The War Racket

The War Racket

The year 2000 was the worst for the U.S. stock market in nearly two decades—but not for weapons makers. The share prices of the two biggest military contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, hit new highs, while the Standard & Poor’s Aerospace/Defense Index was up nearly 35 percent, outperforming most other sectors. And although the past, as they say, is no guarantee of future returns, two developments at the end of December seemed to augur greater profits yet for those in on the war trade—the proposed sale of Lockheed advanced fighter planes to Chile and the appointment of inveterate Star Warrior Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary in the Bush administration. The first, coupled with a big military aid package to Colombia, indicated how far the Clinton White House went to enhance the welfare of U.S. arms manufacturers. The second signaled that President Bush might be even more weapons-friendly than his predecessor, particularly when it comes to the militarization of space. For those enamored of bipartisanship, it’s hard to top the mutual servicing of the war industry by the Democrats and the Republicans.

In 1992, candidate Clinton pledged that with the end of the cold war the Democrats would adopt a less militaristic approach. He campaigned as an arms-control advocate and promised to press for strong international limits “on the dangerous and wasteful flow of weapons to troubled regions,” as stated in the Democratic platform. With Clinton’s election, some believed a substantial peace dividend was in the offing. Arms industry trade publications fretted that the U.S. defense budget could end up being cut by more than half to $150 billion.

They needn’t have worried. By the end of Clinton’s first year, the primacy of commercialism in his foreign policy was well established, with particular emphasis on government support for U.S. arms makers looking to expand their markets abroad, especially in the developing world. When the Clinton presidency drew to a close, the U.S. defense budget was nearly $310 billion, and, as noted by William D. Hartung, director of the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute in New York, Clinton had utilized military force more often than any U.S. president since the Vietnam War, including Ronald Reagan. Then, in the 2000 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Al Gore promised to hike military spending by more than double what George W. Bush proposed. As Hartung wrote in the Progressive, “It looks like the Pentagon and the weapons makers can break out the champagne regardless of who wins in November.”

The flourishing of the war industry during a time of relative peace is a tale of big-dollar lobbying, revolving-door careers, influence peddling, and political expediency. Much of it has been documented by Hartung and such groups as the Center for Defense Information, the Council for a Livable World, the Center for International Policy, and the Federatio...

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