by: Mel Gurtov

Long ago, Gordon Adams introduced the term “iron triangle” to characterize the intertwined relationships between the Pentagon’s military-industrial complex, the companies that contract with it to manufacture weapons and provide services, and the committees. of Congress who vote on military appropriations — in short, the major players who consistently demand annual increases in military spending and the latest lethal weapons.

While there are other actors, such as lobbyists and pro-defense think tanks, this military-industrial-government complex includes a central cast. They work together to meet and sometimes exceed military funding requests, in good and bad economic times, in peacetime as in times of crisis. For them, national security is a drag.

The iron triangle in action

Let’s look at these contracts between companies and the Pentagon. The national defense total for the current fiscal year (FY) is $ 447 billion, a jump of $ 42 billion from fiscal year 2020 and more than $ 300 billion since fiscal year 2016. These contracts represent about two-thirds of all federal contracts ($ 682 billion) in those years. Under Biden, sharp increases continue and Congress is add on to his proposals. So, for fiscal 2022, Biden proposed $ 753 billion in military spending, to which Congress added $ 25 billion.

The graph below shows the jumps from one year to the next official military spending. (Keep in mind that the real budget request for FY2022 looks more like $ 1,000 billion when other military-related expenses, such as for veterans, are included.)

here are the Top 10 national defense contractors. (Billions of US dollars; the total for the top ten is $ 190.3 billion, or 42% of all private defense contracts.)

1. Lockheed Martin Corp., $ 74.2 billion

2. Raytheon Technologies Corp., 27.4b

3. General Dynamics Corp., $ 22.6 billion

4. Boeing Co., $ 21.5 billion

5. Northrop Grumman Corp., $ 12.7 billion

6. Analytical Services Inc., $ 10.6 billion

7. Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., $ 8 billion

8. Humana Inc., $ 6.9 billion

9. BAE systems, $ 6.6 billion

ten. L3Harris Technologies Inc., $ 6.4 billion

The size (and influence) of the top national defense contractors is evident when you consider that the top five are also the top federal contractors overall. And three of them, General Dynamics, Harris and Raytheon, are among the top five government IT contractors.

Congress is the Pentagon’s reliable partner in military spending. In the last round of military budgeting, Congress added $ 25 billion to Biden’s proposed budget of $ 753 billion.

Most members of the House and Senate never vote for reducing spending on the military-industrial complex, nor for transferring certain military spending to social spending.

These members also receive the most money from military contractors, whose political action committees are reliable donors, not surprisingly: the more they take, the more assured their vote for increases in the military budget.

Stephen Semler, who tracks Pentagon economics, found that Democrats are no different from Republicans: In the 2020 election cycle, 179 House Democrats “received (on average) $ 30,075.85 in contributions defense industry campaign. . . ”

The war economy

The wars in the Middle East have been of great benefit to these entrepreneurs. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they provided virtually everything from food to weapons, and had thousands of people on the ground to handle distribution and use.

As The Guardian reports: “The number of contractors on the ground exceeded US troops during most years of conflict. As of the summer of 2020, the United States had 22,562 contractors in Afghanistan, roughly double the number of American troops. ”

The main contractors of the military-industrial complex, as well as the big oil companies, controlled the most expensive items:

For example, Lockheed Martin manufactured the Black Hawk helicopters widely used in Afghanistan; Boeing sold the aircraft and ground combat vehicles; Raytheon won the major training contract for the Afghan Air Force, and Northrup Grumman and General Dynamics provided electronic and communications equipment.

The gravy train is therefore part of a larger enterprise: “the permanent war economy”, as described more than 50 years ago by Seymour Melman. It operates with relative immunity from the customary laws of supply and demand, profitability and competing needs.

Now, as Democrats grapple with each other and with Republicans over social spending, citizens and public interest groups should take a close look at this isolated economy and demand that Human security in America has a higher priority.

The war in the Middle East since 1990 has cost the United States approximately $ 7 trillion. Yet the United States clearly cannot afford a $ 3.5 trillion bill for the welfare of all of its citizens, a real national security bill.

As President Eisenhower warned long ago, the overspending of the military industrial complex is “a steal” from the people: unfed, those who are cold and unclothed.


Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is professor emeritus of political science at Portland State University and blog at In the human interest.


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