From Sea Turtles To Smart Bombs

On September 13, 2003, tens of thousands of people will answer a global call to action against “Militarization and Globalization” by participating in demonstrations, workshops and teach-ins around the world. This marks an important milestone in such global days of action: for the first time, the two issues of war and trade have been brought together.

The call comes from grassroots groups massing in Cancun, Mexico, who plan to put thousands of farmers and activists into the streets to protest outside of the Fifth Ministerial meeting of the powerful World Trade Organization.

It is not surprising that the first major call for action on militarism and globalization comes from groups largely based in Latin America. This is a region where militaries have been defending United States corporate interests for generations: United Fruit in Guatemala, ITT in Chile, Bechtel in Bolivia, Occidental Petroleum in Colombia, and NAFTA itself in Mexico.

But for the first time many organizations that have been leaders in the anti-globalization movement – perhaps more accurately called a global justice movement – are now addressing militarism in a programmatic way. For example, Global Exchange is organizing a permanent presence through its Occupation Watch initiative, The Institute for Policy Studies is providing valuable research and media work on the Bush administration’s empire-building agenda, and United for a Fair Economy has organized dozens of educators to fan out across the country conducting militarism and globalization workshops.

In addition to their own campaigns, Global Exchange and the Institute for Policy Studies played a key role in establishing the anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice. As the name implies, the coalition brings together social justice organizations and new anti-war groups that emerged following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

United for Peace and Justice can claim much of the credit for the U.S. demonstrations during the historic February 15, 2003 global anti-war demonstrations. Many of the coalition’s organizers are street-savvy veterans of Seattle and other anti-globalization protests. They expect that more than 50 U.S. cities will hold anti-war and globalization events on September 13, 2003, to coincide with the WTO demonstrations in Cancun.

The anti-globalization movement brings with it an understanding of the global economy, and it is applying its corporate analysis to militarism issues in new ways. Corpwatch, U.S. Labor Against the War, Public Citizen, United for a Fair Economy, the World Policy Institute and others are producing corporate profiles and documenting deep connections between the Bush administration and the major beneficiaries of war such as Boeing, Bechtel, Haliburton and the Carlyle Group.

Well-known anti-globalization groups outside of the United States have initiated anti-militarism projects as well. Europe’s Transnational Institute, Canada’s Polaris Institute, and South East Asia’s Focus on the Global South are all producing new research and organizing support for citizen groups with respect to the links between globalization and militarism.

The focus on militarism comes at an important time for the anti-globalization movement. It has been in a slump for the two years that have elapsed since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and has suffered a decline in its visibility and political potency.

After the September 11th terrorist attacks, the anti-globalization movement was put off balance and divisions arose between moderate and radical factions of the movement on whether or not to suspend street demonstrations and how to respond to the subsequent war against Afghanistan.

Even more, the movement’s economic and corporate critique was unprepared for the reassertion of the national security state as governments in the U.S. and around the world reorganized themselves around national security and military prerogatives. U.S. government officials have summed it up simply: “Security trumps trade.”

But the Bush administration’s own National Security Strategy of the United States of America, announced in late 2002, does the movement a great favour by clearly linking the concept of national security to pre-emptive military force and the expansion of free trade. As Herbert Docena of Focus on the Global South describes the Bush Doctrine, “It is explicit: the overriding goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to preserve its economic and military ascendancy in the world.”

United for Peace and Justice, in a letter to its hundreds of members calling for actions on September 13, said: “The Bush doctrine of preemptive strike and permanent warfare goes hand-in-hand with a program of economic domination through ‘free trade,’ and, not coincidentally, masks the woeful U.S. economic situation.”

While many groups are adopting this anti-militarism analysis, it would be an overstatement to say that all anti-globalization groups have moved in this direction. Understandably, some groups continue to see the issues quite separately – especially groups founded upon a singular focus on trade issues.

But the linking of the two issues is important for at least two strategic reasons. First, including an analysis of globalization and militarism will further advance the movement’s critique, addressing what some have argued has been a blind spot even before September 11, 2001. Second, it allows the anti-globalization movement to tap into the tremendous anti-war mobilization that has swept the world, drawing new activists into the broader movement for global peace and economic justice.

Since Seattle, the anti-globalization movement has been composed of many social movements ranging in diversity from environmentalists to trade unionists. This convergence of interests was summed up in one placard in Seattle: “Sea Turtles and Teamsters: together at last.”

Realizing the links between globalization and militarism will strengthen theanti-globalization movement. It is clear that the new national security agenda is dramatically influencing international relations and hence the global economy, and will continue to do so for decades to come. It is essential that this destructive agenda be countered by a growing and effective movement for global justice.

Steven Staples is the Director of the Polaris Institute’s Project on the
Corporate-Security State. The Polaris Institute is a public interest
research group based in Ottawa.

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