Runaway Pentagon spending will do more harm than good
October 23, 2001
The arms companies must be happy.
Within days of the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Congress passed a $40 billion emergency spending package -- half for reconstruction and half for combating terrorism. A recent Wall Street Journal article revealed that $18.6 billion of the $40 billion has already been allocated for the military, while only $11.7 billion is earmarked for clean-up efforts in Manhattan and elsewhere. The remaining billions will go to anti-bioterrorism programs and homeland security.
Pentagon spending could hit $375 billion in this fiscal year alone. Next year's Pentagon budget could reach $400 billion, according to Paul Nisbet, a long-standing defense stock analyst currently working with JSA Research Inc.
The biggest beneficiaries of this generosity will not be the families of the victims or the communities that bore the brunt of the Sept. 11 attacks. They will be giant weapons contractors like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
Many of the items the Pentagon is purchasing -- from missile-defense testing equipment to nuclear attack submarines -- have virtually no application in the war on terrorism.
As an unnamed defense official admitted in Defense News, a lot of the new funds "will have nothing to do with rescue and emergency efforts (or) retaliation in response to the Sept. 11 attacks." Instead, he noted, the money will go to the Pentagon's "wish lists for things that we'll have several years from now."
It is a long wish list.
In a Sept. 24 speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim signaled his department's intention to boost funding for a string of reconnaissance aircraft, missile-equipped submarines and high-tech munitions.
The Bush administration's misguided national missile-defense scheme also stands to gain from the new pro-military mood on Capitol Hill. Although the Sept. 11 attacks showed that the United States faces a much more immediate threat from comparatively low-tech terrorist attacks than it does from long-range ballistic missiles, the administration's $8.3 billion request for the program recently sailed through Congress. The program's cost could reach $240 billion over the next two decades.
The scandal-plagued V-22 Osprey aircraft is another likely beneficiary of increased military spending. Even though the aircraft has been involved in numerous crashes, killing at least 30 U.S. military personnel since 1991, the Osprey program could get a new lease on life with help from influential allies like Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa. The aircraft is built in Weldon's district.
Similarly, Lockheed Martin's F-22 fighter jet, which at more than $200 million each is among the most expensive fighter planes ever built, will be in a much stronger position to stave off future budget cuts. The plane is now obsolete, since it was designed to do battle with next-generation Soviet fighter aircraft that were never built. But that won't stop the program's allies in the Georgia and Texas delegations from pressing to keep the $63 billion project up and running.
This avalanche of new weapons spending begs the broader question of whether large-scale military responses to terrorist violence are either appropriate or effective.
What's needed is concerted diplomacy, improved law enforcement and coordinated international efforts to stop the flow of money and weapons to terrorist networks.
If runaway Pentagon spending isn't headed off soon, the funds, energy and attention needed for a more intelligent approach to preventing terrorism could be lost.
Frida Berrigan is an associate of the "Foreign Policy In Focus" project (www.foreignpolicy-infocus.org) and a senior research associate with the World Policy Institute (www.worldpolicy.org) in New York City. William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York City. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.