Coronavirus News Asia

Beware the Pentagon’s pandemic profiteers


At this moment of unprecedented crisis, you might think that those not overcome by the economic and mortal consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic would be asking, “What can we do to help?” A few companies have indeed pivoted to making masks and ventilators for an overwhelmed US medical establishment.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the top officials of the Pentagon and the CEOs running a large part of the arms industry, examples abound of them asking what they can do to help themselves.

It’s important to grasp just how staggeringly well the US defense industry has done in these last nearly 19 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Its companies (filled with ex-military and defense officials) have received trillions of dollars in government contracts, which they’ve largely used to feather their own nests.

Data compiled by The New York Times showed that the chief executive officers of the top five US military-industrial contractors received nearly $90 million in compensation in 2017. An investigation that same year by The Providence Journal discovered that, from 2005 to the first half of 2017, the top five defense contractors spent more than $114 billion repurchasing their own company stocks and so boosting their value at the expense of new investment.

To put this in perspective in the midst of a pandemic, the co-directors of the Costs of War Project at Brown University recently pointed out that allocations for the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health for 2020 amounted to less than 1% of what the US government has spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone since 9/11.

While just about every imaginable US government agency and industry has been impacted by the still-spreading coronavirus, the role of the defense industry and the military in responding to it has, in truth, been limited indeed. The highly publicized use of military hospital ships in New York City and Los Angeles, for example, not only had relatively little impact on the crises in those cities but came to serve as a symbol of just how dysfunctional the military response has truly been.

Bailing out the military-industrial complex

Demands to use the Defense Production Act to direct companies to produce equipment needed to combat Covid-19 have sputtered, provoking strong resistance from industries worried first and foremost about their own profits.

Even conservative Washington Post columnist Max Boot, a longtime supporter of increased Pentagon spending, has recently recanted, noting how just such budget priorities have weakened the ability of the United States to keep Americans safe from the virus.


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