Publication: Noseweek Issued: Date: 2001-11-01 Reporter: Sarah Ruden Editor:

Stop the Arms Deal!




Date November 2001, Issue 37


Sarah Ruden

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I wouldn't blame South Africans for being sick of advice from Americans, but you can think of us as the crazy relatives. Anything megalomaniac or messianic or merely odd that you want to try you can probably check against an analogous project in America, to see whether there's any hope of success, or any point. I particularly recommend the US experience with "defence" spending for your consideration.

Many thoughtful South Africans are taking comfort in the uselessness of the arms deal and the probability that the motivation was large-scale bribes and not military ambitions on the part of this regime. But this discounts military procurement's tendency to take on a life of its own and snack on civil society, making war more likely even if that wasn't the original intention. The US is example numero uno.

It is hard for a government to make huge transactions, such as the US began with WWII procurement, without them becoming embedded in the political system. Too many self-perpetuating institutions get created. President Eisenhower, in his farewell address in 1960, warned of the "military-industrial complex" he himself, a lionized retired general, had been unable to contain: his government, led on by distorted military- intelligence estimates of communist threats, had tripled or quadrupled military spending during the period of the US's greatest security.

Since the mid-fifties at the latest, such spending has been the axe-murderer in the US polity, driven by inner voices so strong that the outward, geopolitical situation and even the Defence Department's own estimates of its needs became irrelevant. Defence industries employ 2%of the civilian workforce and yield the single richest and most powerful set of political cronies. The military between 1978 and 1998 requested five Lockheed Martin C-130 transport planes. Congress voted funds for 256. (Outraged at a few spare Gripens and corvettes? Wimps!) Arms companies used news footage of the Gulf War to advertise their products, as if the war had been an experiment or a promotion staged by and for themselves. They export almost wherever they please - to the poorest and most unstable countries, to both sides of conflicts, to countries that turn the weapons back on the United States within a few years - appropriating and perverting foreign policy. It would be better for economic benefits of SAs arms deal never to appear, given what they would do to decision-making in the long term.

Unlike any other industry except to a certain extent medicine, defence dictates what the public needs,

without reference to public opinion. And unlike any other industry but intelligence, which is closely allied to it, defence claims the right to deliberate both in secrecy and in near symbiosis with the state. In the US, players prance between the military and electoral politics and defence industry lobbying and consulting: it's always the same people in highly classified cahoots. No wonder defence spending increases in times of war and peace, tension and calm. Aside from interest on the national debt, it is the only major sacred cow in the budget, in a country with pockets of scandalous poverty. When conventional forces are reduced (as is happening in SA), the savings are more than counterbalanced by high-tech weapons development, which centralizes power and obscures planning even more.

A large arms trade takes away from citizens the option of going to war or not, by building up circumstances that make war inevitable. If 15 years ago Americans had been asked, "Would you like to make war on Afghanistan?" we would have said: "Gosh, no! That's for the Soviets - bunch of psychopaths." But we were already committed: by the arming of the Mujahadin, whom we were told were striving for religious freedom and national self-determination just like our own colonial ancestors. Without our help, the Taliban couldn't have achieved hegemony over similar wild-eyed hordes and aspired to world conquest. Given the condition of Africa, how much more easily applicable are the basic principles behind America's present embroilment. Armaments are no fun unless you do something with them. Then you can get more!

Do anything to prevent this arms deal from going through. Support Terry Crawford-Browne's lawsuit. Moon the next official who says you need these weapons. Threaten to elect another government. It's that important.

With acknowledgement to Noseweek and Sarah Ruden.