Arming for Armageddon


In 2001, the US weapons industry controlled approximately 50 percent of the world arms market. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reports that for fiscal year 2001, the US government exported $12.2 billion in weapons and was awarded $13.1 billion in new foreign contracts through its Foreign Military Sales program. That excludes the $36 billion in direct commercial sales by US weapons manufacturers to foreign nations. FAS indicates that the weapons industry is second only to the US agriculture industry in its receipt of US taxpayer subsidies. Yet, the weapons industry still whines about export restrictions and pesky public disclosure requirements that actually make them somewhat accountable to the US Congress and the American people. So it’s no surprise that in 2003, the weapons industry will be busy lobbying the US Congress and the American public for more subsidies, fewer restrictions on what can be sold and to whom, and exemptions from public accountability and long standing agreements.

The weapons industry storyline will include appeals to 9-11 and patriotism, free markets, job creation and level-playing fields, and global democracy–US style. But the reality behind the phony proclamations is, of course, profits and free-rides. American taxpayers spend upwards of $10 billion a year in subsidies to the US weapons industry. American jobs are, in fact, exported along with the technology to countries like Turkey and Israel through off-sets which means that the importing country can build the systems themselves. US technology and know-how gets given away at no charge or at discounted rates through the Excess Defense Articles program. US foreign policy is regularly altered and human rights ignored to meet the needs of US weapons manufacturers. More chilling though is the observation of a weapons industry executive who mused, “There will come a day when we will have no allegiance to a nation-state. We will be viewed as neutral suppliers to all combatants.” That day has arrived.

The American public would do well to take note of the weapons industry’s activities in 2003 because as FAS reports,”US-origin weapons find their way into conflicts the world over…Of the active conflicts in 1999, the United States supplied arms or military technology to parties in more than 92% of them –39 out of 42. In over one-third of these conflicts–18 out of 42–the United States provided from 10% to 90% of the arms imported by one side of the dispute…In Fiscal Year 1999, the United States delivered roughly $6.8 billion in armaments to nations which violate the basic standards of human rights…The costs to the families and communities afflicted by this violence are immeasurable. But to most arms dealers, the profit accumulated outweighs the lives lost. In the period from 1998-2001, over 68% of world arms deliveries were sold or given to developing nations, where lingering conflicts or societal violence [continues]…The United States military has had to face troops previously trained by its own military or supplied with U.S. weaponry in Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, and now in Afghanistan. Due to the advanced capabilities these militaries have acquired from past US training and sales, the US had to invest much more money and manpower in these conflicts than would have otherwise been needed.”

Just recently, US weapons industry members were showing the flag and their fine products in October 2002 in Jordan at the annual SOFEX Conference and Exhibition. AM General, American Molds & Hickling Engineering, Environmental Tectonics, Harris Corporation, SAIC, JPS, Kollsman, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon and Sikorsky had products on display. Official delegations to that event included Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria and other nations that the Bush Regime wants to destroy. Yet, there they were– those patriotic Americans from the US weapons industry, selling the same American-made components and weapons that young US service men & women will likely use in the conflicts that are certain to come in 2003 (http://www.sofex.com.jo/htm/index.html). And the Center for Defense Information reports that “Some countries receiving U.S. weapons and/or training continue to recruit children for their official armed forces. Thus, United States is supplying arms and military aid to countries where children are used as soldiers.”

Hide Behind National Security

High on the US weapons industry 2003 to-do list is to gain full implementation of the 17 Defense Trade Security Initiatives that will allow, among other things, the weapons industry to be exempt from many provisions of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations for both foreign military sales and defense services. In short, removing US government oversight of arms sales. They also are seeking to fight the World Trade Organization’s ruling that the US Extra Territorial Income Exclusion Act of 2000 is an illegal subsidy to corporations by the US government. That Act allows the weapons industry to claim a tax credit on portions of its foreign weapons sales.

2003 will also see an intense lobbying effort in the US Congress to gain approval of measures that would prevent public disclosure of information relating to security incidents and business-sensitive data. That’s code for a movement in the US weapons industry to broaden the classfications of Secret or Top Secret to include everything from timesheets and accounting records to reports of faulty test data and missing equipment. Revealing classified information, even if the information clearly shows the weapons maker can’t meet the government’s requirement, can mean jail time and stiff fines. Classifying every document is a convenient way to keep employees quiet and make it tough for lawyers to get in and defend those who still have some measure of ethics. It’s a surprise to the uninitiated to learn that the weapons makers in the “private” sector hold 98 percent of all US government classified information. It is normally the corporation or insitution Facility Security Officer (FSO) that determines what gets classifed and what doesn’t. The US government typically provides classification guidelines in its contract award that the FSO must ensure are followed; but, ultimately, it’s up to the business to make sure the correct classification is made.

Since the “death penalty” for a weapons maker is to have its facility clearance pulled by the agency granting it, the tendancy is to be overly broad in classifying information. For example, over 11 years ago the US government terminated its contract with General Dynamics and Boeing (Boeing owns the original partner McDonnell Douglas) for failure to perform its obligation to build the US Navy an A-12 aircraft similar in design to the US Air Force F-117. The US government demanded $1 billion in repayment–now up to $2.3 billion and still on appeal–and, of course, the two companies sued the US government. In the discovery process that followed roughly 80 percent of the weapons makers’ documents turned out to be financial records such as timesheets and annual reports that were stamped Secret or Top Secret. Slowing that litigation process was the cumbersome requirement that staff on both sides of the lawsuit had to receive US government security clearances to the Top Secret level and, in some cases, beyond that designation. The clearance process can take up to a year and there’s no guarantee of approval.

Damn Human Rights! Arm ‘Em All!

The US weapons industry is an equal opportunity death merchant. It supplies weapons to totalitarian and democratic regimes of all flavors, all over the world. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is a customer as is King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz, custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Head of State of Saudi Arabia. Tony Blair of the United Kingdom is an eager customer as is Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. China, Cambodia, Kazakstan and Laos receive military assistance. Need weapons to quell that pesky domestic rebellion? The US weapons industry is there for you. For years it supplied weapons and gear to Indonesia to assist it in the killing of at least 100,000 East Timorese. Protestors all over the US have been subjected to weaponry and tactics developed by the US weapons industry and the US military. Need landmines? Human Rights Watch estimates that the US has stockpiled 11.2 million landmines for use in conflict. The Bush Regime has indicated it will use them in Iraq if necessary.

The power of the US weapons industry to influence foreign policy is perhaps best represented by its successful effort to expand NATO. According to William Hartung of the World Policy Institute, with the blessing of the Clinton Administration, “In 1994 several major US military manufacturers set up offices in the region to promote their products, and in 1996, defense giant Lockheed Martin organized a series of “defense planning seminars” for officials in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, a soft-sell, relationship-building approach intended to demonstrate the benefits of buying American. In 1997 in the months leading up to public referendums, the Czech, Hungarian, and Polish governments, as well as U.S. arms manufacturers, launched aggressive media campaigns to win public support. On Hungarian television, a popular sitcom suddenly had a new character, a military commander who spouted the virtues of NATO, while school libraries gave away slick pro-NATO CD-ROM games supplied by McDonnell Douglas [now owned by Boeing]. While lulled by propaganda, lured by the illusion of imminent EU membership, and lavished with new subsidized military hardware, the people of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were given little concrete explanation of the potential costs or obligations of NATO membership. Majorities in both Hungary and the Czech Republic, however, correctly discerned that increased government spending on the military would come at the expense of education and health…”

One price of NATO membership is a requirement to set-aside 20 percent of their total defense budget for procuring US weaponry. The per capita income for Latvia is $3,013. According to William Hartung of World Policy Institute, “the U.S. share of a full-blown NATO expansion initiative — including military exercises and troop deployments, modernizing military bases and communications networks, and rearming the nations of East and Central Europe — could reach $250 billion between now and the year 2010.” That $250 billion for NATO expansion excludes funds yet to be spent on US Homeland Security, National Missile Defense, the War In Afghanistan, the War on Drugs, the War in Iraq, and, perhaps, World War III. Can the Latvians and other new entrants afford the increase in defense spending? Can Americans afford it and the mad designs of the US weapons industry and their friends in government? Can the world afford it?

The outlook is grim. Few in the US Congress will stand in the way of the US weapons industry and its supporters in the Pentagon and White House, including former members of Congress, which is just another way of saying that they’ll get what they’re looking for in 2003, particularly since they helped get many of them into office. It’s unclear whether mass demonstrations and voting will make any difference in limiting the political power of the weapons manufacturers. Meanwhile, in the board rooms of the US weapons industry, the sun is shining, freedom is defended, democracy lives, and it’s going to be a record profit-taking year in 2003.

JOHN STANTON is a Virginia-based writer specializing in national security matters. He can be reached at cioran123@yahoo.com

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