In 1964 at the height of the Cold War, the philosopher Herbert Marcuse in his book One Dimensional Man, made the following observation.
Free institutions (the media) compete with authoritarian ones in making the Enemy a deadly force within the system. And this deadly force stimulates growth and initiative, not by virtue of the magnitude and economic impact of the Defense “sector”, but by virtue of the fact that the society as a whole becomes a Defense society. For the Enemy is permanent. He is not in the emergency situation but in the normal state of affairs. He threatens in peace as much as in war (and perhaps more than in war); he is thus being built into the system as a cohesive power.
I think this is as relevant an analysis today of the “Global War On Terror” (GWOT) as it was in 1964 of the Global War on Communism. It is not easy sustaining the emotional hysteria needed to justify a permanent war economy. One need only look at the total U.S. Defense budget for the year 1950 of $13 Billion to understand that it had been our practice as a nation to have high defense budgets only in times of war. But both the Cold War and the GWOT were presented as open ended wars without end. To justify our current base Defense budget of $700 billion, we not only need to inflate the potential of Al Qaeda, Iran and North Korea, we also need to create the possibility that the Chinese Army might one day become our mortal enemy in a Third World War.
Let us try to assume that the Chinese leaders are rational people. Their largest trade market is the United States. As you can see from the chart on the left their central bank current holds about 25% of all outstanding U.S. government debt. In what kind of insane strategy would the Chinese launch a war on the country with which they are so economically intertwined? But in the mind of the neoconservatives like John Bolton, we should continue to provoke China. After the March Presidential election in Taiwan, Bolton suggested that we should immediately recognize Taiwan, a step that 7 U.S. Presidents have refused to take.
China will not like this turn of events, but inevitably it will have little choice but to accept dual recognition. Now more than ever, the US — and Europe and Japan — must be assertive in supporting a strengthening democracy in Taiwan.
Of course Bolton’s suggestion is the classic neoconservative “self-fulfilling prophecy” , destined if it was U.S. policy to provoke China.
For a productive society, the costs of maintaining a permanent war economy are prohibitive. Like a slow growing cancer the basic principles of the military economy are spreading into our other industrial enterprises. As the great industrial economist Seymour Melman pointed out,
From the economic standpoint the main characteristic of war economy is that its products do not yield ordinary economic use-value: usefulness for the level of living (consumer goods and services); or usefulness for further production (as in machinery or tools being used to make other articles).
More importantly the whole economic basis of the military contracting system is based around maximization of costs and of government subsidies. Lockheed Martin and Halliburton have only prospered by going way over budget while being monopoly contractor on any given project. When the Air Force published its manual for Cost Estimating Procedures it made clear that “estimating methods are based on projections from historical data” and that estimators were prohibited from using the classical industrial engineering approach of productivity improvement cost estimating. In other words, if the last model of tank cost X, then it is assumed that the next model will cost X + 15%. The New Joint Strike Fighter is a classic example.
The cost of Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter, already the most expensive weapons program ever, is projected to increase as much as $38 billion, congressional auditors said yesterday. That would bring the price of 2,458 F-35s to $337 billion, 45 percent more than estimated when the program began in October 2001.
And in the rare case where there is a competitive bidding situation, firms with inside clout on Capitol Hill or in the Pentagon, can often get the low bid thrown out. A classic example is Boeing’s efforts to win the next generation midair refueling tanker contract worth $35 billion. Boeing had originally won the bid by bribing the Air Force procurement officer in charge of the contract. When this action resulted in conviction of the official on corruption charges, the Air Force awarded the contract to the European Airbus consortium that had already built tankers for Australia and Saudi Arabia. But Boeing was not finished yet trying to rig the game and managed to put enough pressure in Congress to force the Pentagon to reopen the contract.
The decision has widened the gulf between the European and American rivals. In Europe, officials say privately that reopening the tanker deal was a politically motivated decision in an election year.
It must be said that the Military Industrial Complex is in reality the Military Industrial Congressional Complex. So what could be done to rein in this behemoth that is absorbing so much of our collective wealth? The first step must be public education and even though the topic is hardly mentioned in the conventional media or the Congress, the public seems to understand that something is wrong. Gallup Polls over the last five years (left) have shown increasing concern that the government is spending too much money on the military. Although it has not yet reached the magic 50% number, one could believe that if the issue begins to get into the public discourse it could easily attract a plurality of voters. At that point the automatic votes that flow out of Congress for every military pork barrel project could be called to account. Last year’s defense budget was $521 billion plus $200 billion in War supplementals. It would seem a goal in the near term would be to have a total military budget for 2011 of $440 billion. as I noted earlier in the year when I put forth a New Federalist budget.
I would start with the $90 billion in new weapons procurement and the $68 Billion in R & D. Take a 15% cut ($25 Billion) just like any corporation facing reality would. Then I would build a more “Fortress America Posture”-far fewer foreign bases, using the carrier fleet and the Marines as the rapid reponse arm. I would remove the permanent bases in Korea and Germany and bring those troops home.
That saving of $300 billion ought to be plowed into alternative energy infrastructure and other projects that would begin to seed a new industrial base for America. One that is not based on cost maximization and monopoly rents, but on the kind of competitive high tech marketplace that Silicon Valley has excelled at. Of course the only way to make this happen circles back to Marcuse’s quote that open’s this piece. The media must stop being complicit in creating the mental state of perpetual fear which is the breeding ground for the Military Industrial mindset. Whether that is possible is of course, another matter.