Nov 7, 2023

Paul Krugman Dismisses the Existence of a Military-Industrial Complex

Photograph Source: Prolineserver – GNU 1.2

Paul Krugman is a Distinguished Professor of Economics in the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, a columnist for the New York Times, and a leading economist and public intellectual. He received a Nobel Prize for his efforts in 2008.

In a column last week, however, Krugman left his economics lane, and argued that President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” no longer existed.  Krugman argued that ‘“military spending is much smaller as a share of the economy than it was” 60 years ago.  He dismissed the “military-industrial complex” as a 60-year-old cliche, and gratuitously endorsed additional military spending because “recent events have made the case for spending…perhaps more.”  Au contraire, Mr. Krugman.

In actual fact, the military-industrial complex, which includes the arms lobby, the weapons manufacturers, and the Congress, is far more influential than it was 60 years ago.  Global defense spending is around $2.2 billion, with the United States spending half of that amount.  One of Krugman’s mistakes is to take into account only Pentagon spending, which is over $860 billion, and ignore the military spending of the Intelligence Community; the nuclear weapons spending of the Department of Energy; the huge spending of the Office of Veterans Affairs primarily due to our misbegotten wars; and the military spending of the Department of Homeland Security, particularly for our Coast Guard, which is currently the fifth largest navy in the world.

The military-industrial complex is responsible for the vast deployment and stationing of U.S. forces overseas.  The United States has hundreds of military facilities around the world. This is in sharp contrast with Russia’s two military facilities outside its zone of interest, and China’s single facility on the Horn of Africa.  U.S. forces are deployed in more than 100 countries, and our military instrument is our major weapon for influencing developments the world over.

A recent study by the Quincy Institute documented the revolving door between the Pentagon and the arms manufacturing sector as senior general officers retire and immediately take on high-level positions at Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, and United Technologies Corporation.  The top five manufacturers earned $200 billion in 2022.  According to the study, moreover, “80 percent of four-star general and admirals who retired in the past five years went to work on behalf of the arms industry.”  Too many general officers and admirals also retired to take on secretive work on behalf of foreign governments, particularly in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

This revolving door is enhanced by the huge number of lobbyists in Washington, who outnumber the number of Senators and Representatives on the Hill.  The Hill is particularly responsive to the arms lobby, producing large bipartisan majorities for any legislation that involves military spending, military deployments, and military weaponry.  Senators and representatives consider the military spending bill to be a jobs bill, and rarely vote against weapons systems that are developed in their states.

Even California’s liberal members of Congress make sure that Lockheed Martin is treated generously in the military budget.  According to William Hartung, “in one recent year, Lockheed Martin received more federal funding that the State Department and the Agency for International Development combined.”

Krugman is naive in arguing that the “merchants of death” are not driving our support for Ukraine and for Israel.  Perhaps, but the largest weapons manufacturers are poised to garner the profits from the increased manufacturing of weapons systems driven by the demands of the Ukrainians and the Israelis. These manufacturers also drive the high costs of such outrageously expensive weapons systems as the F-35 fighter jet, which gave the late Senator John McCain “sticker shock.”

The ability to track weapons deliveries to third countries will be getting even more difficult because the Biden administration wants to conduct arms sales with Israel in complete secrecy, without any possibility of oversight from Congress or the public.  The former director of congressional and public affairs for the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Josh Paul, resigned last month to protest hasty weapons deliveries to Israel that hadn’t received proper oversight.

It’s hard enough to get the United States to change course on its policies of militarization without public intellectuals, such as Paul Krugman, understating the power and influence of the military-industrial complex and spreading misinformation about the issue.  The military paranoia of the Cold War promoted massive military-industrial complexes in the United States and the Soviet Union that led Washington into Vietnam in the 1960s and Moscow into Afghanistan in the 1980s.  Post-9/11 paranoia led the Bush administration into Afghanistan and Iraq.

It seems clear that the military-industrial complex is driving huge government expenditures on munitions and preparedness in response to the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. At the same time, the military-industrial complex is inventive in developing new reasons for maintaining as many bases as possible long after the wars that led to their creation were ended. After 9/11, we waged wars for two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan, establishing fourteen new bases in East Europe, the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Caucasus.  Some of these bases were designed to combat terrorism; more likely, they became targets for terrorists.

Recent News and Latest Book

Biden and the Washington Post Combine to Argue for War

“Militarily,” according to Ignatius, the “Israeli campaign against Hamas has been relentless and successful.”   This outrageous statement is belied by the absence of evidence regarding the so-called command and control center under the Al-Shifa hospital compound, let alone any success against the Hamas leadership or overall Hamas forces.

Is There No End to the War-Mongering of the Washington Post

It is increasingly clear that the Russian campaign against Ukraine and the Israeli campaign against Gaza are violating international law and the essential tenets of just war.  Neither Russia nor Israel is making the required distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, and the excessive use of force on both battlefields is a violation of the need for proportionality in warfare.  Russian and Israeli military forces are targeting civilian infrastructure and even civilians themselves.