The Corporate Utopian Dream

28 November 1999

The WTO and the Global War System was organized by American and Canadian peace groups as part of civil society activities surrounding the Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in November, 1999.

The forum examined the links between economic globalization, the WTO and militarism. It looked at how the WTO's promotion of economic globalization undermines security, creates conflict and promotes militarism.

There were four speakers at the forum. Susan George opened the forum by discussing how the current economic system is creating economic and social strife around the world. Mark Ritchie then discussed the history of the Bretton Woods institutions and their original purpose to promote peace. Alice Slater discussed how nuclear weapons are defending American corporate interests, and how the US Space Command envisions the militarization of space to defend American "interests and investments". And Steven Staples closed the afternoon by discussing how the WTO promotes war economies by protecting military spending and the arms industry. He also offered case studies showing how corporations have been able to use WTO rules and dispute panels to block peace-building economic strategies of peace activists.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is one of the instruments of globalization and globalization is clearly led by corporations. Transnational corporations are gaining enormous power in the world today, but they can't make the rules by themselves: they need to have instruments to make those rules for them. One of the instruments they use is the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF has pried open the markets of the indebted countries in the South and in the East and has forced those countries to "liberate" their capital accounts so that capital can flow in and out at will, has forced them to concentrate on export crops, has forced them to privatize everything in sight and leave everything open to international investment.

Now the biggest rule-writer the corporations have is the WTO. The WTO is really writing a constitution to facilitate the affairs of transnational corporations and allow them to globalize as they see fit, in a world that will be organized of, by, and for corporations. It's the corporations' utopian dream.

Globalization itself does three things. One, it pushes money from the bottom to the top. Wealth moves upwards, towards those who already have wealth. All over the place inequalities are growing and wealth is moving towards the top. Two, globalization moves power from the bottom to the top, and concentrates it in the hands of very few people. In particular, it concentrates it at the international level where there's no democracy and no way for citizens to get a handle on what is happening. Three, globalization is creating a myriad of losers. It is creating a slice of people who are not useful to the global economy either as producers or consumers. We're creating through globalization a three-track society in which there will be the exploiters, the exploited and the outcasts, the people who are not even worth exploiting. This is clearly a scenario for tremendous instability.

Between 1990 and the end of 1996 there were ninety-eight major wars - over-whelmingly civil wars, not inter-country ones - and the Peace Research Institute in Oslo has found that these conflicts share the following characteristics. One, they take place chiefly in poor countries where agriculture is still the main contributor to the GDP. Two, the environmental factors most frequently associated with civil conflict are land degradation, low fresh water availability per capita and high population density, in that order. Three, a particularly strong correlation exists between high external debt and the incidence of civil war. Four, falling export income from primary commodities is closely associated with the outbreak of civil war. Five, a history of vigorous IMF intervention is also positively linked with all forms of political and armed conflict.

Characteristics of War

It's easy to see how globalization and global institutions such as the IMF and the WTO reinforce virtually every single one of those factors. Let's look at just a couple of those factors. One, wars take place in poor countries chiefly dependent on agriculture. If the WTO gets its way with the proposed international agricultural agreement, it will result in cheap grain flooding poor countries, destroying what is left of food security. That will mean the ruin of hundreds of thousands of small farmers and their expulsion from the system - more losers and more outcasts. Two, land degradation and low fresh water availability are associated with war. Well, the wars of the future and the wars of today are already wars about water. They are wars between countries and inside societies where the control of this scarce resource is absolutely vital. Just think of it: a wonderful resource, indispensable, can't do without it, and one that you can control if you are a major transnational. People have got to have it and if you've got a monopoly on it, then isn't that a pretty picture for profit?

Globalization is creating a three-track society in which there will be the exploiters, the exploited and the outcasts, the people who are not even worth exploiting.

Upheavals and Protests

In this three-track society that globalization is creating, of course there are going to be protests. People are not going to take their marginalization and their status as outcasts lying down. It is clear that there are going to be more and more upheavals. The rich in the US have shown that they have a consciousness of this. Wealthy Americans have already moved into 30,000 gated and guarded enclaves and demand for more is high. As well, government arms purchases also reveal an understanding of this threat of upheaval. Countries are not buying as much heavy equipment as they used to; what they're buying are light arms. They've switched from heavy external combat equipment like tanks and planes to less expensive infantry weapons, helicopters and riot control gear because it's those types of equipment that are important now to use against increasingly restive peoples. As well, the WTO is trying to organize what it calls trade facilitation and harmonization. Translated, that means there will be fewer controls at the border, which means that it will be easier to ship arms and poison.

The following is a quotation from the man who used to be charged with thinking about future warfare for the Pentagon. The quotation shows the similar objectives of the military and the WTO. He says: "The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault". 'Keeping the world safe for our economy' sounds a lot like the WTO's talk of facilitating things, and 'open to our cultural assault' sounds rather like the WTO's intellectual property agreement, allowing companies to copyright things identically all over the world. But, there's another sentence in the quotation. He says, "The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing".