Balenciaga's cargo pants came out the year after the Iraq invasion when the western world finally realised it was on a war footing. There is some debate about army uniforms becoming civilian fashion items: 'Did you earn it, or did you buy it?' 'Camouflage – if you haven't served, you don't deserve it'. Camouflage gear is ubiquitous amongst hunters, which is another form of asymmetrical war. This time the targets don't have weapons.
If high fashion is an art form, and art reflects society, then the proliferation of cargo pants in Army drab as couture sinks to the level of the mall indicates that being at war has become naturalised in our society. During the Vietnam war, in the 1960s and early 70s, people wore a lot of army surplus – WWII and Korean war usually, very inexpensive, quite smelly, but at least it was real, and generally worn in the spirit of protest against war. It wasn't manufactured in China and bought at the Bay.
The commodification of the uniform could be related to the distinct lack of interest that western countries appear to show in the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is no longer shocking to be at war because, among other things, the violence of war has become denatured not just by the censoring of images, but also by the everyday proliferation of the uniforms associated with that violence. War camouflaged as streetwear.
I must say, having searched high and low for evidence of cargo pants from Joe to Holts, the best on offer are from Abercrombie & Fitch: $90 on their website. That's the price of participation in geopolitical disaster these days.