All Guns, No Butter: Military Contractors as Welfare Queens

Yves here. While this article unfortunately falls for the “OMG, deficits/debt!” trope, the sorry fact is that until more people understand that real resources, and not arbitrary budget figures, are what constrain Federal spending, cancerous military spending will eat into every other use of Federal revenues. Moreover, as I am sure many readers recognize, the official budget is only a portion of our total military expenditures. There are various black budget items. And despite the formalities of having a budget, the reality is the Pentagon is not constrained in its spending. As one Beltway wag put it, “No one ever went to Congress to get another billion dollars for another bombing run in Iraq.”

By William D. Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Originally published at TomDispatch

Imagine for a moment a scheme in which American taxpayers were taken to the cleaners to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and there was barely a hint of criticism or outrage.  Imagine as well that the White House and a majority of the politicians in Washington, no matter the party, acquiesced in the arrangement.  In fact, the annual quest to boost Pentagon spending into the stratosphere regularly follows that very scenario, assisted by predictions of imminent doom from industry-funded hawks with a vested interest in increased military outlays.

Most Americans are probably aware that the Pentagon spends a lot of money, but it’s unlikely they grasp just how huge those sums really are.  All too often, astonishingly lavish military budgets are treated as if they were part of the natural order, like death or taxes.

The figures contained in the recent budget deal that kept Congress open, as well as in President Trump’s budget proposal for 2019, are a case in point: $700 billion for the Pentagon and related programs in 2018 and $716 billion the following year.  Remarkably, such numbers far exceeded even the Pentagon’s own expansive expectations.  According to Donald Trump, admittedly not the most reliable source in all cases, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reportedly said, “Wow, I can’t believe we got everything we wanted” — a rare admission from the head of an organization whose only response to virtually any budget proposal is to ask for more.

The public reaction to such staggering Pentagon budget hikes was muted, to put it mildly. Unlike last year’s tax giveaway to the rich, throwing near-record amounts of tax dollars at the Department of Defense generated no visible public outrage.  Yet those tax cuts and Pentagon increases are closely related.  The Trump administration’s pairing of the two mimics the failed approach of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s — only more so.  It’s a phenomenon I’ve termed “Reaganomics on steroids.”  Reagan’s approach yielded oceans of red ink and a severe weakening of the social safety net.  It also provoked such a strong pushback that he later backtracked by raising taxes and set the stage for sharp reductions in nuclear weapons. 

Donald Trump’s retrograde policies on immigration, women’s rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, and economic inequality have spawned an impressive and growing resistance.  It remains to be seen whether his generous treatment of the Pentagon at the expense of basic human needs will spur a similar backlash.

Of course, it’s hard to even get a bead on what’s being lavished on the Pentagon when much of the media coverage failed to drive home just how enormous these sums actually are. A rare exception was an Associated Press story headlined “Congress, Trump Give the Pentagon a Budget the Likes of Which It Has Never Seen.” This was certainly far closer to the truth than claims like that of Mackenzie Eaglen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which over the years has housed such uber-hawks as Dick Cheney and John Bolton.  She described the new budget as a “modest year-on-year increase.” If that’s the case, one shudders to think what an immodest increase might look like.

The Pentagon Wins Big

So let’s look at the money. 

Though the Pentagon’s budget was already through the roof, it will get an extra $165 billion over the next two years, thanks to the congressional budget deal reached earlier this month.  To put that figure in context, it was tens of billions of dollars more than Donald Trump had asked for last spring to  “rebuild” the U.S. military (as he put it).  It even exceeded the figures, already higher than Trump’s, Congress had agreed to last December.  It brings total spending on the Pentagon and related programs for nuclear weapons to levels higher than those reached during the Korean and Vietnam wars in the 1950s and 1960s, or even at the height of Ronald Reagan’s vaunted military buildup of the 1980s. Only in two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when there were roughly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or about seven times current levels of personnel deployed there, was spending higher.

Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy put the new Pentagon budget numbers in perspective when he pointed out that just the approximately $80 billion annual increase in the department’s top line between 2017 and 2019 will be double the current budget of the State Department; higher than the gross domestic products of more than 100 countries; and larger than the entire military budget of any country in the world, except China’s.

Democrats signed on to that congressional budget as part of a deal to blunt some of the most egregious Trump administration cuts proposed last spring.  The administration, for example, kept the State Department’s budget from being radically slashed and it reauthorized the imperiled Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for another 10 years.  In the process, however, the Democrats also threw millions of young immigrants under the bus by dropping an insistence that any new budget protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “Dreamers,” program.  Meanwhile, the majority of Republican fiscal conservatives were thrilled to sign off on a Pentagon increase that, combined with the Trump tax cut for the rich, funds ballooning deficits as far as the eye can see — a total of $7.7 trillion worth of them over the next decade.

While domestic spending fared better in the recent congressional budget deal than it would have if Trump’s draconian plan for 2018 had been enacted, it still lags far behind what Congress is investing in the Pentagon.  And calculations by the National Priorities Project indicate that the Department of Defense is slated to be an even bigger winner in Trump’s 2019 budget blueprint. Its share of the discretionary budget, which includes virtually everything the government does other than programs like Medicare and Social Security, will mushroom to a once-unimaginable 61 cents on the dollar, a hefty boost from the already startling 54 cents on the dollar in the final year of the Obama administration.

The skewed priorities in Trump’s latest budget proposal are fueled in part by the administration’s decision to embrace the Pentagon increases Congress agreed to last month, while tossing that body’s latest decisions on non-military spending out the window.  Although Congress is likely to rein in the administration’s most extreme proposals, the figures are stark indeed — a proposed cut of $120 billion in the domestic spending levels both parties agreed to. The biggest reductions include a 41% cut in funding for diplomacy and foreign aid; a 36% cut in funding for energy and the environment; and a 35% cut in housing and community development.  And that’s just the beginning.  The Trump administration is also preparing to launch full-scale assaults on food stamps, Medicaid, and Medicare.  It’s war on everything except the U.S. military. 

Corporate Welfare

The recent budget plans have brought joy to the hearts of one group of needy Americans: the top executives of major weapons contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. They expect a bonanza from the skyrocketing Pentagon expenditures. Don’t be surprised if the CEOs of these five firms give themselves nice salary boosts, something to truly justify their work, rather than the paltry $96 million they drew as a group in 2016 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available).  

And keep in mind that, like all other U.S.-based corporations, those military-industrial behemoths will benefit richly from the Trump administration’s slashing of the corporate tax rate.  According to one respected industry analyst, a good portion of this windfall will go towards bonuses and increased dividends for company shareholders rather than investments in new and better ways to defend the United States.  In short, in the Trump era, Lockheed Martin and its cohorts are guaranteed to make money coming and going.

Items that snagged billions in new funding in Trump’s proposed 2019 budget included Lockheed Martin’s overpriced, underperforming F-35 aircraft, at $10.6 billion; Boeing’s F-18 “Super Hornet,” which was in the process of being phased out by the Obama administration but is now written in for $2.4 billion; Northrop Grumman’s B-21 nuclear bomber at $2.3 billion; General Dynamics’ Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine at $3.9 billion; and $12 billion for an array of missile-defense programs that will redound to the benefit of… you guessed it: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing, among other companies.  These are just a few of the dozens of weapons programs that will be feeding the bottom lines of such companies in the next two years and beyond.  For programs still in their early stages, like that new bomber and the new ballistic missile submarine, their banner budgetary years are yet to come.

In explaining the flood of funding that enables a company like Lockheed Martin to reap $35 billion per year in government dollars, defense analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group noted that “diplomacy is out; air strikes are in… In this sort of environment, it’s tough to keep a lid on costs. If demand goes up, prices don’t generally come down. And, of course, it’s virtually impossible to kill stuff. You don’t have to make any kind of tough choices when there’s such a rising tide.” 

Pentagon Pork Versus Human Security

Loren Thompson is a consultant to many of those weapons contractors.  His think tank, the Lexington Institute, also gets contributions from the arms industry.  He caught the spirit of the moment when he praised the administration’s puffed-up Pentagon proposal for using the Defense Department budget as a jobs creator in key states, including the crucial swing state of Ohio, which helped propel Donald Trump to victory in 2016.  Thompson was particularly pleased with a plan to ramp up General Dynamics’s production of M-1 tanks in Lima, Ohio, in a factory whose production line the Army had tried to put on hold just a few years ago because it was already drowning in tanks and had no conceivable use for more of them. 

Thompson argues that the new tanks are needed to keep up with Russia’s production of armored vehicles, a dubious assertion with a decidedly Cold War flavor to it.  His claim is backed up, of course, by the administration’s new National Security Strategy, which targets Russia and China as the most formidable threats to the United States.  Never mind that the likely challenges posed by these two powers — cyberattacks in the Russian case and economic expansion in the Chinese one — have nothing to do with how many tanks the U.S. Army possesses.

Trump wants to create jobs, jobs, jobs he can point to, and pumping up the military-industrial complex must seem like the path of least resistance to that end in present-day Washington.  Under the circumstances, what does it matter that virtually any other form of spending would create more jobs and not saddle Americans with weaponry we don’t need?

If past performance offers any indication, none of the new money slated to pour into the Pentagon will make anyone safer.  As Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has noted, there is a danger that the Pentagon will just get “fatter not stronger” as its worst spending habits are reinforced by a new gusher of dollars that relieves its planners of making any reasonably hard choices at all.

The list of wasteful expenditures is already staggeringly long and early projections are that bureaucratic waste at the Pentagon will amount to $125 billion over the next five years.  Among other things, the Defense Department already employs a shadow work force of more than 600,000 private contractors whose responsibilities overlap significantly with work already being done by government employees.  Meanwhile, sloppy buying practices regularly result in stories like the recent ones on the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency losing track of how it spent $800 million and how two American commands were unable to account for $500 million meant for the war on drugs in the Greater Middle East and Africa.

Add to this the $1.5 trillion slated to be spent on F-35s that the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight has noted may never be ready for combat and the unnecessary “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, including a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and missiles at a minimum cost of $1.2 trillion over the next three decades.  In other words, a large part of the Pentagon’s new funding will do much to fuel good times in the military-industrial complex but little to help the troops or defend the country.

Most important of all, this flood of new funding, which could crush a generation of Americans under a mountain of debt, will make it easier to sustain the seemingly endless seven wars that the United States is fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.  So call this one of the worst investments in history, ensuring as it does failed wars to the horizon. 

It would be a welcome change in twenty-first-century America if the reckless decision to throw yet more unbelievable sums of money at a Pentagon already vastly overfunded sparked a serious discussion about America’s hyper-militarized foreign policy.  A national debate about such matters in the run-up to the 2018 and 2020 elections could determine whether it continues to be business-as-usual at the Pentagon or whether the largest agency in the federal government is finally reined in and relegated to an appropriately defensive posture.

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  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves. This post is timely.

    I have noticed regular adverts by US defence contractors in the British media and London underground since last summer. They emphasise the involvement of UK sub-contractors and employees, e.g. the British test pilot for the Chinook.

    A couple of days ago, one of the French TV news bulletins featured how run-down the French military is, ageing and overused equipment, cannibalisation of parts and lack of spare capacity. Marianne’s adventures in Africa and Asia, in support of and being supported by Uncle Sam, are two of the causes.

    The UK is in a worse position, which is quite funny, or sad, when John Bull baits the Russian Bear on behalf of Uncle Sam. Most of the British public have no idea how hollowed out the UK military is, a process that began with chicken hawk Thatcher, who preferred to help her dad (quite a character, #me too) run a Grantham corner shop rather than join the armed forces as an auxiliary like the Queen or be a “land girl”, and John “here today, gone tomorrow” Nott. The fall in the value of Sterling is making the toys (we don’t need and to be paid for with money we don’t have) even more expensive. Perhaps, one of the silver linings of Brexit is to put an end to imperial pretension and lead to the scrapping of the nuclear arsenal the UK fronts for the US.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think there is an ongoing strong push by the industry to ramp up spending in Europe, the Russiophobia stuff is just part of it. Here in Ireland (supposedly neutral and non-aligned) there is a very low key push to ‘align’ Irelands military with NATO, which means pressure to buy NATO approved equipment instead of the much cheaper functional equipment that actually meets the limited military needs of a small island.

      The European arms industry is as bad, if not worse, than the US one for corruption and incompetence. Pressure to maintain domestic industries has led to most militaries spending most of their money on maintaining notional independent technology rather than on what soldiers actually need. Many of the weapons have been found to be useless in actual combat – even the German Leopard Tank has been an embarrassment when its been used by the Turks in northern Syria (its fallen victim to even the crudest Russian made missiles). The Turks are now looking at South Korean designs instead. The only thing keeping the European industry going is sales to the Middle East, so if that dies off they are desperate to provoke a demand for more spending in Europe.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, PK.

        Swedish and South African weaponry have often bested their American counterparts, e.g. Sweden’s fighter and SA’s Rooivalk attack helicopter. Russian tanks and France’s Leclerc have performed better than the American and British camels by committee.

    2. tempestteacup

      Since you bring up the Thatchers – and who can forget Maggie of the Malvinas proudly stationed above the turret of a Challenger battle tank, headscarf fluttering as she basked in the glow of a quick, easy victory that was about to provide a sudden sugar rush to the electorate to go with the giddy pleasure of sticking it to Johnny Foreigner just before a General Election she will as a consequence win by a landslide – since, as I say, you raise the spectre of a Prime Minister known to have handed out copies of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom as the guide to the new era she would usher in, let’s not forget her son Mark. Let’s not forget his matchless skill at fashioning a shabby modern incarnation of the pukka sahib, one of Britain’s least lamented social artefacts. And Mark, of course, added the even more niche charms of the modern-day arms dealer who specialised in deals with (who else?) Saudi Arabia.

      And to top all that, he turned up red-faced and red-handed attempting to mount a coup in Equatorial Guinea with a gaggle of like-minded toffs, soldiers of fortune and whatever other dregs get drawn towards such schemes. It say much that Mark Thatcher is a man who makes Prince Andrew look like an ideal dinner partner rather than a bizarre reactionary throwback to a vanished time. As not just a noble but a royal, Andrew is kept busier than might otherwise be the case – he’s a trade envoy, I think, with a special interest in Central Asian autocracies. He sometimes appears on tv advancing the specialist view that the iron rule of this or that individual (a personal friend and spiffing fella) is merely the expression of his love for the people. That or sailing into view on the periphery of some scandal to do with what constitutes “hospitality” when Britain sends out its best-born to glad-hand whichever sheikh or emir is in town in need of the newest tricks to pimp out his arsenal.

      But enough about the flowers of the British upper classes – although they are also living proof that nobody does care in the community or occupational therapy for its congenital imbeciles like the British toff.

      You’re right the armed forces have been left to decline by both parties (notwithstanding enduring Tory love for invoking the hoariest Queen and Country platitudes) – all of it besides its monstrously expensive aircraft carrier and, of course, Trident’s replacement.

      I could be wrong, but I’ve always imagined that France had the better-resourced military by some distance – perhaps a legacy of de Gaulle’s postwar reconstruction. And of course they have an independent nuclear deterrent rather than one that comes like a wireless router with the codes written on the back in the handwriting of someone at the Pentagon. France, too, intervenes assertively in its former colonies. Which reminds me of the whispers from Libya that when Gaddafi was busy being forced to fulfil the third part of Hillary Clinton’s demonic boast by getting offed at the hands of a frenzied mob, looking on passively was none other than a member of French intelligence! In Germany, meanwhile, increasing military spending has become an issue that, unfortunately, seems to unite (I think) every party in the Bundestag – even the Greens who are under leadership set on turning them sharply to the right. If you read some of the statements from German politicians in the Bundestag, they can barely contain their eagerness to acquire the sort of military they believe their economic status and influence deserves. And as you say, it all comes with lashings of Russophobia just in case the hoi polloi aren’t as thrilled as politicians themselves at the prospect of finally being allowed to direct stern speeches at whoever is the next recalcitrant enemy, or stay up past bed-time in order to vote on where they get to release the Kraken on next. Politicians are also given plenty of cover elsewhere in newspapers and among a clique of prominent, feted historians who specialise in revisionist retelling of WWII like rehashing the old myth of the innocent Wehrmacht and other organs of state, as opposed to the SS which was responsible for every war crime. They also pen columns blaming Merkel for destroying German identity by inviting Syrian refugees. German militarism is indisputably on the rise.

      One wonders where the UK will fit into all of this if it really – which I can scarcely believe – pursues May’s Brexit to its logical end. On another page you were talking about Corbyn’s speech, and I can only say that while I agree it didn’t represent a great advance on Tory head-in-the-sandism, I’d hope that it was more than anything a signal that a) Labour’s position is evolving in a certain direction and b) under his leadership, they’d approach the negotiations in a complete different spirit, one which was open about the political demands produced by the referendum but also eager to solve the challenges in a spirit of collaboration, not competition (or, qua May, recrimination). Also, of course, the Brexit-supporting Labour MPs are negligible compared to Rees-Mogg and co. so he wouldn’t be held hostage in the same way – and, of course, not by the DUP with their own irreconcilable demands either. Labour could, for example, pledge some sort of structured guarantee of remaining aligned with the EU’s regulations beyond any transition period on the understanding that at a later date they could regain membership (albeit, of course, without the perks they threw away by leaving) – I’d hope that while the EU understandably has a responsibility now to its 27, in general it would acknowledge that it would benefit from UK membership. It’d be a fudge, but at least one that minimises damage and extends the possibility of reversing the whole thing in the future – and it is almost the opposite of the Tories, who are clamouring for “managed divergence” which would take the UK progressively further away from the EU and therefore the prospect of rejoining. Also, as far as I’m aware, Corbyn/Labour aren’t obsessed with the ECJ as the source of all evils and therefore you could remove that red line along with whatever the DUP is currently forcing May to demand. I doubt, too, that Corbyn or Labour would prevaricate on settling the issue of citizenship, which May belligerently dangled as some sort of threat early in the process just to ensure the atmosphere of hostility and mistrust was embedded from the inception. ECJ+No DUP+Cash for market access+Future membership+No regulatory divergence would surely be enough for the EU to at least consider in a different light to the dim one currently making May’s approach look even more grim than she herself did on election night in Maidstone. I also seem to recall several articles in the last 2 years telling how Corbyn or those in his cabinet (especially McDonnell and Starmer) have paid visits to Brussels and to the HQs of their sister parties around Europe. Maybe I’m being naive myself here, but it seems to me that if the entire Brexit issue was treated as a collective problem that needs solving on a collective basis, that the referendum created a political problem that can’t just be ignored but that Labour wants to handle it in a way that works best for both sides, that Labour in government exerted itself to brief positively to the media rather than turning to anti-EU rhetoric like some sort of demented psychological crutch, if all that happened, I’d hope that Labour could negotiate a very different outcome with the EU. Let’s not forget, as Yves pointed out, May’s own red lines currently ensure there is only one possible outcome that isn’t marked No Deal. Labour hasn’t bound itself to any such terms; would the EU be similarly unwilling to engage in finding solutions together? Maybe they would – but, as I say, I hope they wouldn’t. And even so, there’s no doubt that Labour would manage any Brexit fallout in ways that would seek to limit damage to the majority where the Tories would work first to insulate their own ruling class allies at the expense of everyone else as they always do.

      1. Clive

        A lot of interesting points there, but I’ll centre on the potential for Brexit compromises. With the Draft Agreement, the EU has signalled unequivocally that they will only approve a No Fudge Brexit. I can’t really blame them. Once they start handing out the fudge, it’ll be incredibly hard to wean others off of a fudge-based diet. Eurofudge is of course ladled out in big dollops in intra-member-state EU operations. That is at least internally logically consistent. And a pragmatic necessity to keep the EU show on the road.

        But U.K. as a third country flavoured fudge isn’t the same thing at all. That’s where the British government is making a miscalculation.

  2. cnchal

    . . . “diplomacy is out; air strikes are in… In this sort of environment, it’s tough to keep a lid on costs. If demand goes up, prices don’t generally come down. And, of course, it’s virtually impossible to kill stuff. . .

    The military mind suffers brain damage. The peasants suffer. Call it Keynesian spending, turning houses into holes around the globe.

  3. oaf

    “plowshares into swords”…its in the Military-Industrial version???
    Perhaps, that we might have Jobs, while practicing population control elsewhere…
    After all: markets.

  4. Felix_47

    Look at “By day a sunny smile” in the New York Times over the struggle to survive working at Disneyland. That applies to almost all private sector jobs in coastal California. The military and military contractors (who hire ex military b/c of the security clearance) are just about the only jobs average lower and middle class American kids have available. An enlisted soldier with a HS degree can have a family and kids and a decent standard of living. When he gets out he/she can get a contractor job or a police or fire job with a pension and decent pay. That same person is not going to survive in the private sector. Half of the population has an IQ less than 100. The US offers no pathway to a decent life for them other than the military. To get into the fire department or police or other government job a military preference is almost mandatory in places like California where everyone wants a government job. It is an inefficient jobs program but it is all we have. That is a leadership problem that cuts across both parties. Did Bernie Sanders talk about cutting defense? Certainly the democrats and republicans don’t want to cut defense.

    1. Dirk77

      As Yves has pointed out many times, Wall Street and the Military Surveillance Complex run DC, so it’s impossible to go against both simultaneously. And Bernie is wise enough to understand that. OTOH, grovelling to the MSC like the Democratic leadership does is another story.

      I think it is important to remember that if they could for monetary reasons, the last decent person left the US military long ago. I remember talking with a newly retired Air Firce colonel in 2006. He couldn’t believe Bush had been re-elected. Imagine what he thinks now. Just by the numbers, the world’s largest terrorist organization. Yet you go to sporting events, they trot out some serviceman as a hero, and people cheer. How did it come to this?

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you.

        It’s the same in the United Kingdom.

        My father and godfather retired from the Royal Air Force after 25 years in 1991, both as wing commanders, the equivalent of lieutenant colonel. Their younger comrades drifted off a decade or so later. They can’t believe what has happened, either.

        My dad began his service alongside veterans of WW2. He thinks that generation of military and later political leaders were far more impressive than the rabble in charge now. The likes of Clement Attlee, Harold MacMillan, James Callaghan, Denis Healey and Tony Benn had served in war and did not need to play chicken hawk.

      2. John Wright

        For an American football example see

        This has:

        “Or, to take a recent example, when the NFL arranges the heartwarming reunion of a soldier and his cheerleader wife. Nobody watching from the stands is likely to know that the former is a member of the obscenely wealthy Anheuser-Busch family, and the latter is a member of a well-connected political family.”

        Perhaps, unsurprisingly, this was covered in a UK newspaper, not a USA one.

      3. sierra7

        Our leadership has planned well with the MIC; all 50 states have some sort of economic dependency on military spending. One solution which is so out in the outer universe of thinking (except it did work lots in WW2) is to proclaim ALL military spending/production/procurement on a non profit basis. If the US finds itself in such dire threatening state(s) then all the MIC production corporations must produce all military equipment on that non-profit basis. Then we might see some better rationalization for the wars we seem to conjure out of nowhere that lead to nowhere. And like the article says the up front budget is just the outer part of the iceberg. There is the “black budget” and all the other deep rooted intelligence agencies buried in the basement of the Pentagon that need continuous feeding.

  5. Pespi

    Military spending is mildly good for a few young Americans in the forgotten part of the country where jobs are scarce. The GI bill lets them avoid crippling debt that so many are saddled with. If they stay in, they get healthcare and pensions that never get stolen by private equity Randian Supermen.
    Pretty good so far

    It also benefits small machine shops around the country making specific components for big weapons systems.
    Not too bad, if you ignore the uses of these items.

    But most of the money goes to inflated beyond laughter and into strict fraud R&D and production that costs much more than anyone could ever guess were they looking at the same production not for the US military.

    We used to say “gold plated weapons” but that’s old hat, the services they’re selling along with the physical materiel are Lutetium coated. Lutetium costs 10,000 dollars an ounce and you could technically coat stuff wtih it.

    All the big defense contractors, as they become fewer and fewer, become easy targets for nationalization. Why should there be immense profit in keeping the country safe from the myriad of threats we’re constantly told are inches away from slaughtering the innocents, all of the innocents, everywhere. Every manager would have to be replaced and reeducation camps would be necessary, to remove the “add cost, and where possible, add early failure so that cost can be added” mindset.

    Another good idea would be to get rid of contractors and bring outsourced services back into the fold of the DoD. Bring back the draft, to create a sense of national unity and brotherhood, and to prevent random imperial wars. Socom is already being used as an off the books global force, and that needs to stop. No “only reports to the president” bullshit. Either the army is a body of citizens protecting the state against those who would attack it, or it’s an agglomeration of jobs program, political pork, subsidized R&D to be given away to connected insiders when they start private companies, and mass destruction of random countries in areas of geopolitical significance.

    1. jackiebass

      It’s not good for those that are killed of wounded. Also those that suffer from PSTD. How about those that take their live. This is a pretty good percentage of this that enter the military.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Its an interesting point you make about the need for privatization. Once upon a time there was a wide range of major military contractors so at least there was genuine competition on quality and price for every major contract. But endless mergers and the loss of smaller companies means that there is a near monopoly situation when it comes to the biggest programmes. Northrop was practically handed the new stealth bomber contract without question because its the only company making them. Lockheed and Boeing are now the only companies capable of handling major aircraft orders. The refusal of the US military to buy ‘foreign’ makes this even worse, meaning Boeing is excluded from competition by the likes of Airbus for heavy lift aircraft. This is a recipe for corruption and inefficiency. Its hard to believe that even an inefficient and badly run nationalized military weapons manufacturer could be any worse than the existing situation.

      1. CB

        Viewed from where I worked in the military supply industry, 30 plus yrs, there was never any real competition: if you followed the rules for suppliers and waited “your turn,” you got your share. Round robin sourcing, as it were. Everyone in the business knew how it worked, so you didn’t bitch about not getting this or that contract, you waited your turn. If you played by the rules, your turn always came.

        I assume the system hasn’t changed

      2. JTMcPhee

        The US MSC does NOT “refuse to buy foreign,” any more than the many regimes “we” sell or give arms to do. All one has to do is follow the contracting bits in publications like “Defense Industry Daily.” Whole swaths of Imperial military procurement dollars go to “foreign” corporations (caveat that in the real, globalized world, there is not much validity to the notion that a corporation is tightly associated with a “national brand” any more — the world’s armament makers all cooperate in making a great mart for their wares.)

        And there’s been some faux hand-wringing about the amount of “foreign content” of the silicon and code varieties that are “key components” in a lot of the idiotic “weapons systems” and electronics packages around which so many of the imperial “signature big important systems” are built. It’s all about money — follow that and it becomes clear.

        People for some reason don’t get it, that the global military-“security” “trade” is just that — “trade,” and a thing unto itself, freed from “national loyalties” and attachments and constraints. It’s the dark side of MMT, of course, and a complete proof of concept. And given the incentives and benefits and motions and momentum and drivers and the vast network of corruption and venality that powers that juggernaut, there ain’t a prayer, probably short of some nuclear devastation, in derailing it all.

        And let us remember that the word “budget” is meaningless in this context. And also that TRILLIONS of dollars have simply “disappeared” into the vast armaments horror show. And that despite “laws” requiring it, and laughably sad reports from the Pentagram’s own inspectors general and supposed “budget watchdogs,” the Pentagram has not, and will not, produce an auditable set of books for the so-called (and well-named, if “oversight” is read cynically) “oversight committees,” and us mopes whose labors fund all this erotic excess in the machinations of the political economy, to see how big the scam is and where the bucks are going.

        “TBTF.” Too Big To Fathom.

        I hope I get to die a natural death before this all comes home to roost…

        1. David

          If I remember correctly, the average percentage of foreign content in US weapon systems is about 50%, especially high in the electronics area. The US is by far the biggest market for European defense contractors.

  6. Carolinian

    Polls consistently show that the US public would prefer less defense spending, not more. This applies to both Republicans and Democrats and has been true in past polls and not just the more recent. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the Russia hysteria has been ginned up in response to the “peace threat” posed by Trump’s earlier rhetorical gestures toward less foreign adventurism.

    Like everything else these days it’s a failure of democracy with the corruption of both parties standing in the way of change. Since even reformers like Sanders don’t show much interest in coming out against the military it’s hard to see how this will end.

  7. David

    OK, two points to bear in mind in discussions such as this one.
    In most areas of government spending you can use certain plans and metrics to establish parameters for a realistic budget. You know how many children you want to go to school and university, how many people, roughly, will need hospital and other forms of medical treatment and for what, how much infrastructure needs to be repaired and so forth. After that, you choose to carry out these tasks to varying degrees depending on how much money you are prepared to devote to them. Military spending is different, and there simply isn’t any way to estimate, or even guess, what a defence budget “should” be. In individual cases, you can fix criteria, such as the UK and French policy of having one SSBN on patrol at all times, which means you need a minimum of four. But it doesn’t tell you what the design should be, how many missiles it should carry etc. which are going to massively affect the costs. In addition, defence spending creates its own dynamic – more carriers means more escort vessels, more support facilities etc – and there’s no obvious place at which to stop. In the end, the process risks getting out of control, as it did in the former Soviet Union, described to me by an analyst at the time as “not so much a country with a defence budget but a defence budget with a country.” The same could happen to the US.
    Secondly, military equipment has an enormously long life-span. Twenty years from conception to entry into service and a thirty-year service life are quite normal. An analogy would be if the iPhone had been designed in the late 1990s with the expectation that it would be able to cope, after small modifications, with technologies fielded fifteen years later that hadn’t even been thought of then. It may not appear so, but the US military actually has a problem resulting from this situation – most of its in-service equipment was designed in the 1970s and 1980s, and there is a limit to how long you can go on upgrading it and producing new variants. A large proportion of the US Air Force’s aircraft are now older than their pilots, for example. At some stage, things just stop working, fall out of the sky or can’t be maintained any longer.
    This is a general problem, as each generation of military equipment since the 1960s has cost exponentially more than the equipment it has replaced. And with fewer aircraft, for example, each aircraft has to be multi-role, which involves design compromises and expensive add-ons, as well as much longer and more expensive development. All this, together with the desire to future-proof the system, the lack of competition and the complete uncertainty about what role the equipment will have to carry out in twenty years’ time means that the world’s militaries are at something of a turning point. There are plans, for example, to replace the current generation of western tanks, designed in the 1970s, but the logical replacement (with 140mm guns) would be so expensive, so heavy and so difficult to transport that it’s doubtful if they will ever be deployed. The US is the most affected by all these trends but it’s not alone. The UK defence budget has been eaten alive in recent years by the Typhoon multi-role aircraft (designed in the 1980s) and the two new carriers, now entering service. The French are still accepting the Rafale, designed at about the same time, into service at the rate of one per month.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, David.

      “The same could happen to the US.” I would say it is. Paul Kennedy addressed the issue in his Rise and Decline of Great Empires.

      I get the feeling that you are or spend much time in France. Did you see the TF1 news report about the French air force a few days ago, ageing and overused aircraft, cannibalisation of parts and ever more expensive repairs, lack of capacity etc?

      My father, godfather, grandfathers and uncles served with British and French forces, quite usual in Mauritian families. None believes or believed in a nuclear deterrent. Many servicemen and women, current and former, oppose such weaponry.

      1. David

        I do, but I didn’t see the report you mention. It’s a familiar story though, and has worried the military for some years. The problem was that the decision to move to small professional armed forces from 2000 was against a completely different set of strategic assumptions than those that apply today. Equipment is being used to death in ways it was never intended for. But the same problem applies to personnel – the armed forces are now much too small. There are 10,000 troops tied up patrolling the streets in France, and some of them have just come back from four months in Mali. I was told last year by a very senior French officer that on average, soldiers are spending 250 days per year away from their families, and that can’t go on.
        I can explain the nuclear bit for France, but it would take some time (and more energy than I have this evening) and probably bore everybody else to death.

      2. David

        Bother, timeout swallowed my first attempt at a reply. Didn’t see the report you mention, but the problems are well-known, and essentially the result of moving to smaller, professional forces just before the world took off in an unexpected direction. The equipment is being used to death, and so are the people – with 10,000 soldiers patrolling the streets, some of them are spending two thirds of the year away from their families.
        I can explain the French nuclear issue, but it will take more time (and energy) than I have this evening, and probably bore everyone else to death.

  8. The Rev Kev

    I have been thinking tonight about the vast resources given to the US military but that all too often results in weapons and capabilities that just don’t cut the mustard with the private contractors bearing most of the guilt here – all 600,000 and more of them. The F-35 would have to be the poster child for what is happening with the modern military here. I am however wondering if all this increased money may be covering up what amounts to a very deep insecurity in the Pentagon. A bit of modern history to explain.
    For decades the US military has been depending on the concept of overmatch. As one senior officer put it, they are “not into fair fights”. Nowadays, before an enemy army joined battle with an American force, the air force would blast command posts, communications, supply lines, troops and then long-range artillery finished the job. By the time the troops turned up it was all over and there was just the sweeping up to do. Oversimplified of course but illustrative. Troops always fought under an American dominated sky and could always call in an air strike if need be.
    The Pentagon now recognizes that the rules have changed. The hard fought battles in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown up American weaknesses due mostly to the Pentagon buying inferior weapons for the troops which even includes the standard rifle. Both Russia and China, starting from a low base, are now rising to be peers and in some areas superiors. CENTCOM’s commander actually complained today that Russia ‘threatens our ability to dominate’. He actually said that. Worse, partner nations are now buying weapons from the Russians and Chinese for which the US is threatening these nations if they do such as Iraq this week for thinking about buying the Russian S400 air defense systems.
    I think that the Pentagon is ginning up the threats for more money, yes, but they have come to realize that the glory days of dominance are over. In major battles in future, they have said, US troops may be operating at best under a neutral sky. The vaunted carriers are vulnerable, the F-35 fighter plane detestable and more nations are now willing to challenge America by going after their weak points. I think that therefore it is fear of this future that is driving this insistence on more money to throw at this problem but you can’t force a multi-polar world back to being a unipolar world anymore. Nor can you buy the feeling of dominance. Those days are gone.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Kev.

      I agree with you, but caution, with regard to the last three sentences, it can take decades for that to sink in. Brexit exemplifies this inability to change with the times.

      My father served in the Falklands. Most Brits have no idea of how close run that was. If Argentina had waited a bit, the South Atlantic winter would have made the UK task force’s task much harder and enabled the Argentine forces to dig in. Also, the British fleet was lucky to have had so few ships knocked out. There were some close shaves, including with the aircraft carriers. Much was glossed over.

    2. David

      I always argue that “dominance” is a meaningless concept in the abstract. What counts is whether you can achieve your objective or not. Increasingly (some would say since Vietnam) the US has found it can’t, whereas others (eg the Russians in Syria) can, because they have more limited and realistic objectives.

  9. Ben Fitzkee

    Yves, thank you for posting this article from Tom Dispatch. In your introduction you mentioned the “black budgets” and linked to an article about additional “black budget” items totaling 59 billion dollars, which seems like a lot – until you read about what scholars from Michigan State found recently…


    The only mainstream outlet that has published anything about this amazing story is Forbes.

    I would love to see Nakedcapitalism follow up on this story.

    1. Off The Street

      At the risk of asking a dumb question, wouldn’t all that missing money have to show up somewhere? With double-counting, errors, and associated Pentagon and MIC chicanery, a fraction of that amount should be more than a blip on some screens.

      Is someone stockpiling some asset(s) or running a shadow fund or two to prop up markets somewhere on the globe? At what point does such an asset pool, however constituted, become a weapon of war, by whom, against whom? Who, whom perhaps?

      1. Ben Fitzkee

        Off The Street,

        I don’t know what to make of it, but I posted it here and at The Real News, Democracy Now, Consortium News, and The Young Turks. I’m hoping one of these media outlets will shine some light on this issue.

        You’d think a story about 21 trillion in unauthorized federal spending discovered by academics at a major US university like MSU would be eagerly reported on by the media…

  10. John Wright

    Perhaps it deserves mentioning that there are other societal costs that should be attributed to the military.

    This is the cleanup of the nuclear weapon material production sites run by the US government.

    Per the below quote, this is 541 billion, but I have read other estimates of about a trillion.


    “With its $1.2 trillion price tag for the modernization of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal and production complex, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office has induced “sticker shock” on Capitol Hill.”

    “Yet despite this enormous projected cost for rebuilding the U.S. triad of land, submarine, and bomber nuclear forces, the CBO has in fact lowballed its estimate by excluding the costs for environmental restoration and waste management of the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons complex.”

    “Even though the cleanup of nuclear weapons sites comes from the same congressional spending account as DOE nuclear weapons modernization, the CBO chose to exclude an additional $541 billion in legacy costs.”

    1. Harrold

      Drone aircraft will make the F-35 obsolete within the next 10 years. Drone pilots do not make Air Force General, however.

      Same with the nuclear submarine program.

      1. Roland

        I agree that the Future of War probably lies with the drones and the robots.

        I think that we’re in an awkward transitional period, analogous to the situation with dreadnought battleships between the World Wars. In the 1930’s people knew that the future lay with naval airpower. The cost and complexity of dreadnoughts had soared far out of proportion to their usefulness (1930’s dreadnoughts were nearly triple the tonnage and cost nearly ten times as much as 1st generation dreadnoughts). But at the same time, naval airpower during the interwar period had too many limitations. There were still things that only a dreadnought could do. So despite the rising cost and deepening vulnerability of dreadnoughts, fortunes still got spent in the 1930’s building or modernizing them.

        Our late generation fighter-bombers might be heading for their “Force Z moment” at the hands of the hordes of cheap expendable robot aircraft. But for now, that sort of weapon system still rules the skies.

        1. Carolinian

          So robot planes and tanks will fight other robot planes and tanks? How will you know who has won?….the first side to go bankrupt?

          At this rate we may lose before the shooting starts or, more accurately, continues. But a high tech Future of War certainly is the wet dream of the Pentagon brass. One lesson of Vietnam worth remembering is that the Vietnamese prevailed because they were a lot smarter than we were. Turns out you can’t just buy your way to victory.

          1. Roland

            Basically, that’s where things seem to be heading: robots battling robots, except when the robots are butchering people. Aerial and naval combat would seem to me likely to get robotized first.

            Bear in mind that the war robots are unlikely to be large or manlike. For example, in land warfare against human opponents, war robots might deployed in a form such as clouds of bloodhoming AI robotic gnats, all armed with lethal or disabling microdoses of nerve agent. These robots could be delivered to the battlefield in clustermunitions or within landmines.

            The future of war is limited only by the potentials of human imagination and malice.

  11. VietnamVet

    The military industrial complex will dig its own grave. The seven wars cannot continue. Blowback from opponents is guaranteed. A billion Muslims not to mention Russians and Chinese are a lot of people with resources, bravery and cunning. It is insane to fight them all and especially those armed with hydrogen bombs. There are no economic multipliers for military spending. Weapons and ammunition is either stored, used to train, or blow up people and things. Virtual FED money has limitations; the commodities needed to build armament are real; so is labor. There are military resource and labor constraints so inflation like seen in healthcare, housing and education is inevitable. The wealth of the middle class is limited and declining. Boundaries are being breached and discord is increasing. Corporate media propaganda is not working.

    Privatized intelligence, logistics and security have the historic problem that all mercenaries have. They only fight for money and tell you what you want to hear. In the end It will be local communities and their militias that will be defending any civilization left in North America if the forever wars aren’t stopped soon.

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