Finance and Militarism from Vietnam to Iraq: Crisis, Transformation, and the Rise of Neoliberal War-Making

Corey Payne, Johns Hopkins University

The social, fiscal, and profitability crises of the late-1960s/early-1970s sparked a transformation of the world economy, as capital flowed into finance to restore profits and as elites embarked on a neoliberal project “to disembed capital from [a web of social and political] constraints” that had developed in the mid-twentieth century (Harvey 2005, 9). At the same time, the U.S. war-making apparatus underwent a significant restructuring in response to the military crisis yielded by defeat in the Vietnam War, as elites attempted to change course via the end of the draft, the acceleration of widespread privatization, the geographical transformation of military supply chains, a revolution in military logistics, and dramatic technological advances in destructive power. This paper examines the relationship between these two phenomena—the political-economic restructuring and the transformation of the U.S. war-making apparatus—that occurred in response to these crises. Through the analysis of mixed archival materials—including company reports, newspaper articles, and documents from several state archives—this paper argues that: (1) In contrast to the literature on post-1970s political-economic restructuring that excludes war-making and the literature on the post-1970s military restructuring that excludes financialization, these transformations were carried out in parallel and deeply influenced one another. (2) This influence resulted in an ever-greater intertwining of finance, armaments production, and the military, yielding entrenched patterns of interlocking dependency in which militarism and financialization mutually reinforced one another. (3) The result of these mutually reinforcing trends was, at first, a “belle epoque” of U.S. power in the 1990s, followed by a spiral into ‘endless’ war at the turn of the twenty-first century.

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 Presented in Session 58. Finance and Empire