THE BLOG
10/20/2013 08:21 pm ET | Updated Dec 20, 2013

Exporting Things That Go Boom in the Night

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

It's no news (and in fact rarely makes it off the inside pages of our newspapers) that the U.S. dominates -- one might almost say monopolizes -- the global arms market. In 2011, the last year for which figures are available, U.S. weapons makers tripled their sales to $66.3 billion and were expected to remain in that range for 2012 as well. In other words, they took 78% of the market that year, with Russia coming in a vanishingly distant second at $4.8 billion in sales.

This country has long had a special propensity for exporting things that go boom in the night: the products of both the military-industrial complex and Hollywood, each a near-monopoly in its particular market. As it happened, on the very eve of a government shutdown, the Pentagon caught the spirit of the times by dumping $5 billion into the coffers of defense contractors for future weaponry and equipment of all sorts. As retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Bill Astore writes today, the business of America has increasingly become war, so no one should be surprised that, even with the government officially shut down, the Obama administration didn't turn off the lights in the offices where arms deals are a major focus of attention. As Cora Currier of ProPublica recently reported, in those shutdown weeks, the administration, in fact, lent an especially helping hand to American arms dealers. It loosened controls over military exports by moving the licensing process for foreign sales on "whole categories" of military equipment from the State Department (which, at least theoretically, has to consider the human rights records of countries slated to receive arms packages) to the Commerce Department, where, it seems, just about anything goes. The big weapons firms have been lobbying for this for quite a while.

As Currier writes, "The switch from State to Commerce represents a big win for defense manufacturers, who have long lobbied in favor of relaxing U.S. export rules, which they say put a damper on international trade. Among the companies that recently lobbied on the issue: Lockheed, which manufactures C-130 transport planes, Textron, which makes Kiowa Warrior helicopters, and Honeywell, which outfits military choppers."