NATO's New Arms Bazaar: U.S. Military Contractors and Diplomats Are Hawking Their Wares Together
Mesler, Bill, The Nation
U.S. MILITARY CONTRACTORS AND DIPLOMATS ARE HAWKING THEIR WARES TOGETHER.
It wasn't a typical scene at Nyugati Rail Station in downtown Budapest. On one side stood a crowd of police, camera crews, sharply dressed business executives and various Hungarian officials, all jockeying for position in front of an unusually well-kept bullet train. On the other side stood anti-NATO protesters from the left-wing Hungarian Workers Party and the environmental group Alba Kor ("White Circle"). Among them walked a young woman wearing a plastic crown, a black, full-length cocktail dress and a sash that read "Miss No-NATO."
V.I.P.s and protesters alike had all come for the "NATO Express," a two-hour luxury train ride to the formerly Soviet air base at Kecskemet, where a three-day military aviation show had been arranged and paid for by various American and European military contractors hoping to cash in on NATO expansion. Waiting there to wine and dine them were scores of lobbyists from the world's biggest arms companies--Swedish, British and French, but mostly American. Among them were the U.S. ambassador to Hungary and at least fifty U.S. military officers, many wearing name tags identifying them as representatives of Lockheed-Martin or McDonnell Douglas. "We are not here to market defense equipment," said the Pentagon's defense attache to Hungary, Col. Arpad Szurgyi. "We know the rules, our leadership knows the rules and American corporations know the rules." Minutes later he was contradicted by McDonnell Douglas Aerospace president Michael Sears. Pointing at the US. military presence, Sears told The Nation: "Their job is to push American products."
When the leaders of the sixteen current NATO members meet in Madrid on July 8, they will almost certainly invite Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join the five-decade-old security arrangement. The world's largest arms manufacturers are salivating at the prospect.
For them, the issue is not so much NATO enlargement but the re-arming of Central and Eastern Europe. Since talk of expanding NATO began four years ago, the Western arms industry has tried to shape the new NATO into a mandate for large increases in arms transfers to former Warsaw Pact and Soviet states.
The U.S. arms industry has been actively lobbying for NATO expansion. Its target is the US. Senate, where a two-thirds vote will be required to ratify any new members. Some senators have grumbled about the costs of expansion and the wisdom of extending a U.S. commitment to defend these countries--with nuclear weapons if necessary.
Leading the way has been military giant Lockheed-Martin. As the military industry's largest single contributor to political campaigns (spending $2.3 million in 1996), Lockheed swings a big stick in Congress. In some cases Lockheed has directly lobbied senators who are undecided on the NATO issue. But mostly the company has been helped by an ostensibly unconnected group called the U. S. Committee to Expand NATO, based in the Washington offices of the American Enterprise Institute. "It seems like we get a fax from them every day," said one Capitol Hill staffer. The committee has met with the editorial boards of major newspapers and sponsored Op-Ed articles; arranged meetings between Eastern European leaders and wavering senators; and advised the Eastern European ethnic lobbies that have been the leading domestic political forces in support of an expanded NATO. Although the committee claims it has no connection to Lockheed-Martin, it is led by one of the company's top executives (as was also recently reported by The New York Times).
They are fighting for stakes that could be enormous. The three most likely new members of NATO are already planning to spend at least $7 billion on new jet fighters--and those are just the short-term rewards. In contrast to President Clinton's ridiculously optimistic--and almost universally dismissed--estimate of the costs of new membership (he said it would cost U. …