Above Photo: BPTU / Shutterstock
America has a sprawling military industrial complex—the network of the armed services, corporations, defense contractors, weapons manufacturer, and members of Congress. And it keeps growing to the detriment of our wallets, our country and the world. Here are three ways it’s expanding.
1. Greed, Fraud, and Double-Dipping
Financially, taxpayers are getting screwed by every angle of the military industiral complex.
The U.S. defense budget constitutes hundreds of billions of dollars. More than half of federal discretionary funding goes to the military industrial complex, which encompasses more than 1,200 government organizations and almost 2,000 private corporations working on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence.
The roles of government bureaucrat and military personnel have become nearly indistinguishable; 70 percent of retired three- and four-star generals were employed by defense contractors after their time at the Pentagon.
In 2015, nearly 80 percent of Lockheed Martin’s $46.1 billion profit came from the federal government, which has cumulatively given $400 billion to defense corporations that have been sanctioned for fraud.
The U.S. government’s decision to subsidize the mergers of major defense corporations in the 1990s put thousands of dollars into the pockets of defense firm executives while millions of workers lost their jobs. Senator Bernie Sanders aptly named the process “payoffs for layoffs.”
These extreme examples of corporate greed and opportunism have had ramifications at home and abroad.
2. Prolonging War
While the U.S. continues its hegemonic domination of the arms trade, the Pentagon assists the deals and weapons contractors benefit economically, at the expense of innocent lives.
In 2011, the U.S. share of weapons sold worldwide totaled 70 percent, and arms deals facilitated by the Pentagon in 2015 totaled $46 billion. By flooding the global market with arms, the government ensures the longevity of corporations like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The government, the Pentagon and defense contractors symbiotically guarantee each other’s hegemony: the U.S. government markets arms, acting as a salesperson for arms firms; the Pentagon enables this process, facilitating and transferring money and weapons to allies with taxpayer money; and arms firms profit and ensure their tentacles are spread far and wide to pressure politicians.
Looking back at the Obama administration, the military industrial complex destabilized peace and security and exacerbated conflict. During President Obama’s first six years in office, the U.S. government engaged in arms deals worth $190 billion and loosened restrictions on arm exports. As a result, arms smugglers and human rights abusers got their hands on U.S. weapons with ease.
The Middle East is a microcosm of this interplay; the most destructive (and lucrative) deals have involved the sales of bombs and missiles to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen. Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors profit off the deaths and starvation of civilians.
President Trump is poised to escalate the conflict in Yemen with the signing of a $110 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia, though a substantial portion of this amount is carried over from the Obama administration. When Trump addressed the Arab Islamic American Summit in late May, he indicated human rights would not be a factor in arms sales with Saudi Arabia.
The Middle East is only one of many regions that promise growth for defense corporations. The South China Sea dispute may signal a new market for the sale of military equipment to the U.S. government’s East Asian allies, including Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. The intensification of North Korea’s nuclear program has only accelerated the pace of weapons sales to East Asia; South Korea recently agreed to deploy Lockheed Martin’s THAAD anti-missile system. And in 2010, India bought $5.8 billion worth of Boeing C-17 transport aircrafts.
3. Endangering Democracy
In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech against the Vietnam War, at Riverside Church in New York, saying, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
The U.S. military has been morally elevated in the eyes of the public, consistently topping Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll with around 75 percent expressing confidence in the military. This universal admiration of the military silences criticism of its failings, allowing for the corrosion of fundamental democratic principles like freedom of the press and freedom of speech. The military industrial complex, with all its financial, political and cultural clout, necessitates a permanent war economy where the interests of the military, corporations and government coincide.
The military industrial complex has pervaded the Republican and Democratic parties. Defense contractors spend millions of dollars to sway the will of politicians while the voices of dissent against the military industrial complex are suppressed.
The American military continues waging war, American corporations continue building and selling weapons indiscriminately, and the American government grossly inflates military spending. And so the cycle continues.