December 3, 2023


education gives you strength

Political Science 15. Wars and political economy Part III The cold war era

The war was finally over; or was it? Let me reiterate that this series is a study of Economics, which includes Political Economics. However, Political Economics emerged from the use, or threat of the use of, force; and is evolving alongside developments in the use of force and/or the threat of it; and because the use of force by states is continuously evolving, so is political economics. It is therefore imperative that we address the two, together.

Coined in the eighteenth century under moral philosophy, “Political Economics” originally looked at the states’ administration of wealth. Early in the twentieth century, this subject converted to Economics. It was after WW 1, when the dependence on colonies became glaring, that economists adverted to the economic interdependence of states and, the fact that Political Economy was linked to the use of force and, therefore, also diplomacy.

As WW 11 approached its end, it was very clear that, Europe was no longer, and could no longer be, the center of the globe. The military and economic power that was centered in Europe had drifted out of Europe; West to the US and, East to Russia. And, as is obvious, everything tends to gravitate towards power; and did again. Everything [or everyone] wants the security of the militarily powerful; and the luxury and wealth offered by the rich.

All the brilliant Service Providers, the brain power of the world, also left Europe; going either east or west. This only helped make the host countries richer. They now had the brains for ideas; which could only make the rich [individuals or states], more and more, richer.

But, the war wasn’t really over, it was merely reshaping itself. And Patton, the blabbermouth, couldn’t help saying what he had to say. In 1945, at a gathering of ladies, Patton, during his address said something to the effect that, “The war is not over. Russia is the next enemy”. And this, at a time when Russia was still considered an ally. I did mention somewhere, that Patton was not very diplomatic. It might have helped conclude Patton’s colorful career but, it was prescient.

US had the Marshall Plan and was, not only reconstructing Europe and getting richer, it had found itself permanent market for its goods. Not merely the cheap ones, but also engines of war, with weapons, munitions and equipment. In Eastern Europe, Russia was doing the same to the states that chose to join it or, were under Russian occupation.

Europe didn’t know it, or was refusing to recognize that, it was being divided and colonized by the two post-WW 11 major powers. Only, they weren’t called colonies anymore. Most politely, they were [lesser] allies and, less politely, they were “Satellite States”. These Allies too were gravitating towards economic and physical security.

In August 1949, Russia successfully tested its first nuclear weapon and the world was at war again: A Cold War. The two principal protagonists possessed weapons that could destroy each other and much of the world that lay between and, therefore, did their best [or did they?] to avoid direct conflict but, along with a Cold War, the world learnt of “Proxy Wars”, “Indirect Wars”, and “guerrilla wars [which are] sponsored by another state”. It also learnt that the world was “Bipolar”, siding with one or the other “Super Powers”.

Where the states were warring, there was nothing cold about the wars. They were, at least, as lethal and, more often than not, ever increasingly more so.

From producing war-making equipment, selling it, using it and then rectifying the damage caused by the war; it was an unending cycle of making money for rich states and rich individuals. And, therefore, wars were never going to end

Wars make money.Those producing and/or dealing in them, already knew this but, post WW 11, it became common knowledge that wars made money. From producing war-making equipment, selling it, using it and then rectifying the damage caused by the war; it was an unending cycle of making money for rich states and rich individuals. And, therefore, wars were never going to end.

As the two major protagonists, US and USSR, with their allies [divided by an “Iron Curtain”, a term invented by the “Free World”] squared off and flexed their muscle, the inevitable race began. The race to produce better, and ever better war-making equipment. Both countries put their best brains to it. And, this unending, ongoing race typified the four decades of the Cold War.

To make the Research and Development effort necessary to support the competition on both sides more effective, both groups of these countries produced the widest, most intensive and well-funded intelligence network in world history.

The intelligence business used to have two main branches called ELINT, acronym for Electronic intelligence; and HUMINT for human intelligence; ELINT has, overtime, widened and increased its sub-groups with growth in technology. In searchof more accurate intelligence and better platforms from which to intimidate each other, mankind crossed another border and moved into space.

Ironically, however, as technology improved and widened, intelligence and weapon systems became increasingly technology dependent, which developed other weaknesses. Most visible are the weakness in intelligence gathering, in which, HUMINT has virtually disappeared and/or is leased out to private intelligence companies. But that is another story.

And to control all this global mess, prevent war, and improve the life of the citizens of the globe, specifically, to eradicate poverty, the world acquired, through International Institutions that the protagonists of WW 11 produced. [Obviously, the victors empowered themselves more]. We will get to them too.

The writer is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

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