Book review: Producing Security

by Iraklis Oikonomou
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Stephen G. Brooks, Producing Security: Multinational Corporations, Globalization, and the Changing Calculus of Conflict (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005 Hb; 2007 Pb). Pp. 316. £ 13.50. Pb. ISBN 9780691130316.

by Iraklis Oikonomou

Published in (2010), Intelligence and National Security, 25: 1, pp. 114-117

In recent years, the rise of globalization as a social and historical phenomenon has been accompanied by the rise of globalization as an object of social science. Numerous works have been written on all aspects of globalization (economic, cultural, political, social, etc.). However, no major work had appeared up until now on the impact of globalization on international security. This omission should probably be attributed to the fact that international political economy and security studies have long stood as aliens to one another.

Stephen G. Brooks’ Producing Security: Multinational Corporations, Globalization, and the Changing Calculus of Conflict constitutes a powerful reminder of – and a welcome antidote to – the missing link between the concept of production and the concept of security. The book belongs to a rare tradition of serious engagement with the study of the security implications of global politico-economic developments. This tradition, which can boast of hosting such eminent thinkers as Robert Gilpin, Stephen Krasner and Robert Keohane, was abruptly stopped by the noisy arrival of post-structuralism and constructivism. As a result, and in the name of producing a supposedly ‘social’ theory of international politics, the discipline of International Relations was availed of one of the elements that render it social in the first place: economic production. Therefore, Brooks should be praised in advance for his courageous use of terms such as ‘production’, multinational corporations’ and ‘competitiveness’ in an era when ‘identity’, ‘norms’, ‘values’ and ‘discourse’ are increasingly becoming the only acceptable objects and tools of analysis.

In fact, there are many more reasons why this book should be praised. To begin with, it engages with history, providing not only a historical narrative of the evolution of globalization, but also in-depth references to concrete historical case-studies that illuminate his arguments. Such case-studies include Soviet Union’s isolation from the globalization of arms production, the development of Mercosur and Argentine-Brazilian relations, and the evolution of Hungary’s external economic relations. Above all, Brooks’ main argument seems compelling: the status of global security has been significantly altered by the influence of globalization, through the alteration of three central dimensions of security: the parameters of weapons development; the economic benefits of conquest; and the prospects for regional economic integration among security rivals. These three dimensions are shaped respectively by three current tendencies: a) the globalization of weapons production has generated an increased level of technology interdependence among developed countries; b) the transition to a knowledge-based economy has lowered a conqueror’s capacity to extract economic resources from an advanced  society; and c) the developing countries’ need to attract MNCs has increased their incentives for initiating regional integration. The final conclusion is that today’s great geographic dispersion of production structures and processes will have stabilizing effects among great powers, mixed effects on security relations between developed and developing countries, and negative effects on the security relations among developing countries. The prime reason for reaching the latter conclusion is because the three mechanisms described in the book (weapons development, benefits of conquest, regional development) have no applicability on the developing world.

Despite the book’s sophistication and subtlety, some key methodological and theoretical choices tend to undermine the strength and validity of its argumentation. The very use of the term ‘globalization’ is problematic and contradictory, especially when accompanied by the – right – claims that “the globalization of production is not, in fact, ‘global’ but instead remains bounded in important respects” (p. 12) and that “the geographic dispersion that occurs within production networks is not necessarily global in nature” (p. 30). This is not merely a quantitative question of geographical expansion. The use of the term ‘globalization’ as opposed to, say, the term ‘internationalization’, has tremendous theoretical implications for the conception of the relationship between the capitalist state and capital as a social force, as well as of the relationship between rival national capitals.

The question that lies at the heart of the book is essentially one of national and transnational class structures and power, upon which the whole Marxist scholarship has been built. However, the author is quick to pronounce the unsuitability of Marxism for his own work, on the premises that “Marxist theories have never worked well with respect to security affairs” (p. 51). The evolution of IR theory, from the classical theories of imperialism to Dependency theory, and from the World-Systems approach to neo-Gramscianism, has highlighted Marxism’s utility for security studies over and again. By ignoring the impact of national and transnational class actors and the multiple ways through which a state’s security policy is influenced by the necessities of a system of power in which capital as a social force maintains a hegemonic position, the book fails to identify the inherently social, i.e. class-based, nature of security. As Critical Security Studies have claimed, security is always for someone and for something. Instead, the book treats security as a general, a-social concept, whose shaping is isolated from the powerful effects of capitalist discipline. Besides, a part of the book’s main argumentation appears to maintain a degree of affinity with the Marxist emphasis on the forces and relations of production. The claim that “technological development is the key driving force behind the rapid increase in interfirm alliances” (p. 85) is basically compatible with a basic Marxist tenet, according to which changes in the forces of production generate changes in the prevailing social relations of production. This is even further confirmed when the author discusses Soviet Union’s inability to compete with US weapons technology (p. 108) and attributes it to technological shifts, i.e. changes in the forces of production, that took place in the 1980s.

Brooks suggests that a conqueror that tends to alter property relations is likely to become unattractive to multinational corporations. This conclusion should be highly qualified; in Iraq, MNCs were invited by the conqueror – and its affiliated domestic elites – to benefit from the alteration in property rights. Economic stability is not a class-neutral concept; pro-capital policies rather than mere stability in economic policy are the guarantee to the attraction of investment by MNCs. Therefore, the economic benefits of conquest depend on who the conqueror is and whose interests it seeks to fulfill. The possibility of conquering a country in order to attract and facilitate multinational capital escapes Brooks’ attention.

The author seems to be most at home when discussing global military-industrial trends. The impressive level of detail, the exemplary use of sources and the combination of both historical and politico-economic analysis produces one of the most sophisticated accounts of developments in the field of arms production that has been published in the last decade. Nevertheless, the conclusions drawn from this analysis are contestable. What Brooks understands as globalization is basically internationalization; arms industries today are diversified in terms of production and sub-contraction, but remain rather homogeneous in terms of capital ownership and control. Lockheed Martin is a US corporation and the US state apparatus is more sensitive to respond to its needs than to the needs of, say, Dassault Aviation. Even EADS, the most highly internationalized arms manufacturer in the world, is still a Franco-German-Spanish entity, rather than a global, a-national firm.

Therefore, interdependence in arms production does not nullify inter-state competition that stems from rival military-industrial capitals. It is exactly not clear why the fact that “no state, including the great powers, can now effectively remain on the cutting edge in military technology if it does not pursue significant internationalization in the production of weaponry (p. 6) should matter at all. This development is an economic-technological one, and its security implications are not as straightforward as Brooks implies. In fact, the reader is left wondering whether and why the internationalization of weapons production enhances the prospects of global security. For sure, Russia was not restrained in its actions in Georgia by the fact that Russian arms manufacturers maintain close links with European ones, such as EADS and Finmeccanica. Similarly, the US administration did not consider deliberating with the EU to be an option before invading Iraq, even though EU-headquartered firms act as prime contractors in major US programmes.

Given the emphasis of the book on MNCs, one would expect to find at least one chapter detailing their role as security actors in the broadest sense, and their impact on the trend of interventionism that is traceable among developed states vis-à-vis the global periphery. Regrettably, this is not the case. Instead, the author resorts to the dubious conclusion that “since at least 1970 there do not appear to have been any cases of great powers intervening militarily in response to lobbying by MNCs whose foreign holdings were threatened” (p. 247). Chile, the obvious example, is overlooked by the author, on the grounds that the 1973 events not involve the direct use of military force by the US; this is a highly contestable maneuver indeed. Besides, the question of the link between capital and security is not simply one of lobbying. The state is an arbiter of conflicting capitalist interests and often retains a degree of political autonomy in order to maintain the hegemony of capital in general over the particular demands of capitalist fractions. Therefore, US interventions in, e.g. Yugoslavia or Iraq, may have been driven by the goal of capitalist expansion irrespective of the particular lobbying activities of the one or the other firm or sector.

To sum up, the book is a must for every student of Security Studies, and therefore of Intelligence Studies as well. The theoretical objections raised in this short note cannot and should not obscure the fact that Producing Security is one of the most fruitful and important books recently published on the study of, not only globalization, but international relations as a whole. The final judgment depends on each reader’s theoretical and – let us not be afraid of the word – ideological preferences. The liberally minded reader will find in this work a welcome confirmation of the basic conclusions of the liberal peace theory as far as relations between great powers are concerned. The rather more critical reader will feel that this work is much more successful in tackling the right questions, rather than in providing the most convincing answers. All readers, however, will be alarmed by one of the book’s major findings: “policymakers…should not base their future foreign policy decision on the notion…that the globalization of production is a strong, positive security force in the developing world” (p. 233). One way or another, Producing Security is a milestone work of IR theory that sets a radically new agenda, awaiting further elaboration in the years to come.

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