“Fundamental Shift” in the post-September 11th era shifted trillions of dollars to major defense companies


The post-September 11th era brought lasting changes to US military strategy.

For defense companies, it also sparked a big win as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as conflicts in other hot spots in the Middle East and beyond, trillions of dollars from the common military to for-profit corporations.

This new reality has raised the question of whether the Pentagon has become too dependent on private industry for critical missions, opened potential holes in national security, and possibly compromised even the largest military in the world, some critics say.

As defense spending skyrocketed in the 2000s, so too did defense companies’ profits. Of the total $ 14 trillion spent by the Department of Defense since the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, at least a third went to international contractors, according to a recent study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and the Center Politics.

At least $ 4.4 trillion was spent on arms purchases and research and development, and the vast majority went to well-known defense companies like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and other companies that have played an irreplaceable role at the forefront of the US war machine. Long-term defense contracts and decades of service contracts for weapons, vehicles, and other military tools make it difficult, if not impossible, to diminish the role of these companies in the modern military.

Analysts and defense insiders say the past two decades have accelerated change that had been under way since the end of the Cold War 10 years before a US-Soviet world war was fading.

“There has been a fundamental change. I think that shift goes back to the 1990s, ”said Michael Brenes, a Yale University historian who studies the defense industry.

“The end of the Cold War brought a crisis point. There is a period of crisis or concern for the defense industry and for defense companies as a whole, ”he said. “There is no longer a cold war and they are concerned about long-term profitability and where to go for more profits.”

The landscape changed before it finally came to the post-September 11th partnership between the Pentagon and industry. In many ways, corporations today can do practically anything but fight the war itself.

“To me, there is no discernible limit other than the fact that the use of kinetic force is primarily the responsibility of officers in the Marine Corps, the Army and the military,” said Mr. said Brenes.

However, industry leaders say the rapid expansion of the defense industry is largely due to better staff management by the Department of Defense. Military leaders, they argue, have focused on the best and most efficient ways to deploy well-trained soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

“There was a shift … You entered a new paradigm after 9/11,” said retired Air Force Col. Wesley Hallman, now senior vice president of strategy and policy for the National Defense Industrial Association, a leading industrial trade group.

In the past few years, he said, “DoD could just throw people at the problem. The people didn’t cost much. To be honest, they were cheap. “

This approach led to scenarios where Airmen and other military personnel were sometimes asked to paint buildings, do landscaping, and other jobs that well-trained military and military personnel were essentially overqualified for.

“You never see that again because of … the skills we ask of them in the military, the volunteer force,” Hallman said. “We have invested a lot and they are not cheap. We have developed a system with which we bind people and their skills. We keep the investments. For this reason they are not cheap. “

Money and controversy

While media attention over the past 20 years has mainly focused on contractors with companies like Blackwater providing armed security in war zones, the vast majority of industrial work on the ground has been much routine.

Many logistical tasks related to food, housing, infrastructure and other areas fell to the defense companies. For short-term military operations, officials and analysts say, it can make sense for service workers to take on some of these relatively mundane tasks. But if the US wants to maintain a large presence for an extended period of time, as was the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, outsourcing jobs to private industry makes sense, as specialists generally agree, provided these civilian contractors are kept safe and they do not hinder the military mission.

However, critics say the focus on these areas misses the broader aspect of how the US has created new problems by bringing more individuals and corporations into its war zone missions, dramatically increasing the likelihood of waste and fraud.

“The Pentagon’s increasing reliance on private contractors in the post-9/11 period raises numerous questions of accountability, transparency and effectiveness,” said part of the Brown University study by William Hartung, director of weapons – and security program at the Center for International Politics.

“This is problematic because the privatization of key functions can reduce the US military’s control over activities in war zones while increasing the risk of waste, fraud and abuse,” the study said. “Also, the fact that warfare is a source of profit may run counter to the goal of making the US a diplomatic leader in resolving conflicts.”

While large defense companies have played a central role in the US military for more than a century, the dollar numbers these companies are getting today are appalling.

From 2001 to 2020, the top five Pentagon arms contractors – Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman – signed a whopping $ 2.1 trillion in defense contracts, according to the Brown University study.

These companies are often targets of Capitol Hill because of the oversized role they play in US national security. But they do provide weapons and vehicles, not armed personnel on the ground in war zones.

In the years after 9/11, security firms like Blackwater fundamentally redefined the role of an armaments company in the 21st century. The company ensured security in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other things, and was viewed by critics as an American mercenary force that was not bound by the same rules that applied to the military itself.

“That’s the bigger problem with how the DoD relied on private contractors to be unaccountable,” said Mr Brenes.

Industry representatives stress, however, that all security companies are still bound by military rules of engagement and subject to commanders on the ground.

Blackwater gained much of its notoriety after an incident in Nisour Square in Baghdad in September 2007. Four Blackwater employees were found guilty of killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians on the premises, despite alleging they were defending a U.S. military convoy.

The four people were pardoned by ex-President Donald Trump in December.

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