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The big, bad business of America's war industry

  • 20 April 2018


As the Western allies flirt with starting World War III in Syria, it is worth examining some of the financial and business dynamics behind the United States' 'military industrial complex'. War may not be good business, but it is certainly big business. And in contrast to Russia and China, the war industry in the US is heavily privatised, including the use of mercenaries.

First, some statistical context. America's military spending, which will rise to US$716 billion in 2019, is almost half the total of the world's military spending. It is bigger than the next 15 biggest countries' combined outlays, four times China's level and ten times Russia's. And that is just military spending. As Alexander Nekrosov commented, the CIA's budget is $US44 billion a year, which is about two thirds of Russia's military budget. America is a warrior nation like no other: it has been at war 222 out of its 239 years.

Then there are the bases. Depending on how you count them, America has between 800 and 1000 military bases, giving it leverage, if not control, over 191 nations. Russia has only a handful, mainly across Central Asia, although it has been establishing new ones in Syria. China has almost none. The US bases are presented as being part of America's investment in defence, but it looks much more like offence.

Then there are the munitions output and the body count — what we might call the business operations. In the past 16 years, the US has invaded, occupied and dropped 200,000 bombs and missiles on seven countries. If the overall impact is considered, and not just the immediate casualties from the combat (an epidemiological approach) the death toll is estimated to be more than two million (and maybe as high as five million).

Then there is the co-opting of public and political life. Military providers depend almost totally on sales to their governments, with of course America being the biggest buyer. This represents an extremely lucrative market, but to make sure that it will buy it is necessary to persuade politicians and the media that there is a constant threat that must be met with ever higher spending.

This does not prove too difficult. Even basic logic is easily taken out. Thus we see the recent bombing of Syria justified as teaching Assad a lesson that goes something like this: 'Because Assad appears to have killed Syrians, we have to punish him