COMMENTARY – Long ago, Gordon Adams introduced the term “iron triangle” to characterize the intertwined relationship between the Pentagon’s military services, the companies that contract with it to manufacture weapons and provide services, and the committees. of Congress who vote on military credits
– in short, the main actors who constantly demand annual increases in military spending and the latest lethal weapons.
While there are other actors, such as lobbyists and pro-defense think tanks, this military-industrial-government complex includes a central cast. They work together to meet and sometimes exceed military funding demands, in good and bad economic times, in peacetime as in times of crisis. For them, national security is a drag.
The iron triangle in action
Let’s look at these contracts between companies and the Pentagon. Total prime contracts in the current fiscal year (FY) is $ 447 billion, a jump of $ 42 billion from fiscal 2020 and over $ 300 billion since fiscal 2016 These contracts represent about two-thirds of all federal contracts ($ 682 billion) in those years. Under Biden, sharp increases continue and Congress is add on to his proposals. So, for fiscal 2022, Biden proposed $ 753 billion in military spending, to which Congress added $ 25 billion.
The graph below shows the jumps from one year to the next official military spending. (Keep in mind that the real budget request for FY2022 looks more like $ 1,000 billion when other military-related expenses, such as for veterans, are included.)
here are the Top 10 defense contractors. (Billions of US dollars; the total for the top ten is $ 190.3 billion, or 42% of all private defense contracts.)
- Lockheed Martin Corp., $ 74.2 billion
- Raytheon Technologies Corp., 27.4b
- General Dynamics Corp., $ 22.6 billion
- Boeing Co., $ 21.5 billion
- Northrop Grumman Corp., $ 12.7 billion
- Analytical Services Inc., $ 10.6 billion
- Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., 8 billion dollars
- Humana Inc., $ 6.9 billion
- BAE systems, $ 6.6 billion
- L3Harris Technologies Inc., $ 6.4 billion
The size (and influence) of the major defense contractors becomes evident when you consider that the top five are also the main federal contractors overall. And three of them, General Dynamics, Harris and Raytheon, are among the top five government IT contractors.
Congress is the Pentagon’s reliable partner in military spending. In the last round of military budgeting, Congress added $ 25 billion to Biden’s proposed budget of $ 753 billion.
Most members of the House and Senate never vote for the reduction of military spending, nor for the transfer of certain military spending to social spending.
These members also take the most money from military contractors, whose political action committees are reliable donors. The unsurprising observation: the more they take, the more assured their vote for increases in the military budget.
Stephen Semler, who tracks Pentagon economics, found that Democrats are no different from Republicans: In the 2020 election cycle, 179 House Democrats “received (on average) $ 30,075.85 in contributions. defense industry campaign. . . “
The war economy
The wars in the Middle East have been of great benefit to these entrepreneurs. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they provided virtually everything from food to weapons, and had thousands of people on the ground to manage distribution and use.
As The Guardian reports: “The number of contractors on the ground exceeded US troops during most years of conflict. As of the summer of 2020, the United States had 22,562 contractors in Afghanistan, roughly double the number of American troops. “
The main military contractors, as well as the big oil companies, controlled the more expensive items:
For example, Lockheed Martin manufactured the Black Hawk helicopters widely used in Afghanistan; Boeing sold the aircraft and ground combat vehicles; Raytheon won the major training contract for the Afghan Air Force; and Northrup Grumman and General Dynamics provided electronic and communications equipment.
The gravy train is therefore part of a larger enterprise: “the permanent war economy”, as described more than 50 years ago by Seymour Melman. It operates with relative immunity from the normal laws of supply and demand, profitability and competing needs.
Now, as Democrats grapple with each other and with Republicans over social spending, citizens and public interest groups should take a close look at this isolated economy and demand that Human security in America have a higher priority.
The war in the Middle East since 1990 has cost the United States approximately $ 7 trillion. Yet the United States clearly cannot afford a $ 3.5 trillion bill for the welfare of all of its citizens, a real national security bill.
As President Eisenhower warned long ago, excessive military spending is “theft” from the people: “Every weapon made, every warship launched, every rocket fired means, in the final sense, a theft by those who are hungry and not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. “
(Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is professor emeritus of political science at Portland State University and blog at In the human interest.)