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William Rivers Pitt: Banking on War

Banking on War

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday 02 August 2006

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Only the dead, said Plato, have seen the end of war. As true as this may be, it does beg the question: why? Why is there so much conflict in the world? Why are there so many wars? Ethnic and religious tensions have been casus belli since time out of mind, to be sure. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War ruptured a framework that held for almost fifty years, bringing about a series of conflicts that are understandable in hindsight.

There is a simpler answer, however, one that lands right in our back yard here in America. Why so much war? Because war is a profitable enterprise. George W. Bush and his people can hold forth about the wonders of democracy and peace, and can condemn worldwide violence in solemn tones. Until the United States stops being the world's largest arms dealer, these words from our government absolutely reek of hypocrisy.

Mr. Bush and his people did not invent this phenomenon, of course. The United States has been selling hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weapons to the world for decades. In the aftermath of September 11, however, American arms dealing kicked into an even higher gear. The Bush administration, in 2003, delivered arms to 18 of 25 nations now engaged in active conflicts. 13 of those nations have been defined as "undemocratic" by the State Department, but still received $2.7 billion in American weaponry.

One example is Uzbekistan, a nation with an astonishingly deplorable record of human rights violations. Thousands of people have been imprisoned and tortured for purely political reasons, and hundreds more have been killed. Still, that nation received $37 million in weapons from the United States between 2001 and 2003.

In 2002, the United States sold almost $50 million in missile technologies to Bahrain. In the same year, the United States sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of missile technology, rocket launchers, tank ammunition, fighter jets and attack helicopters to Egypt. The United States has sold millions of dollars worth of weapons to both India and Pakistan, two nations that have been on the brink of war for years. This list goes on and on.

Analyze the list of the top twenty companies that profit most from global arms sales, and you will see American companies taking up thirteen of those spots, including the top three: Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. These arms dealers act in concert with the Department of Defense; they exist as a sixth ring of the Pentagon.

The Associated Press reported last week that business for the arms industry is, to make a bad pun, booming. "Northrop Grumman, the world's largest shipbuilder and America's third-largest military contractor," reported the AP, "said second-quarter earnings rose 17 per cent, as operating profit at its systems and information technology units overcame a decline at the company's ships division. Raytheon Co., the fifth-largest defense contractor, reported second-quarter net income jumped 54 per cent, buoyed by strong military equipment sales."

Beyond the missiles and the tanks and the warplanes, there is the small-arms industry. This is, comprehensively, far more deadly than the large-arms sales being made. A report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences describes the deadly situation:

Since the end of the cold war, from the Balkans to East Timor and throughout Africa, the world has witnessed an outbreak of ethnic, religious and sectarian conflict characterized by routine massacre of civilians. More than 100 conflicts have erupted since 1990, about twice the number for previous decades. These wars have killed more than five million people, devastated entire geographic regions, and left tens of millions of refugees and orphans. Little of the destruction was inflicted by the tanks, artillery or aircraft usually associated with modern warfare; rather most was carried out with pistols, machine guns and grenades. However beneficial the end of the cold war has been in other respects, it has let loose a global deluge of surplus weapons into a setting in which the risk of local conflict appears to have grown markedly.

The Federation of American Scientists prepared a report some years ago detailing the vast amounts of small arms delivered to the world by the United States. "In addition to sales of newly-manufactured weapons," read the report, "the Pentagon gives away or sells at deep discount the vast oversupply of small/light weapons that it has in its post cold-war inventory. Most of this surplus is dispensed through the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program. Originally only the southern-tier members of NATO were cleared to receive EDA, but following the 1991 Gulf war, many Middle Eastern and North African states were added; anti-narcotics aid provisions expanded EDA eligibility to include South American and Caribbean countries; and the "Partnership for Peace" program made most Central and Eastern European governments eligible for free surplus arms."

"Around 1995," continued the report, "large-scale grants and sales of small/light arms began occurring. In the past few years (1995 - early 1998), over 300,000 rifles, pistols, machine guns and grenade launchers have been offered up, including: 158,000 M16A1 assault rifles (principally to Bosnia, Israel, Philippines); 124,815 M14 rifles (principally to the Baltics and Taiwan); 26,780 pistols (principally to Philippines, Morocco, Chile, Bahrain; 1,740 machine guns (principally to Morocco, Bosnia); and 10,570 grenade launchers (principally to Bahrain, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Morocco)."

We hear so often that this is a dangerous world. It is arguable that the world might be significantly less dangerous if the United States chose to stop lathering the planet with weapons. Much has been made, especially recently, about the billions of dollars in weapons sales offered to Israel by America. This is but the tip of the iceberg.

It is, at bottom, all about profit. We sell the weapons, which create warfare, which justifies our incredibly expensive war-making capabilities when we have to go in and fight against the people who bought our weapons or procured them from a third party. This does not make the world safer, but only reinforces the permanent state of peril we find ourselves in. Meanwhile, a few people get paid handsomely.

In the end, it is worthwhile to remember that whenever you see George W. Bush talking about winning the "War on Terror," you are looking at the largest arms dealer on the planet. We can pursue cease-fire agreements, we can topple violent regimes, but until we stop loading up the planet with the means to kill, only the dead will see the end of war.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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