Military-Industrial Complex & Corporate Influence on Policy: Shared Security RoundUp


AFSC is  shining a spotlight on the excessive influence of powerful corporations through a strategic education and action project on ‘Governing Under the Influence’ (GUI). The project is starting in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that get the lion’s share of attention from presidential candidates.

The project focuses on the idea that we need to ask  our representatives tough questions about humane alternatives to current militarized policies; alternatives that bring about shared security for all rather than selective protection of some. These questions become particularly pertinent when thinking about immigration policies and defense contracts.

See this interactive showcase based on Fusion’s investigation, which found that without a single vote in Congress, officials across three administrations created a new classification of federal prisons only for immigrants, decided that private companies would run the facilities, and filled them by changing immigration enforcement practices.

At the same time, the international sphere continues to become increasingly militarized. As GUI reports, ‘during a recent presidential trip to India, we saw how U.S. and Indian defense contractors are profiting from GUI‐for‐export – and how the American taxpayers are footing the bill. Now that India and the United States have indicated participation in a mutual defense treaty, we can expect an increase in defense spending and defense exports to India.’

Is increasing militarization at home and abroad really furthering the security of individuals and communities- either in the US or outside? Or is it merely bolstering the security of the state apparatus – what Eisenhower presciently referred to as the Military-Industrial Complex? A recent study found that foreign intervention is 100 times more likely in oil-rich states. The research frames oil as a dominant motivating factor in conflicts, and argues that hydrocarbons heavily influenced the West’s military intervention in Libya. It also suggests that oil plays a noteworthy factor in the US-led war against Islamic State.

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Charlie Hebdo & Shared Security in an Unequal World

There can never be any justification for the Charlie Hebdo attack, which killed 12 people on January 7. As a society, we have already answered that question. However, viewing these events from a perspective of shared security, an entirely separate set of questions remain unanswered:

Can we defend the right to free speech without condoning the content? Is the right to freedom of speech applicable to all, or denied to some? How can countries promote national security while ensuring the security of some at the expense of others? And how can we tackle the political and social challenge at hand – of both religious and state sponsored violence – when those who point out the history of marginalized Muslim communities in France are accused of exonerating the attackers?

Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, people around the world galavanized in the defense of free speech. A common illustration showed a pencil overcoming a sword, and the hashtag #JeSuisCharlieHebdo swept across the twitter feeds; it was clear that defending the right of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists was not enough, but the content itself needed to be disseminated and celebrated. However, it is entirely possible to defend the right to free speech without condoning the content. As a New Yorker article titled, ‘Unmournable Bodies’ states:

“It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. The A.C.L.U. got it right in defending a neo-Nazi group that, in 1978, sought to march through Skokie, Illinois. The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal. But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights as a defense of Nazi beliefs.”

Mainstream media came down hard upon Islamic groups as well as Muslim majority states using violence to strangle free speech. However, the censorship within Western countries and the violence of non-Muslim groups evades such pervasive media scrutiny. A wholly different group of ‘blasphemors’, not universally celebrated include Edward Snowden, a man in exile for revealing information about US mass surveillance, Chelsea Manning, serving a 35 year sentence for her role in Wikileaks, and John Kiriakou, the whistleblower exposing the CIA’s torture regime. Furthermore, certain Western countries have been prosecuting Muslims for their free speech. According to the Intercept:

“Muslims were imprisoned for many years in the U.S. for things like translating and posting “extremist” videos to the internet, writing scholarly articles in defense of Palestinian groups and expressing harsh criticism of Israel, and even including a Hezbollah channel in a cable package. Not all online “hate speech” or advocacy of violence is treated equally. It is, for instance, extremely difficult to imagine that Facebook users who sanction violence by the UK in Iraq and Afghanistan, or who spew anti-Muslim animus, or who call for and celebrate the deaths of Gazans, would be similarly prosecuted.”

Although Charlie Hebdo is seen as an ‘equal opportunity offender’, many argue that its satire was increasingly targeted towards France’s most vulnerable groups. Historically, satire has been directed against privilege, power and the ruling class – so in a deeply unequal world, who is served when satire ‘punches down’?  The novelist Saladin Ahmed articulates:

“In a field dominated by privileged voices, it’s not enough to say, ‘Mock everyone!’ In an unequal world, satire that mocks everyone ends up serving the powerful. And in the context of brutal inequality, it is worth at least asking what preexisting injuries we are adding insults to. Satire might be better served by an honest reckoning of whose voices we hear and don’t hear.”

While the attention of the world was on the heinous attacks on Charlie Hebdo, we were largely ignoring acts of carnage in other parts of the world, including the killings in Mexico, the hundreds of children killed in Gaza by Israel last year, the civilian deaths caused by US drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, and the chaos following the US intervention in Libya. While we prayed for the staff of Charlie Hebdo, other slayed victims were deemed ‘unmournable’. As the New Yorker article asserts:

“Even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this month, or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others. But that incontestability, that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective liberté.”

This post was written by Jasveen Bindra, who serves as the Shared Security Fellow with the Office of Public Policy & Advocacy in Washington, DC.

Shared Security Roundup

The Shared Security Roundup is designed to aggregate and highlight the exciting work being undertaken by AFSC and FCNL in connection with the Shared Security concept. The idea of shared security rejects the militarized and fear-based underpinnings of current policies, and instead upholds human dignity, helps resilient communities solve problems nonviolently, and build a more effective system of international law. The Shared Security working paper can be found here​.

Survival in Solitary

Solitary Confinement

AFSC–particularly our colleagues Ojore Lutalo and Bonnie Kerness –is prominently featured in this Al Jazeera article focusing on the practice of holding incarcerated people in prolonged isolation. This practice came under international scrutiny when the U.S. government went before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva to assess the country’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture. The list of issues addressed in connection to the U.S included the use of secret detention facilities, Guantánamo Bay and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population – that makes us the world’s largest jailer. Since 1970, our prison population has risen 700%. Is there an alternative to this system based on retributive justice? One of the shared security principles focuses on the idea of restorative justice, which is concerned far more about restoration of the victim and the victimized community than about the increasingly costly punishment of the offender. In order to pursue policies embodying shared security principles, we need much greater investment and support  for small-scale, local peacebuilding, reconciliation, and trauma healing.

You can find AFSC’s ‘Survivors Manual’, written by and for people living in control units here.

Governing Under the Influence

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One of the major obstacles to shared security is the intractability of the ‘military-industrial complex’. Private companies invest millions in lobbying for policies that guarantee profits regardless of the human cost. This AFSC infographic visualizes how money spent on lobbying affects policy, profits, and the rest of the world.

See the full infographic here

Southeast Asian Businesses Invest in Peace

As the U.S. announces its intent to shift attention toward Asia, many are concerned that this new focus will be framed by militarization and competition over resources and influence. But AFSC’s current work in China demonstrates multiple ways this “pivot” could instead transform U.S.-China relations toward constructive engagement built on the kinds of trust and goodwill that opened doors for our work in the region decades ago. One of the recent examples of this work is AFSC’s outreach with businesses investing in South East Asia.

Foreign companies’ rapid development in the least developed countries of Southeast Asia has fanned the flames of several local conflicts during the past decade. Thanks to efforts by AFSC and its partners, companies are beginning to consult local communities before they build—and as corporations prioritize peace, local communities are benefiting.

Starting in 2011, AFSC began building partnerships and developing resources to open dialogue among businesses, civil society, and communities. In collaboration with Beijing New Academy of Transnational Corporations (NATC) AFSC came out with a book, “Out of the Mine Fields and Blind Areas of Overseas Investment Security,” which incorporates careful research on the relationship between business and conflict in Myanmar.

Read the entire story here