– The Beatnik
The commercialization of War
Throughout history nations have had to defend themselves from their neighboring countries constant desire to expand and dominate, all the while eyeing their own possible growth at the expense of these very same nations. The ebb and flow of these kingdoms over time have given rise to giant empires and great conquests, but nearly always these struggles have been between two warring nations in which the victor received the spoils and the loser achieves nothing more than just a footnote in the annals of time.
History is replete with such kingdoms that would grow to immense proportions until the burden of governing itself lead to its eventual downfall, almost always coinciding with a neighboring regime’s rise to prominence quite often over the same exact territory and the same people. These dynasties date back as far as recorded history can go and even before then. But again, nearly every war, every battle, every conquest and every defeat came at the hands of two nations in a do-or-die, winner-take-all, epic struggle that could last for decades up to 100 years and beyond.
According to the Peace Pledge Union, the arms trade, as we know it today, can be traced back to the Middle Ages. It began in the 14th century, when gunpowder was introduced in Europe.
The market for powder-charged weapons grew quickly. Kings and knights wanted cannons to demolish previously impregnable battlements. Far-sighted warlords began arming their troops with portable firearms: old-style pikemen and archers, or mounted knights in armor, were no match for the new guns. It was the beginning of that great and dangerous competition later to be called an ‘arms race’.
Big demand for the latest weapons created a thriving industry. Originally most weapons were manufactured for local users, but some entrepreneurs sold them throughout Europe to anyone who had the money to pay for them. The first steps towards the creation of an ‘international’ arms trade had been taken.
The arms industry first developed in Liège in Belgium. Iron and coal were in plentiful supply there, and the roads and rivers were more than adequate to transport both materials and finished weapons efficiently. The industry soon spread: up the Rhine to Solingen, eastwards to Prague in Bohemia, south into France (St Etienne and Bayonne), Italy (Turin, Milan, Florence, Brescia and Pistoia) and Spain (Seville and Toledo) and westwards across the channel to England (London and Birmingham). These towns and areas are still centers of the European arms industry.
By the time the 19th Century rolled around most fertile battlegrounds had already been blood-stained killing fields many times over. The great disparity in military might that promulgated empires and dynasties in the past no longer existed. In one last attempt at establishing world dominance, several European nations put their mightiest foot forward and promptly had it squashed by their neighbors. It had become apparent to all that going it alone was no longer a viable option. Cooperation between the various groups had become a necessity in order to preserve what they’ve already gained as well as to fend off the collective attempts of other nation groups in the region. . Instead of individual nations conquering their next-door neighbors, groups of nations began forming in a loose-knit alliance that basically proclaimed, « You watch my back and I’ll watch yours. »
By the middle of the 19th century a truly international arms trade had been established. It bred its own rogue elements. For example, unscrupulous salesmen knowingly sold defective weapons. Others were happy to follow the long-ago example of Liége by selling arms to both sides in a war: their loyalty was to money-making.
It is said that at the Paris Exhibition in 1881, a man told Hiram Maxim, an American, that if he wanted to make a fortune, he should invent a machine that would help these Europeans kill each other. He did and sold his machine guns to European countries on the eve of World War One, and changed the nature of war. He founded the Maxim Gun Company in Britain to produce his new weapon and licensed it to the British Army and later to the Austrian, German, Italian, Swiss, and Russian armies as well. Maxim died on November 24, 1916, only days before the Battle of the Somme, during which over a million soldiers were killed – many advancing over and over into the machine gun’s fire.
The 20th Century saw this rise in group dominance put to its severest tests This fragile fraternal assemblage of countries found their first major application in 1914 when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, Serbia. Serbia refused to extradite the murderer to Austria-Hungary and the fight was on. Austria-Hungary, Germany, Ottoman Empire, on the one side squared up against Russia, Great Britain, Italy and France on the other side with Serbia. Along with the major European nations declaring their allegiances, their colonies were obliged to follow suit. The first real world war was on and it raged for four years. This was the first time that groups of countries fought other groups of countries on different fronts around the globe.
But it would take a second world war for countries to start giving arms to each other. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the world was ill-prepared for the chaos and destruction that followed and no one could have predicted the final outcome in early August, 1945, with the dropping of the first ever atomic bombs: Little Boy on Hiroshima and Fat Man on Nagasaki. In between those two events, unparalleled destruction destroyed over 80% of the production capabilities of most European nations, thus precluding them from being able to manufacture their own military hardware even for purely defensive purposes. For the first time in history major players on the world’s stage were forced to purchase their military armament from another country.
In 1940 the United States of America passed legislation allowing the sale or transfer of military equipment to anyone it chose. The US arms industry grew prodigiously, supplying Britain, France, and the Soviet Union with huge quantities of armaments to fight the Second World War. When that war was over, former allies engaged in a ‘cold war’ between Western capitalist countries and the communist Soviet Union. The Cold War did not officially end until 1991. The USA supplied weapons to any state which opposed the Soviet Union, which also armed its own supporters. Many developing countries were flooded with weapons, with appalling consequences which are still being felt.
Following World War II many of the factories that had been devoted to military production during the fighting were converted back to their prewar, civilian uses. However, the cessation of fighting in Europe and Asia was not greeted—as the end of World War I had been—with a wave of revulsion against American arms makers. Instead, the nation’s military industries were widely viewed as a major pillar of American military strength and an important source of technological innovation. Thus, when the Cold War began in earnest, most members of Congress were prepared to support a new round of arms transfers along the lines of the lend-lease program.
The resumption of U.S. arms aid to friendly powers abroad did not occur without prodding from the White House, however. With World War II barely concluded, many in Congress were at first reluctant to authorize significant military aid to the European powers—fearing, as had their counterparts in the 1920s and 1930s, that this would eventually lead to U.S. military involvement in overseas conflicts. To overcome this resistance, President Harry S. Truman and his close advisers, including Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and George C. Marshall, sought to portray the expansion of Soviet power in eastern Europe and the Mediterranean as a vital threat to the Western democracies and, by extension, to U.S. national security.
The first significant test of U.S. attitudes on this issue came in early 1947, when Great Britain announced that it could no longer afford to support the royalist government in Greece—which at that time was under attack from a communist backed insurgency. Fearing that the loss of Greece to the communists would invite Soviet aggression in neighboring countries, including Turkey, President Truman concluded that it was essential for the United States to provide arms and military training to the Greek military. On 12 March 1947, Truman appeared before a joint session of Congress to request funding for this purpose. In what became known as the Truman Doctrine, the president articulated a new guiding principle for American foreign policy: « I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. »
As noted by many historians since then, this speech shaped U.S. security doctrine for the next several decades. Henceforth it would be the unquestionable obligation of the United States to provide economic, political, and especially military assistance to any nation threatened by Soviet (or Soviet-backed) forces. As the first expression of this principle, Congress voted $400 million in military assistance for Greece and Turkey on 15 May 1947; this was soon followed by the appropriation of even larger amounts for these two countries and for many others in Europe and Asia.
In time the transfer of arms to anticommunist governments abroad came to be seen in Washington as a critical component of « containment, » the strategy that governed American foreign and military policy throughout the Cold War. As articulated by its original architects, containment held that the totalitarian Soviet system was forced by its very nature to seek domination over the rest of the world, and thus, in response, the United States had no choice but to join with other nations in resisting Soviet aggression. And because many of the nations on the periphery of the Soviet empire were too poor to provide for their own defense, it was up to Washington to supply the necessary arms and equipment.
This principle was given formal expression in the Mutual Defense Assistance Act (MDAA) of 1949. Signed into law by President Truman on 6 October of that year, the MDAA (later incorporated into the Mutual Security Act of 1950) gave the president broad authority to conclude mutual defense assistance agreements with friendly powers and to provide these countries with a wide range of military goods and services. In its initial authorization Congress awarded $1 billion to members of the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); $211 million to Greece and Turkey; $28 million to Iran, the Philippines, and South Korea; and $75 million for the « general area » of China. These appropriations were increased in subsequent years, reaching a peak of $5.2 billion after the outbreak of the Korean War.
At first U.S. arms aid was given primarily to the NATO countries and to other friendly powers on the periphery of the Soviet Union and China, including Iran, South Korea, Turkey, and the Nationalist government on Taiwan. In later years such assistance was also supplied to friendly nations in Africa and Latin America. Between 1950 and 1967 the United States provided its allies with a total of $33.4 billion in arms and services under the Military Assistance Program (MAP), plus another $3.3 billion worth of surplus weaponry under the Excess Defense Articles program. The United States also sold weapons to those of its allies that were sufficiently recovered from World War II to finance their own arms acquisitions; between 1950 and 1967 Washington exported $11.3 billion worth of arms and equipment through its Foreign Military Sales program.
Since the end of WWII the US has been the largest arms exporter in the world consistently selling nearly half of all arms in any given year. By the end of the Cold War in 1991, the US took on an even greater role in world wide arms sales. While keeping most appropriations away from the glitz of the US media, its military has nevertheless accounted for a large portion of government spending as well as government selling of its weapons capacity, commonly referred to as the Military-Industrial Complex.
The website Foreign Policy in Focus states, « According to a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations, « [T]he average American believes we spend 18% of the federal budget on foreign affairs, while thinking we should spend only 6%. In reality, foreign affairs spending, the bully pulpit of America’s strength overseas, is now only 1% of the federal budget–a little more than one penny of every federal tax dollar. »1
FPIF, also states, « When you think of big government, this is it. The military establishment issues over half of all government paychecks. It makes about two-thirds of government purchases of goods and services. It sponsors 53% of all government research and development.5 It is the nation’s second largest health care insurer and provider and the largest day care provider. It runs the world’s largest educational enterprise. It manages over 5,000 properties on lands with a total land area about the size of the State of Ohio.6 Outside of China, it is without rival as the world’s largest bureaucracy.
« It is also without question the largest source of waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government. It employs over 40,000 accountants and budget analysts to manage over 250 accounting systems. In 1998, the General Accounting Office reported that the Pentagon was unable to account for $250 billion of more than $1.2 trillion worth of property, equipment, inventory and supplies.7 Yet, it continues to disperse billions of dollars without records of what it is purchasing. As conservative Republican Senator Charles Grassley has said: « We have financial chaos in the Pentagon. We have meaningless accounting numbers . . . We have meaningless cost estimates. »8 The Pentagon also provides the pork, or pet projects, that both conservatives and liberals can love. Senator John McCain estimates that $5 billion in pork-barrel special interest projects–primarily weapons or construction projects that the Pentagon did not ask for–were larded into the FY1999 defense budget.
« Each year, the General Accounting Office (GAO) publishes reports on what it calls « at risk » agencies, where mismanagement raises the risk of waste, fraud, and abuse. In 1999, the GAO reports that after « decades of neglect, » the Pentagon has a financial management system that: is unable to properly account for billions of dollars in assets … is unable to make sound resource decisions … consistently pays more and takes longer to develop [weapons] systems that do not perform as anticipated … continues to make erroneous, fraudulent and improper payments to contractors … [and whose] inventory management system is ineffective and inefficient.
According to World Policy.org, « From Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton, it has been an article of faith for executive branch policy makers that U.S. weapons exports are only made to responsible allies who use these systems for legitimate defensive purposes. However, the World Policy.org has actually found that not to be the case in U.S. weapons deliveries to 50 current ethnic and territorial conflicts. Contrary to the conventional wisdom in Washington, official U.S. government data on arms transfers provides overwhelming circumstantial evidence that U.S.-supplied weaponry is at the center of many of today’s most dangerous and intractable conflicts: – In the 1990s, parties to 45 current conflicts have taken delivery of over $42 billion worth of U.S. weaponry; – Of the significant ethnic and territorial conflicts going on during 1993-94, 90% (45 out of 50) of them involved one or more parties that had received some U.S. weaponry or military technology in the period leading up to the conflict; – In more than half of current conflicts (26 out of 50), the United States has been a significant arms supplier, accounting for at least 5% of the weapons delivered to one party to the dispute over a five year period; – In more than one-third of all current conflicts (18 out of 50), the United States has been a major supplier to one party to the dispute, accounting for over 25% of all weapons imported by that participant in the most recent five year period; – Despite the popular perception that it is U.S. policy to cease deliveries of weapons once a conflict is under way, as of the end of 1993 (the latest year for which full statistics are available) the United States was shipping military goods and services to more than half (26 out of 50) of the areas where there were wars being fought.
In a number of volatile areas the United States has been the primary supplier to governments that are involved in ongoing conflicts. In Turkey (76%), Spain (85%), Israel (99%), Morocco (26%), Egypt (61%), Chad (27%), Somalia (44%), Liberia (40%), Kenya (25%), Pakistan (44%), the Philippines (93%), Indonesia (38%), Guatemala (86%), Haiti (25%), Colombia (28%), Brazil (35%), and Mexico (77%), the United States has been the primary supplier of imported weaponry in the most recent five year period for which full data is available.
Looking at just one recent year, 2005, the US had armament sales of nearly $500 billion or 48% of all weapons systems sold around the world. The next largest seller was the United Kingdom which only sold about $48 billion, or one-tenth of the US. Of the US sales, 58% went to developing countries. Since 9/11 the US has increased its own military budget spending nearly $1 trillion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq above and beyond the normal procurement of defense spending written into every fiscal budget. For the first time in US history, President Bush sent a proposed budget in 2005 that did not include the monies required to run both wars in fiscal year 2006.
He basically separated out the cost of these wars and submitted a partial budget to Congress for their approval. Thus, the wars that were supposed to pay for themselves through the sale of Iraqi oil, were now so expensive that the president decided to leave them entirely out of the budget proposal to Congress. In this way, Bush was able to demand appropriations for his wars on several different occasions throughout the year and tie the entire amount requested towards the safe keeping of the soldiers in the field, turning fiscal irresponsibility into a patriotic requirement that would paint any opposition as friends of the terrorists.
Bush’s wars that were supposed to see the US enter as liberators and saviors and to be bought and paid for by the natural resources found there, will ultimately cost the US taxpayer upwards of $2 trillion as well as a great proportion of this young generation forever traumatized and wounded, both physically and psychologically, for the rest of their lives.
Turkey’s use of U.S.-supplied fighter aircraft, helicopters, tanks, and armored personnel carriers in its recent invasion of Northern Iraq highlights the dangers of a policy of uncritical assistance to allies engaged in ethnic or territorial disputes, as does the employment of U.S.-supplied equipment on both sides of the 1995 Peru-Ecuador border war. Since the end of the Cold War, the continuing U.S. policy of promoting weapons exports as a key element of U.S. security strategy and economic policy has accelerated the incidence of the « boomerang effect »: the transfer of U.S. weaponry to forces that end up doing battle against U.S. troops. The last four times the United States sent troops into combat in significant numbers — in Panama, Iraq, Somalia, and Haiti — they faced adversaries that had received U.S.-origin arms, training, or military production technology in the period leading up to the conflict. Should the US go to war against Iran, they will be facing the US sold technologies of the late 70s as well as that which was sold to Iran under the Iran-Contra deal of the mid 1980s. This is a clear sign that something is awry in the U.S. arms transfer decision making processes.
In recent years, the US has found itself battling its own armament in countries it once counted on as friends. Iran was a friend who received massive amounts of US aid, including huge amounts of nuclear armament technology until 1979. Iraq received massive amounts of US biological, chemical and radioactive arms until the late 1980s. The mujahideen and Taliban forces in Afghanistan, as well as the terrorist group Al Qaeda, received hundreds of millions of dollars in high tech weaponry throughout the 80s and 90s. The US is currently sending India modern nuclear weaponry capabilities and is arming the Pakistani military regime in order to maintain it power amid growing distrust and disfavor among the people there.
New plans for the US military include arming the former Iron Curtain countries with the latest in missile technology supposedly to thwart any plans by Iran to attack Europe. The problem with this is that Iran does not currently have any missile capability to reach Europe, nor has it expressed any desire to achieve such weaponry. At the same time, Russia is looking at this move by the US military as a possible future deployment of American arms aimed at her, and is now increasing its military state of alert as a result. Russia has resumed international patrolling of its airspace and has restarted its nuclear proliferation build up. If left unchecked, this will lead to a new Cold War scenario with China added to the mix as it builds up its defenses against newly perceived tactical threats from the US in Taiwan, the Philippines and elsewhere.
If the US continues unabated on its present course, it will create a new level of anxiety throughout the world that will overshadow any global warming, starvation, disease or other calamities that the world is currently facing. The trend to unchecked military build up will sap all other resources needed to fight these dire threats to all of mankind. The world will be forced to spend inordinate amounts of time, money and effort in defending itself from possible US bellicose and hegemonic agendas at the expense of these other more important issues. It is likely that the only winners in such a scenario would be the military-industrial complex, and that would be short lived as the world plunges deeper and deeper into the abyss of global warming, starvation and massive and devastation illnesses such as AIDS, new and highly resistant flu and cold strains, and other deadly diseases. Left unchecked, this trend will cause the quickening of global warming and massive depopulation tendencies leaving a globe of inhospitable climates, deadly toxic atmospheric gases and an ever shrinking human population on the edge of complete annihilation