The Insanity Defense
Need a definition for Washington? Try institutional
Multinational Monitor, January/February 1999
Consider this: The United States, the world's only remaining
military superpower, is about to embark on a military buildup
unmatched since the peak of the Reagan-era Cold War.
President Clinton has proposed a boost in the defense budget
of $ 112 billion over six years-on top of the already monstrous
$265 billion of federal money spent annually on the military.
The weapons procurement budget alone is scheduled to grow 50 percent
in the next half decade. And Congressional Republicans, frothing
at the mouth, are insisting on an even greater jump in military
What's happened, you might ask: Was there a coup in Russia?
Has the Cold War resumed?
Uh, no. It is not the Empire that's struck again, it's the
During the Clinton presidency, the U.S. defense industry -with
encouragement and subsidies from the Pentagon- has undergone an
ear-splitting consolidation that has left but three major contractors:
Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon. Today's Lockheed Martin
is the product of the merger of Lockheed, Martin Marietta, Loral
and parts of General Dynamics. Boeing leaped to the top tier of
the contractor pack with its acquisition of McDonnell Douglas.
Raytheon gobbled up Hughes.
With manufacturing facilities spread across the United States,
these three companies now have enormous political influence-they
can promise that new military contracts will mean jobs in the
districts of hundreds of members of Congress, and in nearly every
state. They supplement this structural power with huge campaign
contributions-more than $8.5 million in the 1997-1998 electoral
cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics-and even
bigger lobbying investments-nearly $50 million in 1997 alone,
according to the Center. To complete the package, the industry
invests in a variety of hawkish policy institutes and front groups,
all of which churn reports, issue alerts, fact-sheets, congressional
testimony and op-eds on the critical need for more, and more,
and more defense spending.
Combined with the powerful lobby from the Pentagon and its
Chicken-Little worries about shortcomings in U.S. military "readiness"
and the ability of the United States to fight two major wars simultaneously,
the defense contractors have successfully positioned themselves
to reap the benefits of a new explosion in military spending.
As William Hartung of the World Policy Institute notes in
a recent report, "Military Industrial Complex Revisited,"
nothing indicates the power of the contractor lobby more than
its ability to extract more money from Congress for weapons purchases
than the Pentagon itself has requested.
Hartung highlights the example of the C-130 transport plane,
which is made by Lockheed Martin just outside of the congressional
district of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. In the
last 20 years, the U.S. Air Force has asked for five C-130s, but
Congress has funded 256. "This ratio of 50 planes purchased
for every one requested by the Pentagon may well be a record in
the annals of pork barrel politics," Hartung writes. The
C-130s go for about $75 million a piece.
Even more remarkable, perhaps, is the "Star Wars"
program. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the program's
original mission no longer exists. Although the Pentagon has poured
$55 billion into the program in a decade and a half, as Hartung
notes, it has been a miserable failure in technical terms. Undeterred,
the Congressional leadership added an extra $1 billion in Star
Wars funding in the 1999 federal budget. Chalk up another victory
for Lockheed and Boeing.
But nothing compares to the bonanza that the defense sector
is about to reap. Without even the bogeyman of a perceived Soviet
threat and in a time of rigid adherence to budget austerity, the
weapons makers and their allies are about to usher in a new era
of military profligacy and industrial waste.
With the U.S. infrastructure crumbling, its Medicare system
imperiled, child poverty at unconscionable levels in a time of
unparalleled economic expansion and global warming threatening
the well-being of the entire planet, a remotely sensible version
of "national security" would prioritize these concerns
over maintaining the military budget at current levels, let alone
Unfortunately, the lobbies for public works, the sick and
aged, the poor and the environment cannot match the influence
of the weapons makers. Their urgings that the federal government
invest to address real problems that trouble the entire society,
or at least large segments of it, are dismissed as "unreasonable."
In Washington, where things are upside down, it is the madmen
in the Pentagon and at Lockheed Martin who are considered reasonable.