Washington has made it a priority to radically overhaul the military in double time, designating weapons manufacturers as “essential” services during the pandemic.
The economy has crashed. A nationwide pandemic that has (officially) claimed some 84,000 Americans has also resulted in an estimated 36 million filing for unemployment insurance and millions frequenting food banks for the first time. Yet business is booming for one unlikely industry; weapons manufacturers are busier than ever and are even advertising for tens of thousands of more workers.
Northrop Grumman announced that it was planning to hire up to 10,000 more employees this year. Airlines are being hit particularly hard, as the number of people flying on commercial planes has cratered. Raytheon, who supplies parts to civilian aircraft manufacturers, has lost a great deal of business. Yet it is still advertising 2,000 new jobs in the military wing of its business. Boeing, who endured a torrid 2019, with multiple high-profile crashes of its 737 MAX-8 airliner, is preparing to lay off ten percent of its staff as airlines predict a long and sustained drop in air travel. Nevertheless, it is looking to add hundreds of new workers in its defense, intelligence, and cybersecurity departments.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin announced on Friday that it is “actively recruiting for over 4,600 roles,” in addition to the 2,365 new employees it has taken on since the lockdown started. The world’s largest arms dealer describes itself merely as “principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration, and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products, and services,” with words like “weapons,” “war,” or “bomb” not appearing on their website.
Why is the military industrial complex booming, even as America suffers? Because Washington has made it a priority to radically overhaul the military in double quick time, designating weapons manufacturers as “essential” services during a pandemic, ensuring they all have enough boots on the ground to continue working through the outbreak.
In February, the Pentagon released its $705 billion budget request for 2021, where it revealed that it would be ramping up for war with China and Russia in the near future. In its own words, there would be a “shifting focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a greater emphasis on the types of weapons that could be used to confront nuclear giants like Russia and China.” It also stated that it was going to acquire “more advanced high-end weapon systems, which provide increased standoff, enhanced lethality, and autonomous targeting for employment against near-peer threats in a more contested environment.” Last month, the Air Force commissioned Raytheon to develop and build a new nuclear cruise missile.
On a diplomatic level, the Trump administration is also dangerously escalating the possibility of nuclear war by pulling out of a number of international treaties designed to limit the possibility of a terminal conflict. The president has signaled his intention to remove the United States from the New START Treaty, the final remaining arms control agreement that binds it, something even the American ex-Deputy Secretary General of NATO condemned as “a chilling sign of how dangerous the world has become.” The U.S. is also increasing tensions with China and ramping up sanctions and regime change operations in Iran and Venezuela.
The United States spends almost as much on war as the rest of the world combined. It also has suffered by far the highest death toll from COVID-19. These two facts are not unrelated. As Trump was increasing the military budget, he also slashed funding for the Center for Disease Control and for the World Health Organization, perhaps the only international body capable of limiting the spread of the virus. In contrast to other countries that have handled the pandemic well, the rhetoric emanating from the White House treats the virus as an enemy to be fought, rather than a collective effort that everyone in society must engage in. Instead of purchasing protective equipment and developing test kits like other nations, the government is ordering military flyovers.
The pandemic has led many to question whether the enormous military budget is really making the country safer and whether it be better spent on healthcare, education, and other programs that would have combated the pandemic more effectively. However, that question appears not to have been debated within the walls of the White House, where it is full steam ahead with weapons production.
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