalizing a Left that could help bring about an ecological socialist future. Once we have exposed the brutal world of global capitalist inequality and exploitation the most urgent matter becomes how we can move forward toward greater social justice.
The Agency knew that their best asset for selling their wars was Barack Obama — the same reason so many in the security state were eager to get rid of Donald Trump
There was no reason to think that a Biden administration would be to the left of the Obama administration when it comes to foreign policy. Biden comes with a long political career of supporting the wars of the United States and its allies, from the 2003 invasion of Iraq to Israel’s aggression against Palestinians to the protracted occupation of Afghanistan. And whatever limited overtures he made to the Left during his campaign for the general election in 2020 (while he simultaneously ran on distancing himself from the Left), foreign policy was almost entirely omitted, as evidenced by the issue’s exclusion from the unity task force with Bernie Sanders.
Perhaps the most distinguishing foreign policy position Biden took on the campaign trail was his saber rattling toward China, which was not quite as racist at Trump’s, but nonetheless got so bad a Biden ad was rebuked by progressive Asian-American groups for its racist content (Biden eventually walked back some of the ad’s rhetoric). Biden did say during his campaign that he wants to end “forever wars” (many of which he helped start) and that he’s against the war in Yemen (a position he only took after he served in the Obama administration that supported the war), but he neither centered these platforms nor accompanied them with concrete policy proposals that would actually bring an end to endless war.
In keeping with this trajectory, Biden is already drawing from a host of pro-war individuals from the Obama era to fill his cabinet. Because many of these people have been around for a while and have relationships across Washington, there is no shortage of well-known political figures who are testifying to their decency and smarts—that’s how the relatively insular world of Washington “national security professionals” works, after all. But for those on the outside of the Washington Blob looking in, the operative questions are, “What are these appointees’ records, and what does this say about what exactly we are up against in a Biden administration?”
Antony Blinken—who will be nominated for Secretary of State, as the Biden-Harris transition team announced Monday—has rightfully attracted considerable criticism for a record of supporting wars and so-called humanitarian interventions. Blinken was a top aide to Biden when the then-Senator voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Blinken helped Biden develop a proposal to partition Iraq into three separate regions based on ethnic and sectarian identity. As deputy national security adviser, Blinken supported the disastrous military intervention in Libya in 2011, and in 2018 he helped launch WestExec Advisors, a “strategic advisory firm” that is secretive about its clients, along with other Obama administration alumni like Michèle Flournoy. Jonathan Guyer writes in The American Prospect, “I learned that Blinken and Flournoy used their networks to build a large client base at the intersection of tech and defense. An Israeli surveillance startup turned to them. So did a major U.S. defense company. Google billionaire Eric Schmidt and Fortune 100 companies went to them, too.”
But other, lesser-known Obama administration alumni deserve greater scrutiny. Among them is Avril Haines, who has been tapped as Biden’s Director of National Intelligence. Haines was one of the co-authors of Obama’s “presidential policy guidance,” the infamous drone playbook that normalized targeted assassinations around the world. Here’s how Newsweek described Haines in 2013:
Since becoming the National Security Council’s legal adviser in 2011, she had been working on a wide array of highly complicated and legally sensitive issues—generally until 1 or 2 in the morning, sometimes later—that go to the core of U.S. security interests. Among them were the legal requirements governing U.S. intervention in Syria and the range of highly classified options for thwarting Iran’s nuclear program. All the while, Haines was sometimes summoned in the middle of the night to weigh in on whether a suspected terrorist could be lawfully incinerated by a drone strike.
During the Biden presidential campaign, there was a concerted effort by former Obama aides to cast Haines retroactively as a voice of restraint and protecting civilians, as captured in an article by Spencer Ackerman. This revisionism should not be believed: Whatever civilian protections Haines may have written into drone law, they clearly did not work, as evidenced by the devastating toll of U.S. drone wars on civilians. While the Trump administration escalated the drone war and loosened restrictions on killing civilians, it was the Obama administration—aided by Haines—that normalized the widespread use of targeted assassinations that turned the whole world into a potential U.S. battlefield.
There are other aspects of Haines’ record that are worrying. She has “in the past described herself as a former consultant for the controversial data-mining firm Palantir,” as Murtaza Hussain reported for The Intercept. Palantir was co-founded by a Trump-backing billionaire, and is implicated in some of the worst wrongdoings of the Trump administration, including mass surveillance and immigrant detention. As Hussain reports, little is known about Haines’ role at the firm, and she scrubbed any mention from her bio when she came on as a Biden advisor. (Haines also worked for WestExec, as Guyer reports.)
In 2018, Haines angered progressives when she spoke in support of Gina Haspel’s nomination for CIA Director. Haspel was widely opposed for her role in running CIA prisons where torture took place.
And then there is Linda Thomas-Greenfield, tapped to serve as United Nations Ambassador. Thomas-Greenfield lists her most recent employment Albright Stonebridge Group, a secretive “global strategy firm” somewhat similar to McKinsey & Company, and chaired by Madeleine Albright (Thomas-Greenfield is currently listed as “on leave” from the firm). Albright Stonebridge Group is a black box: It’s near impossible to get any info about who its clients are. The firm claims that it does not lobby the U.S. government or do work that is covered by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, but many of its staffers double in roles that certainly do exert influence, or have in the past. The firm’s UAE office is headed by Jad Mneymneh, who previously was in the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi’s Office of Strategic Affairs.
There is nothing remarkable about Biden appointing someone who hails from a shadowy global strategy firm for a powerful role, but that is precisely the problem. As Guyer points out, Jake Sullivan, set to be Biden’s National Security Advisor, went to work for Macro Advisory Partners in 2017. “Run by former British spy chiefs, Macro Advisory Partners has about 30 full-time staff and reported $37 million in revenue last year,” notes Guyer. “Macro Advisory Partners has used Sullivan’s involvement as a selling point in offering ‘trusted counsel in a turbulent world,’ with his face atop the roster on their website’s landing page. But when Sullivan publishes a magazine article about U.S. foreign policy or delivers university lectures, he almost always omits this job from his biography.”
Then there is Michèle Flournoy, considered the favorite to lead the Pentagon (though this hasn’t been officially announced yet). Not only is she on the board of military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, but she co-founded the the hawkish center-left think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS)—which receives significant funding from the weapons industry, including General Dynamics Corporation, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman Corporation and Lockheed Martin Corporation. She served in the Obama administration as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from 2009 to 2012 and then played a powerful role at CNAS. She was a major backer of the 2011 military intervention in Libya, a supporter of the occupation of Afghanistan, and firmly opposed the complete removal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
More Biden nominations will be trickling in over the coming days and weeks, and we have every reason to expect more of the same: His transition team is a clear tell. As I reported on November 11, one third of Biden’s Pentagon transition team alone lists as their “most recent employment” think tanks, organizations or companies that are either funded by the weapons industry or are directly part of this industry. Many of these entities are well-known and even respected, including influential think tanks like CNAS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Staffers of these think tanks do not get the same bad flak that lobbyists receive, but they deserve it: Via policy papers, media outreach and relationships with politicians, these staffers effectively do the same thing lobbyists do, but dressed in a more academic veneer, and the think tanks Biden is drawing from have proven track records of pushing weapons systems on the U.S. government. Indeed, in 2016 even the New York Times accused CSIS of lobbying for General Atomics, a California-based manufacturer of Predator drones, based on a cache of emails showing it doing just that. And then there are the many that do not disclose their funders, including four transition team members (Linda Thomas-Greenfield among them) who hail from Albright Stonebridge Group.
There is a temptation to take a moment to breathe, to celebrate that the Trump administration has been voted out (although Trump appears determined to maintain power), and to hold on to hope that Biden will mark a turn away from some of Trump’s worst impulses, including his war mongering. But we learned from the earliest days of the Obama administration that it is sober assessment—rather than projection—that is called for in moments like this. Obama, with Biden at his side, oversaw intervention in Libya, disastrous involvement in the Yemen war, ongoing occupation in Afghanistan, support for the coup in Honduras, and much more. And Biden is now pulling from the same team of advisors and influence peddlers and consultants who helped make it all happen.
War: what is it good for? Apparently, in Washington’s world of think tanks, the answer is: the bottom line.
In fact, as the Biden presidency approaches, an era of great-power competition between the United States and China is already taken for granted inside the Washington Beltway. Much less well known are the financial incentives that lurk behind so many of the voices clamoring for an ever-more-militarized response to China in the Pacific. We’re talking about groups that carefully avoid the problems such an approach will provoke when it comes to the real security of the United States or the planet. A new cold war is likely to be dangerous and costly in an America gripped by a pandemic, its infrastructure weakened, and so many of its citizens in dire economic straits. Still, for foreign lobbyists, Pentagon contractors, and Washington’s many influential think tanks, a “rising China” means only one thing: rising profits.
Defense contractors and foreign governments are spending millions of dollars annually funding establishment think tanks (sometimes in secret) in ways that will help set the foreign-policy agenda in the Biden years. In doing so, they gain a distinctly unfair advantage when it comes to influencing that policy, especially which future tools of war this country should invest in and how it should use them.
Not surprisingly, many of the top think tank recipients of foreign funding are also top recipients of funding from this country’s major weapons makers. The result: an ecosystem in which those giant outfits and some of the countries that will use their weaponry now play major roles in bankrolling the creation of the very rationales for those future sales. It’s a remarkably closed system that works like a dream if you happen to be a giant weapons firm or a major think tank. Right now, that system is helping accelerate the further militarization of the whole Indo-Pacific region.
In the Pacific, Japan finds itself facing an increasingly tough set of choices when it comes to its most significant military alliance (with the United States) and its most important economic partnership (with China). A growing U.S. presence in the region aimed at counterbalancing China will allow Japan to remain officially neutral, even as it reaps the benefits of both partnerships.
To walk that tightrope (along with the defense contractors that will benefit financially from the further militarization of the region), Japan spends heavily to influence thinking in Washington. Recent reports from the Center for International Policy’s Foreign Influence Initiative (FITI), where the authors of this piece work, reveal just how countries like Japan and giant arms firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing functionally purchase an inside track on a think tank market that’s hard at work creating future foreign-policy options for this country’s elite.
How to Make a Think Tank Think
Take the prominent think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which houses programs focused on the “China threat” and East Asian “security.” Its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which gets funding from the governments of Japan and the Philippines, welcomes contributions “from all governments in Asia, as well as corporate and foundation support.”
Unsurprisingly, the program also paints a picture of Japan as central “to preserving the liberal international order” in the face of the dangers of an “increasingly assertive China.” It also highlights that country’s role as Washington’s maritime security partner in the region. There’s no question that Japan is indeed an important ally of Washington. Still, positioning its government as a lynchpin in the international peace (or war) process seems a dubious proposition at best.
CSIS is anything but alone when it comes to the moneyed interests pushing Washington to invest ever more in what now passes for “security” in the Pacific region. A FITI report on Japanese operations in the U.S., for instance, reveals at least 3,209 lobbying activities in 2019 alone, as various lobbyists hired by that country and registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act targeted both Congress and think tanks like CSIS on behalf of the Japanese government. Such firms, in fact, raked in more than $30 million from that government last year alone. From 2014 to 2019, Japan was also the largest East Asian donor to the top 50 most influential U.S. think tanks. The results of such investments have been obvious when it comes to both the products of those think tanks and congressional policies.
Think tank recipients of Japanese funding are numerous and, because that country is such a staunch ally of Washington, its government can be more open about its activities than is typical. Projects like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s “China Risk and China Opportunity for the U.S.-Japan Alliance,” funded by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are now the norm inside the Beltway. You won’t be surprised to learn that the think tank scholars working on such projects almost inevitably end up highlighting Japan’s integral role in countering “the China threat” in the influential studies they produce. That threat itself, of course, is rarely questioned. Instead, its dangers and the need to confront them are invariably reinforced.
Another Carnegie Endowment study, “Bolstering the Alliance Amid China’s Military Resurgence,” is typical in that regard. It’s filled with warnings about China’s growing military power — never mind that, in 2019, the United States spent nearly triple what China did on its military, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Like so many similarly funded projects inside the Beltway, this one recommended further growth in military cooperation between the U.S. and Japan. Important as well, it claimed, was developing “the capability to wage combined multidomain joint operations” which “would require accelerating operational response times to enhance firepower.”
The Carnegie project lists its funding and, as it turns out, that foundation has taken in at least $825,000 from Japan and approximately the same amount from defense contractors and U.S. government sources over the past six years. And Carnegie’s recommendations recently came to fruition when the Trump administration announced the second-largest sale of U.S. weaponry to Japan, worth more than $23 billion worth.
If the Japanese government has a stake in funding such think tanks to get what it wants, so does the defense industry. The top 50 think tanks have received more than $1 billion from the U.S. government and defense contractors over those same six years. Such contractors alone lobby Congress to the tune of more than $20 million each election cycle. Combine such sums with Japanese funding (not to speak of the money spent by other governments that desire policy influence in Washington) and you have a confluence of interests that propels U.S. military expenditures and the sale of weapons globally on a mind-boggling scale.
A Defense Build-Up Is the Order of the Day
An April 2020 report on the “Future of US-Japan Defense Collaboration” by the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security offers a typical example of how such pro-militarization interests are promoted. That report, produced in partnership with the Japanese embassy, begins with the premise that “the United States and Japan must accelerate and intensify their long-standing military and defense-focused coordination and collaboration.”
Specifically, it urges the United States to “take measures to incentivize Japan to work with Lockheed Martin on the F-2 replacement program,” known as the F-3. (The F-2 Support Fighter is the jet Lockheed developed and produced in partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the Japanese Defense Forces.) While the report does acknowledge its partnership with the embassy of Japan, it fails to acknowledge that Lockheed donated three quarters of a million dollars to the influential Atlantic Council between 2014 and 2019 and that Japan generally prefers to produce its own military equipment domestically.
The Atlantic Council report continues to recommend the F-3 as the proper replacement for the F-2, “despite political challenges, technology-transfer concerns,” and “frustration from all parties” involved. This recommendation comes at a time when Japan has increasingly sought to develop its own defense industry. Generally speaking, no matter the Japanese embassy’s support for the Atlantic Council, that country’s military is eager to develop a new stealth fighter of its own without the help of either Lockheed Martin or Boeing. While both companies wish to stay involved in the behemoth project, the Atlantic Council specifically advocates only for Lockheed, which just happens to have contributed more than three times what Boeing did to that think tank’s coffers.
A 2019 report by the Hudson Institute on the Japan-U.S. alliance echoed similar sentiments, outlining a security context in which Japan and the United States should focus continually on deterring “aggression by China.” To do so, the report suggested, American-made ground-launched missiles (GCLMs) were one of several potential weapons Japan would need in order to prepare a robust “defense” strategy against China. Notably, the first American GCLM test since the United States withdrew from the Cold War era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019 used a Lockheed Martin Mark 41 Launch System and Raytheon’s Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile. The Hudson Institute had not only received at least $270,000 from Japan between 2014 and 2018, but also a minimum of $100,000 from Lockheed Martin.
In 2020, CSIS organized an unofficial working group for industry professionals and government officials that it called the CSIS Alliance Interoperability Series to discuss the development of the future F-3 fighter jet. While Japanese and American defense contractors fight for the revenue that will come from its production, the think tank claims that American, Japanese, and Australian industry representatives and officials will “consider the political-military and technical issues that the F-3 debate raises.” Such working groups are far from rare and offer think tanks incredible access to key decision-makers who often happen to be their benefactors as well.
All told, between 2014 and 2019, CSIS received at least $5 million from the U.S. government and Pentagon contractors, including at least $400,000 from Lockheed Martin and more than $200,000 from Boeing. In this fashion, a privileged think tank elite has cajoled its way into the inner circles of policy formation (and it matters little whether we’re talking about the Trump administration or the future Biden one). Think about it for a moment: possibly the most crucial relationship on the planet between what looks like a rising and a falling great power (in a world that desperately needs their cooperation) is being significantly influenced by experts and officials invested in the industry guaranteed to militarize that very relationship and create a twenty-first-century version of the Cold War.
Any administration, in other words, lives in something like an echo chamber that continually affirms the need for a yet greater defense build-up led by those who would gain most from it.
Profiting From Great Power Competition
Japan is singled out in this analysis because the Center for International Policy’s Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative, where we work, had striking access to its influence data. There are, however, many other nations with defense agendas in the Indo-Pacific region who act similarly. As a Norwegian think tank document put it, “Funding powerful think tanks is one way to gain such access, and some think tanks in Washington are openly conveying that they can service only those foreign governments that provide funding.” A Japanese official publicly noted that such funding of U.S. think tanks “is an investment.” You can’t put it much more bluntly or accurately than that.
Foreign governments and the defense industry debate the nitty-gritty of how best to arm a region whose continued militarization is accepted as a given. The need to stand up to the Chinese “aggressor” is a foregone conclusion of most thought leaders in Washington. They ought, of course, to be weighing and debating the entire security picture, including the potential future devastation of climate change, rather than simply piling yet more weaponry atop the outdated tools of war.
To be sure, think tanks don’t make U.S. foreign policy, nor do foreign lobbyists and defense contractors. But their money, distributed in copious amounts, does buy them crucial seats at that policymaking table, while dissenters are generally left out in the cold.
What’s the solution? For starters, a little transparency in Washington foreign-policy-making circles would be useful so that the public can be made more aware of the conflicts of interest that rule the roost when it comes to China policy. All think tanks should be required to publicly disclose their donors and funders. At least the Atlantic Council and CSIS report their funders by levels of donations and note certain sponsors of events or reports (a basic level of transparency that makes a piece like this possible). Such a standard of transparency should minimally be practiced by all think tanks, including prominent organizations like the American Enterprise Institute and the Earth Institute, neither of which releases any information about its funders, to highlight potential conflicts of interests.
Without transparency, the defense contractors and foreign governments that donate to think tanks help create foreign-policy thinking in which this world is, above all, in constant need of more weapons systems. This only increases military tensions globally, while helping to perpetuate the interests and profits of a defense industry that is, in truth, antithetical to the interests of most Americans, so many of whom would prefer diplomatic, peaceful, and coordinated solutions to the challenges of a rising China.
Unfortunately, as foreign policy is now made, a rising China is also guaranteed to lift all boats (submarines, aircraft carriers, and surface ships) as well as fighter planes aiding the military-industrial complex on a planet increasingly at war with itself.
Governments and companies took on $15tn more borrowing in first nine months of 2020, says IIF