Putin’s Question and the Ambassador’s Answer

A fascinating, if brief, verbal exchange recently took place between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1987 – 1991), Jack Matlock. The remarks occurred on October 22 during the 12th annual Valdai International Discussion Club – an event that brings together politicians, experts, public figures, and journalists from many countries to discuss a designated topic of importance to the world.

This year’s focus (Oct. 19 – 22) was “Societies Between War and Peace: Overcoming the Logic of Conflict in Tomorrow’s World.” Putin addressed the final plenary session and then joined in the discussion.

Putin referred to “the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which was the cornerstone for preserving the balance of power and international security.” The U.S. withdrawal, he said, “has left this whole system [of nuclear weapons and strategic arms limitation] in a serious and complicated state.” [1]

The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had ensured that neither side would try to neutralize its foe’s nuclear deterrence by building an anti-missile shield; meanwhile, both sides had agreed to cut back on nuclear weapons.

On Dec. 13, 2001 – just three months after the events of 9/11 – President George W. Bush officially announced, after meeting with his National Security Council: “I have concluded the ABM Treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks…I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defences.”

Since then, the U.S. has spent somewhere between $40 billion and $100 billion on attempting to develop a “missile shield” and, as Putin noted in his address, the U.S. recently conducted “the first test of the anti-missile defence system in Europe.” Moscow sees all this as ushering in a new arms-race.

So, on Oct 22, Putin said after his address, “In this respect, since this is a discussion club, I would like to ask Mr. Ambassador what he thinks of the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.”

Former Ambassador Jack Matlock answered: “I was personally opposed to that withdrawal and I take your point. I would say that I don’t think that any subsequent plans for the sort of deployments were or could be a threat to Russian systems. But in general, I am not a supporter of ABM systems. I would point out that I think the main source of that is not to threaten Russia but to secure employment in the United States. A lot comes from the military-industrial complex and the number of people it employs.”

Securing Employment

Putin’s response was this: “Mr. Ambassador, I find your arguments unconvincing. I have the greatest respect for your experience and diplomatic skills, of which you have given us a flawless demonstration, avoiding a direct answer. Well, you did answer my question, but not without some embellishments. One should not create jobs when the result of this activity threatens all of humanity. And if developing new missile defence systems is about creating jobs, why create them in this particular area? Why not create jobs in biology, pharmaceuticals, or in high-tech sectors not related to arms production?”

It’s a fair question, and one rarely asked by politicians.

I detect a hint of longing in Putin’s words. Putin’s Russia certainly can’t afford an arms-race, but neither can any other country – especially not the U.S.

Several months ago, the Congressional Research Service released a report showing that since the events of 9/11, American taxpayers have shelled out approximately $1.6 trillion on military spending – which works out to $337 million per day, or $14 million per hour…spent every hour of every day for the past 14 years. [2]

Former Ambassador Matlock’s answer – about the need “to secure employment in the United States” – actually zeroed in on a subject well known to William D. Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung has long explored the myth of massive jobs creation from military spending.

The Arms & Security Project’s website currently features a graph showing that “military spending is less effective at creating jobs than virtually any other form of government [spending] activity.” [3] It shows that $1 billion in spending creates 11,000 military jobs, but that same amount of money would create 17,500 clean energy jobs, or 19,000 health care jobs, or 29,500 educational services jobs – most of them decent-paying jobs of “$64,000 per year or more”.

Hartung notes, “Part of the reason that military spending creates fewer jobs than other forms of expenditure is that a large share of that money is either spent overseas or spent on imported goods.”

In an earlier (2011) article for New Internationalist, Hartung wrote: “Members of Congress don’t want to have someone say that they voted against jobs in their state or district – or didn’t do enough to keep jobs there. And when a [weapons] factory scales back or empties out, it’s hard to miss. The irony is that almost any other form of spending, from education to healthcare to mass transit to weatherizing buildings – even a tax cut – creates more jobs than military spending.” [4]

Canadian Arms Production

Canada too, under the (now former) Stephen Harper government, has been ramping up efforts to turn itself into a major producer and exporter of weapons, ostensibly for the sake of “jobs, jobs, jobs.” The 2013 federal budget stated that the government wants growth in the defence industry to “provide Canada with a stronger manufacturing base with a capacity for leading-edge technology and innovation.”

Subsequently, the Harper government “ordered federal research agencies such as the National Research Council to focus on the [defence] sector while simultaneously setting up multimillion-dollar funds to support business-driven research and development.”[5] At the same time, the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), a Crown corporation, “has turned itself into the federal government’s arms salesman.”

Last year, the Harper government announced that the CCC had secured the largest weapons manufacturing contract in Canadian history: supplying armoured military vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The contract was secured for General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada, a subsidiary of the U.S. giant, which has weapons manufacturing plants in Ontario and Alberta employing a total of about 3,000 workers. Project Ploughshares revealed that the Saudi Arabian contracts are worth $14.8 billion and “were awarded by the CCC” to General Dynamics during the 2013-14 fiscal year. [6]
It is now widely known that Saudi Arabia has long been funding terrorist activities in the Middle East. As Robert Parry recently summarized: “A core reality of the Mideast crisis is that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Sunni Gulf states have been the principal funders and ideological supporters of the Sunni extremists who have organized into violent jihadist movements, including Al Qaeda, its Syrian affiliate Al Nusra Front, and a hyper-violent spinoff, the Islamic State,” also known as ISIS or ISIL. [7]

So the Harper government’s brokering of this defence contract has had many critics in Canada.

Also in 2014, a Canadian parliamentary panel gave its full support for the government to join in the development of the U.S.-led missile shield for North America. The Canadian Senate Committee on National Security and Defence announced in June that the panel was “unanimous in recommending that the government of Canada enter into an agreement with the United States to participate as a partner in ballistic missile defense.” [8]

The Committee chair was Conservative Daniel Lang, while Romeo Dallaire was the Liberal deputy chair. Two former Liberal defence ministers, David Pratt and Bill Graham, also endorsed the idea, as have Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute, David Perry, a senior analyst with the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, and others, including the mainstream media.

Missile Shield

Since 2002 when the U.S. formally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Pentagon has been developing the missile shield at two sites in California and Alaska, deploying 30 strategic ballistic missile interceptors. Another site is being planned for somewhere in the U.S. northeast, possibly Maine.

Boeing manages the system for the Pentagon, while Raytheon manufactures the kill vehicles, with most of the manufacturing done in Alabama and Arizona. [9]

Critics say the system – called Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) – doesn’t work and can’t destroy incoming warheads. [10] But proponents tout the fact that out of 17 tests so far, the system has been able to intercept and destroy an incoming mock target 9 times – or more than half of all attempts. The Los Angeles Times, however, has noted that all the tests have been “carefully staged: Specialists operating the system knew the target’s precise dimensions, expected trajectory, speed and time of launch – information they would not have in combat conditions.” [11]

Philip Coyle, a former Pentagon chief weapons tester who is now with the U.S. Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told the Canadian Senate committee that the GMD hardware being deployed in Alaska and California “has no demonstrated capability to defend the United States, let alone Canada, against enemy missile attack under realistic operation conditions.” [12] As he explained in an email to the Ottawa Citizen, “Shooting down an enemy missile going 15,000 mph out in space is like trying to hit a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph…And if an enemy uses decoys and countermeasures, missile defence is like trying to shoot a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph and the green is covered with black circles the same size as the hole.” [13]

But such startling limitations haven’t stopped the Pentagon and its contractors from securing massive U.S. taxpayer funding for the project, though the exact amount isn’t known.
In 2005, the Canadian Liberal government of Paul Martin declined to join the missile shield program, prompting the ire of the George W. Bush administration. [14] For the past few years, however, the lobbying machine has been up and running again in high gear, pushing for Canada to become a partner. Indeed, an official from Raytheon International Inc. was reported to have lobbied a Liberal Canadian Senator (Joseph Day) in the weeks leading up to the 2014 release of the favourable Senate report. [15]

During the recent, 78-day Canadian federal election campaign, Stephen Harper made no commitment to the missile defence shield, saying only: “Our position is that we keep evaluating our options. If we felt that at any point in time that we faced particular threats that required us to participate, that is something we would look at,” he said. “At the present time, we haven’t made that assessment.” [16]

To my knowledge, newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has never stated his position on joining the U.S. missile shield project. The day after the election, however, Trudeau announced that he was ending Canada’s bombing raids in Syria and Iraq – withdrawing the CF-18 fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing mission.

Perhaps like many of us (including Putin), Trudeau too is longing for peace and peaceful production, not the relentless building of the war machine.

After all, we are faced with tremendous challenges such as climate change, widespread pollution, refugee crises, escalating inequality and so many other planetary issues. As Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, has put it: “We must redefine security. We have inherited a definition from the last century that is almost exclusively military in focus.” [17]

But as William D. Hartung has warned, the defence contractors have a “well-oiled lobbying machine” that is tough to beat. [18]

The Machine

In August this year, the Center for Public Integrity revealed that the Pentagon’s top contractors “sent an army of more than 400 lobbyists to Capitol Hill this spring to press their case for increasing the nation’s spending on military hardware.” Alexander Cohen wrote: “The contractors are upset in part because most military spending has been capped for the past few years under budget controls meant to rein in government debt. So far, the caps have forced a decline in main defense budgets from about $528.2 billion in fiscal 2011 to $496.1 billion in fiscal 2015…The caps remain the law of the land, however, and they won’t go away until Congress votes to lift them.” [19]

The report stated that the top ten Pentagon contractors in terms of their number of lobbyists are: General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, United Technologies, Northrup Grumman, Huntington Ingalls Industries, General Electric, BAE Systems, Honeywell International, and L-3 Communications.

“The defense budget is capped at a level that neither the industry nor the Pentagon wants,” Gordon Adams, a fellow at the Stimson Center, told Cohen. Companies “either want to raise the caps or get rid of them all together.” [20]

Apparently, that $14 million per hour spent on the U.S. military since 9/11 just hasn’t been enough, and the Pentagon and the contractors have been “upset” about the budget caps remaining the law of the land.

Interestingly, without mentioning the budget caps, the Los Angeles Times reported a year ago (Oct. 5, 2014) that the U.S. defense industry had been facing “leaner times” in the past few years, but a solution had been found: “…with U.S. and allied aircraft now bombing Islamic State and Al Qaeda positions in Iraq and Syria…many [financial] analysts foresee a boost to bottom lines for munitions manufacturers, weapons producers and other military contractors” in a “conflict that commanders say is likely to last years.” [21]

As a result, “Wall Street is paying attention. Shares of major military contractors – Raytheon, Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. – all have been trading near all-time highs, outpacing the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of large companies’ stocks.” [22]

The next step, of course, would be for Congress to lift those upsetting budget caps – which prompted those 400 lobbyists to descend upon Capitol Hill last spring.

No wonder the U.S. is so angry at Putin, who has done more in the last three weeks to be rid of ISIS/Islamic State than the U.S. did in the entire previous year. Apparently, they (the defense industry, Wall Street, private shareholders, think tanks like the Brookings Institution, Pentagon commanders, the One Percent, etc.) want this ISIS conflict to last a very long time and, as the Los Angeles Times writer put it, become a venture that “will cost billions more down the road.”

As usual, the Western world is being “played” like a fiddle by the deep-state actors that really profit from global Jihad. A recent, must-read article by F. William Engdahl, called “What if Putin is Telling the Truth?” traces the CIA/Saudi/Al Qaeda connections back to George H. W. Bush in 1980s. [23]

Putin is too smart (and polite) to say any of this at an international conference entitled “Societies Between War and Peace: Overcoming the Logic of Conflict in Tomorrow’s World.” He merely asks a simple question: why not create jobs in “sectors not related to arms production”?


[1] http://www.globalresearch.ca/overcoming-the-logic-of-war-there-are-no-winners-in-a-global-conflict/5484131

[2] David Sirota, “$14 Million An Hour: War Costs Top $1.6 Trillion Since 9/11, Say Congressional Researchrs,” International Business Times, December 22, 2014.

[3] William D. Hartung, “Military Spending: A Poor Job Creator,” Center for International Policy, January 17, 2012.

[4] William D. Hartung, “Washington’s White Elephant,” New Internationalist, December 2011.

[5] Lee Berthiaume, “Canada To Expand Arms Exports,” The National Post, July 25, 2013.

[6] Kenneth Epps, “New facts confirm unprecedented size of Canadian arms sale to Saudi Arabia,” Project Ploughshares, July 22, 2014.

New facts confirm unprecedented size of Canadian arms sale to Saudi Arabia

[7] Robert Parry, “US Presidential Campaign: Can Politicians Transcend ‘Frozen Thinking’ About World Conflicts?” Consortium News, August 27, 2015.

[8] “Canadian Parliament Panel Backs Joining U.S. Missile Shield,” NTI Global Security Newswire, June 17, 2014.

[9] David Willman, “Latest missile defense system test is successful,” Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2014.

[10] David Pugliese, “Canada examining contribution to U.S. missile defence in Arctic,” Ottawa Citizen, September 17, 2015.

[11] David Willman, op cit.

[12] David Pugliese, “Canada urged to join controversial U.S. missile shield,” Ottawa Citizen, June 16, 2014.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Michael Woods, “U.S. asks Canada to join missile shield: report,” National Post, April 22, 2013.

[15] Steven Chase, “U.S. firm lobbied senator before report on missile shield,” The Globe & Mail, June 25, 2014.

[16] The Canadian Press, “Harper Leaves Door Open For Canada To Join Ballistic Missile Defence Program,” The Huffington Post, August 15, 2015.

[17] John Vidal, “Food scarcity: the timebomb setting nation against nation,” The Guardian, October 13, 2012.

[18] William D. Hartung, “Washington’s White Elephant,” op cit.

[19] Alexander Cohen, “Top defense contractors spend millions to get billions,” Center for Public Integrity, August 4, 2015.

[20] Ibid.

[21] W.J. Hennigan, “Military Firms Likely to Benefit From Airstrikes in Iraq, Syria,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2014.

[22] Ibid.

[23] F. William Engdahl, “What if Putin is Telling the Truth?” www.nsnbcinternational, May 15, 2015.

Joyce Nelson’s sixth book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, can be ordered at: http://watershedsentinel.ca/banksters. She can be reached through www.joycenelson.ca.