Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday 20, April 1998


By James Weinstein
Editor, In These Times


What industry spends the most money trying to influence Congress? Weapons manufacturing, which in turn receives the largest share of the federal budget.

So far this decade, the four-dozen companies whose main business is arms have given $32.3 million to congressional candidates, $5 million more than those other merchants of death, tobacco companies. Add in the $50 million that the six-largest arms makers spent on lobbying Congress in the past two years and you get an idea of the huge investment that a handful of military-industry executives have made to shape our nation's domestic and international policies.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, arms makers faced an uncertain future. Millions of Americans expected to see a peace dividend—the transfer of a substantial portion of the nearly $300 billion a year spent on the military to social needs. That would have been good news for most Americans but bad news for military suppliers. The arms budget has been somewhat reduced—most substantially by George Bush—but the loss in military-industrial revenue has been compensated for with billions of new dollars being spent each year to promote and finance arms sales abroad. For example, in 1995, in only one of several such federally funded efforts, the Clinton administration won congressional approval for the $15 billion Defense Export Loan Guarantee Fund, which covers military contractor losses when foreign customers cannot afford to honor weapons-sales agreements.

Now with the push to enlarge NATO, weapons manufacturers have an opportunity to make an even greater killing in overseas sales. That's why recent lobbying efforts by the big-six arms merchants—Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Textron, Raytheon, Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas—have focused on NATO expansion.

Not incidentally, expanding NATO has also been the cornerstone of Clinton's foreign policy agenda these past four years. He touts it in a way to stabilize Europe, but Europe doesn't need this kind of stabilizing. Neither the original members of the alliance nor the proposed new members—Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary—face any foreseeable military threats.

If anything, NATO expansion could destabilize the new member countries by forcing them to borrow heavily and divert huge sums away from social and infrastructure investment. NATO membership requires a great increase in military spending by the new members, who will be required to upgrade their technology and make their weapons systems compatible with NATO. Replacing Russian military hardware with new equipment will be a gigantic windfall for Western arms manufacturers, as well as an added burden on American taxpayers.

Over the next decade, the cost of this conversion could run into hundreds of billions—half of which, under the treaty now before the Senate, will be paid by the United States. To replace one Russian MIG-21 with an F-16 made by Lockheed, for example, would cost $18 million—replacing it with an F-18 made by Boeing would cost $40 to $60 million. Consider that Poland alone wants to buy 100 to 150 of these new planes.

NATO expansion is being portrayed in the media as a done deal, but—despite the massive amounts of money that military suppliers are spending to assure victory—the treaty faces significant opposition in Congress. For a long time, cigarette makers also bought votes in Congress against smoking has proved a powerful antidote to tobacco's big bucks. An outcry against further militarization of the world could have the same effect on the expansion of NATO.

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