By Frida Berrigan
Sunday 20 May 2007
They don't call us the sole superpower for nothing. Paul Wolfowitz might be looking for a new job right now, but the term he used to describe the pervasiveness of U.S. might back when he was a mere deputy secretary of defense - hyperpower - still fits the bill.
Face it, the
First in Oil Consumption:
First in Carbon Dioxide Emissions:
Each year, world polluters pump 24,126,416,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the environment. The United States and its territories are responsible for 5.8 billion metric tons of this, more than
First in External Debt:
First in Military Expenditures:
The White House has requested $481 billion for the Department of Defense for 2008, but this huge figure does not come close to representing total
Taking another approach to the use of U.S. resources, Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard Business School lecturer Linda Bilmes added to known costs of the war in Iraq invisible costs like its impact on global oil prices as well as the long-term cost of health care for wounded veterans and came up with a price tag of between 1 trillion and $2.2 trillion.
If we turned what the United States will spend on the military in 2008 into small bills, we could give each one of the world's more than 1 billion teenagers and young adults an Xbox 360 with wireless controller (power supply in remote rural areas not included) and two video games to play: maybe Gears of War and Command and Conquerwould be appropriate. But if we're committed to fighting obesity, maybe Dance Dance Revolution would be a better bet. The
First in Weapons Sales:
In this gold-medal tally of firsts, there can be no question that things that go bang in the night are our proudest products. No one makes more of them or sells them more effectively than we do. When it comes to the sorts of firsts that once went with a classic civilian manufacturing base, however, gold medals are in short supply. To take an example:
Not First in Automobiles:
Once, Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford ruled the domestic and global roost, setting the standard for the automotive industry. Not any more. In 2006, the
Not Even First in Bulk Goods:
The Department of Commerce recently announced total March exports of $126.2 billion and total imports of $190.1 billion, resulting in a goods and services deficit of $63.9 billion. This is a $6 billion increase over February.
But why be gloomy? Stick with arms sales and it's dawn in
Arms are our real gold-medal event.
First in Sales of Surface-to-Air Missiles:
Between 2001 and 2005, the
First in Sales of Military Ships:
During that same period, the
First in Military Training:
A thoughtful empire knows that it is not enough to send weapons; you have to teach people how to use them. The Pentagon plans on training the militaries of 138 nations in 2008 at a cost of nearly $90 million. No other nation comes close.
First in Private Military Personnel:
According to bestselling author Jeremy Scahill, there are at least 126,000 private military personnel deployed alongside uniformed military personnel in
Rest assured, governments around the world, often at each others' throats, will want
Just a few days ago, for instance, the "trade" publication Defense News reported that
In order to remain number one in the competitive jet field, Lockheed Martin, for example, does far more than just sell airplanes. TAI -
$10.7 billion on fighter planes for a country that ranks 94th on the United Nations' Human Development Index, below Lebanon, Colombia, and Grenada, and far below all the European nations that Ankara is courting as it seeks to join the European Union - now that's a real American sales job for you!
Here's the strange thing, though: This genuine, gold-medal manufacturing-and-sales job on weapons simply never gets the attention it deserves. As a result, most Americans have no idea how proud they should be of our weapons manufacturers and the Pentagon - essentially our global sales force - that makes sure our weapons travel the planet and regularly demonstrates their value in small wars from Latin America to
Of course, there's tons of data on the weapons trade, but who knows about any of it? I'm typical here. I help produce one of a dozen or so sober annual (or semi-annual) reports quantifying the business of war-making. In my case: the
Dense collections of facts, percentages, and comparisons don't seem to fit particularly well into the usual patchwork of front-page stories. And yet the mainstream press is a glory ride, compared to the TV News, which hardly acknowledges most of the time that the weapons business even exists.
In any case, that inside-the-fold, fact-heavy, wonky news story on the arms trade, however useful, can't possibly convey the gold-medal feel of a business that has always preferred the shadows to the sun. No reader checking out such a piece is going to feel much - except maybe overwhelmed by facts. The connection between the factory that makes a weapons system and the community where that weapon "does its duty" is invariably missing-in-action, as are the relationships among the companies making the weapons and the generals (on-duty and retired) and politicians making the deals, or raking in their own cut of the profits for themselves and/or their constituencies. In other words, our most successful (and most deadly) export remains our most invisible one.
Maybe the only way to break through this paralysis of analysis would be to stop talking about weapons exports as a trade at all. Maybe we shouldn't be using economic language to describe it. Yes, the weapons industry has associations, lobby groups, and trade shows. They have the same tri-fold exhibits, scale models, and picked-over buffets as any other industry; still, maybe we have to stop thinking about the export of fighter planes and precision-guided missiles as if they were so many widgets and start thinking about them in another language entirely - the language of drugs.
After all, what does a drug dealer do? He creates a need and then fills it. He encourages an appetite or (even more lucratively) an addiction and then feeds it.
Arms dealers do the same thing. They suggest to foreign officials that their military just might need a slight upgrade. After all, they'll point out, haven't you noticed that your neighbor just upgraded in jets, submarines, and tanks? And didn't you guys fight a war a few years back? Doesn't that make you feel insecure? And why feel insecure for another moment when, for just a few billion bucks, we'll get you suited up with the latest model military… even better than what we sold them - or you the last time around.
We don't need stronger arms control laws, we need a global sobriety coach - and some kind of 12-step program for the dealer-nation as well.
Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center