Defense Marketing

An interview with Israel’s ex-chief of Mossad (Israel’s CIA) appeared this week showing his opposition to a military strike against Iran.  He is joined in his opposition in Israel by other ex-high level officials who believe the outcome of a preemptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be dire but doesn’t dismiss the idea of Iran pursuing nuclear weapons.  His reason seems to be along the same lines Fareed Zakaria pointed out in recent months in terms of rationality for Iran.  This should all be coupled with the reality  of U.S. intelligence officials confirming there is no evidence Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons (I’ve previously mentioned).  The situation with Iran continues to be seemingly volatile and very dangerous but for reasons that don’t seem to exist.  Which makes one simply wonder, why?

Buy, Buy, Buy! (Credit: Wikipedia)

To answer one aspect of this, we should start with a question.  If defense is a big business and the government is the key producer and beneficiary, who is the marketer?  If we look at other markets the government participates in, the answer is clear.  Take, for example, education.  There are private schools allowed to market their products along with state-run institutions (speaking mostly of colleges here but obviously some previous schooling is needed for that) and there is the reality we know an education is important when we get to the age of needing work.  Health care is similar.  As we move on in life we realize we almost certainly need both of these things at one time or another.  There isn’t much need for the government to advertise for the necessity here since other elements of society do the marketing for them, but what about defense?

Everyone knows the United States stands alone in how much money goes into defense spending compared to the rest of the world.  How does this market get sold to us so it can be maintained?  Obviously, a commercial showing a country and making the case for an attack is a little over the top.  I can just imagine the ridiculousness this could take on as comedic commercials would no doubt find their way even into this type of marketing (although, some of the recent commercials we have seen with celebrities and athletes pimping war-like video games have been along these lines and give us an idea of what they would look like).

The truth is the marketing derives from the idea there is an enemy for us to fight and we need to maintain these spending levels in order to keep this enemy in check.  The enemy has evolved over time and when one runs its course another is chosen.  If we looked at Iran logically and accepted the statements of our own intelligence officials that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons, we would be discussing significant cuts in defense spending since we have no real threat.  But this isn’t happening.  In fact, Republican presidential nominee Romney is even promoting the idea of defense spending increases.  When the business is big, it must be continued and continuation means finding enemies, if necessary.  Let’s not forget Rumsfeld’s push for attacking Iraq after the 9/11 attacks which stemmed from the “Clean Break” report.  This is why there is little chance the Iran situation and the idea of military intervention as an option will die quietly, particularly in an election year.

The ultimate point here is: we have a big military (business) and we need a big enemy/threat (customer).  If that customer is no where to be seen in one market, it is up to the people running the business to find a new market to sell, sell, sell.  Hence, the marketing is now the suggestion of a threat whether real or perceived. The media obviously plays a big role in this by reporting the statements of government officials and (sometimes) not checking into the truthfulness of those statements.  But then again, how can they check them at times when the only source is the marketer of a product/government official?

The only thing we can hope to do to keep this business in check and stop abuses and corruption is through some type of oversight, similar to the idea of having the FDA making sure our food isn’t poisoned.  The way to do that is through more transparency by the government when a threat is suggested.  We are moving into an age where information flows more freely but, as we saw with the buildup to the War in Iraq, still not free enough.  If we knew the shakiness of the information to justify that war, the public would have overwhelmingly denounced it before the first shot was fired.  We should ask for that type of transparency in every action moving forward.

And if we don’t ask for that transparency, the marketers win in the short run and we lose in the long run.  Just like the Iraq War.

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2 thoughts on “Defense Marketing

  1. I think you’re spot on in your analysis. Ironically, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about the coming of the military industrial complex decades ago, but no one seemed to listen. I’ve always found it funny that America has somehow become synonymous with a massive military budget, when up until the Second World War, our Army was 17th in size globally, directly behind Romania. What’s more, our founders were absolutely against the idea of a standing, army. Jefferson thought that the only thing worse than a standing army would be a central bank. Anyway, I understand the need for defense, but our defense budget has grown so grossly our of proportion to the rest of the budget as our infrastructure crumbles and our schools lag, that I think it’s time we seriously re-evaluated out priorities.

    • I agree and it really leads to a bigger question that may be impossible to answer but is certainly worth thinking about: how much is too much when it comes to military spending? We really have no form of measurement to say this is too much or this is not enough other than defense hawks saying we just need more regardless of the threat. Even looking at percent of GDP doesn’t necessarily work because it also has to be measured against the threat, which is essentially impossible to do without accurate information. But the idea we still need Cold War levels of spending to fight pretty much anyone should obviously be put to rest at this point.

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