Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Export We Can Be Proud of?

Hope you had a blast this past Labor Day weekend. For lots of folks, having a blast is based on one of America’s top exports – one of those “manufactures” that we actually make here at home – a source of local jobs and a long term sustainable industry. Arms. Weapons. Killing machines. Sophisticated ships, aircraft, missiles, tracking devices and lots and lots of “secret stuff.” And garden variety “guns.”

Congress recently did a study to see where we fit in the world of arms sales. Noting that the recession has dropped the overall military weapons market by 7.6%, the U.S. is still the overwhelming global supplier. The September 7th New York Times: “The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.” Woo hoo!

We’re good at making and exporting something. Sure we have the world’s biggest military to supply – our own – but this is hard dollar export stuff. So what if tons of this category of exports falls into the hands of our enemies, drives the Mexican drug cartels, keeps dictators in power at the expense of their people… If we didn’t supply it, someone else would step into the void.

Blowback? Collateral risk. It’s a source of jobs… just like private mercenaries… er… contractors… that the U.S. government uses to fight where it isn’t exactly right or where we can shift stuff out of our military budget into “other categories.” Face it, the parties at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan would have been the same boring festivities of old… no drunken nude bashes… without those “contractors.”

And exactly who are our major competitors in this global arm’s market? Well, we used to have more of them, but according to the Times: “Italy was a distant second, with $3.7 billion in worldwide weapons sales in 2008, while Russia was third with $3.5 billion in arms sales last year — down considerably from the $10.8 billion in weapons deals signed by Moscow in 2007.” I’m picturing a Ferrari staff car here, but I suspect I have this image all wrong.

It’s interesting to note exactly how much of that export list is to our major Western allies and how much is to what we still call “developing” nations. “The United States was the leader not only in arms sales worldwide, but also in sales to nations in the developing world, signing $29.6 billion in weapons agreements with these nations, or 70.1 percent of all such deals… The study found that the larger arms deals concluded by the United States with developing nations last year included a $6.5 billion air defense system for the United Arab Emirates, a $2.1 billion jet fighter deal with Morocco and a $2 billion attack helicopter agreement with Taiwan. Other large weapons agreements were reached between the United States and India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Korea and Brazil.” Times.

Even forgetting about the moral questions, think about how America is perceived overseas. Most believe we precipitated, if not directly caused, this global “recession” by unsound financial practices led by the corporate greed of Wall Street. They have watched our “war on terrorism” – however legitimate it may have been at some level – as an excuse to bully nations and force our point of view into nations who want no part of “America’s problems.” And our massive military, with airstrikes and civilian casualties along the way, shows a nation that does not inspire by an example of democracy but rather one that instills fears by sheer military brute force. “Made in U.S.A.” needs to have a powerful mark that instills “awe” … not “shock.”

I’m Peter Dekom, and I thought you might want to know.

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