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Features & Columns
by Nick van der Leek

The Business Of War

There’s always plenty more where that came from

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Is there any money in gunpowder? Yes. Bullets? Absolutely. How about tanks and bombs? Sure, and we’ll get to that. In the first 10 days of the Libyan war the US administration spent $550m. That includes $340m for munitions such as cruise missiles i.e. ordinance that must be replaced. See, the beauty about weapons is how quickly they can (and usually are) consumed. Bang! It’s gone, but there’s always plenty more where that came from, just ask Yuri Orlov.

Everyone cares about security. Folks in the suburbs. Rich. Poor. Even presidents. Especially presidents. Isn’t it ironic that Nkandla was financed essentially on the premise of ‘security’ upgrades, as though security – by default – is an acceptable scenario for spending gazillions in taxpayer’s money whilst expecting no one to bat an eyelid. Hey, does anyone usually? But instead of starting in Zululand, we’ll end there. Let’s begin by widening our gaze. Let’s leap backwards into history, and north towards other nations. Let’s investigate their national security issues before we find our way back home to the familiar issues in the present.

In 1688 Prince William of Orange (the ruler of a pipsqueak of a country known as ‘the Netherlands’ roughly the size of the Free State) ‘embarked on a seaborne invasion of the British Isles’*. Prince William’s invasion consisted of approximately 500 ships and 40 000 highly trained troops and marines. In 1688 that was an empire-conquering ‘redoubtable’ force, and Prince William did exactly that – he sailed into London and took the throne with nary a shot being fired. What? The Dutch overcame the British? How come no one knows about this? For starters, Jardine, the author of ‘Going Dutch’ describes the invasion as ‘more like a merger’. Why? Because in 1688, Jardine writes, ‘England and Holland were already...closely intertwined , culturally, intellectually, dynastically and politically’. Secondly, since the Dutch royals failed to produce an heir while on the British throne, Britain devolved back to Britain. And then no one really spoke about the fact that, yes, the Dutch once defeated the English. They bought an army, assumed power, and then lost the plot. If it takes money to make an empire-conquering force, it requires something besides that – guile, guts and gusto – perhaps, to hold onto it. If the Dutch had boatloads of the latter, the British outfoxed them time and again on the former. And the English, like the Japanese, and perhaps even the Zulus and Boers, have been hated – or is it envied – ever after as a result? How much treasure is there in war? About $1.5 trillion goes into military spending every year. That’s about 2.7% of world GDP (down from 1990 when it was 4%). If it sounds like a lot it is and it isn’t.

To put this figure into perspective, the total value of global tourism is worth over $1 trillion. Meanwhile the world’s food industry is worth about 10% of world GDP (ie 3 times the value of weapons, and war). The Pulling Power of Dynamite There are no Nobel prizes for guessing the man’s name who invented dynamite. Alfred Nobel was a Swedish engineer and chemist. Nobel’s dad worked on the first torpedo’s in Russia, and the family business did especially well producing armaments for the Crimean War. Alfred Nobel spent time trying to understand the highly unstable (and deadly explosive) nitroglycerine. During early work a shed exploded killing 5 workers included Alfred Nobel’s younger brother. But Nobel persisted, using Scotland’s dunefields near Ayr on the west coast to test his explosives. Nobel finally figured out that a powder form of nitroglycerine was more stable (and thus of practical use). He patented this formula, and then went on to patent even more stable forms such as gelignite and ballistite.

Despite being a pacifist, Nobel saw no harm in building more than 90 armament factories. Ironically, when another one of his brother’s died, a French newspaper incorrectly reported that the ‘Merchant of Death is dead’, except, he wasn’t. Recently Nobel’s net worth was estimated at $430 million. Kicking it with a Kalashnikov If bombs and blowing things up is not your thing, you might be more interested in guns and stabbing weapons. The Kalashnikov rifle, invented by a Russian of the same name, is the weapon of choice for terrorists, criminals and suburban gamers. In the movie Lord of War, the character Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer played by Nicolas Cage, gushes over the Kalashnikov: "Of all the weapons in the vast Soviet arsenal, nothing was more profitable than Avtomat Kalashnikova.... more commonly known as the AK-47, or Kalashnikov. It's the world's most popular assault rifle, a weapon all fighters love. An elegantly simple, 9 pound amalgamation of forged steel and plywood. It doesn't break, jam, or overheat. It'll shoot whether it's covered in mud or filled with sand. It's so easy, even a child can use it - and they do. The Soviets put the gun on a coin. Mozambique put it on their flag. Since the end of the Cold War, the Kalashnikov has become the Russian people's greatest export. After that comes vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists. One thing is for sure, no one was lining up to buy their cars." Kalashnikov’s net worth today? Around $20 million.

Warmongers of the world unite, in North Korea If you thought Apartheid was dead, think again. It’s alive and well in Korea. This no black/white schism. This is a true schism between brothers. Korean bro’s. Why is Korea separated – sliced in half – into North and South Korea? Well, a war started it. And the business of war has kept it going. Why don’t the two countries just kiss and make up? Because that would mean sharing power, and you know what that means? Exactly, that would mean sharing wealth, and neither side really wants that. So...the poor neighbour occasionally threatens to nuke Seoul (the capital of the South) and the rich South give the north handouts in exchange for continued ‘getting along’. It’s kinda like your neighbour threatening to kill you if you don’t go out and buy him groceries every now and then. If it seems like a crazy arrangement, the Koreans have been waging their non-war for the past 50 plus years. Today South Korea is one of the world’s richest economies (it’s about the 13th largest economy) while North Korea (land of gulags, forced labor camps, the world’s largest army and militarised border, and yes, bristling with nuclear weapons) is one of the poorest (200-and-something at last count). USA – world leaders at warmongering The yanks are exceptionally talented at making a profit out of conflict. In fact, bounty hunters are still part of the urban fabric. The Americans love their guns, and the cowboy cliché is still pretty accurate. America is also the land of espionage and counterespionage, intelligence and counterintelligence. How many intelligence agencies are there now? FBI, CIA, NIS, DIA...

According to Jonathan Turley writing for al Jazeera “the ‘black budget’ of secret intelligence programmes was estimated at $52.6bn for 2013. That is only the secret programmes, not the much larger intelligence and counterintelligence budgets. We now have 16 spy agencies” Turley writes, “that employ 107,035 employees. This is separate from the over one million people employed by the military and national security law enforcement agencies.” Guess what? The number one private consumer of energy on the planet is the US department of defence. Can you guess what the largest industries are in the world? Oil? Oil is big but not the biggest. What’s bigger than oil? Keep reading.

South Africa’s Shaka If you thought Prince William’s army of 40 000 was a big deal, think again. Shaka was able to field twice as many warriors. Shaka really shook things up. He revolutionised war, he set up new fighting styles, tactics and weapons. He shaped our nation in a big way into something resembling what it is today (and he certainly played a huge role in defining and creating the current Zulu nation). War is one way to unify a society. War involves leadership and loyalty. In the early days of South Africa the Zulu’s created a massive war zone in KwaZulu-Natal, and the settlers created their own disturbances from the epicentre of Cape Town. The Xhosa started to feel hemmed in on both sides. That, in a nutshell was how South Africa was born. Nations expanding, people asserting themselves, and in some ways, perhaps many ways, we still are. And let’s face it, today many people respect who Shaka was and what he achieved. War has a way of setting up a permanent pecking order.

Cut to the present and instead of war there seem to be...arms deals. These are multibillion Rand affairs. And if you’re lucky enough to be involved in these deals, and invited to the negotiation table, you could be rewarded – if you play ball – beyond your wildest dreams. What’s a little crisis of conscience amongst businessmen? Money is money, right? If newspaper reports are to be believed, political heads of states are wined and dined in the process of wooing them into buying weapons of war. If not from one merchant, than another. Flights, fancy clothes and lavish hotel stays are all part of the ploys and plays. Along with R500 000-a-year bribes. You could work all year or for a lifetime for those kind of savings. Or you could sign on the dotted line. Which is more likely to incur insomnia, foregoing ‘incentives’ likes that, or doing the dirty? Lord of War And if you think the arms dealers are the bad guys, and throwing them in jail is the simple and easy solution to war, it’s not. Arms dealers have friends in high places, in fact, probably the highest places of all. As Yuri Orlov says in Lord of War: Yuri Orlov: The reason I'll be released is.... I *do* rub shoulders with some of the most vile, sadistic men calling themselves leaders today. But some of these men are the enemies of *your* enemies. And while the biggest arms dealer in the world is your boss ...who ships more merchandise in a day than I do in a year - sometimes it's embarrassing to have his fingerprints on the guns. Sometimes he needs a freelancer like me to supply forces he can't be seen supplying. So. You call me evil, but unfortunately for you, I'm a necessary evil."

According to David McCandless, a London-based author, and data journalist at ‘Information is Beautiful’, the leading industries after war and tourism are alcohol (valued at $1161 billion), just ahead of OPEC revenue ($1027 billion) and the Global Pharma Market ($950 billion). Someone once said: “join the marines, travel to exotic countries, meet exciting people, and kill them.” Do that with a disprin in one hand, a whiskey in the other, and you’ll be helping the world’s highest paid merchants surf their wave. Wars and the business of war need fear. Fear is the real currency. And terrorists are the go-to bad guys that make signatures on cheques easy to procure. The only difference between the business of war and every other business, is it’s highly lucrative whether it’s a hit or miss. The only requirement when you miss your target is that someone keeps firing.

*Lisa Jardine: Going Dutch

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