Monday, August 29, 2005

"Hey buddy, can ya spare an F-18?"

In this evening's online NY Times I found Weapons Sales Worldwide Rise to Highest Level Since 2000 - once again the U.S. tops out the list as the foremost arms dealer on the planet. We racked up some $6.9 billion in arms deliveries to various nations, many of whom, such as India and Pakistan, are developing nations that should really have other priorities besides investing billions of dollars in limited riches in high-performance jet aircraft and the like. It's bad enough here when we can't provide decent healthcare to the average Jane or Joe on the street, some of whom are reduced to pulling out their own teeth in lieu of seeing a dentist that they can't afford, but these other nations have citizens by the millions who'd give up a mouthful of teeth to live the life of our Jane and Joe if only they were given the chance.

I'm not trying to make sense of it, nor do I intend to get on a soapbox about it much past what I've already done. It just makes no sense to me, though after 22 years in the Navy, with the last four in the Pentagon, I have to admit that in a perverse way I understand what sort of sense it makes and it ranks right up there with wanting to have the latest brand of sneakers or thinking that P. Diddy, or Puff Daddy, or Sean Combs, or whatever the heck he's calling himself these days, is someone important because he convinces us he is. There's a general lack of depth and a sense of what's important in life that spans all levels of a nation's citizenry, and indeed is truly international in nature.

2 Comments:

Blogger QuickSauce said...

It just makes no sense to me, though after 22 years in the Navy, with the last four in the Pentagon, I have to admit that in a perverse way I understand what sort of sense it makes and it ranks right up there with wanting to have the latest brand of sneakers or thinking that P. Diddy, or Puff Daddy, or Sean Combs, or whatever the heck he's calling himself these days, is someone important because he convinces us he is.

I'm very curious about what areas of the Pentagon you have felt this sense. Were you around the policy folks? Because, while I think you're onto something, I'd be suprised to find out that was how Rumsfeld, De Rita, England, Wolfie, etc., view these things.

8:52 PM  
Blogger James said...

Wow, good question, and not an easy one.

What drives a lot of what goes on in the Pentagon is money, plain and simple. It's not national defense alone, though mind you that's important, but one should never lose sight of the fact that the Pentagon is a conduit to a beehive of contractors and large businesses, all of which want to make the most money they can. I didn't see this at the level of weapons acquisition, which is really what this post talks about, but I did see it with systems that involved companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, EDS, and Lockheed Martin, and the bevvy of sub-contractors who supported them. So anyone involved in this business appreciates that whatever hook the contractor is going to use to get you interested in their system is the same hook they're hoping to use to get a foreign country interested in the same system, and in getting them to spend big money, and there's a separate organization dedicated solely to assisting contractors with what's called foreign military sales, which very often are a package deal. Not only do the contractors sell the country in question the hardware, but in addition we often sell the training that goes with the hardware. So, for example, we sell an F-18 to Pakistan. The contractor in question gets a sale, and they're happy, and then the Navy gets the chance to sell the training for the equipment purchased (literally, the country in question will not get the training for free unless they're using foreign aid money the U.S. govt gives to them, but then that money is then sent from a pot in the Treasury to a pot in the U.S. Navy which then gets to write off the training and maybe help pay for a few things in addition) the training, which isn't cheap, to the country with the new F-18.

So, on the whole you have a lot of vested interests who want to see other countries buy our stuff. First it makes contractors who support the military money, second it lessens the cost of a particular run of a given defense system (it costs less if you're building 700 F-18's rather than the 500 we actually need), third it helps the military to maximize the use of their training systems with a little extra thrown in besides (though no one is likely to admit that there's really a "little something" that comes out of this), and some politician somewhere is happy that constituents are out there busily building that F-18 in their district/state. So we invest a lot in convincing countries that our stuff is the stuff they really want, and by and large that's true as we do indeed make very good stuff. But why India, Pakistan, or Egypt actually need these things, well it's a hard case to make and it all comes down to playing on ego and keeping up with the other guy, regardless of however much that may mean walking over your own people to play that sort of game.

Ahhhhh ... didn't expect to get on such a stream of consciousness about this, but that, in a nutshell, is essentially how it falls out and you see variations on the theme at all levels within the Pentagon.

9:53 PM  

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