Let’s see how Europeans respond when they are told their peace dividend is henceforth to be spent on the machinery of war — when it’s “howitzers instead of hospitals” now, as a New York Times article puts it.
By Patrick Lawrence
Original to ScheerPost
Maybe you recall all the post–Cold War talk of a “peace dividend” and maybe you don’t: It depends on when you took up residence on this mortal coil.
The term arose as the Soviet Union disintegrated and was commonly mentioned during George H.W. Bush’s presidency, 1989–1993. A dramatic reduction in defense spending, and a corresponding increase in expenditures on education, health care, and so on, was put around as one of Bush I’s outstanding achievements. That was the peace dividend.
The thing you need to know about all the talk of a peace dividend back then is that it was all talk. And the thing you need to know now, with Cold War II in more or less full swing and the proxy war against Russia raging in Ukraine, is that there is no longer any need to know anything about the peace dividend.
As we speak, it takes its place as an artifact of another time, a curiosity in the way of … what? … maybe Eisenhower’s promise of free electricity in his “Atoms for Peace” speech, delivered at the United Nations in 1953.
The New York Times published a remarkable piece on this topic last week under the headline, “The ‘Peace Dividend’ Is Over in Europe. Now Come the Hard Tradeoffs.” There are two ways to read this lengthy report, text and subtext.
On one hand, it tells us exactly what the headline promises: European leaders, in response to the Ukraine crisis, now plan to dump a lot more money into the weapons of war and a lot less into the social-democratic apparatus — welfare programs, social programs, cultural programs — in which European citizens have long taken pride.
On the other, this piece has a special message for Americans: There shall be no more daydreaming about how good the Danes or the French have it. The military-industrial complex has crossed the Atlantic. Neoliberalism has won. It is indeed the end of history.
It is “TINA” time: “There is no alternative,” as Margaret Thatcher famously used to say. The future will be no different from the present.
The equation seemed neat back in the early 1990s, ready-made for newspaper headlines: The Cold War’s end meant there would be no more need for all those missiles, lethal warheads, fighter jets and naval vessels. It would be fewer guns and more butter, to put the point simply.
I well recall some of those headlines, as I do the raised expectations of the many, many, many Americans who understood the price paid for the wild wastage of the Pentagon’s Cold War defense budgets.
Military Spending in US Economy
The peace dividend never arrived in America. This was fated to be, as the simple, guns-to-butter equation could not possibly have held. The base assumption was wrong. The Pentagon’s disgraceful bloat did not reflect security imperatives alone: If it did it would have had a greater degree of elasticity, growing or shrinking according to geopolitical conditions.
Missing in the equation is the place of defense spending in America’s political economy. It has long been a way to finance various kinds of technological innovation and keep defense contractors and the thousands of satellite companies supplying them profitable.
This has never been at all elastic. Remember, by the Cold War’s end all 435 congressional districts — this by design — had an interest of one or another kind in keeping the money flowing to the defense sector.
At first, the Bush I administration simply stopped talking about the peace dividend. Bill “Triangulate” Clinton then made his mark as president by gutting a great deal of our republic’s already pitiful social welfare provisions. And then, another memory: It fell to Colin Powell, Bush II’s secretary of state, to announce that the peace dividend was not to be and Americans should forget all about it.
That was soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Bush II’s declaration of the war on terror. I can still see the headline on the Powell story on the front of The New York Times, lead of the paper that day. It put peace dividend in single quotation marks — ‘Peace Dividend’ — as if it were some strange, foolish idea.
In the best of the post–Cold War years, 1993 to 1999, the American defense budget flattened, no more. And flattened, given the immoral size of the Pentagon’s annual expenditures, did not do much for anybody.
But here’s the thing. There were quite impressive peace dividends in two other places. One was post–Soviet Russia, where defense spending collapsed. The other was Western Europe, where it did pretty much the same.
Public-sector expenditures rose precipitously — in many cases doubling — after Germans dismantled the Berlin Wall in November 1989. I was not at the time surprised, given Europeans’ reluctance to participate in America’s Cold War crusade in the first place.
These increases were sustained until last year. By 2014, meantime, military budgets reached what the Times calls a record low among NATO’s European members, although it does not make clear how this is measured.
And so to the current turn, the end of the party as described in last week’s New York Times piece.
Europeans — well, some Europeans, no, make that a lot of Europeans — have been grousing about the Americanization of their way of life for decades, especially since America’s triumphalist 1990s: McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza parlors all over the place, that vulgar Disney World outside of Paris, Costco and the other “big box stores,” all those infantilizing films coming over from Hollywood, the slobification of the Continent as standards of dress declined.
On the face of it, these seemed to be matters of mere taste. But more than taste has been at issue all these years. Behind all the demotic junk of America’s corporatized popular culture has been the creep of neoliberal austerity policies in finance ministries and among the technocrats in Brussels.
One of the remarkable features of America’s post–Cold War rendition of neoliberalism is that it can brook no deviation. If America worships markets, everybody must worship markets. If the U.S. lets a lust for profit destroy everything that gets in its way — culture, community, human dignity — everyone else must do the same.
Europeans are not inattentive to these questions. Remember José Bové, the Roquefort farmer who destroyed a McDonald’s in the Aveyron region of France at the end of the 1990s? He did that in the name of “slow food,” but, as Bové’s long record of activism attests, he is also a vigorous opponent of “globalization,” another term for neoliberalism in the American mode.
This same point applies to the recent protests against the Macron government’s pension reforms. The popular defense of French pensions stood for a defense against something much broader.
These controversies, these heat-producing frictions, have long been a defining feature of European political culture. Will Europe cave to America’s post–Cold War imperatives? This has been the question. And America’s neoliberal cliques, needless to say, have been heavily invested in this question.
How many times, I used to wonder in years gone by, do I have to read New York Times stories — the Times carried the spears on this front — telling me Sweden no longer works, or the French healthcare system — which the U.N. rates the world’s best, along with Japan’s — is falling apart?
After a time, this reader’s irritation gave way to sheer derision as the clerks who serve the reigning ideology, known euphemistically as correspondents, discredited themselves.
The Waning of Social Democracy
I read this just-published Times piece as the latest installment in this long story. It tells us that the “the peace dividend” — again it gets the quotation marks — was nothing more than an irresponsible holiday for the Europeans.
The long war is over (because another one has begun). Europe will no longer count as a worrisome alternative to America’s grim neoliberal realities, poisoning our minds with the thought that there are other ways to live.
The danger — that European social democracy, in all its various stripes, actually works — has passed. The Continent is now in for the whole nine, a war economy and the destruction of social-democratic programs being of a piece.
Until the Russian intervention in Ukraine last year, the Times reports, NATO’s European members planned to increase defense outlays by a modest 14 percent, to $1.8 trillion.
“Now, spending is estimated to rise between 53 and 65 percent,” we read. “That means hundreds of billions of dollars that otherwise could have been used to, say, invest in bridge and highway repairs, child care, cancer research, refugee resettlement or public orchestras is expected to be redirected to the military.”
“Bingo,” Patricia Cohen and Liz Alderman, who share the byline on this report, may as well have written. The two then indulge a weird, post–Cold War habit among American correspondents abroad. You may be in Paris or Berlin or wherever, but when you need a quotation to support your case, call an American who will tell you all about what is going on where you are, across one or another ocean.
So to a reliable neolib ideologue from way back, who professes at a reliable neolib institution: Cohen and Alderman write: “‘The spending pressures on Europe will be huge, and that’s not even taking into account the green transition,’” said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard. “The whole European social safety net is very vulnerable to these big needs.”
It is impossible to miss the triumphalist gloat coursing through Cohen and Alderman’s prose. Read the piece. This caught my eye from the first paragraphs onward. It’s the military-industrial complex über alles — finally, thank goodness, etc.
“But in most of Europe,” the two write toward the end, “the painful budgetary trade-offs or tax increases that will be required have not yet trickled down to daily life.” This is an important point. What is going to happen when this case of “trickle down” finally trickles down?
There is no question that those purporting to represent Europeans are now quite strongly committed to “the American way” (if not necessarily truth and justice). The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, issued a report late last month indicating that Europe’s defense spending rose in 2022 by the most in 30 years. Cohen and Alderman call this a “spendathon,” with evident approval.
But I am not so sure how Europeans will respond when they finally get their Colin Powell moment, when those running the show tell them their peace dividend is henceforth to be spent on the machinery of war and it is howitzers instead of hospitals, as the Times reporters put it.
Let us not forget: European societies are not so atomized as America’s, as I have noted previously in this space. Their political cultures still have some warp and woof to them.
John Pilger recently sent me a video of an interview he conducted with Martha Gellhorn late in her life. In it the late, great Gellhorn remarked, “I used to think people got the leaders they deserved. I no longer do.” This is the case in Europe today — if not, maybe, in politically somnambulant America.
The near term for Europeans is clear, set: They have been conscripted into Cold War II, like it or not. Nothing beyond this seems so certain to me. Let us hope Europeans prove able to keep a certain flame alive, the flame of possibility, and the piece I parse here turns out to be nothing more than another Sweden-doesn’t-work story.
Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His new bookJournalists and Their Shadows, is forthcoming from Clarity Press. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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Well, someone has to pay for the American supplied LNG at five times the cost of Russian NG.
“I used to think people got the leaders they deserved. I no longer do.”
No, but they do get the ones they vote for …
Even then it’s not like those elections were free and fair and not rigged. Someone else even said that if voting made a difference they’d make it illegal.
Tornadoes In Saarland
The eternal hourglass will again
and again be turned—and you
with it, dust of dust!
–Nietzche, “The Gay Science”
Saarbrucken is under siege!
black whirlwinds whisk & bluster,
billowing great clouds of dust
off the Autobahn.
I am on the Schenkelberg.
Below me the Saar
rages & lurches onward
like a Gestapo mad dog on a leash.
In Altstadt Strassen,
still stand as symbols
of an avenging shame; stand as memorials
to past storms.
I am on the Schenkelberg.
It’s quiet up here—too quiet.
Alone, I return on crisp, alpestrine currents
to a towering rock in Sils Maria
(“six thousand feet beyond
man & time”) where a solitary “madman”
scans a panorama human, all-too-human,
pining for the Uebermensch.
Am I dreaming?
I can see Saarbrucken below,
shrouded in mist, as a deaf, dumb dwarf
sitting on its haunches
before the gateway of instant,
whispering of eternal things.
I am on the Schenkelberg!
The blare of brass horns & accordions
from garlanded Bierhallen,
the clamor of storm troopers
rises in maddening din.
When I open my eyes:
Saarbrucken is under siege,
black whirlwinds whisk &…
After WWII, military Keynsianism became the bedrock of liberal democracies, at least Amerrica.
And this might be regarded as the commencement of fascism as a political and economic program pragmatically inserted within the ‘new economy’ of war.
Military Keynsianism has meant a defense plant, or two, or five, in every state.
Their presence is necessary to ensure the ‘right’ coin operated politicians gets in office to hand out the largess.
And it is military Keynsianism that is keeping the American stock market afloat.
Europe is seeing the death of liberal social spending prohjects and in fact faces fascism of a traditional sense.
The US is alread the biggest fascist nation in th world.
It is only that our fascism is ‘Exceptional’.
You’ve given me a new phrase: exceptional fascism. And I think it is truly excellent.
Apologies for the simplistic!
Historically, having been successfully propagandized, and being kept calm, as in sedated, is the Wests facile excuse for unwittingly acting out the more complex, contained in the homonym Karma:
“The Chickens come home to roost”!
How long before there is another so-called global war? Not long, I suspect.
For powerful and wealthy elites, high military spending has one vey clear advantage: It stimulates the economy but does not produce goods or services that would benefit ordinary people. There is thus no re-distribution of wealth.
In the UK, Keir Starmer keeps telling people what he cannot do because the money is not there whilst conveniently forgetting the big increases in the UK military budget that he has also supported.
What can one expect from SIR Keir Starmer, a man who does not know what a woman is?
The once well-off Western middle class is being wiped out one bankruptcy at a time. And seniors relying on their social state support (for which they contributed for many working years) will be hit very hard. Would this kind of financial downturn open the doors for another Hitler-type dictator? And now the dangers of AI creating more unemployment…
Here’s to Martha Gellhorn and being capable of learning.
I do remember the “peace dividend,” or talk of it. A few still remember that mechanization was to give us a 25-hour work week, or thereabouts. Somewhere between was a “Green Revolution” that was to reduce or eradicate hunger instead of monopolizing seed, destroying soil, and bankrupting farmers. Wars and slaughter and torture were “for security,” “for liberty,” or “for democracy” except that of course none produced anything of the sort. Various officials were to create more equality, but undermined what approximate equality existed.
If there exists a ruling class that busily optimizes theft from the population, if dominant ideologies and customs are based on a rigorously maintained artificial shortage, neither natural wealth nor multiplied production provide for anyone–really, not even for the rich.
I keep wondering how long it will take for the very very harsh reality of all this to hit the Europeans in the face. And how long it will take before they react, and how they will react, too. I suspect that the French, never afraid to demonstrate their displeasure, are leading the way, and that soon other continental Europeans will follow suit.
The official response will almost certainly be police & military suppression using force, further censorship, and extremely harsh penalties and punishments, confirming the clear shift to authoritarianism and rejection of real democracy.
The British, being the most docile and the European country most dominated by the US, will not react until the going gets much much harder.
The French know all about revolution Will. And i’ve said it many times, until there is no food on the shelves, then most will acquiesce. However, you are right about the police/military suppression. Following, is an article on a study in Germany about police violence against protesters/citizens:
It was a nice free ride while it lasted. Europeans were able to lord over Russia without paying much of anything for defense. But the bill has now come due in full, courtesy of the war in Ukraine. A double whammy of high inflation (and lower industrial output) with more taxes going to armaments now. A rude awakening. It would be wise to reconsider U.S. hegemony. And whether it pays to be a vassal state of the U.S. It used to be a great deal but it soured overnight.
Remember the “peace dividend” that was supposed to result in free healthcare, free education, infrastructure reform, improved and more equitable welfare, even a guaranteed minimum income, all the things that had been put on hold because of the First Cold War? Well, instead of that, the Democratic Party gave us Identity Politics, polarization, racial odium, sexual odium, censorship, mass public surveillance, a fake press and most of all, new enemies, then renewed enmities and now, the promise of perpetual war with the profits they entail for the fortunate few, and of course, huge public debt and higher taxes. Now how “woke” is that???
“Improved and equitable welfare,” meaning? Democrats ended actual welfare aid 26 years ago. Est. 10 million jobless today, many with $0 in comes, and media don’t consider this an issue of concern. What happened since the Clinton ’90s is that Democrats successfully pitted the proverbial masses against each other by class and race. Divided and conquered.
Around the middle or 2/22 I e-mailed some friends assuring them that there would be no war/a settlement of the “conflict” because the needs of German industrialists trumps the desires of some Ukrainian nazi gangs.
Could someo0ne explain the logic behind the liberal idea that Nazis chose a Jewish leader, Zelensky? Also, do today’s Americans know what Nazis did to Ukraine in WWll? Do they know what Hitler himself preached about the Slavic people (Ukrainians included, of course)?
1. Zelensky doesn’t exactly come across as the religious type..
2. He wasn’t chosen by the Ukronazis, who keep the country hostage. They tolerate him. He was chosen by Kolomoisky (on behalf of ..). Regular Ukranians were fooled into voting for him, as he 100% ran on the ticket of a ‘peacemaker’, an almost anarchic alternative to the corrupt and crusty politician class in the wake of the 2014/15 upheaval. (In this sense, his election is even comparable to populist Trump’s, no?..)
3. What the Nazis did to Ukraine in WWII, they did with the help of ukrofascist Bandera and other such mass murderers. It is their descendants acting not much different today. They erect Bandera sculptures left and right, rewriting Ukraine’s history. It is not known, that Zelensky has any problem with this glorification of hardcore antisemite Bandera.
4. How are Hitler’s thoughts on Slavs relevant in understanding the situation today? Shouldn’t you rather examine Nuland’s (and fellow neocons’) nauseatingly racist thoughts on Russians, which happen to correlate much with those of the swastika-sporting Azov defenders of all things free and rule-based? ..And please check her faith as well, while you’re at it.
Since you asked, Ms. Fabian, logic is ultimately mathematics. Math itself is an imaginary construct. Very little of the world truly exists in binary form, good or bad, right or wrong, Nazi or not-Nazi. ‘The laws of mathematics, (said Einstein) as far as they refer to reality are not certain. And as far as they are certain, do not refer to reality.’ The term ‘Nazi’ is so absurdly overused today as to have become entirely devoid of any further meaning. Also the term ‘Fascist,’ as Fascism had died a natural death by the conclusion of WW2. The vast majority of Americans and Europeans know little about what the German Wehrmacht did in Ukraine in WW2 and even less about what Zelensky’s Ukraine did since 2014 to ethnic Russians living in the Donbass region. The government of Ukraine was once chosen by the people in a fair election. But that Russia-friendly government was ousted in 2014 by Victoria Nuland and the CIA with the power vested in them by the Obama White House that included current President Joe Biden. These people are described ambiguously as ‘neocons’ or ‘neoliberals.’ While they may defy description, a special place in Hell has been reserved for them. To your other point, that place in Hell will also include room for the Democrat party that used race-baiting to divide Americans in the basis of race. For purely evil reasons of political opportunism. Race is another concept that is understood in binary terms that lacks almost entirely any scientific basis. What we perceive as ‘race’ is mainly about a person’s physical appearance. Thus President Obama became the U.S. first ‘Black’ President. While nearly everyone who looked at him experienced seeing a black man, persistently ignoring the presence of his ‘white’ half.
A Nazi by any other name is still a Nazi. Look up the famed Ukrainian of 1940’s Stepan Bandera. His ideology is as dangerous if not worse than Adolph Hitler’s. Presently, there are new statues of Bandara now being erected in honor of him all along Kiev and western Ukraine. This with a Jewish president. It does not matter what Zelensky is….
Azov Battalion is one of many neo-Nazi gangs roaming the streets killing eastern Ukrainians, primarily in the Donbas. Following the 2014 Maiden coup, supported by the US in addition to sending 5 billion dollars of aid and weapons to Ukraine. This forced the Ukrainian president, Yanukovych out as the US chose the next few pseudo-leaders of Ukraine. Regime change? Or democracy?
2019 Zelensky won the presidency running on a campaign of bringing peace to Ukraine. He never did. An interesting fact, Ihor Kolomoiky, a thuggish oligarch sponsored and financed the Azov Battalion, a ruthless pro-Nazi group. Ihor Kolomoisky is Jewish. Kolomoisky is or was a close friend to Zelensky. Zelensky worked for Kolomisky as a comedian on one of Kolomisky’s tv stations. The two men remained friends and Zelensky visited Ihor Kolomisky several times in Dovos and then Israel. Kolomoisky is known to have stolen the Ukrainian bank. It is believed he is the owner of Burisma, the second largest privately owned natural gas companies. The same Burisma which Joe Biden’s son was given a board position in 2015.
There are several Nazi gangs in Ukraine, the Right Sector is one. However there are documented and known members of Azov working inside the corrupt Ukrainian government. Zelensky is the president, or pseudo-president. UK and US really call the shots.
The real question, do you know if Zelensky is a practicing Jew or simply born Jewish.
Written in the United States Constitution (my opinion makes it the greatest constitution for this one fact) Church and State are mandated to be kept separate. Your question is the very reason why the authors of the U.S. Constitution deemed it is so important.
Lastly, no country deserves more credit than the Russians for crushing Hitler’s forces. An estimated 26 million Russians died in WWII. The Brits and the US love to take credit, they deserve credit, but surely, not by overlooking the staggering sacrifices made by the Russians.
There are close links between Ukrainian oligarchs (mostly Jewish) and Israel, and as demonstrators’ signs read in Israel: “They’re OUR Nazis.” Did you know about the Stern Gang? Stern was a German Jew who wanted to model Israel on the Third Reich, and apparently he had some influence.
As far as Slavs go, Ukrainians of the worst type consider themselves PURE Slavs (with some Nordic thrown in, talk about a bunch of Nazis) whereas Russians are mongrel Slavs (because of the many ethnicities in Russia). I, too, wondered about western Slavs considering themselves superior to eastern Slavs, and was interested to read about western Slavs’ “purity.” The Roman Catholic Church has a lot to do with this, teaching Catholics that they are superior to the Orthodox.
Simply, the MIC needs to be fed which requires an “enemy”…it’s a very good grift. I’ve been told it is even more profitable than oil.
“We have weird thinking in our Congress today, ideas like this peace dividend. We can’t do that in these uncertain times.” Pres. Bush, Meeting with Helmut Kohl, Feb 24, 1990 (published by National Security Archive)
The peace dividend was coming up in Congress in 1990 because it was coming up, noticeably, in the public at large. The feeling was – as the momentum of the Cold War’s end accelerated – that the real problems could at last be properly addressed, not least environmental issues. At the time, barges full of garbage were leaking off the coast of New Jersey, just as the realization that fossil fuel emissions were not just poisonous but affecting the climate was becoming widespread.
The solution then? Suckering Iraq’s Hussein into an incursion into neighbouring Kuwait. “If you’re looking for the peace dividend,” said an American admiral in August 1990,” it just left with a carrier group headed for the Persian Gulf.” Voices of reason were no match for the Mighty Wurlitzer’s full court press in the mainstream media. One of the stunning results of the Gulf War was the eventual ubiquitous presence of gas-guzzling SUVs, a consumer taste shaped by war propaganda touting the then-new Humvees.
A “better than I expected” epitaph for the “peace dividend” hologram buried before it had emerged from the womb but it is long past time to totally drop the word “defense” when it comes to US military expenditures considering this country has not been invaded or threatened with invasion since 1812.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, a US island colony, passed through as a state after the overthrow of its monarchy for the benefit of US planters in 1893 was more of a crime on Washington’s part than what occurred on the orders of Tokyo on 12/7/41.
The Traditional European response ….. yes milord, may I have another beating?