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New War, Old Weapons | The Nation

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New War, Old Weapons

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President Bush has stated that his global campaign against terrorism will be a "new kind of war," in which traditional military approaches will give way to a more innovative mix of tactics. Or, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it in an Op-Ed for the New York Times, "The uniforms of this conflict will be bankers' pinstripes and programmers' grunge just as assuredly as desert camouflage."

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William D. Hartung
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of...

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Unfortunately, despite this rhetoric about fighting a new kind of conflict, the only thing new about the military budget in the wake of September 11 will be its size. Once emergency funding, previously requested increases and a forthcoming supplemental appropriation are taken into account, military spending for the current fiscal year could hit $375 billion, a $66 billion increase over last year's total. Rarely has so much money been thrown at the Pentagon so quickly, with so little public debate. Most of this new funding will be used to bail out existing weapons programs, not to finance new equipment or tecshniques designed for the fight against terrorism. The Pentagon's latest strategy review, released in early October, makes numerous mentions of "terrorism" and "homeland defense," but it is essentially a status quo document that will not require the cancellation of a single major weapons program.

Given this anything-goes approach, look for Republican Representative Curt Weldon to seize the opportunity to shore up the Boeing V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft built in his district that has been plagued by a series of fatal crashes and falsified test results. Likewise, the Georgia and Texas delegations will use the new, more generous Pentagon funding environment to fend off challenges to the Lockheed Martin F-22, an overweight, outmoded fighter plane that now costs more than $200 million each. And the list will go on, to include costly artillery systems, attack submarines and combat ships, all of which were originally designed for battle with a Soviet military machine that no longer exists, and none of which have any obvious application to the President's current war on terrorism.

Of course, the most expensive item on the Bush Administration's military wish list is its multibillion-dollar missile defense scheme. The low-tech means used for the September 11 attacks underscore the fact that a long-range ballistic missile is the least likely method a hostile power would use to attack the United States. But Congressional Star Wars boosters, like GOP Senator Jon Kyl and Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, have rushed to the program's defense nonetheless. Meanwhile, Democratic critics, like Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, are holding their fire for the moment, after agreeing to put aside plans to restrict the Pentagon's $8.3 billion missile defense budget for the current fiscal year in the name of national unity.

In a recent address to the Heritage Foundation, Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim did manage to specify a handful of items that he argued would be useful in tracking down and targeting terrorists, including unmanned surveillance vehicles, like the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, and specialized reconnaissance aircraft like the RC-135 "Rivet Joint." But these systemsare small change compared with the tens of billions the Pentagon will continue to devote to big-ticket, cold war-era white elephants like the F-22.

Lockheed Martin and its industry cohorts will also benefit from the stepped-up US arms sales to the Middle East and South Asia that are being offered as a quid pro quo for joining the US-led antiterror campaign. The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which handles government-to-government arms sales, recently established a "war room," known as the "Enduring Freedom Response Cell," which is intended to put weapons requests from US allies on a "fast track." Uzbekistan has been cited as one country that could benefit from the new, streamlined procedures. Pending sales of F-16 aircraft to Oman and the United Arab Emirates and multiple-launch rocket systems to Egypt are being rushed through in the name of coalition-building.

Even if there were an effective military solution to the scourge of terrorism, the Pentagon would be hard pressed to explain how most of the items included in its current spending spree could be put to use in such a battle. It's time for skeptics on Capitol Hill and in the country at large to speak out loudly and clearly, before our leaders in Washington write out a blank check to the Pentagon that could distort federal budget priorities and the conduct of our foreign policy for years to come.

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