Whenever the government monopolizes a product or service, it will behave like any other monopolist; it will maximize cost and minimize quality. Also, agents of the government (and their dependents, like defense contractors) are tax consumers, so assuming nothing more than their own self-interest, you can expect them to increase public demand for their services in order to justify taxing more.
Consider state-run security in light of these principles. The government is our sole provider of national security. If there is nothing for an army to do, there’s no point having it sit around doing nothing, so you reduce the size of the army and send people home. The military budget decreases. But if there are threats, then you can mobilize this army and put it to use. The budget increases. Procurements rise. Defense contractors get rich, and retiring politicians find a home on their boards of directors. The retired politician has connections back in the government; he gets ever more money for the defense contractor, who gets even richer.
The only thing needed to kickstart this warfare-state apparatus is a national security threat of some kind, anything that will make citizens demand that we go somewhere far away and kick butt. The pressure to find excuses of this kind is enormous, and so, unsurprisingly, you’ll find no shortage of them. Where you have a demand, someone will supply.
Sometimes the politicians just get lucky and a provocation lands in their lap. But sometimes we have to wonder if they aren’t the ones doing the provoking. Remember, whenever the state profits from an activity, it will cause this activity to take place so it can profit from it even more. The existence of welfare programs means that politicians profit from poverty, so we see a historical increase in what we call “poverty.” The state profits from crime because it creates a great demand for policing and judicial services, and so today we have the highest incarceration rate in our history.
Similarly, to the extent the state profits from war, you can be certain it will act so as to increase the incidence of war. It might be “trigger-happy,” overreacting to external provocations. Or it might deliberately provoke others into supplying an “incident” that requires a response, as we did in Panama in 1989. Or the government might learn about an incident about to happen but do nothing to stop it because it needs the excuse to enter an ongoing war — Pearl Harbor. Worst of all, we can’t simply discount the possibility that interested parties on our side might create the incident themselves and blame it on a boogieman. There is recent precedent for this. In 2010 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms secretly sold guns to Mexican drug cartels so it could complain about American guns getting into the hands of the drug cartels and demand more gun control. Conspiracy theories are fun to scoff at because so many of them are kooky, but anyone who is just moderately wise about human nature will admit that these things might happen. You’ll find it hard to believe that Americans like us would do such things, but you must remember that our rulers are not like us. They’re very, very different. We would never rule anyone; we would guarantee their liberty.
Terrorism has been a simply fabulous warmonger. Whoever came up with that idea is a genius. You have a nameless, nationless enemy who is everywhere except here, so you can fight him all over the world while the domestic population goes on about its business, pretty much oblivious to the bombing. You’re not fighting a nation per se, because the terrorist is embedded, so you can fight him without fighting an organized military force and suffering politically undesirable casualties. The terrorist is secretive and hidden, so you don’t know who he is and you never really know if he’s dead yet, and you can just keep fighting him forever. It never has to end!
The War on Terror’s collateral benefits to the state in terms of power and taxation are essentially limitless.
The United States has engaged in a total war on terrorism since 2001, resulting in a totalitarian national security apparatus; a new Department of Homeland Security; an internal assault on our own liberties by passage of the USA PATRIOT Act; oppressive and physically intrusive security measures for air travel and a trend now underway toward extending them to all modes of public transportation; the complete abolition of financial privacy; and so on.
Exercising all this power takes vast amounts of money. As of mid-2011 the federal government is spending well over $10,000,000,000 (ten billion dollars) per day, or $120,000 per second.
And so now we have a more complete understanding of what has always been the reason for war: power and money.