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William D. Hartung | The Nation

William D. Hartung

Author Bios

William D. Hartung

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

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News and Features

George W. Bush's recent tour of Africa was a series of campaign photo
opportunities dressed up as a diplomatic trip.

You can be forgiven if, like me, you were a bit depressed to hear that the war had started. But this is no time to go into a funk.

Just as his father did, George W. Bush is offering generous packages of
aid and arms to nations that join his drive for war against Iraq.

In my days as a student activist in the 1970s, the use of the term
"imperialism" to describe US policy was generally used only in the
antiwar and international solidarity movements, the writing

The war with Iraq is part of a larger plan for global military
dominance.

Expanding the US global military presence is costly to taxpayers but
highly profitable for private military contractors.

William D. Hartung is the author of "About Face," a World Policy Institute report on the role of the arms lobby in shaping the Bush nuclear doctrine. Click here.

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency is on the verge of getting a sweetheart deal that is beyond the wildest dreams of even the craftiest Enron executive. If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has his way, the new agency will be free to pursue the Bush Administration's Star Wars fantasy without the scrutiny of independent accountants, auditors or technical experts. As Bradley Graham of the Washington Post reported in mid-February, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has decided to exempt missile defense development from normal reporting procedures on costs and schedules, as well as from the need to relate the performance requirements being sought in the new system to specific projected threats. Just for good measure, key tests will be conducted without oversight by the Pentagon's independent testing office. Lisbeth Gronlund of the Union of Concerned Scientists sums up the Pentagon's new approach: "Rather than first spell out what's needed, it sounds like they're just going to create something and then say, 'This is what we need.' In effect, they're saying 'Whatever you've got, we'll take.'"

This all must come as a great relief to the big four missile defense contractors, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and TRW. Given the history of fraud, cost overruns and rigged testing that has characterized the program to date, the last thing they want is independent scrutiny. Two recent reports by the General Accounting Office have confirmed that Boeing and TRW manipulated data from a 1997 test in order to overstate the capabilities of antimissile sensor technology designed to tell the difference between nuclear warheads and decoys. The reports reinforce longstanding allegations of fraud in the testing program. Recent tests have raised further doubts about the integrity of missile defense testing. A November 2001 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that tests of ground-based missile defense interceptors have been using a beacon to guide the interceptor to within 400 meters of the mock warhead before an intercept is attempted--a courtesy not likely to be provided by an actual adversary. And a January test of a sea-based interceptor used a target that was substantially larger than the kinds of warheads the system would be expected to intercept in the event of a real attack.

The evaluation of future missile defense tests will be in the hands of Lieut. Gen. Ronald Kadish, the director of the Missile Defense Agency. And the task of integrating the proposed array of air-, land-, sea- and space-based missile defense technologies into a workable system will be contracted out to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, both of which will head a team of engineers handpicked from major weapons contractors. In short, no one without a vested interest in seeing the missile defense program move forward will be involved in evaluating the capabilities of the proposed system. Given recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that a multitiered system of the kind favored by the Bush Administration could cost as much as $238 billion, don't expect to hear too many discouraging words from the Missile Defense Agency's development team. There's too much money to be made.

Four months after September 11, Osama bin Laden is on the run and the Pentagon is riding high. Our warmaker in chief, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has been described by the talking heads of cable TV as "a virtual rock star" and "a babe magnet for the 70-year-old set." More important, Rumsfeld's department has become a virtual money magnet, attracting $50 billion in spending increases since mid-September on the way to a budget that could hit $363 billion this year.

The bulk of these new funds have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. The war in Afghanistan is costing $1 billion to $2 billion a month, but most of those expenses will be covered in a supplemental request that the Pentagon will forward to Congress later this year. Meanwhile, spending on systems that have actually proved useful in Afghanistan is lagging far behind expenditures for costly pet projects favored by the White House, key members of Congress, military bureaucrats and major weapons contractors.

For example, ballistic missile defense, a provocative program that has more to do with promoting unilateralist ideology than it does with defending the country, received a $2.5 billion increase in the budget approved by Congress in December. But spending on the unmanned aerial vehicles that have been a critical element of the air war in Afghanistan will increase by just one-tenth of that amount, or $250 million. And despite George W. Bush's campaign pledge to "skip a generation" of big-ticket systems to make way for a leaner, more mobile military force, not a single major weapons system has been canceled.

As a result of Bush's decision to give up the fight for Pentagon procurement reform, tens of billions will be squandered on systems like:

§ the F-22 fighter plane, which was designed to do battle with a next-generation Soviet fighter that was never built;

§ the ninety-ton Crusader artillery system, which is too cumbersome to transport to any of the likely battlefields of the future;

§ heavy combat ships like a next-generation destroyer and a new attack submarine that were meant to shadow Soviet war vessels now rusting in Russian ports.

Add to that Congressionally mandated boondoggles like a provision to spend $20 billion over the next ten years leasing unneeded aircraft from Boeing, and the dimensions of the wasteful spending being approved in the name of the war on terror begin to become apparent.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that more than two-thirds of the respondents expected the war on terrorism to diminish funding for other needed programs, but that more than half of those surveyed felt the sacrifice was worth it. That view would surely change if more people knew how much of the Pentagon's new largesse is serving the needs of special interests rather than the national interest.

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."

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.