Military Propaganda for Arms Sales

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Saturday, June 21, 2003

In quoting a major international body, six basic points harshly criticizing the practices and impacts of the arms industry are listed below, by J.W. Smith:

  1. That the armament firms have been active in fomenting war scares and in persuading their countries to adopt warlike policies and to increase their armaments.
  2. That armament firms have attempted to bribe government officials, both at home and abroad.
  3. That armament firms have disseminated false reports concerning the military and naval programs of various countries, in order to stimulate armament expenditure.
  4. That armament firms have sought to influence public opinion through the control of newspapers in their own and foreign countries.
  5. That armament firms have organized international armament rings through which the armament race has been accentuated by playing off one country against another.
  6. That armament firms have organized international armament trusts which have increased the price of armaments sold to governments.

J.W. Smith, The World's Wasted Wealth II, (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), p. 224

But, this was not of the arms industry of today. Smith was quoting the League of Nations after World War I, when "Stung by the horrors of World War I, world leaders realized that arms merchants had a hand in creating both the climate of fear and the resulting disaster itself." But it sounds familiar, right? It summarizes quite well the problems of today as well. Justification for arms and creating the market for arms expenditure is not a new concept. The call to war and fear-mongering is an old tradition.

During the Cold War for example:

President Eisenhower, in his final address to the nation before leaving office in 1961, issues a rather extraordinary warning to the American people that the country "must guard against unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

David McGowan, Derailing Democracy, (Common Courage Press, 2000), p.1

In recent times, the global security has drastically changed. Yet military policies have remained somewhat unchanged, while the justification for such large expenditures continues to improve in sophistication.

Military propaganda is a common theme stereotyped in the developing nations that are undergoing some sort of conflict such as civil wars or border disputes, for example. However, in the developed countries, (the majority of weapons, large and small are created in the industrialized nations) there are also more subtle ways of ensuring that your view points are widely agreed upon, such as military contractors supporting commercials, journalists and even pouring tax payer's money heavily into Hollywood.

As a Foreign Policy in Focus paper, titled "Military Industrial Complex Revisited - How Weapons Makers are Shaping U.S. Foreign and Military Policies" by William D. Hartung shows, in the USA for example, the most powerful nation, the large weapons producers have a lot of influence over Washington and have helped maintain the amazingly large military budget of approximately $300 billion dollars in post-Cold War periods.

"Jobs and Good Relations are Formed with Arms Sales"

Many arms contractors maintain that arms sales are essential to foster good relations and also create more jobs at home.

  • Yet, when new weapons development is funded the rationale used is that it is because so many countries have sophisticated weapons.
  • These weapons are often the very same ones that these manufacturers have also sold around the world.
  • It makes a nice circular argument to continue the development and manufacture of newer and more advanced weapons.
  • Demonizing countries that you sell arms to so you can sell more to others is not going to foster good relations.

When sales are made there are often other economic incentives provided to ensure the sale.

  • For example, in some cases manufacturing operations required for the weapons are moved abroad.
  • Manufacturers often make the point that sales will help create jobs.
  • Obviously in these cases it does, but not in the home nation as they make it out to be.

In addition, as Federation of American Scientists also point out, the argument about providing jobs can be countered by noting that the money on subsidies could be spent productively in more useful and productive industries: "When assessing the employment 'benefits' of arms exportation we must take into consideration the $7 billion plus in subsidies that underwrite the arms trade. The same investment in any other industry would create as much -if not more- employment. By moving productions jobs overseas, offsets also undercut the jobs argument."

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Propaganda Techniques

The Center for Defense Information have a produced a show called "Marketing Tomorrow's Weapons". It makes a number of important observations:

  • Major defense contractors own CBS and NBC, two of the largest US television networks.

  • A Lockheed advertisement actually claimed that "the perception of peace means less jobs for Americans". And yet, for example, Turkey builds all F16s, not Americans.

  • An ad even claimed that the F22 was an anti-war plane!

  • Many advertisements emphasized that a better fighter plane would ensure loved ones can come back home.

  • Arms contractors contributed at least 12 million dollars to Congress who actually vote on how much to spend on major weapon systems.

  • The ads and propaganda are about minimizing casualties to make us believe that in future wars no one will be killed. [In the Gulf War in 1991, a huge number of Iraqi's were killed, civilian and military. All we heard in the media was only the Allies' side and how the number of casualties was ever so small. There was nothing about the large number of Iraqi casualties -- military and civilian -- which resulted from the Allied bombing. And even if there was a mention in mainstream media, it was very distorted. For more about some of the recent issues concerning Iraq, go to this web site's look at the Iraq Crisis.]

  • Amazing, breath-taking air shows leave us in awe at the wonderful technology - almost making us forget the purpose of such aircraft.

  • Boeing and Lockheed are major advertisers and contractors.

  • Some contractors even sponsor NBA events, while the US Army co-sponsored the 1998 Soccer World Cup!

  • Recruitment ads show us the "brotherhood of man" using "emotional manipulation" making us forget that the military is about killing people.

  • Students as young as eight years of age were asked what it would be like to fly an F22 and what it means for the protection of the country (USA) and economy (of USA).

  • The F22 is all paid for by the US taxpayer - with no enemies in sight.

  • The documentary claimed that the only way to get public debate on this matter was to reduce the amount of money that the Pentagon gets. However, the propaganda ensures that this will not happen.

Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

General Herman Goering, President of German Reichstag and Nazi Party, Commander of Luftwaffe during World War II, April 18, 1946. (This quote is said to have been made during the Nuremburg Trials, but in fact, while during the time of the trials, was made in private to an Allied intelligence officer, later published in the book, Nuremburg Diary.)

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Benefits from Arms Sales

Arms contractors have a vested interest in expansion of military alliances, such as NATO, and also in many wars and conflicts that these alliances or member nations may be in, as this increases their likelihood of profitable sales (with the additional message of therefore bringing more jobs home, which of course is not always the case, as mentioned above). An example of this can be seen with the arms sales for the military operations during the Kosovo Crisis. (See also the last section of this brief from the Institute for Public Accuracy.)

On April 28, 2002, the UK's BBC broadcast a documentary called "Addicted to Arms" describing the British arms trade, as Britain is the second largest military and arms exporter after the United States. Amongst various points and implications made were the following:

  • Various elected officials, from the Prime Minister down in effect act as salesmen for the arms industry.
  • The British Defence Manufacturers Association, in a similar manner to the documentary described above, produce promotional videos that of course would not show the gory details of the impacts their products have. They admittedly also call their exports 'defence' exports rather than, say, arms exports so as to not conjure up too negative an image.
  • Regardless of the British political party in power, their arms policies have been the same. Before Labour came into power, Tony Blair criticized the Conservatives for their additiction to the destructive arms trade, and yet, now that Tony Blair is in power, his actions suggest that he and members of his government too are "addicted".
  • When Blair's then Foreign Secratary Robin Cook talked about ethical foreign policies, they were selling to Indonesia, who were using it to violently crack down on the East Timorese (in what some would describe as genocide or ethnic cleansing. See the East Timor section on this site for more about Britain's support of Indonesia.)
  • In talking to a professor on the impacts of addiction to anything, from drugs, to selling arms, similar patterns of denial, grandioseness, etc, were seen. Hence, exporting arms was seen (or portrayed) as promoting peace and democracy. When India and Pakistan were fighting over Kashmir, Blair spoke of exerting a "calming influence". Yet, just a little while after such speaches, he and the British military industrial complex were attempting to sell a lot of weapons to India.
  • While Britain has an arms export licensing report, it only says how many exports are granted, but not how much, to whom and when, for example. Even government officials can't find out about details of arms sales.
  • Furthermore, nobody has formal responsibility for monitoring the use of British arms exports. Unaccountability of use as well as of sales results.
  • The British military industry gets a welfare service by being able to have government officials involved in selling arms (at taxpayers expense). It is of more concern then that details are hard to get hold of.
  • Various spokespeople from the military industry said that the ethical dimensions and things like corporate responsibility was not in the domain of corporations, but of the government. That is, it is for the government to lay down the guidelines about ethical dimensions of arms sales and exports. For corporations they are just to make money. This may sound reasonable from a business perspective, but then lobbying and other political activities by the military industrial complex is even more questionable. There is also the argument given that the military industry provides jobs.
  • A professor of economics pointed out that many arms sales are unjustified on the grounds of economics. That is, the number of jobs supported by the industry is not that large, and that given the changing nature of the economy, the impact in the reduction of military spending would not adversely affect the economy and jobs. This was a report commissioned by the government's Ministry of Defence and titled "Economic costs of the benefits of the UK Defence Exports". Yet, the investigating reporter on the documentary tried to obtain a copy which he said had been basically "buried".

The above examples are from the U.S. and U.K., but most if not all arms exporting nations justify and promote this trade in such ways. The geopolitical and economic costs involved are enormous, and there is therefore vested political interest in arms trading. Justifications and rationalizations to the populace will therefore be attempted in order to create a sense of legitimacy and ethical need. In that Orwellian sense, war is peace, and peace is war.

Propaganda like this is irresponsible as it involves many industries, influential politics and power play all working to making the people of a nation believe that a threat on home soil is more real that it really is. It can then be used to have the public demand or agree (or at least not effectively oppose) an increase in military spending and budgets (which we pay for in the form of taxes) while more important issues get neglected or less attention, such as health and education.

Perhaps, while protection of jobs in the defence exports industry can be used to justify sales more than the commissions made from the sales can, it is the latter which seems to be the greatest motivator.

...Fuelled by these commissions - often a euphemism for bribes - the arms export industry seems to have done very little for Britain's exports and has caused much subsequent trouble and pain.

Arming The World, BBC News, 6 June 2002

The eventual people who profit from this "increased security" is not the general public, but often the corporations who wish to make increasing sales, the arms dealers who earn large commissions and the governments of the powerful nations who can continue their geopolitical jostling for power, dominance and influence over poorer nations. As mentioned on the big business page and above, even top goverment officials, such as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Foreign Secratary Jack Straw, have acted as salesmen to sell arms and win contracts overseas. The catch 22 often presented is that if they don't do it, someone else will.

This catch 22, and some of the aspects of corruption described above were also noted by an investigation by the British newspaper, The Guardian. On June 13, 2003, they produced a report showing that British state corruption for arms sales went back some 40 years. Bribery had been long promoted as a means to get business. The article is quoted at length here:

The then Labour defence secretary, Denis Healey, hired a tough businessman, Sir Donald Stokes, to tell him how to compete with the Americans on arms sales. But civil servants were dismayed by what Sir Donald then advised. As Healey's top official, Sir Henry Hardman, noted in July 1965: "Sir Donald Stokes had indicated that it was often necessary to offer bribes to make sales."

Behind the shroud of Whitehall secrecy, Stokes went on to spell out with brutal clarity how arms sales actually worked. "The commercial technique was to gather intelligence on the right people who con trolled sales and purchases (these were by no means the top people in governments and organisations).

"When the right person was found effort would be concentrated on him and in time a sale would be effected. Sir Donald stressed that a great many arms sales were made not because anyone wanted the arms, but because of the commission involved en route."

He recommended importing a businessman who could disregard Whitehall ethics. He wrote: "It may well be necessary to provide other financial aids and incentives for certain possible eventualities... It must be recognised that certain business is obtained in unorthodox ways... Our competitors in this field are determined and ruthless. We must be even more so."

... One solution [to the problem of how to provide for the bribery from moneys voted by Parliament], Stokes suggested, was for the government to work hand in glove with local "fixers", who could dish out the more hefty bribes: "Good commercial agents... are better placed than an official to dispense the less orthodox inducements".

The whole business would be kept dark, behind the screen of the [UK's] Official Secrets Act.

... Only after the September 11 terrorist attacks did British ministers bow to passionate US pressure to stop all forms of money laundering which might fund terrorism.

The emergency law then passed contains a section outlawing corrupt payments to foreign public officials. Yet, as we revealed yesterday, the MoD now faces renewed allegations from the US that bribery has continued on BAE's would-be Czech Gripen deal.

Rob Evans, Ian Traynor, Luke Harding, Rory Carroll, Web of state corruption dates back 40 years, The Guardian, June 13, 2003

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(For more about the media side of this issue, see also this web site's section on the media, war and propaganda.)

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Monday, July 20, 1998
  • Last Updated: Saturday, June 21, 2003

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