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Arms Dealers Take Taxpayers for a Ride

DID you ever want to take a spin in one of those really neat Stealth fighters? But you know you could never afford it, right? Wrong. Taxpayers are paying the tabs run up by multimillion-dollar corporations like McDonnell Douglas when they display their wares at international military "trade fairs."

Here's how it works. Step 1: The Pentagon pays the cost of taking lots of its fancy United States-made planes and tanks to overseas arms bazaars. Step 2: Taxpayers pay the Pentagon back. Step 3: McDonnell Douglas and other arms manufacturers make lots of money from overseas sales. It's that simple. The complicated part is paying for it: The expenses for just one of these many trade fairs can run to $1 million for fuel and maintenance, and if a $30 million jet crashes on the way back from a fair, as one r ecently did in Singapore, guess who gets to pay for it?

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The frantic post-cold-war drive by US arms-makers to replace sales to the Pentagon with sales to developing nations is being subsidized by American taxpayers. This has the potential to do as much damage to the American economy as the savings-and-loan debacle (a few hundred billion dollars, at latest count).

The weapons merchants say that arms sales are good for US jobs and good for America. (About the effects on developing countries they are strangely silent.) Some important people are taking the bait. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger has said that the Pentagon, along with the Departments of State and Commerce, "support the marketing efforts of US companies in the defense trade arena [overseas]." US embassies in the third world are devoting diplomatic skills to helping US defense firms contact

possible weapons buyers.

But militarization overseas is both a moral and an economic disaster, not just for the developing world, but for the US as well.

FORTY million people have died in 125 conflicts since 1945, the year that the US and the USSR began using the developing world as the gameboard for their elaborate ideological chess game. The cold war in the developed world often meant hot wars in the developing world. Ironically, the end of the cold war threatens to heat things up even more, if increased arms sales to developing regions are any indication. If arms manufacturers have their way, nations too broke to feed their citizens will outspend their

current $200 billion annual military budget (already four times their foreign aid).

Four out of 5 people on this planet live in the developing world. Because we now have a global economy, what happens in four-fifths of the world necessarily affects us. For example, a study by the congressional Joint Economic Committee revealed that the recession in the developing world in the 1980s cost America $440 billion in export receipts and 1.8 million jobs, a full quarter of our unemployment. With recession in the third world slowly ending, American exports to developing nations have again picked

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up, and the Commerce Department reported this month that the increase provided 400,000 jobs last year.

But militarization is one of the major barriers to continued growth for the developing world, and hence for us. Investment is driven out and growth is driven down by military spending, civil wars, and the political power of armed forces that keep half the developing nations in dictatorship and another quarter in limbo between elections and full democracy. If we won't care about heavily militarized developing countries on moral grounds, can't we at least care on economic grounds?

It is penny-wise and pound-foolish for the Pentagon to promote arms exports, preserving a few jobs now at the expense of the many more that would come from a dramatically demilitarized world. Rep. Howard Berman (D) of California, understanding this much, has pushed an amendment through the House that will put a stop to these Pentagon subsidies. Now it is up to the Senate, whose upcoming vote on the matter will decide whether US policy speaks to arms manufacturers or to the US taxpayer. The taxpayers have

been paying for somebody else's joyride long enough.

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