excerpts from the book
by William Greider
PublicAffairs Press, 1998
The vast industrial structure required to support and supply
the armed forces ... continues in place with massive capabilities,
still inventing and producing, still imagining a next generation
of advanced weaponry that can prevail over [an] unnamed future
Congress, two presidents, the public at large, and both political
parties have all seemed to find nothing strange in this. America
remains expensively ready for war. No one in authority dares question
this, and the public does not ask: to what end?
The parking lots of armor reflect, crudely, the great national
dilemma we are evading. America is experiencing a deep confusion
of purpose at this moment of history, holding on to a past that
is defunct, but unable to imagine a different future. The Cold
War is over, but not really, not yet.
Too many tanks with nowhere to send them. Too many bombers
and fighter planes, too many ships and rockets. Too many men and
women in uniform. Our troops are the best in the world, splendidly
trained and capable, brilliantly equipped with dazzling weaponry.
But what exactly are they to do, now that a general peace is upon
us? We don't know the answer. We don't even want to talk about
The defense budget has been reduced since the Berlin Wall
came down eight years ago, but $250 billion is still much larger
(even after allowing for inflation) than in I980, the height of
Cold War tensions. Overall troop strength has been downsized by
roughly one-third, but the nation continues to maintain the heavied-up
military force designed and equipped to go head to head against
the Soviets. That force structure anticipated a full-scale war
waged across the plains of Central Europe-across many of the nations
of Central Europe now poised to join NATO.
Fortress America remains mobilized to fight the big one but
justifies itself now with vague threat scenarios that envision
fighting two wars at once, twin regional conflicts that will be
smaller in scale but simultaneous. Instead of a robust debate
over new priorities or skeptical questioning of these fanciful
premises, the political elites in both parties have settled into
denial and drift-a status quo that argues only over smaller matters,
like which new weapon systems to fund and where they will be built.
Defense spending, as one strategic analyst put it, has become
"the new third rail of American politics." Most politicians
are afraid to touch it.
It seems improbable that Americans will wish to spend more
on a peacetime mobilization, not when federal spending is being
cut for nearly everything else. Indeed, the public is inclined
right now to stand clear of foreign engagements, especially ones
that might involve American casualties. Despite the official projections,
most analysts expect defense spending to remain flat or even decline
But unwilling or unable to adapt to the new circumstances,
the armed forces and their allied manufacturers are proceeding
with ambitious plans based on the assumption that the reduction
in defense spending is only temporary and that Pentagon budgets
will soon begin rising robustly again. (The Clinton administration
assumes the same: its five-year projections call for another $30
billion and a 40 percent increase in the procurement budget, while
Republicans seek even more.)
Until more money arrives, the defense apparatus is literally
feeding on its own parts, pinching this and that, scrimping here
and there, in order to keep the same Cold War force structure
in place and the same lineup of new weapons moving through the
pipeline of development. During the Cold War era, the military
institution acquired a reflexive appetite for growth that it's
now unwilling to give up. Instead, it lumbers toward a self-induced
crisis of malnourishment, as when an addict's starving body eats
its own liver.
Some smart people, in and out of the Pentagon, see what's
coming and have proposed various blueprints for fundamental restructuring
and drastic reduction. Radical alternatives are shrugged off by
political and military leaders, however, not to mention the defense
industry. It is not necessary to study the mind-numbing budget
projections to see the problem. The outlines are visible in the
routine facts of military life, the daily burden of maintaining
the best and biggest army, navy, and air force in the world.
The Pentagon has been dumping old tanks like an army-navy
surplus store conducting frantic "going out of business"
sales. Giving them away to friendly nations. Selling them at deep
discounts. Offering them free to local museums. It dumped one
hundred old Sherman M-60s into Mobile Bay off the Alabama coast
to form artificial reefs for fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Several
hundred more are being sunk along other coastlines for the same
purpose. One year it gave forty-five tanks free to Bosnia and
another fifty to Jordan. It shipped ninety-one tanks to Brazil
under a no-cost, five-year lease, and thirty to Bahrain on the
same terms. Another I60 tanks were sold to Taiwan for $I30,000
each, priced at ten cents on the dollar. Egypt got seven hundred
free by picking up transportation costs.
One way or another, the Army has disposed of nearly six thousand
older tanks during the last six years. Giving them away "is
often cheaper than destroying or storing them," Lora Lumpe
and Paul F. Pineo explained in a I997 study by the Federation
of American Scientists. In the I980s, they observed dryly, the
United States spent many billions on modernizing the Army's entire
inventory of armor, helicopters, artillery, and other gear. In
the I990s, it unloaded "a literal army" composed of
the same stuff, albeit usually older models. Plus there are the
hundreds of "excess" aircraft and ships from the Air
Force and Navy inventories.
"The services appear to be giving away still useful equipment
in order to justify procurement of new weaponry," Lumpe and
Pineo asserted. "Much of the equipment now declared 'excess'
is quite serviceable. In fact, a lot of it was purchased or reconditioned
in the Reagan arms build-up of the I980s." These bargain
sales have not provoked much controversy, except for occasional
complaints from defense firms trying to sell new armaments to
the same countries.
Next year, the keel will be laid for another new carrier,
the Ronald Reagan, which is likely to cost $5 billion. Does anyone
dare ask whether America actually needs this aircraft carrier
called Ronald Reagan?
This spring, Lockheed Martin rolled out the first model of
the F-22 at its plant in Marietta, Georgia, and staged an official
celebration of the plane that is said to ensure "air dominance"
in the twenty-first century. The F-22 was conceived and designed
in the I9805 to meet the Soviet threat that Pentagon planners
projected for the mid-1990s. And so it will, despite the awkward
fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists.
Each F-22 will cost $I6I million (assuming the cost estimates
are accurate and honest), and the Air Force wants to buy around
438 of them, a future commitment of $70 billion.
The Navy, meanwhile, is replacing its aircraft, too. The new
F/A-I8 E/F fighter-bombers, to be built by Boeing, will cost $80
million each-a lot less than the F-22, but the Navy intends to
buy 1,000 of them, a commitment of $80 billion.
The Army, for its part, has a $4S billion program under way
to acquire I,292 new Commanche armed reconnaissance helicopters.
The armed services are together also purchasing $76 billion
in precision-guided bombs plus new equipment for air defense and
close artillery support. That's roughly $300 billion in better
weaponry for the future. But there's more.
The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are collaborating on
the creation of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), a swept-wing aircraft
so versatile it will fill the future tactical needs of all three
services, even the vertical takeoff capacity the Marines want.
A competition is under way among the major defense contractors,
Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and others, to see who will win this
prize. The stakes are huge, since total acquisition costs are
likely to exceed $300 billion. A decade from now, when the JSF
rolls out, the services promise to buy 2,978 of them.
Before any of these new weapons systems are produced, however,
another awkward fact still stalks the Air Force, Army, and Navy:
the excess of lethality that exists right now. Even if one takes
seriously the scenarios for fighting two wars at once, the armed
services have a surplus of killing power. Gross reductions have
been made-tanks, ships, and planes removed from the active inventory.
But a lot of new stuff has also been purchased. Procurements that
were planned in the Cold War days rolled forward anyway, after
the bear's demise.
Since 1991, the General Accounting Office (GAO) calculates,
the Pentagon has tripled its inventory of long-range missiles
to attack ground targets (and upgraded many older missiles). After
the Cold War ended, the government added 2,662 Tomahawks and other
missiles to its arsenal. It increased air power capabilities by
modernizing 96I night-capable aircraft and 707 precision-guided
The Air Force has so many long-range bombers-the old reliable
B-52, the troubled B-I, the new, stealthy B-2 that costs $2 billion
apiece-that it cannot afford to keep them all in the air. Yet,
if you can believe its plans, the Air Force intends to increase
the operational bomber force 25 percent by 200I.
The B-I bomber is the Cold War's most celebrated white elephant.
I saw some in training at Ells worth Air Force Base in South Dakota
and felt sympathy for the dilemma of pilots and commanders there.
The nation spent hundreds of billions building and deploying one
hundred B-1s. (Four have since crashed.) The plane is designed
for intercontinental nuclear strikes deep inside the Soviet Union,
a mission that no longer exists. They are being converted to conventional
bombs but were not sent to the Gulf War.
The B-1s charter is reduced to flying occasional "global
power missions," whatever that means. Because they are so
expensive to operate, twenty-seven of the B-I fleet were put in
"reconstitution reserve status." That is, they have
no crews assigned to fly them. However, the Air Force intends
to activate them again as soon as it can find the money.
Bottom line: a staggering target overkill exists in Fortress
America, even for fighting two wars at once. The GAO has documented
the redundancies in a I996 study:
The services already have at least 10 ways to hit 65 percent
of the thousands of expected ground targets in two major regional
conflicts. In addition, service interdiction assets can provide
I40 to I60 percent coverage for many types of targets. Despite
their numerous overlapping, often redundant, interdiction capabilities,
the services plan to acquire aircraft and other weapons over the
next 15 to 20 years that will further enhance their interdiction
The juggernaut - the best and biggest military force in the
world - lumbers on, doing what it knows how to do best. It is
unwilling to rethink its future, unable to let go of the past.
Like the shark, it must keep feeding, only now it is feeding on
The war [WWII] also created the mixed marriage of government
and private enterprise that is with us still: a huge and diverse
manufacturing sector dedicated to serving one customer-the Department
of Defense. It includes thousands of small and | medium-sized
firms and a handful of mammoth corporations that are the prime
contractors. All are deeply dependent on politics to fill their
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the general who commanded
the military victory over Hitler, labeled it the "military-industrial
complex" and warned against its encroaching influence. Critics
later coined an ominous metaphor-the Iron Triangle-to explain
its political power. The three sides of the triangle are formed
by Congress, the defense companies, and the military leadership-three
power centers that interact to reinforce their mutual interests:
jobs, contracts, new weaponry.
When other nations employ such tactics to advance their own
economic development, American commentators typically deride the
arrangement as "state socialism" and warn that it will
generate wasteful inefficiencies and entrenched interests that
will become very difficult to dislodge. The U.S. arms industry
has done both (while also spawning spectacular innovations in
the technologies of war-making), but conservatives do not put
a socialist label on the government-business marriage that supports
the arms industry since it serves the high purpose of defending
the nation. And in industrial terms, the nation never truly demobilized
after World War II. Scores of the major factories and shipyards
that Washington had built for contractors to operate remained
in place, though producing at much lower levels. (Fifty years
later, the government still owns more than sixty of those factories,
and they are still operated by private firms.)
The shock of Pearl Harbor left a political conviction that
the United States must never be caught flatfooted again. Keep
the defense industrial base "warm," ready to make new
weapons again, just in case. After I948, when Cold War was joined
with the Soviets, arms production flourished anew. The ensuing
five decades of permanent war mobilization have been an era unlike
any other time in American history.
The awesome industrial base that America built to win World
War II and then the Cold War has now emerged as the premier arms
merchant to the world. With our government's encouragement and
subsidy, the industry sells advanced U.S. weapons to developing
countries that wish to be regarded as "developed." Objections
that this arms traffic is sowing future conflict rather than peace
are brushed aside.
The Iron Triangle is a powerful fraternity, but its three
sides are also in continuous struggle with one another. One firm
is fat and happy with new contracts while another is starving.
Politicians compete for the projects that put jobs in their districts
while admirals and generals argue over which hardware should be
funded for their branch. Contractors complain about the Pentagon's
ham-handed procurement rules-devised by military procurement officers
who have been burned by the companies' cost overruns and other
forms of gouging. Incredibly tangled alliances develop among these
players to advance their own aspirations.
When peace arrived, the swords were not beaten into plowshares,
as the prophet Isaiah envisioned. The swords, one might say, were
beaten into capital gains. A "peace dividend" did appear
after the Cold War ended. It was distributed to shareholders of
the major defense companies.
The Pentagon is now effectively married to an oligopoly of
three mammoth corporations and obliged to keep them in good health
- McDonnell Douglas -Boeing, Lockheed - Martin Marietta and Raytheon
- Hughes Electronics.
The unstated political objective [of expanding NATO] is to
open new markets for the American arms industry.
The end of the Cold War rivalry has (n fact)opened a fierce
new global competition among the arms makers-American, European,
and Russian. They are competing now for customers that were once
off limits to them, and all are struggling with the same fundamental
problem of how to keep their factories going in a shrinking market.
The overcapacity problems facing the U.S. industry are even more
severe for Western European companies-and overwhelming for the
old Soviet weapons industry.
NATO expansion is the visible expression of the arms race
that is under way, not among; warring nations, but among the anxious
manufacturers confronted with peace. Since the end of the Cold
War, the volume of international arms sales has not increased,
but the U.S. share of the global market has gone up, while Russia's
share has shrunk drastically. LockMartin's overseas business,
for instance, went from 5 percent to I8 percent of its total sales
in just five years. Central Europe offers a market of two hundred
fighters over the next five years-$8 billion to $10 billion in
"We will certainly fight to sell aircraft to Poland and
Hungary, Romania, and what not," says Joel Johnson of the
Aerospace Industries Association. "Everybody and his uncle
wants to do that. These countries aren't going to increase their
defense spending, but they want to shift from Russian to Western
suppliers. If there's any rationale for NATO, it is that we want
them to have compatibility with our weapons."
Poland's air force, for instance, consists of 437 Soviet-made
combat aircraft, and it wants to replace 100 of them. But should
it buy F-I6s from Lockheed Martin or F-I8s from Boeing? The French
Mirage or the JAS-39 from Saab and British Aerospace? All are
competing for the sale; even Russia is offering Poland bargain-priced
MIG-29s. LockMartin is proposing an industrial "partnership"
to help Poland offset its costs. The U.S. Air Force, meanwhile,
is offering to set up aerospace management centers in Central
Europe. The Navy has suggested leasing some of its F-I8s to Poland.
The Pentagon and the industry, in other words, are jointly
promoting American-made weapons, and with considerable success.
In I995 U.S. producers delivered $I2 billion in weapons to foreign
buyers, three-fourths of them destined for developing nations.
The U.S. volume represents 44 percent of the global market, more
than double America's market share in I990 when the Soviet Union
was the leading exporter of arms. Now Russia is a weak third,
behind Great Britain.
America's head start in selling arms to the new NATO members
helps explain why the other major allies are unenthused about
paying for the alliance's expansion-a burden variously estimated
from $z7 billion to $I25 billion. France's President Jacques Chirac
has said that France will not devote a single franc more to the
enterprise. Now that the Cold War is over, Chirac observed, "I
don't know why the defense of the alliance should cost more than
it did then." German Chancellor Helmut Kohl complained that
"it is completely absurd to link NATO enlargement with cost
factors as if the aim is to rearm large areas of Europe to the
teeth." Both Kohl and Chirac have made unsubtle suggestions
that the American motive for expanding NATO is selling weapons.
Defense spending bv Latin American nations has increased by
~t percent since I992, while their economies have grown by 22
percent. No one quite knows why these countries feel so threatened,
but perhaps they have come to feel threatened by each other.
One obvious danger of distributing so much advanced weaponry
among so many scattered nations is that someday, in unforeseeable
ways, this hardware may be facing us on the battlefield. The ideological
boundaries of the Cold War imposed some arbitrary limits on who
could sell to whom. Without those inhibitions, the arms marketplace
is becoming truly global.
As Professor William Keller describes it in "Arm in Arm",
the casual trade by Western arms producers in the Middle East
laid the groundwork for Saddam Hussein's aggression and led tO
Desert Storm. Iraq, after all, bought its advanced weaponry from
many sources, including U.S. allies like France. "The whole
point of the Gulf War," Keller says, "was that we did
what we had to do because of the errors we committed in the past."
Industry people respond with a shrug. They claim to be selling
security and stable friendship, not future adversaries. Besides,
if we don't sell stuffto Indonesia or Thailand or whomever, then
somebody else will. Bob Paulson gives a concise summary of the
industry rationale: "If we don't sell it to them, will the
French? Yes. If If they buy our weapons, will we exercise more
control over them? Possibly. Are we putting machine guns in the
hands of some savages? Perhaps. But someone will if we don't."
"Using arms exports as a way to maintain defense industrial
capacity is a particularly irrational policy," Michael Oden
has argued. "A Lockheed official recently testified that
the U.S. has to make a multibillion-dollar commitment to the F-22
to counter the widespread proliferation of higher-performance
combat aircraft such as the U.S.-made F-I5 and F-I6.... This argument
suggests that, with the fall of the Soviet Union, we are effectively
engaging in an arms race with ourselves."
... If the arms makers do succeed in globalizing, the political
implications are profound. "If the defense industrial base
becomes truly international," Professor Keller warns, "then
you are rupturing the relationship between the government and
the industrial part of its national security apparatus. The strategy
assumes that these defense firms are private companies when they
are really creations of the state. Now the government is saying:
'We can't afford you guys any longer.' So the companies say, 'Okay,
we're consolidating and going global. That way you can have new
weapons at cheaper prices.' But the new question will be: Which
government is the client? What if a government wants a company
to do something that doesn't make good business sense and the
company says no? What do you do if you have a company fully globalized
and willing to sell weapons to any
. .As U.S. commercial companies have globalized their operations,
their loyalties to the nation-and to the workforce back home-have
steadily weakened. What Keller suggests is that the same trend
is now beginning among the arms makers, but with much more dangerous
potential. Imagine a military-industrial complex that is truly
multinational in scope and scale and able to play governments
off against each other. Imagine a global arms market that claims
to be above and beyond the political control of mere nations.
These prospects are only theoretical at present, but one can hear
their global dreams in the hopeful expressions of the leading
Norman Augustine promises: "We're serious about being
a global company, and that means expanding our workforce outside
the United States."
Philip Condit, chairman of Boeing, tells the Financial Times
of London that, twenty years hence, people will think of Boeing
as a global company, not an American company, and he acknowledges
the national security problem that a globalized arms firm creates:
"Because we are a U.S. defense contractor, our board members
will have to have security clearance. As we move in an international
direction, we will have to find ways-the U.S. government will
have to find ways-of dealing with that."
Boeing's new head of military sales, Alan Mullay, rhapsodizes
over the corporate vision for global peace. "What's really
cool about defense," Mullaly tells the Economist, "is
that it will no longer be about defending America, but about making
the world safe."
... the benefits of defense spending are becoming more and
more concentrated in a few states-Georgia, Texas, California.
The competition for foreign sales and global partners drives the
companies to move more and more of their production offshore rather
than rehire idle machinists or engineers at home. Finally, the
money that pays for more bombers that the nation doesn't need
must come out of the budget for something else-schools. highways,
Confronted with peace and deprived of a convincing enemy,
the military imagination leaps ahead to fight the next war. Across
many centuries, this has always been the case between the big
wars. Peace is an anxious lull when warrior dreams are agitated
by techno-visionaries and the industrial ambitions of weapons-makers.
Sometimes they get it right, and the result is a fundamental breakthrough
in war-fighting, like radar or rocket engines.
Sometimes the triumphant generals become so enthralled by
their own sense of superiority that the magnificent delusions
they construct eventually destroy them. After World War I, the
victorious French Army built the fortifications known as the Maginot
Line and declared that this innovation would repel German invasions
for all time. Hitler sent his tanks around it and marched straight
into Paris. Peacetime, in other words, can be dangerous for a
nation if it fosters illusions of invincibility.
In any case, designing the war of the future sets up another
point of collision with the past. Even if futuristic ideas prove
to be sound, the Pentagon and the arms industry are still reluctant
to give up what already exists-the vast arsenal of conventional
overkill. They cannot have it both ways, one would think, but
so far they are doing their best to accomplish just that, with
very little resistance from the political system. So the process
of elaborating a future world of utterly new war-fighting weapons
proceeds, even as companies prepare to turn out new generations
of the conventional, and even as the armed services struggle to
maintain readiness with the existing arsenal.
Right now, the American military establishment claims to be
in the midst of a "revolution in military affairs" (or
RMA, in the Pentagon's shorthand). This technological upheaval,
it is said, will transform every aspect of warfare and eclipse
most of the conventional armaments that now exist. The Army's
effort to create "wired" ground forces is only one dimension
of RMA, a modest first step toward much larger concepts. The inspiration,
of course, is the industrial revolution in global commerce-the
efficiency and precision made possible by the new electronic technologies.
The high-tech vision was made more fashionable by the U.S. victory
in the Gulf War, with its video clips of precision bombing and
scant American casualties.
War will become "capital-intensive and automated,"
as one analyst puts it. Instead of nose-to-nose ground battle
between contending armies, the action will become increasingly
long-range, dispersed, and depersonalized-fought with deep-strike
precision missiles, information dominance, even space-based weaponry
(though now prohibited by treaty) using exotic energy forces like
particle beams to kill or immobilize. As the electronic systems
take over war-fighting roles, the human ranks in uniform will
be downsized-just like civilian workforces- and the fighters will
need to become much smarter.
"The future Army will really need sort of super-soldiers
who can operate in this really difficult environment-not just
fighting other soldiers but also fighting the other side's system,
which can now 'acquire' them at greater range," says Michael
G. Vickers, director of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic
and Budgetary Assessments, a Pentagon-financed think tank in Washington.
"I served on a Defense Science Board study last year that
looked at this issue: could five thousand men do what fifty thousand
men did before? Not in all cases, but with the right things, you
could substitute automation for these large forces. Then maybe
a soldier will need to fight in much smaller groups. But he will
control more territory than he could in the past."
In this scenario, for instance, micro-robots become scouts
and even the warriors - miniaturized mechanical creatures that
carry sensors forward into difficult, dangerous terrain and someday
guns or explosives. "These things are on the horizon right
now," Vickers says. "Some of them look kind of like
Slinkies. They have an easy locomotion and can crawl pretty good
and go over rough stuff and into small places. So in a high-end
war, the super-soldiers might number only fifty thousand, but
you still might have a four-hundred-thousand-man army because
your support requirements go up as you get more technical. Even
if the robots and all that stuff are your war-fighters, someone's
got to maintain these things.
Saddam Hussein's ill-fated venture in Kuwait demonstrated
that the traditional tank invasion is indeed obsolete-if the other
side has air superiority and high-tech dominance in electronic
intelligence and precision missiles. But the Gulf War also prompted
chilling reflection among U.S. military thinkers: maybe these
same technological elements will someday make our weapons obsolete,
too. The so-called platforms that carry the firepower and are
the backbone of modern warfare-tanks, surface ships, and aircraft-are
all vulnerable in different ways to deep-strike weapons and electronic
surveillance systems. If a cruise missile can take out Iraqi tanks,
why not American aircraft carriers? Or air bases? Or cities?
Good grief. Maybe America isn't ready for the next war, after
all-despite its burgeoning arsenal, despite the $250 billion it
spends every year on defense, and despite the fact that no other
industrial nation challenges U.S. status as the world's only superpower.
The thought excites a search for exotic new forms of armaments.
The Navy dreamed up the arsenal ship-a huge barge that carries
five hundred missiles and looks like the Monitor and the Merrimac,
the original ironclad ships that first dueled during the American
Civil War. Its supposed advantage is that vast firepower can be
floated around the world with a crew of only fifty, compared to
fifty-five hundred on an aircraft carrier.
The downside eventually dawned on naval planners: this barge
would be just as vulnerable as the carriers already are. Maybe
it could somehow be made "stealthy" and elude radar,
like the B-2 bomber. Vickers says Europeans are experimenting
with the idea of generating ocean mists to protect ships from
easy detection. If that doesn't work, then the arsenal barge might
have to be submersible-that is, a huge submarine loaded with hundreds
of missiles. This sounds a lot like the preexisting Trident submarine.
The Air Force imagines opportunity in the high-tech threat.
With the use of space sensors, stealth, and other innovations,
it is trying once again to claim a preeminent role for air power
and suggesting, none too subtly, that ground and naval forces
will soon be obsolete. (Military pilots have been making this
argument, unsuccessfully, for approximately seventy years.) On
the other hand, Air Force officers are aghast at the suggestion
that future wars will not require even pilots.
Lockheed Martin circulates an artist's rendering of the fighter
plane of the future-it looks just like the F-I6 the company already
manufactures at its Fort Worth plant. The only differences are
that the sleek, gray plane in the illustration carries twelve
air-to-air missiles under its wings (an F-I6 can carry only four
at most) and there's no pilot, only smooth fuselage where the
cockpit is supposed to be. It's called the UCAV (Uninhabited Combat
Aircraft Vehicle). Other major defense companies are working on
their own conceptions of the same product.
"I'm a technologist, an engineer," says Lockheed's
Dr. Armand J. Chaput as he explains the UCAV's potential. "My
job is not to determine what the government wants but what the
government will need and will want only it doesn't know it yet."
The armed services are developing larger long-distance reconnaissance
planes that fly without pilots, so the logical next step is to
outfit similar unmanned aircraft with missiles or bombs. The UCAVs
will have "pilots," but they sit safely on the ground,
"flying" the aircraft from a computer terminal back
at the air base.
"The concept of war is different now," Chaput explains.
"The kind of war you become involved in now is where the
national image is at stake and not necessarily the national security.
So you want to be present and engaged, but for God's sake, don't
let any American boys and girls get killed. The other constraint
is the budget: how do you do more with less? The concept of UCAV
didn't have anything to do with fighter planes at first. It was
about developing reusable weapons."
"There's a market niche for the UCAV between the Tomahawk
cruise missile and fighter planes," he explains. The cruise
missiles are a very expensive way to deliver explosives to a target-about
$I,500 per pound for the Tomahawk. But the government "is
still going to want to use them, because no pilots will be lost
of captured," Chaput says. "It's kind of the CNN factor."
A UCAV will perform the same role as a cruise missile, but after
it dumps its explosives, it can fly home to be used again.
By Lockheed's calculations, the cost of operations and ground
support could be drastically reduced if the Air Force shifted
battlefield bombing to these riderless drones. While operating
a squadron of fighter planes consumes $50 million, an equivalent
force of UCAVs modeled on the F-I6 would cost only $I0 million.
A smaller version of the UCAV with a flying-wing design would
operate even more cheaply. Not everyone, however, buys the optimistic
"The problem is, they're just wildly expensive, incredibly
expensive," insists William D. O Neil, vice president of
the Center for Naval Analyses and himself a former director of
strategic planning at Lockheed. For one thing, the average UAV
only lasts about ten flights. We've been flying them for years,
and we've got data. When you're flying an airplane, you have lots
of little things go wrong, and without thinking about it, you
adjust and compensate for the problems. But the UAV doesn't do
that. The UAV will just continue according to its program as it
spirals out of control. So they crash at a great rate. They like
to talk about UAVs that will only cost $I million, but tit only
lasts ten flights, that's $I00,000 per flight."
The abstract logic of fighting future wars with revolutionary
new technologies has a pristine, bloodless quality that is attractive.
The trouble is that real war is never so neat and always bloody...
"I go on the talk shows all the time," [John] McCain
says. "You start talking about national defense or foreign
policy, the lines don't light up. Talk about Medicaid, Social
Security, IRS, taxes- bang!-they all want to be heard."
... most Americans don't care. The Cold War is over. There's
no perceived threat, the economy is good. Fewer and fewer Americans
join the military. Politicians naturally gravitate to what interests
their constituents. Because the people don't care, there's all
sorts of political mischief being performed. And we're not making
the transition to the post-Cold War era."
The senator's website shows a pig rolling a barrel of dollars
across the screen-the political pork that gets tucked into annual
defense appropriations bills and that he tries to knock out. (President
Clinton also eliminated some with his line-item veto, which has
now, however, been declared unconstitutional.) Congress each year
commits billions more than the Pentagon has requested, especially
in election years. It refuses to close any more military bases
and protects civilian employees at inefficient arsenals and depots.
It finds the cash for expensive relics from the Cold War while
it shrinks federal programs for people.
Gary Hart, the former Colorado senator ... worries about ...
the threat to American democracy posed by its own large and permanent
military establishment. It's not that Hart fears a Latin America-style
generals' coup. The danger he sees is the widening divide between
Washington governing elites, both political and military, and
Americans at large. When Washington sends troops off to war zones
without a full, frank debate on the objectives and potential costs,
citizens are left ignorant and impotent. Someday, when an intervention
goes awry, this elite decision-making will generate a political
"The of the military from society is unhealthy at best
and dangerous at worst," Hart writes in his book The Minuteman.
He proposes a radical solution: revive the tradition of citizen
soldiers that existed before the Cold War fostered permanent mobilization.
Shrink the regular forces drastically to one-quarter or one-third
of their present size. Then let regulars train and supervise a
well-equipped, well-trained volunteer force in the reserves and
This shift would save many billions, but the larger purpose
is to re-engage the broad American public in questions of national
defense-the why and wherefore of going to war. If something like
this doesn't happen, Hart foresees an explosive collision ahead.
At a Washington forum, he warned the audience of policy thinkers:
"The assumption in this town is that, once the political
and military leaders make a decision to use the military, the
American people will follow with their lives and their check books.
This is an elitist assumption, and I think it is ending."
Hart's critique echoes the political turmoil of the Cold War
years, especially during the ill-fated intervention in Vietnam
when millions of citizens rebelled. Gary Hart was active then
in antiwar politics and managed Senator George McGovern's I972
presidential campaign. Elected to the Senate two years later,
he surprised both friends and adversaries by seeking a seat on
the Armed Services Committee, where he became a respected voice
on reforming military affairs. Now a lawyer for international
business, he, too, is trying to provoke a larger debate.
During the Persian Gulf War, Hart says, American soldiers
were essentially used like modern Hessians-a "mercenary army"
hired to defend the decadent royal families of Kuwait and Saudi
Arabia. The rhetoric was about freedom, but the real issue was
access to cheap oil. The political establishment finds it easier
to deploy military force in behalf of entrenched economic interests,
he observes, than to confront the deeper changes required in energy
consumption and production. Sooner or later, he expects the evasion
to blow up in America's face.
"What happens if we wake up some morning and the Saudi
royal family is overthrown?" Hart asks. "Our energy
policy collapses. We will be in the desert again. And it won't
be for six months."
The situation reminds him of the famous warning from President
Dwight Eisenhower, back in I958, about the military-industrial
complex's encroaching political influence. "This is Eisenhower's
nightmare," Hart asserts. "The military-industrial complex
is dug in to defend economic interests that have nothing to do
with national defense."
The Gulf War provided some supporting evidence for Hart's
"citizen soldier." The Desert Storm force included some
230,00o reserve forces, and their performance, especially in supporting
roles like airlift, was impressive and widely praised. On the
other hand, the call-up of reserves did not provoke the lively
debate on foreign policy objectives that Hart envisions, perhaps
because the enemy was so inept and only I57 Americans died.
"Sooner or later," Hart predicts, "people are
going to ask: Why do we have to have this huge military structure?
Why do we have to spend $250 billion a year for a Bosnia, Haiti,
or Somalia? I don't know anybody in this town who has an answer
for that question. It's only a matter of time before someone gets
and says: "The emperor has no clothes."
Compared to Washington's usual policy wonks, Michael Vlahos
is clearly over the top. When I first met the forty-six-year old
political scientist, he was dressed downtown-black jacket and
slacks, black T-shirt and loafers-the right look for downtown
Manhattan, but not D.C. During the Reagan years, Vlahos flourished
as Cold War policy thinker and got his ticket punched at all the
right places, from the CIA to the State Department. In the I990s,
he collaborated closely with Representative Newt Gingrich on new
ideas before he grasped that Gingrich's revolutionary talk was
Now he is utterly disillusioned with the governing elites
and thus liberated from conventional thinking. These days, Michael
Vlahos turns out intriguing, troubling, visionary essays on the
future of war and why this new age is profoundly threatening for
America, though not for the usual reasons.
"I have to say something that will sound terrible but
may still be true," he begins. "We, the United States,
may become the Darth Vader wearing the black helmet. We've created
an industrial system that works for us and some allies but is
imperial and seems oppressive to many others. We increasingly
will find ourselves in the same position as empires of the past,
the Persians and Romans, Spain under Phillip II, the British in
the late nineteenth century. Any great empire trying to ride herd
on the world in an age of major change is in danger."
The prognosis sounds apocalyptic and a bit elusive in the
details, but Vlahos is trying to provoke a sober reading of history.
Empires fall or are eclipsed, not because they are weak in the
traditional terms, but because they fail to grasp the future-
the new social and political realities spawned by their very own
economic power and invention. In a high-octane essay in the spring
I998 issue of the Washington Quarterly, entitled "The War
After Byte City,'' Vlahos compares the hubris of American leaders
to the arrogant French and British generals who got their comeuppance
in the distant past:
"We are in the midst of an economic upheaval equivalent
to the industrial revolution in its capacity to transform our
lives.... But America's ruling elites have defined a world system
that does not allow for the possibility of Big Change. Like the
French plutocrats of the 1800s, the old Cold War establishment
is pledged to preserve the old paradigm-meaning, centrally, itself....
Shorn of its entitling Cold War, the U.S. ruling establishment
now wishes to extend the noblesse oblige necessary to manage an
unruly world- at all costs. It defines the United States as the
status quo power, its sacred word is stability and its imperative
verb is to manage.
Paranoia was always a vital element in cold war ideology,
and fearful alarms were regularly announced about others in the
world threatening America. If South Vietnam were lost to the Communists,
it was said, their next stop would be San Francisco. If Nicaragua
became a Soviet outpost in our hemisphere, Reagan told us, the
enemy would soon be marching on Texas. It seems bizarre now, even
silly, that citizens of the richest nation on earth could be so
If Americans can get beyond the old insecurities, the end
of the Cold War is a great opportunity to re-imagine the world
in new terms: a world without empires. A renewed system of international
relations is possible now, one that is not controlled by the United
States or anyone else. America could make itself the natural leader
for achieving this historic transition. Or it could remain the
status quo power, standing in the way of the future, surpressing
change and accumulating resentment around the world.
The globalization of commerce and finance-marketing and production
and investing-has created a great new opening for everyone as
well as colossal potential for economic breakdown and nationalist
conflict, even shooting wars. Like it or not, we are now connected
to distant others-as buyers and sellers, as workers and investors.
Are we building a new world of promise and equity or exploitation
and anger? Right now, our awesome power is deployed to defend
the rights of capital and commerce, but not human rights and people
exploited by the global system.
The voluminous policy literature on fighting the next war
scarcely acknowledges the war-and-peace implications of the globalizing
economy. Nor does our government. Washington is putting up bailout
aid of $3 billion for the deeply corrupt regime in Indonesia,
which suppresses labor rights and other human freedoms. America's
leading multinational corporations are building advanced-technology
production for China on the backs of $60a-month factory workers
who are disciplined by Community Party cadres. The financial turmoil
that recently devastated developing economies in Asia and Latin
America looks like a Wall Street conspiracy to the victims in
Malaysia or Thailand.
The point is made by Robert Borosage, director of the Campaign
for America's Future, in the succinct phrase: "No justice,
no peace. War arises from many sources, rational and irrational,
but the weak will naturally find their enemy in the wealthy and
powerful who are running the system... Borosage wrote recently
in the Boston Review:
"In this extraordinary time, our focus should be on building
the structures of peace-the harder, softer tasks of securing minimal
decency, bolstering democracy and the rule of law, strengthening
international peacekeeping and peacemaking institutions, and dealing
with such real world causes of tension as economic upheaval, mass
displacement, environmental catastrophe. resource rivalries, religious
and nationalist passions."
In the turmoil of the Post-Cold war peace, some things have
not really changed. In national security, we have settled for
a bit less of the same. What we really need is to rethink the
Instead of concocting glamorous new weapons systems, Americans
might move to higher ground and dream of a common humanity. Instead
of searching the world for likely enemies, Americans should recognize
that, in this new age, we are all riding in the same boat.
To mention these old Cold War rationales opens up rich questions
about our present sense of purpose. Does America still ') maintain
its burgeoning military apparatus in order to advance human freedoms?
Or to protect the free flows of multinational production and finance?
Are we struggling to democratize the globe or merely to clear
a path for global corporations?
... Raising questions of environmental protection, labor rights,
or social equity-not to mention the democratic principles of free
speech and freedom of assembly-is described as an intrusion on
the trading system, possibly even an impediment to the spread
of prosperity. National sovereignty (including America's) is told
to yield to the efficiencies of globalizing enterprises.
The Pentagon and the CIA maintained close relations with Suharto
even though his government was always a fascist regime, that is,
one that fuses military-business-political power Multinational
enterprises built many factories and banks there and paid the
corrupt tolls (such as including the generals in joint ventures)
for the privilege of access to Indonesia's cheap labor and burgeoning
In an oblique sense, the companies were reimbursed. While
Suharto's cronies imposed irregular costs on doing business, the
government also guaranteed that wages would be held artificially
low, since any attempts to develop free trade unions or political
opposition were smashed. This trade-off was not secret; everyone
understood it. As recently as I995, the United States averted
its gaze while Suharto smashed a promising independent labor movement,
arrested its leaders, and charged them with subversion.
What do Americans want, now that they have won the peace?
To be left alone to enjoy it, many would answer. Certainly, most
Americans do not want to go looking for trouble in the world.
And, of course, many do still yearn for a simpler time in the
past, when their vital young nation felt self-sufficient and believed
it could turn its back on the entangling business of international
politics. Those currents of opinion do exist, for sure, but they
are negative responses to the question.
The startling news-startling because it gets scant recognition
from the press and politicians-is that Americans also express
an overwhelming consensus on some positive outlines for national
security and global relations. These viewpoints are largely ignored
by policy makers and political leaders, perhaps because the public's
vision of the future is wildly at odds with the conventional wisdom
of governing elites.
Here are some propositions that might be called the "People's
Choices" for how to create a new world order, each proposal
followed by the percentage of citizens who endorse it in a recent
The United States should use its position to get other countries
to take action against world environmental problems.
1 here should 6e a general understanding among nations that
any country threatening to use chemical or nuclear weapons must
6e stopped, even if that means the use of military force 6y the
United States and other countries.
The United Nations should play a much bigger peace-keeping
and diplomatic role than it did before the Gulf War.
The countries of the world should act together, not on their
own, to deter and resist aggression.
The United Nations should tax international arms sales with
the money going to famine relief and humanitarian aid.
The United States should use its position to promote democracy
in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world.
The use of force seldom solves problems. The United States
and the United Nations should rely on economic sanctions, diplomatic
pressure, and judicial remedies in handling international threats.
As this suggests, Americans as a whole are not hostile to
the United Nations or other international venues for resolving
conflict and maintaining peace. On the contrary, they greatly
favor that approach to unilateral mobilizations by the United
States. The same opinion survey asked them directly: "Thinking
about the United States and the United Nations, when faced with
future problems involving aggression, who should take the lead?"
Across a series of polls, 80 to 8, percent chose the United Nations.
Only II to I7 percent preferred that the United States take the
Can this be the same American public we read about in the
newspapers? The folks who supposedly despise the United Nations?
Who are bored by foreign affairs, oblivious to global problems,
ready to withdraw from the world? Evidently not.
Or perhaps there are two quite different "publics"
present in American political life-one whose positive reflections
are largely neglected and another whose fears or misgivings are
endlessly massaged and amplified in order to energize political
campaigns and causes. Certainly, the "progressive" public
gets very little representation by political leaders of stature.
The standard political response to such forward-looking opinions
as the ones I have cited is that these expressions are nothing
more than wishful thinking-pious and uninformed sentiments that
float disconnected from the real politics of governing. When asked
about their goals, Americans do tend to opt for happy endings-good
schools and full employment, universal health care, peace and
prosperity. Why not? We are an optimistic, generous people.
But the positive aspirations of the American public do not
count for much in politics, either on domestic matters or in foreign
policy. That is one measure of the decayed condition of American
democracy, one related to the absence of genuine dialogue and
accountability between representatives and the represented. Knowing
how easily poll results can be manipulated, smart politicians
say: "Don't trust what the public believes it wants"
(unless their yearnings can be packaged as rhetorical "issues"
for campaigns). In any case, politicians have learned that they
can safely ignore the public's idealistic goals without fear of
... American military leaders and foreign policy architects
are marching in a different direction from the public's bolder
vision of post-cold War prospects. The lesson learned in Vietnam-that
military interventions cannot be sustained without broad popular
support-has lost much of its cautionary punch in governing circles,
but it remains highly relevant to America's future.
Public opinion can be fickle, we know, and easily manipulated
by propaganda blitzes in the form of clever TV commercials. But
the broad, consistent aspirations expressed by the people should
provide the basis for serious questioning of some of the specific
policies the government is now pursuing in international affairs.
Governing elites believe in their own expertise, but on some matters,
unwashed public opinion is way ahead of the experts.
The government, for instance, actively promotes (and subsidizes)
arms exports by U.S. manufacturers. The public thinks the global
arms trade threatens peace. Indeed, people think all international
arms sales, including U.S. weapons, should be taxed (not by Washington
but by the United Nations). When opinion surveyors pointed out
that taxes would dampen sales and may hurt American workers and
companies, people did not back off.
Americans at large are preoccupied with the environmental
crisis and put it at the very top of their list of global dangers.
The administration did ultimately accept the Kyoto agreement on
global warming, but not without first trying to use its muscle
to water down the terms. And major industrial sectors are intent
on blocking its implementation in Congress by sounding alarms
about the supposedly dreadful economic impact for Americans.
It seems fair to ask: Who is doing the wishful thinking on
this global environmental issue-the governing elites in politics
and business or the untutored public?
In terms of economic self-interest, the American people may
realize the job opportunities in the environmental problem even
though their leaders do not yet recognize them. A study by Miriam
Pemberton and Michael Renner of the National Commission on Economic
Conversion and Disarmament notes that the world market for environmental
technologies is double the global market for all types of military
hardware. U.S. exports of enviro-tech goods already exceed arms
exports, and the disparity is sure to widen.
Yet the U.S. government spends twelve times more on promoting
arms sales abroad than on environmental technologies. Japan, Germany,
and other industrial nations that are not burdened by such an
awesome defense industry are doing the opposite-and stealing the
march on a growth sector that is more promising (and fruitful
for the world) than weaponry.
America goes its own way on other global issues, despite the
public yearning for greater cooperation. The international diplomacy
that produced a new global treaty abolishing antipersonnel landmines
was not led by Washington. The Pentagon objected. The White House
acceded to the military's anxieties. Other nations persisted anyway
(and rejected dilutions and exceptions demanded by the United
States). In the end, the largest military establishment in the
world-ours-stands outside the world consensus, joined by a few
other outlier nations like China.
Likewise, the Clinton administration has blocked a new international
treaty prohibiting the world's military forces from recruiting
children under eighteen as armed troops. Washington also insists
on limiting the powers of the new international criminal court
that other nations seek to create. The ATI surveys found that
Americans overwhelmingly support the creation of international
judicial tribunals that will have the "force of law"
to prevent and punish lawless behavior.
In sum, Washington assumes an influence over events that is
fast eroding. If the present drift of events continues, the American
government will find itself increasingly isolated from the world
opinion it presumes to lead. It will also be alienated from its
own people. This is not a formula for imperial stability.
The weapons industry has lost its glow since Fortress America
was first published, with corporate profits and stock prices declining
sharply. On the other hand, the companies may now be convinced
that their painful lull in defense spending is finally ending.
Both Republicans and Democrats are promising to reverse the post-Cold
War trend and begin appropriating major budget increases for the
Pentagon again, especially for procurement. The public seems to
be slowly awakening to the implications. With luck, we may witness
a genuine argument over national priorities during the presidential
campaign in 2000 but, if so, it must be generated by alarmed citizens
since honest debate and reform isn't likely to emerge from Washington.
The military-industrial complex's collision between desire
and wherewithal has ripened considerably in the last few years-that
is, the gap between available funding and spending commitments
has steadily widened. This was no secret to insiders, of course,
but it took a very public turn in the fall of 1998 when the Joint
Chiefs of Staff reluctantly acknowledged to the Senate armed services
committee that, yes, the internal budget tensions are beginning
to have a deteriorating impact on the fighting readiness of the
forces. Many senators who knew better professed to be shocked.
In the political theater that followed, Senator McCain asked
the service chiefs to enumerate exactly what it would take to
bring the U.S. armed forces up to speed. Their collective answer
was a bountiful wish list, totaling $125 billion. Both parties
expressed a desire to increase the Pentagon's budget in real terms
(especially if the money was improving conditions for servicemen
and women) and began to do so modestly, with an $8 billion add-on
in 1998. In his next budget, President Clinton proposed much more:
cumulative increases that would eventually take the defense budget
to around $310 billion. Republicans naturally topped that and
embraced a goal of defense spending around $350 billion.
The prospect is breathtaking-the nation expanding its military
budget by nearly one third in the midst of general peace. Fortunately,
that prospect is also quite fictional, though the election-season
rhetoric makes it especially difficult to know what the real intentions
are. The more expansive numbers are impossible to achieve, in
any case. First, there are the competing priorities under the
rigorous budget ceilings imposed since 1997. Even with supposed
surpluses ahead for the federal government, Congress cannot break
the spending caps on defense without taking the money from somewhere
As this reality unfolds during the next few years, the contest
may finally form around questions of priority: Shall we fund Medicare
and Medicaid or build more attack submarines? Do we need those
aircraft carriers more than we need new schools or more teachers?
That at least is the hopeful possibility. A new organization-Business
Leaders for Sensible Priorities-has been launched by progressive
executives and former military leaders to sharpen the debate in
exactly this way. Led by Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's
Ice Cream, the group intends to conduct a broad campaign of public
education, along with many pointed questions directed at the candidates.
The goal of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities is modest
and rational. Based on budget analysis by respected military experts,
the group argues that, instead of increases, the defense budget
should be reduced by $40 billion a year and the money shifted
to domestic needs. This can be accomplished without injury to
national security, as many military authorities know and have
written themselves. The question really is: how long will the
political nostalgia for the Cold War allow the military to ride
along free-without serious reform-while expending tens of billions
on yesterday's defense system? The day of reckoning seems closer...
The ideal remedy, is ... a genuine, robust re-examination
of national defense in this new world without a major enemy, a
hard-nosed scrutiny of the perpetual technical additions to existing
weaponry, a smart but sympathetic restructuring of the uniformed
forces themselves. If we cannot have such a patient and rational
discussion, then let us hope for the next best thing: that the
American people will eventually, finally, get angry-angry about
the wasted billions and misplaced national priorities-and take
their anger out on the elected politicians who neglect these great
questions. If such vengeance is someday visited on the politicians
and the military and the weapons makers, they will have earned
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