Many think that capitalism thrives on conquest, and sincerely believe that capitalism causes wars. This is false.
In purely economic terms, there is no need to go to war for oil (or any other resource).
The reason is simple, and it has to do with the price system. For more, I recommend reading “Do We Need to Go to War for Oil?”, by David Henderson.
In yet another example of the unintended consequences of foreign aid, it was reported that Australia may be paying troops who torture.
According to the Associated Press: "Australia has sent an official to the Indonesian province of Maluku to investigate claims that Indonesia's elite counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, which receives millions of dollars from Australia each year, brutalised a group of separatists last month, repeatedly beating them in detention."
Regardless of whether these claims are true, the fact that Australia is sponsoring an organization that actively cracks down on civil liberties is a cause for concern.
Australia's own intelligence agency, ASIO, was the source of controversy a few years ago when it was implicated in the mistreatment of detainee Mamdouh Habib.
We need to stop sending money overseas to organizations that are opposed to the values of ordinary Australians.
It's time to end all foreign aid because much of it is misdirected into illegitimate causes, despite the good intentions of those who send taxpayer dollars abroad.
Australian forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and entered Iraq in 2003. Although the Rudd Government has withdrawn troops from Iraq, our involvement in Afghanistan is continuing without end. It has become a perpetual war.
Consider this: Australia’s military involvement in World War I lasted four years and World War II was over and done within seven years. The danger posed by terrorism is miniscule compared to the threat from a Hitler or Mussolini, so why has the war in Afghanistan lasted for a longer period of time?
It is time to re-think our involvement.
First of all, the war is very expensive. Taxpayers have been put on the hook for billions of dollars. Imagine if that money had instead been spent at home. If the money must be spent, I’d rather it be spent helping re-build Queensland after the recent flood damage than bombing villages in Afghanistan.
Second, whatever the initial rationale for invading, the Afghan war can no longer be justified. Australia followed the US into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and hunt down Osama bin Laden, the man we are told is behind the attacks on September 11. But the best intelligence no longer places bin Laden in Afghanistan, and many believe he is harbouring in Pakistan.
Here’s what should happen next time there’s talk of a major war: it should be a legal requirement for the Prime Minister to seek approval from Parliament before -- or very soon after -- deploying troops abroad. There needs to be a formal binding process, with failure to comply declared unlawful by the courts upon review. That’s the only way we’re going to see some semblance of democratic accountability in foreign affairs.
The Greens have introduced proposed legislation aiming to do precisely this. Unfortunately, the major parties have quashed their attempts at reform.
What if we lived in a world where Parliament, and not the government of the day, possessed the power to commit troops overseas? How would things be different?
One difference would be that a secretive group of ministers – the Cabinet – could not decide upon questions shielded from public scrutiny. With Iraq, the Howard Government would have had to justify the case for war to Parliament’s satisfaction. As it so happens, the Senate voted against going into Iraq. Had the Greens been successful in passing their proposed legislation, Australians would have been spared the terrible costs of that conflict.
Several objections have been raised by opponents of reform.
Some suggest that the Greens’ bill doesn't define terms with sufficient precision. Yet this objection is hardly insurmountable, and can be resolved through consultation with stakeholders. If a compromise is struck between defence chiefs, government departments and other interested parties, then it is possible to devise a workable piece of legislation.
Second, it's said that the bill ignores problems associated with the Executive releasing classified information to Parliament. This is a furphy. Most advocates of reform have never called for the release of classified information. The judgement about whether to wage war against a particular country does not require detailed operational information. It is fundamentally a strategic choice made at a high and abstract level of policy.
In the case of Iraq the Australian Government informed the public that Saddam Hussein was a threat to national security and the public was asked to place trust in intelligence reports they had no way to verify the accuracy of. The Greens are not proposing to do away with such secrecy.
Third, it's argued that war powers reform could hamper the military’s ability to quickly deploy combat personnel. But why is speed considered to be an unambiguously good thing? Parliament’s slow deliberation can be viewed not a liability, but as a strength because it leads to more considered decision-making.
Democracy is far from perfect. Even wars that have been approved by Parliament may end up being unjust. Transferring the power to make war from the Executive to the Parliament would not be a cure-all, but it would at least reduce the ability of a secretive group to thrust Australia into its most vital moment. Parliament should declare war, the Executive should fight and win it, and the nation should then exit the conflict as soon as possible.
A longer version of this article appeared in the Autumn 2011 edition of Policy magazine.
In 1945, the United Nations was founded amidst much euphoria. It was to be mankind's "last best hope": an organization that would tie all member-states together for collective security and peacekeeping purposes. But the U.N., useful as it has been in some minor cases where a broker was required, has been totally ineffectual at removing the harmful ideologies that cause war in the first place. It has done very little to quell aggressive economic and political nationalism, for example. But most disappointingly, the U.N. has been a destabilizing force. It has allowed itself to be used by the great powers, and especially America, to cloak militarism.
From 1945 to 1990, the U.N. was forced to limit itself to small-scale operations (with the exception of the Korean War) due to the prevailing Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. As the Cold War drew to a close however, another round of excitement swept through the globalist camp. "At last!" U.N. supporters declared, the organization could function as envisioned by its founders. Instead of tensions between the U.S.and the U.S.S.R. crippling the Security Council and placing some matters beyond its jurisdiction, there would be a new age of cooperation. This was to lead to a more effective institution.
But what did it mean to be more "effective" when the underlying ideologies of interventionism and nationalism still dominated foreign policy discourse? This question remained unanswered. Instead, the U.N. adopted a fallacious public sector definition of effectiveness. It prided itself in "doing something, anything" with its available resources (Rothbard 1974, p. 82). The more things it did, no matter how absurd, the more effective the U.N. bureaucrats claimed they were. Thus, the U.N. boasted of an increase in the size and scope of its operations. A new Department of Peacekeeping Operations was created. At its height in 1994, the U.N. had nearly 79,000 peacekeeping personnel; the organization had substituted small-scale operations with a permanent nation-building corps.
Since effectiveness was measured in terms of the scale of U.N. activities, rather than the usefulness of said activities, there was no discernable difference in the extent of world peace. Realpolitik struggles continued as they had been for thousands of years. There was no overarching strategy presented to achieve the Charter's objective of saving "succeeding generations from the scourge of war". The U.N. is, therefore, a typical example of an organization full of men and women brimming with enthusiasm, but who have no understanding of the bigger picture.
In the absence of a coherent strategy to bring about world peace, the U.N. was easily captured by the U.S.to suit its own ends at the end of the Cold War. With a submissive Russia now taking the place of the belligerent Soviet Union, America possessed a unique opportunity to ram through its agenda. As the most powerful nation on Earth, America could now focus upon using the U.N. as an instrument for its warmongering (Eland 2008).
So it was no surprise that President George Bush I immediately set about using the U.N. to provide multilateral credibility for his desires to protect Israel and oil interests in the Middle East. By assembling a coalition under the United Nations banner to take on Saddam Hussein, ostensibly over his invasion of Kuwait, Bush I was able to justify military action that had nothing to do with American national security. Thanks in part to the rubber stamp provided by the Security Council, the first Gulf War also helped push up Bush I's approval ratings.
President Clinton also took advantage of the changed balance of power on the Security Council. He placed heavy political pressure on the U.N.'s disarmament wing - the International Atomic Energy Agency - to investigate Iraq. Some allege the administration was hoping for an excuse to attack Iraq, or at least a way to trump up the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Support for this charge can be found in President Clinton's decision to sign into law the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which instituted a policy of "regime change". Clinton continued aggressing against Iraq by bombing it in a four-day campaign that was timed to be suspiciously close to impeachment proceedings against him (needless to say, the bombings served as a useful distraction). America also led a round of punitive U.N. sanctions that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. But there was hardly a wimper of opposition from the public; these outrageous acts of war had, after all, been done by appealing to the legitimacy of America's lapdog - the United Nations.
Years of hassling Iraq through the U.N. in order to boost popularity for the commander-in-chief culminated in George Bush II using September 11, 2001 as a pretext for outright regime change (in effect, taking the Iraq Liberation Act passed during Clinton's time a step further). Years before September 11, there was concern in the international community that America would use pre-existing U.N. resolutions as an excuse to implement its own agenda against Iraq (Mingst & Karns 2000, p. 105). How prophetic these concerns turned out to be!
When the time for prosecuting war came in 2003, President Bush II frequently cited Security Council resolutions passed during Bush I and Clinton's presidencies to justify his aggression. The quality of debate in America was degraded, as commentators began speaking of these resolutions as having independent authority - as if the U.N. were a neutral body and did not merely do whatever its most powerful members wanted it to do. All sense of perspective on the moral arguments for and against war was lost, as various sides tried to justify or oppose the invasion using legal terminology. Instead of asking whether it was right or wrong to attack Iraq, people began asking whether it was legal or illegal under international law. But surely the former is more important than the latter when so many lives are at stake?
The Iraq war is the culmination of at least 10 years of warmongering by America through the United Nations. The same pattern is now being repeated against Iran, with President Trump taking a hard-line, just as Bush II did before him. We can expect, no doubt, that any future attack on Iran will also be justified with reference to U.N. resolutions. Hopefully, libertarians would have by then persuaded Americans of the need to withdraw from the U.N. It is imperative that power elites be stripped of their ability to utilize this tool that legitimizes war.
As public choice theory predicts, "bureaucracy capture" has occurred at the United Nations. This is not surprising, given its highly politicized nature. We should expect that the powerful will use the organization as an instrument for their own schemes. In this sense, the U.N. is not an organization dedicated to achieving peace. Rather, it is dedicated to achieving whatever the dominant nation or nations at the relevant time deems worth achieving.
Murray Rothbard, "The Fallacy of the Public Sector" in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (Libertarian Review Press, 1974).
Ivan Eland, The Empire Has No Clothes: US Foreign Policy Exposed (Independent Institute, 2008).
Karen Mingst and Margaret Karns, The United Nations in the Post-Cold War Era (Westview Press).
“War is liberty’s greatest enemy, and the deadly foe of economic progress”.1
- Leonard Read
An essay in Policy by Edwin van de Haar (Autumn 2009) does a great job of explaining how libertarian principles apply to international relations. According to Haar, libertarians are opposed to international organisations, treaties and foreign aid. They also advocate free trade as a means of increasing cooperation between nations and reducing the likelihood of conflict.
And although Haar does not say this explicitly, libertarians are also hesitant about intervening militarily.
In Australia debate on issues of foreign policy is dominated by conservatives and social democrats, both of whom favour intervention overseas. The only difference between the two mainstream ideologies pertains to the particular instances on which they would intervene. Social democrats tend to be sympathetic towards so-called ‘humanitarian interventions’, while conservatives favour ‘police actions’ such as in Iraq.
But the libertarian rejects entirely the mainstream consensus surrounding intervention. Rather than assuming that states have a right to intervene and then quibbling on where and when, the libertarian draws upon the great tradition of non-interventionism, or neutrality, in foreign affairs.
Non-intervention was the hallmark of American foreign policy for nearly a hundred years, and has the advantage of avoiding all wars not essential to the territorial defense of a country.
The logic behind non-interventionism derives from a fundamental axiom of liberal thought that no person may aggress against another unless in self-defence. It becomes apparent then that all State wars are unjust, for they are financed through coercively acquired taxes, which are itself an act of aggression - and therefore forbidden.
But we need not go this far to a pure libertarian position to understand why non-intervention is beneficial. For libertarians the key rationale behind opposition to war is encapsulated in Randolph Bourne’s famous dictum that “War is the health of the State". It is during times of war that the government grows most swiftly. Thus it was liberals such as Richard Cobden, not those of the ‘left-wing’, who were among the first to rail against imperialism and colonialism.
There is a contradiction between claiming to support laissez faire on the one hand, and approving of foreign policy adventurism on the other. Self-described classical liberals who support war are actually going against the very philosophy they claim to espouse. Even if the cause is just, and even if one emerges victorious, the end result of war is usually a permanent increase in the size and scope of government.
Mark Krikorian has stated that out of the 48 al-Qaeda operatives who committed crimes in the US between 1993 and 2001, 12 of them were illegal immigrants when they committed their crimes and seven of them were visa overstayers (including two of the conspirators in the first World Trade Center attack, one of the figures from the New York subway bomb plot, and four of the 9/11 terrorists).
Vice Chair Lee H. Hamilton and Commissioner Slade Gorton of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States commented that of the nineteen hijackers in the September 11, 2001 attacks,
Two hijackers could have been denied admission at the port on entry based on violations of immigration rules governing terms of admission. Three hijackers violated the immigration laws after entry, one by failing to enroll in school as declared, and two by overstays of their terms of admission.
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, illegal immigrants within the United States have attempted to carry out other terrorist attacks as well.
Three of the six conspirators in the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot—Dritan Duka, Shain Duka, and Eljvir Duka—were ethnic Albanians from the Republic of Macedonia who entered the United States illegally through Mexico with their parents in 1984.
Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, an illegal immigrant from Jordan who remained in the United States after the expiration of his tourist visa, was arrested in September 2009 for attempting to carry out a car bomb attack against Fountain Place in Dallas.
In the case of Rasmea Odeh, she was convicted of immigration fraud in 2014 for concealing her arrest, conviction, and imprisonment for a fatal terrorist bombing in Israel.
Such anecdotal evidence, while not statistically significant, is important to consider.
I find it hard to think of any innovation in taxation - any new form of taxation, any new way of collecting taxes - that was not brought into being as part of a government scheme to pay for war.
– Robert Higgs, “Death Fuel”, 2009
What has caused the growth of government in the 20th century?
Historical analysis can provide the answer to this question. In particular, it is essential to study the history of warfare. The State grows during times of war -- to the detriment of individual liberty. As Randolph Bourne famously said, ‘War is the health of the State’.
In Australia, it was the World Wars that set the fiscal, institutional and ideological precedents that allowed for the rise of big government. The wars legitimated Keynesianism by allowing social democrats to speak lovingly of the wonders of central direction of the economy.
World War I, in which nearly 60,000 Australians died, saw moves towards centralization of political power over the individual. As Neil Barnwell points out, the nationalist sentiment brought about by the “Great War” has been adeptly harnessed by governments ever since:
Large scale government involvement in [World War I] paved the way for further government involvement in the economy, culminating in the period of extensive public ownership and regulation of industry after 1945. Government industrial and organisational initiatives in marshalling and managing resources for the war effort helped erode argument that markets and private ownership were the best promoters of economic development. Additionally, the repatriation of returned soldiers led to government involvement in social programs on a scale never before anticipated or expected. Thus the First World War paved the way for an expanded role of government in industry and society once the war was over.
The Second World War left similar legacies. As the authors of The Oxford Companion to World War II observe (p. 82):
War traditionally gives governments increased powers. For Australia the Second World War shifted the balance of power away from the states and in favour of the federal government, with the permanent move of the powers of taxation to the centre. Moreover, the federal government’s increased controls over goods and services, including manufacturing and transport, gave it confidence to experiment with a planned mixed economy.
Judicial interpretations during Australia’s major wars send a clear message. The cases have favoured centralisation over federalism, and have tended to grant government virtually unlimited scope. Courts have upheld a military draft – arguably unconstitutionally - as well as a variety of regulations very indirectly linked to defence. Wage and price controls, food rationing, the detention of Japanese Australians; these and many other interventions rode roughshod over liberty.
Those who favour free-markets should re-think their attitude towards war in light of the above.
The United Nations is far removed from the daily grind of domestic politics, where seemingly more pressing ‘bread and butter’ issues are debated.
Its relative immunity from oversight can be attributed to a brilliant strategy of enshrouding itself in a veil of do-gooder spirit. Publicity campaigns routinely proclaim noble objectives such as substantially reducing poverty by 2015, helping achieve world peace, and bringing about inter-cultural dialogue.
Being sceptical about the U.N. is similar to questioning the worth of Mother Teresa – decent, politically correct people just don’t do things like that.
But when it comes to international stability, the cumulative effect of the United Nations is a disastrous one. Far from promoting peace, the U.N. is used by power elites to sow the seeds of conflict. If Australians are serious about keeping their country out of needless wars, they need to pressure their representatives to withdraw from the entangling alliance that is the United Nations.
How does the U.N. ensnare Australia in conflicts that don't affect our interests? Simply put, it's through adherence to the interventionist doctrine of collective security. The doctrine posits that if there is an act of aggression anywhere in the world, all member-states are expected to respond as a united force. Whenever there is an obscure conflict in a far-away land, Australians, who would have otherwise enjoyed a state of peace, and perhaps a reduction in tax-coercion, may be called upon to sacrifice.
Take for instance, Australia's involvement in the Korean War. Why should Australia have spent blood and treasure settling a border dispute that has no direct impact on our national security?
Few, if any, of the U.N.’s missions have been related to questions that affect Australia's interests. The 1991 Gulf War, for example, was geographically removed from our threat zone. Iraq, a third-world nation with a run-down military, posed no substantial threat to Australian security. Yet instead of letting neighbouring Arab states deal with Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, we joined a US-led UN coalition instead.
Collective security has never worked as intended. Under the Charter, collective security was supposed to be a coordinated effort, with a Military Staff Committee composed of generals from Security Council countries meeting to make decisions. In practice, all major collective security actions have been under American command.
Moreover, since the permanent members of the Council possess a veto power, it’s a sure thing that if one of the permanent members or its friends commits an act of aggression, no disciplinary action will be taken. Hence, the Security Council focuses its wrath disproportionately upon less influential "pariah" states and downplays actions taken by politically powerful governments.
The time has come to stop placing our faith in world bureaucracy to forge a durable peace. As Ludwig von Mises wrote:
What's really damning is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the United States pretty much the same as World War II, even though they are fighting an enemy nowhere near as powerful.
David Aaronovitch (The Australian, 3/12/2008) appears to have accepted the pernicious myth that ideology is the key factor driving Muslim terrorists. But the most important cause of terrorism – and suicide terrorism in particular – is foreign occupation.
This has been shown comprehensively by University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape in his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape’s work has been reviewed in leading political science journals in America and has met with much acclaim. Until someone is prepared to demonstrate flaws in Pape’s data, we should consider the possibility that actions do have consequences; that the favourable light in which we perceive our own governments is not how residents of other countries perceive them.
In that sense, much of the terrorism we see today – although perhaps not the Mumbai attack, because Pape’s thesis is restricted to suicide attacks – is indeed the ‘fault’ of the United States and Britain, countries which have a history of occupying other countries. It is imperative that we try and move beyond speculative assertions about the causes of terrorism, and consider the empirical data.