"The Revolving Door, A Revolting Access"

Article in The Broken Rifle No 71, September 2006 as part of an issue on war profiteering.

Joanne Sheehan and Javier Gárate

War profiteers depend mainly on government contracts. Imagine what Lockheed Martin would be without their Pentagon contracts! At the same time governments need an excuse for spending such huge sums of money e.g. "war against terror", "national security", "peace forces", etc. Since war profiteers depend on government contracts they need to be in the position to influence them. Through the years they have positioned themselves to have an immense political power within governments, and they enjoy privileged access to decision-makers that the general public can only dream of.

In order to sell their products, the war profiteers need access to information, and access to the different decision bodies. How do they do it? By the so-called revolving door factor, and heavy lobbying.

The term "revolving door" refers to the movement of employees between government and corporations. Former military generals or members of defence ministries move to high positions in the war industry. As they move to "defense contractors" they come with all their connections and information from the inside for how to get those precious contracts. The revolving door also works the other way around, when ex-corporate bigwigs working for war profiteers move to the defence departments or other government defence contract decision bodies, where they are in the best position to influence which companies the contracts are award to.

There are many cases of the revolving door, Dick Cheney being the most famous one, when he went from being the Secretary of Defense to the CEO of Halliburton to vicepresident of USA. But he is not the only one!

Just to mention two in the UK: Julian Scopes is BAE Systems' most senior political lobbyist and a former MoD civil servant, Scopes is reported to have retained his all-area access pass to the MoD, where he could easily view confidential information. BAE has not confirmed or denied whether other senior members of staff have similar access. In another case Lord Inge, Chief of Defence Staff from 1994-1997, became Non-executive Chairman at Aegis Defence Services.

Heavy lobbying happens when companies have an official role in making policy and contract decisions. Examine the European Union to see how this works. For many years the arms industry tried hard to influence Brussels' decision makers, promoting the concept that a strong military Europe needs a strong arms industry. While drafting the text for the constitution the European Convention's working group on defence invited a number of "experts" to give advice on what should be included in the treaty text. Three of the thirteen experts represented the interest of the arms industry: Corrado Antonini, president of the European Defence Industries Group, Anthony Parry from BAE Systems and Jean-Louis Gergorin from EADS. The message of a strong European arms industry for a strong military Europe was there.

A similar situation exists in the USA with the Defense Policy Board which was created in 1985, made up of 30+ representatives of industry, technology and military contractors. The Defense Policy Board meets four times a year to advise the Secretary of Defense on what weapons systems to buy, what countries are "threats", where they need a "preemptive strike", what country they should occupy. For example, in 2006 the Defense Policy Board includes Jack Sheehan who was in the US Marine Corps, General in NATO, Supreme Allied Commander in the Atlantic who left the military and became Senior Vice President at Bechtel. Bechtel is one of the largest contractors groups in the world, and has one of the largest contracts in Iraq to work on its reconstruction.

In many countries war profiteers can legally donate large sums of money to political candidates, expecting their loyalty when votes come up for weapons systems. Of course bribery also takes place. In the US there are many instances of Congress voting for contracts that the Pentagon has not even asked for, but the corporation has a "special friend" in Congress who has pushed the defense contract through.

Weapons manufacturers have become so powerful that they can tell the government what they want and don't want. BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace) has told the UK government that if it does not buy from them they will pull out of the UK and go to the US. According to the US Department of Defense, BAE Systems (they dropped the word "British" to become more transnational) was the Pentagon's seventh largest supplier in 2005. The companies claim that they leave the moral decisions to the government, and that they are only "doing their patriotic duty" by responding to what the government needs.

What can we do?

An important step towards stopping the war profiteers is to stop their powerful influence over government spending on weapons. How can we do that? The power of war profiteers seems so overwhelming, more powerful even than the powerful governments they sell to.

A common anti-corporate strategy, boycotts, is difficult with war profiteers because the major companies do not have civilian products. The ones they do have - airliners, construction projects - are not consumer products, but are bought by corporations or municipalities.

Ann Feltham of Campaign Against Arms Trade suggested we "tackle this around the edges", and we discussed many of those strategies at the War Profiteers Theme Group at the War Resisters' International Conference Globalising Nonviolence.

  • Monitor the companies and the policy committees and boards they sit on. Visibility is their vulnerability. Expose them as war profiteers. Describe the effects of their weapons, and the human rights violations of the countries they sell to.
  • Educate the taxpayers regarding the fact that the government is using their money to fund war profiteers.
  • Expose the bribery that happens in the war profiteers world. There are many cases and they need to be made known to the public. This can be done in creative and dramatic ways.
  • Pressure governments to regulate these companies, demanding transparency and corporate accountability. War profiteers can't stand up to those standards.
  • Look at the role that banks and Export Credit Agencies play in supporting and subsidizing the war industry with loans and credits, as they make it look as if the deal is completely safe for both the government and the industry. How do taxpayers and bank depositors feel about their money being used for weapons production?
  • Organizations and individuals can buy stock in these companies. Shareholders can put pressure on corporations through shareholders resolutions and at annual meetings.
  • Or encourage pensions funds, universities and municipalities to divest in companies that profit from war (including all war profiteers, not just weapons manufacturers.)

To effectively challenge the war profiteers we need campaigns that target the various links in the chain of how the corporations get military contracts. To do that we need to coordinate among groups working against arms trade, financial institutions and Export Credit Agencies that support arms sales and the wider antimilitarist and nonviolent movement.