01 March 2010

Book review: Producing Security

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, therise of globalization as a social and historical phenomenon has beenaccompanied 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 upuntil now on the impact of globalization on international security. This omissionshould probably be attributed to the fact that international political economyand security studies have long stood as aliens to one another.

Stephen G. Brooks’ ProducingSecurity: Multinational Corporations, Globalization, and the Changing Calculusof 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 ofthe security implications of global politico-economic developments. Thistradition, which can boast of hosting such eminent thinkers as Robert Gilpin,Stephen Krasner and Robert Keohane, was abruptly stopped by the noisy arrivalof post-structuralism and constructivism. As a result, and in the name ofproducing a supposedly ‘social’ theory of international politics, thediscipline of International Relations was availed of one of the elements thatrender it social in the first place: economic production. Therefore, Brooksshould 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 theonly acceptable objects and tools of analysis.

In fact, there aremany more reasons why this book should be praised. To begin with, it engageswith history, providing not only a historical narrative of the evolution ofglobalization, but also in-depth references to concrete historical case-studiesthat illuminate his arguments. Such case-studies include Soviet Union’sisolation from the globalization of arms production, the development ofMercosur and Argentine-Brazilian relations, and the evolution of Hungary’sexternal economic relations. Above all, Brooks’ main argument seems compelling:the status of global security has been significantly altered by the influenceof globalization, through the alteration of three central dimensions ofsecurity: the parameters of weapons development; the economic benefits ofconquest; and the prospects for regional economic integration among securityrivals. These three dimensions are shaped respectively by three current tendencies:a) the globalization of weapons production has generated an increased level oftechnology interdependence among developed countries; b) the transition to aknowledge-based economy has lowered a conqueror’s capacity to extract economicresources from an advanced  society; and c)the developing countries’ need to attract MNCs has increased their incentivesfor initiating regional integration. The final conclusion is that today’s greatgeographic dispersion of production structures and processes will havestabilizing effects among great powers, mixed effects on security relationsbetween developed and developing countries, and negative effects on thesecurity relations among developing countries. The prime reason for reaching thelatter conclusion is because the three mechanisms described in the book(weapons development, benefits of conquest, regional development) have noapplicability on the developing world.

Despite the book’ssophistication and subtlety, some key methodological and theoretical choicestend to undermine the strength and validity of its argumentation. The very useof the term ‘globalization’ is problematic and contradictory, especially whenaccompanied by the – right – claims that “the globalization of production isnot, in fact, ‘global’ but instead remains bounded in important respects” (p.12) and that “the geographic dispersion that occurs within production networksis not necessarily global in nature” (p. 30). This is not merely a quantitativequestion of geographical expansion. The use of the term ‘globalization’ asopposed to, say, the term ‘internationalization’, has tremendous theoreticalimplications for the conception of the relationship between the capitaliststate and capital as a social force, as well as of the relationship betweenrival national capitals.

The question thatlies at the heart of the book is essentially one of national and transnationalclass structures and power, upon which the whole Marxist scholarship has beenbuilt. However, the author is quick to pronounce the unsuitability of Marxismfor his own work, on the premises that “Marxist theories have never worked wellwith respect to security affairs” (p. 51). The evolution of IR theory, from theclassical theories of imperialism to Dependency theory, and from theWorld-Systems approach to neo-Gramscianism, has highlighted Marxism’s utilityfor security studies over and again. By ignoring the impact of national andtransnational class actors and the multiple ways through which a state’s securitypolicy is influenced by the necessities of a system of power in which capital asa social force maintains a hegemonic position, the book fails to identify theinherently social, i.e. class-based, nature of security. As Critical SecurityStudies have claimed, security is always for someone and for something.Instead, the book treats security as a general, a-social concept, whose shapingis isolated from the powerful effects of capitalist discipline. Besides, a part ofthe book’s main argumentation appears to maintain a degree of affinity with theMarxist emphasis on the forces and relations of production. The claim that“technological development is the key driving force behind the rapid increasein interfirm alliances” (p. 85) is basically compatible with a basic Marxisttenet, according to which changes in the forces of production generate changesin the prevailing social relations of production. This is even furtherconfirmed when the author discusses Soviet Union’s inability to compete with USweapons 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 thata conqueror that tends to alter property relations is likely to becomeunattractive to multinational corporations. This conclusion should be highlyqualified; in Iraq,MNCs were invited by the conqueror – and its affiliated domestic elites – tobenefit from the alteration in property rights. Economic stability is not aclass-neutral concept; pro-capital policies rather than mere stability ineconomic policy are the guarantee to the attraction of investment by MNCs.Therefore, the economic benefits of conquest depend on who the conqueror is andwhose interests it seeks to fulfill. The possibility of conquering a country inorder to attract and facilitate multinational capital escapes Brooks’attention.

The author seems tobe most at home when discussing global military-industrial trends. Theimpressive level of detail, the exemplary use of sources and the combination ofboth historical and politico-economic analysis produces one of the mostsophisticated accounts of developments in the field of arms production that hasbeen published in the last decade. Nevertheless, the conclusions drawn fromthis analysis are contestable. What Brooks understands as globalization isbasically internationalization; arms industries today are diversified in termsof production and sub-contraction, but remain rather homogeneous in terms ofcapital ownership and control. Lockheed Martin is a UScorporation and the USstate apparatus is more sensitive to respond to its needs than to the needs of,say, Dassault Aviation. Even EADS, the most highly internationalized armsmanufacturer in the world, is still a Franco-German-Spanish entity, rather thana global, a-national firm.

Therefore,interdependence in arms production does not nullify inter-state competitionthat stems from rival military-industrial capitals. It is exactly not clear whythe fact that “no state, including the great powers, can now effectively remainon the cutting edge in military technology if it does not pursue significantinternationalization in the production of weaponry (p. 6) should matter at all.This development is an economic-technological one, and its securityimplications are not as straightforward as Brooks implies. In fact, the readeris left wondering whether and why the internationalization of weaponsproduction enhances the prospects of global security. For sure, Russia was not restrained in its actions in Georgiaby the fact that Russian arms manufacturers maintain close links with Europeanones, such as EADS and Finmeccanica. Similarly, the USadministration did not consider deliberating with the EU to be an option beforeinvading Iraq, even thoughEU-headquartered firms act as prime contractors in major US programmes.

Given the emphasisof the book on MNCs, one would expect to find at least one chapter detailingtheir role as security actors in the broadest sense, and their impact on thetrend of interventionism that is traceable among developed states vis-à-vis theglobal periphery. Regrettably, this is not the case. Instead, the authorresorts to the dubious conclusion that “since at least 1970 there do not appearto have been any cases of great powers intervening militarily in response tolobbying by MNCs whose foreign holdings were threatened” (p. 247). Chile, the obvious example, is overlooked by theauthor, on the grounds that the 1973 events not involve the direct use ofmilitary force by the US;this is a highly contestable maneuver indeed. Besides, the question of the linkbetween capital and security is not simply one of lobbying. The state is anarbiter of conflicting capitalist interests and often retains a degree ofpolitical autonomy in order to maintain the hegemony of capital in general overthe 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 theparticular 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.