It is a bold and engaging idea that we are manipulated into war by big business. It follows the view that the government is controlled by big business and made to serve their interests. It sees foreign policy as enforcing American economic dominance upon the world. The idea is that weapons manufacturers encourage war solely to make bigger profits. It is known as ‘The Devil Theory Of Imperialism’ or more simply in the statement that ‘War Is A Racket’.
Let’s say you’re a weapons manufacturer. Like any capitalist business your aim is to maximise profits. In order to do this you increase demand for your products, which in this case is guns. To do this you encourage war. This is done by funding interest and advocacy groups as well as politicians. War breaks out and you make a fortune. There is the side effect that thousands or millions may die, but what does that matter to a heartless capitalist?
There are numerous examples that could be used to support the case. America intervened in Guatemala in 1954 to protect the interests of United Fruit banana company. It overthrew the President of Iran in 1953 who was threatening the oil industry. The dictatorship of Batista in Cuba was supported due to the influence of the sugar industry and Castro opposed for similar reasons. President Allende of Chile was overthrown in 1973 with support from American Telegraph company ITT. These would be used as proof that America intervenes in order countries solely to protect business interests, that the US military acts as private security for big business. Some would argue the war in Vietnam was encouraged by the war industry to make profits. Others claim the war in Iraq was started to gain access to oil, not to promote democracy.
There are some flaws in this theory. Firstly, war is bad for most businesses. Most businesses run the risk of being destroyed from bombing or if they are invaded. Their workers may be conscripted or killed. It is quite likely that their business will suffer as consumers have less money. So in fact, most businesses would probably oppose war. This would mean there would only be support for a war far away that the country is highly likely to win. This is why only America shows signs of this theory, but not European countries (at least not this century). After all, French businesses have a good chance of being destroyed in a war, whereas the American mainland is very safe.
The theory is not conclusive. After all, if it did hold true, then why has there not been a Third World War? The examples given above are quite small countries. They also happened a long time ago, so it is possible that if the theory once applied, it does not now. Perhaps it is a Cold War theory that is no longer relevant. The argument is essentially Communist, blaming war on greedy capitalists. There is no need to explain that communist theories have not shown themselves to be correct in most cases. It is also a small step from saying a small elite cause war to make profits, to saying a small Jewish elite. In fact this was an argument used in Nazi Germany.
Perhaps it is a theory with a grain of truth at some times and in some places, but not an overarching theory of international politics.