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Tomgram: William D. Hartung, 2018 Looks Like an Arms Bonanza

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

Here's a cheery note for you: the last mass killing of 2017 took place moments before midnight on New Year's Eve. A 16-year-old New Jersey boy picked up a semi-automatic rifle, "lawfully acquired" by a member of his family, and killed his father, mother, sister, and a family friend. In doing so, he helped ensure that 2017 would be the deadliest year for mass killings in our modern history. (There is now, on average, slightly more than one mass killing a day in this country.) Nonetheless, guns of all sorts, including military-style assault rifles and even bump stocks like the 12 Stephen Paddock evidently used to turn his semi-automatics into functional automatics and slaughter 58 people from a hotel window in Las Vegas, are still readily available. Nowhere on Earth, not even in ravaged Yemen (which takes second place in gun ownership), is more weaponry available to more types of people. As the years go by here, such weapons are more easily and openly carried with only the most minimal of background checks (or less than that). Think about this: Americans, 4.4% of the people on this planet, own 42% of the guns and commit 31% of the mass killings.

Oh, and I did promise you that there was something cheery in all this, didn't I? So here it is: the Trump administration, knowing a good thing when it sees it, is now hard at work ensuring that American weapons makers will make it a remarkably similar world. Its officials are intent, it seems, on recreating the planet in an American image. Keep in mind that U.S. arms makers like Lockheed, Raytheon, and General Dynamics already monopolize the global arms market in a way that should (but in this country regularly doesn't) stagger the imagination. U.S. weapons sales in 2016, for instance, took about 50% of global market share and many of those major weapons systems went into planetary hot spots, including Yemen (thanks to the American-backed Saudi war of annihilation there). Weaponry from other countries, year after year in this century, came in a distant second, third, or fourth. Between 2012 and 2016, in fact, the U.S. sold weaponry to at least 100 countries.

So Washington is already, in significant ways, arming the world, but evidently, as far as President Trump and the weapons makers he loves are concerned, not yet enough of it. As a result, his administration is reportedly planning to open the global spigot on the very sorts of weapons now regularly used in this country for mass killings, making it far easier for American gun and ammunition manufacturers to sell to anyone interested abroad and far harder for law enforcement here to track whose hands those weapons end up in. Administration officials supposedly plan to cut down on oversight for such sales by making the Commerce Department, not the State Department, responsible for them, while streamlining small arms export controls, a process the Obama administration began. At news of this, the (non-bump) stocks of gun manufacturers surged.

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Think of this in Trumpian terms as the global deregulation of American firearms which could, in turn, according to critics, put such weaponry ever more easily in the hands of both criminal gangs and extremist groups. If this happens, we'll truly be in an open carry, NRA world, and Donald Trump will have fulfilled a campaign promise made at that organization's annual meeting last year. ("You came through for me and I am going to come through for you.")

From nuclear weapons to handguns, "arms control" increasingly seems like a concept from another century. There are nonetheless voices still speaking up against the wholesale American weaponization of the planet and one of the most knowledgeable is that of TomDispatch regular William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. So let him fill you in on what the coming boom years are likely to look like for the Pentagon, the arms makers, and their weaponry. Tom

War Pay
Another Good Year for Weapons Makers Is Guaranteed
By William D. Hartung

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As Donald Trump might put it, major weapons contractors like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin cashed in "bigly" in his first year in office. They raked in tens of billions of dollars in Pentagon contracts, while posting sharp stock price increases and healthy profits driven by the continuation and expansion of Washington's post-9/11 wars. But last year's bonanza is likely to be no more than a down payment on even better days to come for the military-industrial complex.

President Trump moved boldly in his first budget, seeking an additional $54 billion in Pentagon funding for fiscal year 2018. That figure, by the way, equals the entire military budgets of allies like Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Then, in a bipartisan stampede, Congress egged on Trump to go even higher, putting forward a defense authorization bill that would raise the Pentagon's budget by an astonishing $85 billion. (And don't forget that, last spring, the president and Congress had already tacked an extra $15 billion onto the 2017 Pentagon budget.) The authorization bill for 2018 is essentially just a suggestion, however -- the final figure for this year will be determined later this month, if Congress can come to an agreement on how to boost the caps on domestic and defense spending imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The final number is likely to go far higher than the staggering figure Trump requested last spring.

And that's only the beginning of the good news for the big weapons companies. Industry officials and Beltway defense analysts aren't expecting the real increase in Pentagon spending to come until the 2019 budget. It's a subject sure to make it into the mid-term elections. Dangling potential infusions of Pentagon funds in swing states and swing districts is a tried and true way to influence voters in tight races and so will tempt candidates in both parties.

President Trump has long emphasized job creation above much else, but if he has an actual jobs program, it mainly seems to involve pumping more money into the Pentagon and increasing overseas arms sales. That such spending is one of the least effective ways to create new jobs evidently matters little. It is, after all, an easy and popular way for a president to give himself the look of stimulating economic activity, especially in an era of steep tax cuts favoring the plutocratic class and attacks on domestic spending.

Trump's much-touted $1 trillion infrastructure plan may never materialize, but the Pentagon is already on course to spend $6 trillion to $7 trillion of your taxes over the next decade. As it happens though, a surprising percentage of those dollars won't even go into the military equivalent of infrastructure. Based on what we know of Pentagon expenditures in 2016, up to half of such funds are likely to go directly into the coffers of defense contractors rather than to the troops or to basic military tasks like training and maintenance.

While the full impact of Trump's proposed Pentagon spending increases won't be felt until later this year and in 2019, he did make a significant impact last year in his role as arms-dealer-in-chief. Early estimates for 2017 suggest that arms sales approvals in the first year of his administration exceeded the Obama administration's record in its last year in office -- no mean feat given that President Obama set a record for overseas arms deals during his eight-year tenure.

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You undoubtedly won't be surprised to learn that President Trump greatly exaggerated the size of his administration's arms deals. Typically enough, he touted "$110 billion" in proposed sales to Saudi Arabia, a figure that included deals already struck under Obama and highly speculative offers that may never come to fruition. While visiting Japan in November, he similarly took credit for sales of the staggeringly expensive, highly overrated F-35 combat aircraft, a deal that was actually concluded in 2012. To add insult to injury, those F-35s that the U.S. is selling Japan will be assembled there, not in the good old U.S.A. (So much for the jobs benefits of global weapons trading.)

Nonetheless, when you peel away the layers of Trumpian bombast and exaggeration, his administration still posted one of the highest arms sales figures of the last decade and there's clearly much more to come. In all of this, the president may not have done major favors for America's workers, but he's been a genuine godsend for the country's arms manufacturers. After all, such firms extract significantly greater profits on foreign deals than on sales to the Pentagon. When selling to other countries, they normally charge higher prices for weapons systems, while including costly follow-on agreements for maintenance, training, and things like additional bombs, missiles, or ammunition that can continue for decades.

In fact, Trump's biggest challenge in accelerating U.S. arms exports may not be foreign competition, but the fact that the Obama administration made so many high-value arms deals. Some countries are still busy trying to integrate the weapons systems or other merchandise they've already purchased and may not be ready to conclude new arms agreements.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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