Trump’s Troops: the arms industry

January 23, 2017

“There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don’t think you do. It’s just business.” James Mattis

“We probably haven’t seen the variety and diversity of threats to Americans safety and well-being and our national security in a long, long time,” he said. “Some have said it almost makes you yearn for the Cold War days when you knew who the bad guys were and who the good guys were and there was a wall dividing us.” Dan Coats

A new relationship
Trump’s tweets about “out of control” costs of the new presidential aircraft (Air Force One) and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have set the tone for what may be a new relationship with the arms industry. But a more ‘bang for your buck’ approach by the new administration is not necessarily bad news for weapons manufactures. Not only has Trump announced his intention to expand certain parts of the military — his business-oriented politics may fuel a more aggressive arms export push. For example, Trump’s active engagement with Taiwan could mean opening a door to highly controversial new arms sales – including the F-35.

Trumps tweets have certainly made industry insiders (and shareholders) nervous. A flurry of meetings and reassuring statements by the bosses of Lockheed Martin (F-35) and Boeing (Air Force One) were quickly arranged to reassure Washington and foreign customers that the industry would do whatever it could to ensure the best value for money so that “billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th” (Trump). How that would materialise, and how much may be saved, remains to be seen.

‘Mad Dog’ Mattis
New Defence Secretary James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, a four-star general with 44 years of  military service, has a job closely tied to the future of the US arms industry. The same arms industry which has employed Mattis since his retirerment until last week. Until Trump’s inauguration, Mattis was listed as a director of General Dynamics, America’s fifth largest arms producer and the world’s number six, best known for its ground-warfare vehicles and nuclear missile submarines.

To avoid conflicts of interest, Mattis is divesting his stock in General Dynamics and has promised to recuse himself for one year from matters involving his previous employer. With or without his direct involvement, General Dynamics can’t be more happy that one of their directors will now be in charge of their single most important customer.

The US Navy is in contract talks with General Dynamics to build twelve new Columbia-class nuclear missile submarines — a programme worth USD 128 billion, according to Bloomberg, and part of a trillion-dollar program to modernise the U.S.’s sea-air-land nuclear triad.

Dan Coats
Mattis is not alone. Former Senator Dan Coats, the new national intelligence director, has gone back and forth between the federal government and lobbying. One of his clients was Lockheed Martin, the world largest arms manufacturer.

Dick Cheney set the bar high
Former Defence Secretary (1989-1993) and Vice President (2001-2009) Dick Cheney stands as a symbol for the revolving door between the federal government and industry – a symptom of the ‘military-industrial complex’, for which former president (and five-star general) Dwight Eisenhower warned in his farewell speech in 1961.

From 1995 to 2000, between his two spells in office, Cheney led Halliburton, a company which in his years as Defence Secretary spearheaded the Pentagon’s attempts to outsource some activities to private military contractors (PMCs), a new synonym for mercenary.

Then came the attacks on 9/11 and the 2003 Iraq war. Halliburton saw their chance, becoming latter-day war profiteers, winning billions of dollars in contracts from the Pentagon for work in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ever since, Vice President Cheney has been accused of maintaining an inappropriately close relationship with Halliburton.

US not alone
The revolving door is certainly not an American phenomena – elsewhere in Europe it is very much the same. The movie Shadow World vividly shows the overlapping of interests of politics and the arms business on both sides of the Atlantic.

For a while, Trump appeared to want to break that tradition. During his campaign he repeatedly talked about “draining the swamp”, specifically denouncing the revolving door in Washington. With Mattis, Coats and others taking key government positions, Trump simply continues a tradition especially cherished by Republican administrations.


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