On the last day of the World Economic Forum in Davos an extract from Scott Timcke’s Capital, State, Empire offers a reminder of the interconnected worlds of the US military and international finance. From a section entitled ‘The Military Response to a ‘Global Power Shift’ this extract emphasises the role of the US navy as guarantor of the dominant incarnation of the ‘international order’.
The purpose of the US Navy is not to expunge rivals, but to use the prospect of force to consolidate control over economic activity, and the standards and norms that govern that activity. David Graeber’s observations about military force and contemporary international political economy complement this view. He argues that a state can use their military power to control financial liquidity.
‘The essence of U.S. military predominance in the world is, ultimately, the fact that it can, at will, drop bombs, with only a few hours’ notice, at absolutely any point on the surface of the planet. No other government has ever had anything remotely like this sort of capability. In fact, a case could well be made that it is this very power that holds the entire world military system, organized around the dollar, together’. (Graeber 2011, 365)
To elaborate, the US uses their money supply to act as an international reserve currency. Much like how once Britain established the gold standard, the network externalities and path dependency of British imperial rule meant that other states had to consider the benefits of monetary convergence, so too do states have to weigh the incentives of monetary convergence on the US dollar. This technique is particularly effective when there is ‘gunboat’ issuing of US treasury bonds as a form of tribute together with the aggressive deployment of financial instruments and institutions in rolling out and maintaining US hegemony.
Considered from this vantage, what appears as the loss of centralized US control of capital is rather a strategy of indirect extraction that involves demanding that other states pay tribute to the US. Within this order, transnational enterprises are enabled by US policy to further entrench indirect rule. In return, the US, through the Navy and other agencies, provides security to corporations to do business. This is accomplished through either rigging international treaties, capturing international organizations, or lobbying and bullying for favourable business relations in host countries. In short, the US security state seeks to create global governing structures to maintain a rule in which other countries must abide, and in which labour is suppressed, and surpluses are channelled to the US.
Graeber, David. 2011. Debt: The First 5000 Years. New York, NY: Melville House.
Capital, State, Empire: The New American Way of Digital Warfare is published open access, free to read and download by the University of Westminster Press. (July 2017)