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Defense Firms Feast on the War on Terror

22 February 2002

In case anyone missed it, there was a military coup on Feb. 4. As these things go, it was a quiet affair: no tanks deployed at key intersections, no hard-faced soldiers holding strategic crossroads. In fact the people who seized power don't even have any troops, unless you count lobbyists. But if President Bush's budget is approved, a significant part of our national life will be determined by the financial interests of the "Mighty 10."

The "10" are not the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force or various Special Forces, but the huge arms corporations that stand to make hundreds of billions of dollars -- indeed, trillions -- from the massive military buildup over the next five years. Of the "10" -- Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Litton, General Electric, United Technologies, TRW and Textron -- the first six are among the top 10 arms-producing companies worldwide.

While the "war on terrorism" is the rationale for the proposed $48 billion jump in military spending, much of that money looks suspiciously like an old-fashioned political payoff. Stands to reason. The energy companies got Alaska and Utah. Mining and timber interests got the West. Why shouldn't the arms manufacturers get an endless war?

If "terrorists" are the target, it is hard to see why the United States should spend $475 million to build the Crusader, a 70-ton self-propelled artillery system so massive you couldn't get it to Afghanistan on a dare. On the other hand it guarantees who will get a hefty campaign contribution from its makers, United Defense, General Dynamics and Caterpillar, in the upcoming election.

Do we really need the new F-22 Raptor stealth interceptor to fight terrorists? I am not aware that high performance fighters are their strong suit, particularly given that our old F-15 is a perfectly fine aircraft. On the other hand, do Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney need to be brought on board the Republican re-election campaign?

How about $400 billion for the Joint Strike Fighter (yes, on top of $100 billion for the F-22) that none of the services is very enthusiastic about? But Lockheed Martin, the maker, thinks it's just peachy. Plus, the company gets to sell the fighter overseas, just as it is selling thousands of F-16s (another perfectly fine machine) to 22 countries.

Do we require new Aegis destroyers at $1.3 billion a pop to confront terrorism, or is this a little subsidy to Litton Industries (owned by Northrop Grumman) and General Dynamics?

And don't believe the budget figures getting tossed around in Washington these days. While the White House proposes jumping the military budget from $328 billion to $376 billion, there are a few "add-ons." Besides the $17 billion already allotted for the Afghan War, Bush is asking for $38 billion for the Homeland Security Budget. Toss in the extra $13.4 billion the Energy Department is getting for ramping up nuclear weapons research and production. At this rate we will be pouring in close to $500 billion a year in military spending by 2007, 54 times the combined military budgets of the "Evil Axis" members.

Tucked away in all this is a $10 billion request for a "contingency" fund. Translation: The administration will be able to wage an Afghan-size war for a little more than five months (the present war is costing $1.8 billion a month) without clearing it with Congress.

Next up, a Praetorian Guard?

But even all this won't be enough. According to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon will need an additional $30 billion to get some of these weapons programs off the ground.

There are some very real consequences to all this. As rich as we are, something will have to give for us to pay for all this. And what gives in this budget is education, job training, public housing, and a host of social programs that are desperately needed in this recession-wracked economy.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors reports that emergency shelter requests in 27 cities have increased 13 percent over last year. The Bush budget cuts public housing by $382 million, or 6 percent, and public housing repairs by $417 million, or 14.7 percent. Job training in 336 cities will be cut from $225 million to $45 million.

The United Way describes Los Angeles County as being in "the most precarious [condition] since the Great Depression." Three million in the county are considered poor, and 1.4 million people are classified "food insecure," including 45 percent of children in poor families.

Terrorism is a political, not a military problem. Targeting its roots in poverty and despair will isolate it a good deal more effectively than smart bombs. Dwight Eisenhower had it right when he noted that "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies ... a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed ... this is not a way of life at all ... it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

Conn Hallinan
Published in the San Francisco Examiner © 2002 San Francisco Examiner

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