What's Left

October 11, 2002

Profits, not defense, behind calls for more spending on military

By Stephen Gowans

The US ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, says Canada should spend more on defense. "We cannot defend North America alone."

On the contrary, so vast is US military spending, not only in absolute terms, but relative to any country that poses a threat,  the US could defend North America many times over, and still cut the Pentagon's budget.

What Cellucci is really saying is that Canada needs to buy more tanks, more airplanes, and more weapons from, guess where? The United States.

It's profits, not "defense," the US ambassador is really concerned about.

If the United States can prevail upon its allies to spend more on tanks and warplanes, it can fatten the profits of American military contractors, like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and GM. Allied forces must be interoperable with US forces, Washington insists, which is Pentagon-speak for, they must buy their equipment from the same suppliers we get ours from. And since the Pentagon buys locally, that means US allies must buy American. No wonder Cellucci says Canada must spend more on its military.

What's more, the larger and more intimidating the US military is, the more readily Washington can push its weight around in the world, opening markets, securing access to natural resources, and forcing other countries into congenial trade arrangements that profit US firms.

That's why there's always plenty of money for defense, and little for humanitarian projects. Defense spending means fatter profits; carrying out humanitarian projects doesn't.

For example, the UN is trying to scrape together $10 billion over the next two years to combat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria -- infectious diseases that have, in some places, reached epidemic proportions.

After begging and pleading, the UN has secured pledges for $2 billion -- well short of what is required. It looks like these diseases will spread unchecked, needlessly killing numberless people in the world's poorest countries.

Meanwhile, the US Congressional Budget Office estimates that fighting a full scale war with Iraq -- which will also kill numberless people -- could cost the US $9 billion. And that's for each month the war is fought.

Washington isn't batting an eye over the prospect of having to spend $9 billion a month to kill Iraqis. Indeed, Washington -- and the arms industry -- may welcome the blood letting. It's an investment, with a hefty return. But the same amount spent over the next two years to save lives, is too much.

It seems like it's all a case of misplaced priorities, and it is. But these priorities are always misplaced, year after year, decade after decade, no matter which party's president is in the Oval Office.

It's more a matter of "systemic imperatives" which drive the country, indeed, which drive the world, in directions that have pleasing consequences for shareholders and bondholders and corporate executives, and make any activity which fattens bottom lines, no matter how grim and inhumane and disadvantageous for everyone else, "regrettable, but necessary."

Think of it.

The Kyoto Accords threaten profits. So, they're resisted.

Public education expropriates the potential profits of private firms. So, public education is undermined.

Public health care, in places like Canada and the UK, is slowly strangled. It too expropriates potential profits -- of private health care providers and insurance companies.  And in the US, public health care isn't allowed to take root.

And so it is that fighting disease, protecting the environment, and securing access for all to quality education and health care, take a back seat to weapons, war, and profits.

We don't need to spend more on "defense." We need to mount a defense against the depredations of a system that impels people like Paul Cellucci to call for more defense spending.

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