Published on Thursday, April 3, 2003 by the Inter Press Service

There's No Business Like War Business

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - When the dust finally settles on post-war Iraq, the United States may have unleashed virtually all of its state-of-the-art weaponry on a country already devastated by 13 years of rigid U.N. sanctions.

After 14 days of heavy pounding, U.S. military forces so far have dropped over 8,700 bombs, including more than 3,000 missiles, and also fired millions of rounds of ammunition on military and civilian targets inside the country.

An anti-war demonstrator flashes the peace sign as she and other demonstrators are surrounded by police after their arrest in front of the Bechtel Corporation headquarters in downtown San Francisco March 21, 2003. Arrests of protesters continued on the second day of widespread protests against the war on Iraq. REUTERS/Lou Dematteis

When U.S. fighter pilots in B-2 stealth bombers launched the initial attack on a residential compound in Baghdad - believed to be a meeting place for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and senior Baath Party officials - the opening salvo included a pair of 2,000 pound bombs and 36 deadly long-range Tomahawk missiles.

The U.S. military will have to replace all of these weapons - worth billions of dollars - giving a tremendous boost to the U.S. military industry, which has been on the skids since the last Gulf War in 1991.

In the latest 'Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations', the U.S. State Department predicts that U.S. arms sales are expected to reach over 14 billion dollars this year, the largest total in almost two decades, compared to 12.5 billion dollars in 2002.

''A tragic indicator of the values of our civilization is that there's no business like war business,'' says Douglas Mattern of the New York-based War and Peace Foundation.

''I believe arms sales will increase even beyond the staggering amount we have today, due to a continuing destabilization of the area and the lobbying for sales by the armament industry,'' Mattern told IPS.

One writer describes a ''charmed circle of American capitalism'', where Tomahawk and cruise missiles will destroy Iraq, Bechtel Corporation (which once employed U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney) will rebuild the country. And stolen Iraqi oil will pay for it.''

''U.S. weapons contractors are likely to gain significant profits because of this war,'' says Natalie Goldring, executive director of the Program on Global Security and Disarmament at the University of Maryland.

''They'll be paid to replace the weapons that are used or destroyed in the war. The companies will also trumpet their successes at next summer's Paris Air Show, searching for foreign buyers,'' Goldring told IPS.

Global annual military spending was 780 billion dollars in 1999, 840 billion dollars in 2001 and is on target for one trillion dollars, according to U.N. estimates.

Besides the human casualties, the 14-day-old Iraqi war has seen the destruction of millions of dollars worth of military equipment on both sides of the battlefield.

A U.S. Apache Longbow helicopter, brought down by Iraqi farmers, costs about 22 million dollars. The U.S. Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, which is also on the casualty list, is priced at over 1.2 million dollars. The war has also seen the destruction for the first time on a battlefield of a monstrous U.S.-built Abrams battle tank.

Goldring pointed out that Washington has armed Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan for decades. ''The strategy was to give and sell these countries weapons so that they could defend themselves, and we wouldn't have to deploy U.S. forces to the region. This strategy has clearly failed,'' she added.

Of the world's 10 major buyers of U.S. weapons systems last year, five were from the Middle East: Egypt (1.1 billion dollars in U.S. arms), Kuwait (1.0 billion dollars), Saudi Arabia (885 million dollars), Oman (826 million dollars) and Israel (710 million dollars). The other five nations in the top 10 were South Korea, Japan, Canada, Greece and Britain.

''We have armed unstable regimes with our most sophisticated weapons, and have then used the widespread proliferation of the weapons as the argument for producing the next generation of more expensive weapons. The vicious cycle continues,'' Goldring said.

The really big money for U.S. defense contractors, says Mattern, is in the annual Pentagon budget, which has risen from 294 billion dollars in 2000 to about 400 billion dollars in 2003. At the current rate of growth, the budget is expected to hit 500 billion dollars by 2010.

He said the Pentagon will spend about 60 billion dollars to buy new arms this year and over 30 billion dollars in research and development of new weapons. ''The U.S. armament industry is the second most subsidized industry, after agriculture,'' he added.

The Iraqi war will also affect the global fight against poverty, because of the huge cost of the war and its aftermath. ''It will also degrade health care and other needs in the United States,'' according to Mattern.

One-half of the world's governments spend more on the military than on health care, he added. ''The war business is the world's ultimate criminal activity.''

U.S. President George W. Bush last week sought Congressional approval for a hefty 75 billion dollars to fund the first six months of the Iraqi war and related anti-terrorism and foreign aid expenses.

''With the intensity of the war so far,'' says Goldring, ''the 75 billion dollars is probably just the down payment on the war''.

The bottom line, says 'New York Times' columnist Paul Krugman, is that the United States will win on the battlefield, probably with ease.

''I am not a military expert,'' he wrote, ''but I can do the numbers: the most recent U.S. military budget was 400 billion dollars, while Iraq spent only 1.4 billion dollars.''

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