Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Harry Targ

The Purdue University community first read on April 6, 2018 about a contract bid that the university and the Bechtel Corporation proposed to manage the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The contract would be worth $22 billion over a decade, a huge boost to Purdue’s finances.  In an updated story on May 27 readers were reminded that the National Nuclear Security Administration could decide on whether the Purdue/Bechtel bid would prevail over other competitors by the end of May (Dave Bangert, “Is Purdue Ready to Run Los Alamos?” Journal and Courier.)

The first story came as a surprise to most members of the Purdue community. The May 27 story refers to Purdue President Mitch Daniels’ explanation about his reluctance to reveal too much about the contract bid as it was originally reported in April. “At the time, Daniels was treading lightly-out of respect, he said, for the bidding process-but offered this to the J&C. ‘I do believe this is the sort of level Purdue should be playing at, let me put it that way.’”

The relative secrecy of this bid to run the nation’s major nuclear weapons facility is reminiscent of the argument made in a recent book by historian Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. In it, MacLean traces the intellectual development of the libertarian right and their organized connections with the Koch Brothers and state programs to promote their political agenda.  What is relevant here is MacLean’s argument that many of the libertarian right’s policy proposals would be opposed if public discourse and majoritarian democracy prevailed. Consequently, she suggests, efforts are made to limit transparency, public discussion, and legislative and electoral participation in major public policies. This approach contradicts universities where faculty should have some role in decision-making on research and educational policy.

There are a number of issues that the Bechtel/Purdue relationship raises. First, Bechtel and the University of California ran the labs from 2006 through 2017 and lost their contract because of serious workplace accidents. As Pro-Publica puts it: “Analysts and experts say the fact that Bechtel and UC are even in contention for such a plum contract shows that the government prioritizes the lab’s nuclear-related work over workplace safety,” (Rebecca Moss, “Two Leading Bidders for Lucrative Los Alamos Lab Contract Have Checkered Safety Records,” ProPublica, May 8, 2018).

Second, in addition to its problematic university partnership in managing Los Alamos, Bechtel, as one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world, has been criticized for quality of contracted work done in Iraq, Eastern Europe, and Bolivia, including poor planning and inadequate construction. (See Matthew Brunwasser, “Steamrolled.” Foreign Policy, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/30/steamrolled-investigation-bechtel-highway-business-kosovo/

Third, there are broader policy questions about the managerial control of the largest nuclear laboratory in the United States. For example, should corporations and universities with financial interests in particular research projects be given the authority to manage and determine the work of the laboratory?

Fourth, two distinguished Purdue alums have served in executive positions with the Bechtel Corporation and maintain close ties to their alma mater. Do these connections raise questions about the Purdue collaboration?

Fifth, research on nuclear weapons and energy policy deserve intense public discussion. The Obama and Trump administrations have committed to the development of a new round of nuclear weapons. The commitments violate promises to denuclearize the world made at the time of the collapse of the former Soviet Union. And US government campaigns to restrict the possibility of nuclear development in North Korea and Iran contradict this US policy of building new weapons.

Sixth, prioritizing nuclear energy in a post-carbon energy world is controversial. What are the nuclear energy projects of the Los Alamos Laboratory? Are there alternatives being researched at universities such as Purdue University?

Seventh, the United States is the only country that has used atomic bombs in human history. The decisions to drop the bombs, and to maintain upgraded weapons of much greater magnitude, raise ethical questions about their continued research and development.

In the end, the university is a space for public discourse on ethics, public policy, research and teaching programs. As a public university, engagement with civil society is appropriate. The issues raised about the Los Alamos National Laboratory, collaboration with any corporate partner, and the use of university resources are complicated and require transparency and much public discussion. Purdue University, with its  strong programs in Engineering, Science, and the Liberal Arts, is particularly equipped to engage in public discourse which could lead to more effective university policies. And, as Nancy MacLean warns, circumventing public discussion weakens democracy.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Sunday, October 15, 2017


Harry Targ

Global Economic Context         

Looking at the last third of the twentieth century, Canadian economist James Davies, in a study prepared by the World Institute for Development Economics Research, wrote “income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth.” In 2000 the study showed that the top 1 percent of the world’s population accounted for 40 percent of its total net worth, with the bottom half owning 1.1 percent. Edward Wolff, another economist participating in the study, wrote “With the notable exception of China and India, the third world has drifted behind.” (New York Times, December 6, 2006).

The starkest interpretation of this kind of data was reflected in a 2003 article by Egyptian economist Samir Amin. He asserted that the global economy is creating what he called “the precarious classes.” Both in agriculture and manufacturing they cannot count on day-to-day remunerative activity to survive. Amin estimated that 2/3 to 3/4 of humankind are among the “precarious classes.”

Relevance to the Middle East in the 21st Century

A financial publication entitled “Arab Banker” printed a summary of a 2007 World Bank study, “Two Years After London: Restarting Palestinian Economic Recovery.” The World Bank, the Arab Banker, and other sources presented the following alarming data:

-The percentage of Gazans living in poverty steadily increased from 1998 (21.6%) to 2006 (35%).

-Israeli policies barring imports and exports which isolated Gaza from the Israeli and global economy made matters worse; a 90 % decline in Gaza’s industrial operations occurred between the 2006 parliamentary election victory of Hamas and 2007.

-Industrial employment in Gaza declined from 35,000 in 2005 to 4,200 in 2007. 

During the first decade of the new century, comparative economic data on Israel and the occupied territories indicated that West Bank and Gaza gross national product per capita was about 10 percent of that of Israel.

More recently, the United Nations issued a report entitled “Socio-Economic and Food Security Survey 2012: West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestine.” This report was produced under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, and the World Food program. It documented a connection between food insecurity in Palestine and external constraints on the economies of the West Bank and Gaza imposed by occupation and blockades. Among their findings were the following:

-34 percent of Palestinian households, comprising over 1.5 million people, live in situations of food insecurity (19 percent in the West Bank and 57 percent in Gaza).

-Food insecurity increased since 2009, derived from growing unemployment, declining purchasing power, and slowed or abandoned aid thus decreasing jobs, income, and consumption.

-Food insecure households (often with larger families) are more likely to experience disabilities and chronic illnesses.

The report made three general recommendations: lift the embargo on Gaza, increase West Bank access to the Israeli economy, and support efforts to increase economic productivity in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Middle East Wars

The contested land of Palestine had been largely populated by Muslim peoples from the 7th century until the mid-twentieth century.  In 1947, the year that the United Nations recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, only 1/3 of the land’s inhabitants were of Jewish background. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and the chairman of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, declared the establishment of a new state of Israel, and the first Middle East war between the new Israeli army and Arab states ensued. Palestinians and Arab neighbors regarded the creation of the new state as an occupation of the historic residents of the land. Over the course of this first Middle East war and those that followed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became a displaced population.

Subsequently wars occurred in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and intermittently from the 1980s until today. (In the 1967 war Israel occupied, the West Bank, Gaza, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights, formerly Syrian land). These wars were fought between Israelis, Palestinians and states neighboring Israel. Disputes involved multiple issues including the legitimacy of the state of Israel; Israeli expansion, particularly its continuing construction of settlements in the West Bank and the displacement of Palestinian people; the rights of Palestinians inside Israel, and control of water and land throughout the region. Various organizations challenging the Israeli state and land expansion emerged over the last fifty years including the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Several nations supported contending parties to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict such as the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, former European colonial powers such as Great Britain and France, and neighboring Arab and other Muslim states.

The United States became Israel’s main ally during all these years. Since 1979 Israel has been the largest recipient on a per capita basis of foreign assistance from the United States of any of the latter’s clients. In addition, Israel has become the best equipped and most powerful military force in the region, largely due to the billions of dollars of US military assistance. Israel is the only state with nuclear weapons in the region. In a recent budget decision, the United States has agreed to provide military assistance totaling $3.8 billion per annum for ten years to Israel beginning in 2019.

Finally, pro-Israel lobby groups in the United States support continued military and economic aid to Israel. Israel, with United States support, opposes serious negotiations with what is now the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. It is expected that recent West Bank/Gaza Palestinian agreements will harden Israeli opposition to serious negotiation.

Of course, Israel opposes initiatives from peace groups in the US and the international community. Currently, militant pro-Israel lobby groups as well as the Israeli government are pressuring Congress to pass legislation overturning Obama administration accords with Iran on nuclear weapons. Many also advocate US-led  military action against Iran.

Violence and instability in the region, the tragedy of 9/11, worldwide terrorism directed against US targets, and insurmountable and spreading conflicts have been directly related to Israel’s economic isolation of and military actions toward the Palestinian people and the continuing US support of Israel’s policies. Within the United States, critics of US support of Israel are excoriated and politicians are intimidated such that policy debate on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians inside Israel as well as economic embargoes and military attacks on interim Palestinian institutions and people in Gaza and the West Bank are largely censored from public discourse.

The particular mantra of rightwing groups, Republicans, Trump administration spokespersons, and many Democrats in 2017 is to label any critics of Israeli policy as “anti-Semitic.” Some of the strongest voices opposed to the total United States military and economic support for Israel come from progressives in the Jewish community. More Jewish people are becoming critics of Israel’s inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people. Many of these people proudly identify with their historical heritage of support for social and economic justice all around the world and are outraged by recent disingenuous claims of sympathy for the Jewish people from Conservative politicians in both political parties, think tanks and religious lobby groups, and sectors of the mainstream media.

Politics and Economics of the Middle East Today

Nar Arafeh, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, challenges the idea that economic development in the West Bank and Gaza alone could bring peace to the region. She argues that unless economic change is coupled with increased Palestinian political rights in the region resistance to Israel’s political/military domination will continue.

As to economics, although Palestine is expected to experience 3.5% growth in GDP in 2017, that growth is largely based on construction, presumably rebuilding housing units destroyed by Israeli bombs. She points out that the boost in construction in recent years in the West Bank and Gaza is coupled with economic stagnation including low growth and inadequate wages, increased unemployment, and declining foreign assistance. Israel controls the flow of labor from the West Bank to production sites as needed and limits more substantially Palestinian labor from Gaza. Arafeh says that “The ‘Palestinian Economy is a political construct, shaped to serve the more powerful player: Israel.” (Nar Arafeh, “Palestine’s Economic Outlook-April, 2017. Al Jazeera).

And on the human rights front, an Amnesty International report entitled, “Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories Report 2016/2017” stated that:

Israeli forces unlawfully killed Palestinian civilians, including children, in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and detained thousands of Palestinians from the OPT who opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained rife and was committed with impunity. The authorities continued to promote illegal settlements in the West Bank, including by attempting to retroactively “legalize” settlements built on private Palestinian land, and severely restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement, closing some areas after attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. Israeli forces continued to blockade the Gaza Strip, subjecting its population of 1.9 million to collective punishment, and to demolish homes of Palestinians in the West Bank and of Bedouin villagers in Israel’s Negev/Naqab region, forcibly evicting residents.

What Does This Mean?

First, violence and political instability in the world is intimately connected to the absence of economic well-being.  The economic crises faced in recent years in the industrial capitalist world are small compared to the punishing crises of survival that some countries of the Global South still experience in the 21st century; countries and territories of the Middle East are prime examples.

Second, data suggests clearly that in the occupied territories (the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, all conquered in the 1967 Middle East war) the notion of “precariousness” (joblessness, land theft, food insecurity, grotesque economic and political inequalities) is an apt way to describe the condition of the Palestinian people.

Third, shifting currents in Palestinian politics have been connected to patterns of economic growth and decay. In the 1950s and 1960s, secular leaders in the Arab world, including Palestinians, offered a vision of economic change and political autonomy for their people that was processed in Washington and European capitals as threatening to dominant economic interests. President Nasser of Egypt who opened relations with the Soviet Union and began to talk about Arab Socialism was a prime target of concern. Paradoxically, the US began to support political actors in the region with a religious agenda, countries such as Saudi Arabia and later in the 1980s followers of Osama Bin Laden who were fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In the 1980s also the United States supported Hamas in Palestine.

There is no easy solution but the United States and other wealthy countries have an obligation to participate in a disinterested economic reconstruction of the occupied territories and support for complete political autonomy of the Palestinian people. Only that will break the back of anger, hatred, and political instability. The United States should stop fueling the violence in the region by ending military aid to Israel. Economic reconstruction requires negotiation toward the creation of a viable secular Israeli state in which all participate or a separate Palestinian state with land repatriation and guarantees of security from Israeli military attack. In addition, Israeli settlements in the West Bank need to be dismantled. Economic development must be coupled with economic justice.

In the United States, the political climate needs to begin to change so that a resumption of frank dialogue can proceed concerning foreign policy toward Israel, ending the violence in the region, and supporting economic justice and political rights for the Palestinian people. For example, is it wise and humane for the United States to commit $3.8 billion annually in for military aid to Israel for the next ten years?

Labeling those who propose different United States foreign policies toward Israel as anti-Semitic do a disservice to peoples of the region and defame US activists, including Jews, who support peace and justice for the Palestinian people.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Berenice Carroll: Presente!

Pen and Protest: Intellect and Action

A Symposium in Honor of Berenice A. Carroll

November 17, 2007

Structural Violence, the Cult of Power, and Peace Studies:

 Relevance for the 21st Century

Harry Targ

Department of Political Science/ Committee on Peace Studies,
Purdue University
“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” Marx’s prescient comment in the German Ideology was relevant in 1972 when Berenice Carroll  published her provocative article called “Peace Research: The Cult of Power” as it is still today. Similarly Berenice’s analysis of the reification of power and what it means for  scholarship and action in 1972 remains particularly important for our own time.  

Dominant Paradigms and the Study of the Cold War

If we think back to the time when “The Cult of Power” was written dominant paradigms in international relations, political science, and history continued to reify power as the central concept driving political analysis. The world was understood as one dominated by two superpowers overseeing two competing power blocs. The bipolar world was a particular variant of the state system that was created in the seventeenth century. The ultimate units of analysis were separate and distinct nation-states. Since a few were more powerful than all others, which was always the case, international relations became the study of powerful states. The arms race of the post World War II period concerned some analysts of international relations so they fashioned a peace research that was committed to conflict management or resolution among the big powers.

This scholarly lens on the world seemed increasingly divorced from political reality. The dreams of human liberation that came with the rapid decolonization of the African continent were being derailed as what Kwame Nkrumah called “neo-colonialism” replaced formal colonialism. Gaps between rich and poor peoples and nations began their steep climb. Covert operations, military coups, big power interventions in poor countries increased. Wars ensued against peoples in South and East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. And multinational corporations were spreading their operations all across the globe, initiating the first great wave of outsourcings of production and jobs. For many Americans and Asians, the most wrenching experience of all these manifestations of global disarray was the Vietnam War.

In this historical context, radical peace researchers began to argue that our understanding of these phenomena required a significant paradigm shift. If we wanted to understand the world in order to change it we needed to break out of the state centric, great powers, conflict management conception of international relations. We needed to develop theories and prescriptions that helped us understand the world we lived in so that we could work on the reduction of the enormous gaps between human potential and human actuality; and, therefore, human violence.

These peace researchers called structural violence, the difference between how humanity could live, secure in economic and social justice, versus how most people live. They asked questions about the structures and processes that prohibited the full realization of human possibility. Peace researchers also saw an inextricable connection between direct violence, or killing which was the more traditional subject of peace research, and structural violence, which involved the institutionalization of human misery.

Further, they hypothesized that there were connections between imperialism, dominance and dependence, the workings of capitalism , patriarchy,  institutionalized racism, social and economic injustice and both direct and structural violence.

More specifically, radical peace researchers began to see that both direct and structural violence were the resultants of a global political/economic/ and cultural system in which Centers of Power within and between countries controlled and exploited Periphery countries and people. A system of imperialism existed whereby ruling classes in core countries collaborated with ruling classes in peripheral countries to exploit masses of people. This was a system that had its roots in the rise of capitalism out of feudalism. It was a system of imperial rule. It was a system of patriarchy. It was a system of institutionalized racism. And wars were the result of struggles for imperial control and domination. Radical peace researchers borrowed ideas from dependency theory and grafted them onto traditional theories of imperialism to offer an alternative paradigm to the state-centric, power driven model that dominated the academy and political punditry.

The Cult of Power

Berenice Carroll added to the emerging paradigm shift in her article “Peace Research: The Cult of Power,” by deconstructing the use of “power” as the concept central to the traditional paradigm. Also she alerted peace researchers to the implicit acceptance in their work of the cult of power. Perhaps most importantly, Carroll offered an alternative conception of power that would radically redirect study in a way to link the “pen to protest.” 

In her seminal article, Professor Carroll pointed out that virtually all theories of international relations began with a conception of power. And the power variable had seeped into the public consciousness of world affairs as well. In its contemporary usage “power” referred to control, dominance, and the ability to shape the consciousness and behavior of others; individuals, groups, and/or nations. The dean of international relations study in those days was Hans Morgenthau, who wrote the classic international relations text, Politics Among Nations, which went through eleven editions from its first imprint in 1949 until the 1970s. Morgenthau said that power was central to human affairs: ‘Power is the control of the minds and actions of others,” and “international politics like all politics involves the struggle for power.” Carroll pointed out that theorists sometimes defined power as the ability to dominate. Sometimes they defined power as the instrumentalities of control (such as military capabilities). Sometimes they defined power as a perceived status ordering of nations. But what was central here was control and domination. And as long as the ability to control and dominate were unequally distributed only those with the greatest power were worthy of attention.

Berenice reminded us that there used to be definitions of power in public discourse that emphasized liberation rather than control. These older definitions included words like strength, competence, rigor, energy, empowerment, the ability to actualize. To quote Berenice, “Thus it appears that the currently predominant understanding of power as control and dominance is a development of recent decades. The more traditional meaning centered on the idea of ability and strength.” She went on to warn radical peace researchers that while they clearly had a better grasp of  reality, they too reified power in the modern usage. She suggested that peace researchers failed to “…challenge the prevailing conception of power as dominance; its preoccupation with institutions, groups or persons which are perceived as powerful, and to some extent also in a tendency for the researcher to identify with those institutions, groups, or persons which are seen as powerful;” that is the elites, the key decision makers, the nation-states and the superpowers. The danger, she implied, is that we, the most progressive of scholars and activists, may be inadvertently embracing the conceptual tools that reinforce the status quo rather than take sides for social change.

To illustrate her point in a way relevant to both peace and (I would add) feminist theory, Carroll offered a vivid quote from a distinguished scholar of that time Karl Deutsch who wrote:

"Today, and for one or more decades to come, the nation-states are and will be the
  world’s main centers of power. They will remain such centers as long as the
  nation-state remains man’s foremost practical instrument for getting things done.”

What implications for peace and feminist theory did Professor Carroll suggest should be deduced from this “cult of power?” First, scholar/activists needed to reject the notion that power represents dominance. Second, scholar/activists needed to broaden their research lens from focusing on so-called powerful institutions, like the nation-state, or decision making elites and begin to examine the entirety of the social/political/ and cultural terrain. Third, scholar/activists needed to utilize the older conception of power as actualization, competence, assertion of rights; in other words a vision of power that understands that historical change is a complicated affair involving masses of people not ordinarily studied or valued by contemporary scholarship. Fourth, scholar/activists needed to reject a frame on reality, accepted even by the more radical, that presents history as  the struggle between the powerful and victims and which portrays  people as impotent to assert their rights and prerogatives. (Discourse in the academy is particularly good at framing political reality such that people are powerless, or ignorant, or lacking in resources to assert themselves, or are in the end the cause of their own victimhood. This projection is particularly strong among those who never set foot off the college campus as they pontificate about the behavior of the people).

Summing this up, Professor Carroll writes”

“…one of the most pernicious effects of the cultist conceptions of power is that
  it has built up a strong association between the lack of power in the sense of
  dominance and powerlessness in the sense of helplessness….To break out of this
  mold what seems most urgently needed is to restore to public consciousness and
  to the consciousness of scholars the idea of power as competence; to develop that
  idea more fully by differentiating the kinds of energy, ability, and strength which
  it may imply and, in particular, to seek to study powers of the allegedly
  powerless-the kinds of competence and potentialities for autonomous action
 which are available to those who do not have the power of dominance….”

 Where are we today?

It seems to me that Professor Carroll’s argument is as critical to us as peace researchers, feminists, worker rights activists, anti-racist activists, and, indeed, all social justice activists today. While the academic world is perhaps more complicated today and there are manifestations of a theoretical diversity that may not have been as developed in 1972, I would argue that the main lines of “the cult of power” argument still hold. Power is reified in our academic disciplines. Top-down models of human experience still predominate in the social sciences and humanities. For most fields non-elites remain voiceless and invisible. At best they are presented as victims, not actors on the world stage. Academic paradigms, whether consciously conceived or not, therefore project a profound pessimism about social change and human possibility. And, for some scholars, the victims become the cause of their own victimhood. The most well meaning of us as scholars and concerned citizens present a view of the world that demeans and discourages the vast majority of humankind.

Where do we go from here?

1)We need in our scholarship to emphasize the centrality of workers, women, people of color, and all so-called marginalized people as shapers of history, or at least to recognize their role in creating history.

2)We need to engage in research projects that might help the voiceless gain a voice, the powerless to increasingly and more effectively shape their own destiny, and individuals, groups, and classes gain self-confidence and strength in their social projects.

3)We need to extend our scholarship to the study and celebration of those who have chosen the path to empowerment and the evaluation of their relative successes and failures. This would not be an exercise in romanticism but rather an exercise in developing a more sophisticated understanding of history and change.

4)We need to build our theories and our research skills through active engagement in the process of social change. Theoretical validation comes from engagement not withdrawal.

5)We need to relate models of empowerment to all sectors of society. We cannot embrace the issue of competence, strength, and self-actualization for one constituency and use traditional models of domination to try to understand other parallel constituencies. Here is where understanding the connections between class, race, and gender play a particularly important role.

Berenice Carroll ended her ground-breaking article by quoting Hannah Arendt:

“It is only after one eliminates this disastrous reduction of public affairs
 to the business of domination, that the original data in the realm of human
 affairs will appear or rather reappear in their authentic diversity.”