In his well-known 1961 farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned citizens to remain “alert and knowledgeable” in the face of growing power from America’s arms manufacturers. “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower told the nation.
Selling Weapons to Anyone With a Pulse
US arms sales around the world have been steadily increasing in the past decade, trailed by Russia whose arms exports have declined somewhat over the past five-year period. Outside Europe, weapons exporters are excelling, too, such as South Korea and Israel, which recorded a 77 percent jump in arms exports between 2015 to 2019.
Clearly, President Donald Trump has backed some big weapons deals with the Saudis and others, but many of the largest transactions of the recent past were completed under the administration of former President Barack Obama. The biggest boost to US arms companies in the past five years has been Middle Eastern nations, particularly Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE: in fact, 51 percent of all US arms exports went to the Middle East in the past five years, representing an increase of almost 80 percent compared with 2010 to 2014 exports to the Middle East.
Who is Buying the Weapons and Military Tech?
The largest importers of arms are Saudi Arabia followed by India. Saudi Arabia is engaged in a bloody conflict in Yemen and in a regional standoff with Iran and Shia Muslims more broadly, while India continues its violent operations in Kashmir and extended showdown and military arms race with Pakistan. Coming third is Egypt, whose forces recently killed senior ISIS leader Abu Fares al-Ansari in the Sinai region and whose nation has a large military budget.
The list of clients goes much further, however, including nations that routinely commit grave human rights abuses. A. Trevor Thrall and Caroline Dorminey observed at the Cato Institute that US companies sold upwards of $197 billion in conventional weapons from 2002 to 2018 to 167 nations. Congress has not stopped an arms deal for more than four decades, even though they have the explicit ability to do so under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976.
Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition
US defense companies supply an estimated 79 percent of the world’s weapons and military equipment and the defense industry is enormously profitable — around $143 billion per year according to the latest figures. A quick browse over recent deals handed out to US defense contractors makes clear the enormous amounts of money involved and huge scope of various projects. The same defense industry names keep popping up, too: such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Boeing. The same big players have dominated the US defense industry for years, lobbying to get blacklisted countries open for business and making sure Congress falls i line with their interests in terms of regulations, tax policy and loosening restrictions.
Defense giants like Raytheon and Boeing have a virtual stranglehold on lucrative contracts, while American arms flood the market globally, helped in part by enormous US government subsidization at home and a proliferation of conflicts and geopolitical crises around the globe.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency which approves weapons sales to foreign countries gave the OK to 99 percent of sales between 2012 to 2017. The contractors make sure that equipment is packed, legislation lines up and profits are plump – not always via legitimate means. Indeed,“fleecing the Defense Department is big business.”
US Taxpayer Subsidization of the Arms Industry
Many Americans may not be fully aware that their tax dollars are helping these incredibly profitable US arms companies develop and sell their weapons, military technology, ships, jets, armored vehicles and missiles. Already by 1995 taxpayers gave the equivalent of $7.6 billion in subsidies to defense companies; in 2018 that number was $92.4 billion, going to defense companies for research, development and testing of weapons. In 2018 alone, twice as much taxpayer money went to subsidizing US defense contractors as went to looking after veterans.
In another typical borderline “scam,” the Pentagon also received – and kept – $16 billion back from foreign governments who are required to pay research and development costs of arms they procured in 2018, making the weapons they designed and built with taxpayer money even more profitable.
When it isn’t busy expressing its love of gay pride parades, signing an “ally wall” in support of transgender rights or celebrating its female vice president Pam Wickham winning a prestigious public relations award, a defense behemoth like Raytheon spends time settling lawsuits behind closed doors, selling weapons to countries they are prohibited to sell to and lobbying Congress to have blacklisted countries green-lighted, blackmailing state governments and threatening to leave their states and cut jobs if they aren’t given tax breaks, overcharging the Defense Department and spewing toxic waste into the environment from Arizona to Florida. Corruption and shady deals are far from just an American issue, either. For example in Germany companies like Diehl, Rheinmetall, MTU Aero Engines and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann have all been noted for highly questionable practices.
Missiles and Fighter Jets
Messaging from corporate Democrats and many Republicans in the US has emphasized that the cost of Medicare for All and increasing minimum wage is just not feasible. The fact that Joe Biden is now closing in on the Democratic nomination shows that Middle America’s center-left has decided a patchwork of options is the best course instead of a full overhaul to the system. Even as politicians talk about Medicare for All or significant minimum wage increases being pie-in-the-sky lunacy reserved for naïve Bernie Bros and Danish tax-worshipers who spend their spare time running veganism activism, officials are signing checks down at the Pentagon for hundreds of billions in contracts for expensive fighter jets and multimillion dollar missile batteries.Yes, we have money to give to Raytheon as it inflates prices and skims 4,000 percent profit (unfortunate oversight), but no, paying you a bit more for flipping burgers at Burger King is a bridge too far, and healthcare is just not an option.
Supporting over 70 percent of the world’s non-free and dictator-led nations takes time to organize and a keen sense of morality, after all. Authoritarian military regimes don’t arm themselves, and there’s a world order to uphold to decide who is an evil enemy and who is a noble but misunderstood leader whose country needs a few hundred shipments of hand grenades, landmines and rocket launchers. Healthcare can wait until a crisis like the coronavirus forces lack of coverage to become a pressing issue and corporate politicians can pretend to care.
There is precious little criticism of the stranglehold that US arms manufacturers have on Congress, tax policy and ensuring that regulations – and investigations – stay as easygoing as possible. Sometimes that is because defense contractors are major sponsors of the news programs or even co-owners. Other times it is because the defense industry is seen as a given and some malfeasance is expected. The irony is that those in public and private life who support a strong national defense and robust arms industry are undercut by the very faux-patriotic bureaucratic behemoth that claims to represent them, but which in reality only wants to ensure it stays at the nexus of power, politics and funding — at all costs.