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Guest Opinion: The War Business

The War Business - Everything About it is Appalling

By: Douglas Mattern - 04/13/03
President, Association of World Citizens

With apology to Irving Berlin:

"There's no business like war business, like no business so low
Everything about it is appalling, everything that greed will allow
Nowhere do you get that sickening feeling as when they're selling arms like now

There's no people like war people who smile when they make dough
Whether selling guns or tanks, it's just more money in their banks
Which keeps politicians in their ranks, so they can go on with the show
And what a show!"

We are now in the third year of the new century and we stand bewildered by what happened to the wonderful expressions of hope and joy that were expressed in the millennium celebrations. Today the world is a mirror image of the 20th century, which was the most brutal and destructive in human history. A major factor is the war business that promotes militarism and conflict while producing enormous financial profit. A tragic indicator of the values of our civilization is that "There's no business like war business."

Just think of all the missiles, bombs, etc. that will be replaced for profit by the armament industry after the current U.S. military assault on Iraq. In the first 14 days the U.S. dropped over 8,700 bombs, including more than 3,000 cruise missiles. This includes cluster bombs, which is one of the most barbaric weapons ever created by the human mind.

Cruise missiles cost over $500,000 each. The Apache Longbow Helicopter costs about 22 million dollars each. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle costs over 1.2 million dollars. Each B-1 Stealth bomber costs over $2 billion.

Today it's Iraq on the receiving end of U.S. bombing. This country seems to have a proclivity for bombing small developing countries. Over the past several decades the list includes: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Cuba, Indonesia, Grenada, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Bosnia, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Congo, and Iraq the first time around.

Since 1992, the U.S. exported over $142 billion dollars worth of weapons to states around the world. This macabre world market is dominated by the U.S., which accounted for nearly half of all weapon sales in 2001, more than $12 billion dollars for U.S. manufacturers. The Center for International Policy estimates that about 80 percent of U.S. arms exports to the developing world go to non-democratic regimes.

Of the active conflicts in 1999, the U.S. supplied weapons or military training to parties in 39 of 42 conflicts. Other leading nations in this "merchants of death" business include Russia, France, Great Britain, China, Germany, and to a lesser degree, Sweden, Israel, Belgium, Belarus, Italy, North Korea, and more.

For U.S. companies, even larger profit is in the annual Pentagon budget.

Over $60 billion was allocated to purchase new weapons for 2003. The Pentagon spends over $30 billion annually in research and development for new weapons.

The U.S. armament industry is the second most subsidized industry after agriculture.

The administration's FY 2004 military budget is a big increase over 2003 at nearly $400 billion when including funding for nuclear weapons that is under the Department of Energy (DOE) Budget. Moreover, military spending is scheduled to increase over the coming years with projections of a $502 billion budget in FY 2009.

Steven Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, says, "We've come to the point where we're spending more money than we spent during the Cold War." This money is to pay for a new generation weapons, including the militarization of space, which is a dream of never ending profits for the weapons industry.

The top lobbyist for the 2000 elections was Lockheed Martin at $2.8 million.

In 2001, Lockheed-Martin had $14 billion in sales of weapons to the U.S. and foreign buyers. Moreover, Lockheed Martin recently received a $3.5 billion contract to sell F-16 jet fighters to Poland. As a new member of NATO, Poland, along with Hungary and the Czech Republic, agreed to modernize their military and purchase new weapons. For the Lockheed sale, the U.S. Government loaned Poland $3.8 billion. The expansion of NATO is a vehicle to sell U.S. weapons, and not surprising, the weapons industry is the biggest lobbyist for NATO expansion.

The small arms trade is also a lucrative business, totaling between 4-6 billion dollars per year. The leading exporters in terms of value are the U.S. and Russia. But this business is spread around the world with over 1,000 companies in some 98 countries involved in the production of small arms and/or ammunition. Small arms kill over 500,000 people a year in conflicts.

The violence and obsession with armaments goes down to rifles and handguns, with the U.S. leading the parade. There are more than 65 million handguns in the U.S., and some 192 million in total firearms. In 1998 alone, dealers sold an estimated 4.4 million guns in the U.S., nearly two million of them handguns. The result was 12,102 people murdered by firearms.

The nuclear weapons industry may soon get a new boast as the Bush team is threatening to resume nuclear testing at the Nevada underground site to develop new nuclear weapons, including "bunker busters" for use against hardened underground targets.

The Cold War ended over a decade ago, but the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports the world nuclear stockpile in 2002 totaled over 30,000 warheads. In addition to deployed nuclear warheads, thousands more are held in reserve and are not counted in official declarations. Moreover, thousands of U.S. and Russian warheads are on a hair-trigger alert, ready for launch in a few minutes notice. The Center for Defense Information reports the United States spends $27 billion annually to prepare to fight a nuclear war.

Today the war business is in full swing with thousands of scientists and engineers going to work daily with the task of building or developing new weapons, including space-based weapons that would turn the heavens above into a new source of terrorism for humanity below.

At the same time, UN Secretary General Koffi Annan reminds us that half of humanity lives in poverty, existing on an average of $2 a day. The Arias Foundation reports that world military spending increased from $798 billion in 2000 to $839 billion in 2001. Half of the world's governments spend more on the military than for health care. This expenditure is a monumental waste of our wealth, resources, and intellectual talent for the means of destruction and astonishing profits for the armament companies. The war business is the world's ultimate criminal activity.

We are at a pivotal point in history, thus the decision by the U.S. and Britain to wage war on Iraq, rather than working tirelessly for a civilized resolution through the United Nations, is a step backward to the barbarism of 20th century warfare. Time is crucial! It's imperative that we do all that is necessary to initiate a dramatic change to end the violence and war that now threatens the very fabric of our civilization.

This requires that we pull down the curtain on the "architects of destruction" and put the war business permanently out-of-business. And it means ending the foolish quest to establish an American empire. We must put our energy and priority into strengthening and building a new United Nations. As former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali puts it, a third generation UN.

The first generation, the League of Nations, represented governments only. The current second generation UN is also comprised of governments which have the power, but it also includes a tremendous input and dependence on Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). The third generation UN must be democratic and also include the representation of the world's people and NGOs, and with some corporate responsibility. This could include a two-tier Parliament. One tier comprised of governments, and the second tier comprised of civil society.

The imperative change in the third generation UN must be the ability to resolve conflicts between nations and peoples through the framework of world law. There is no workable alternative to end the war system with all of its political, economic, and cultural elements.

"The age of nations is past, the task before us now, if we would survive, is to shake off our ancient prejudices and build the earth." - Teilhard de Chardin


- Douglas Mattern is president of the Association of World Citizens (AWC); a San Francisco based international peace organization with branches in 50 countries, and with UN NGO status. The website for AWC is Douglas is a contributing writer for Liberal Slant.

Sources for material in this article include: Center for Defense Information (CDI) Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIRPI) United Nations Development Program (UNDP) United Nations Department for Disarmament U.S. State Department

Find more articles by Douglas Mattern in the Liberal Slant Archives

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