Anyone addressing the nuclear arms race and its consequences must begin
by recognizing the diversity of the motivating forces that are involved.
There is, to begin with, the technological trap. Each power develops
the weapons that make obsolete those of the other; each, anticipating
this obsolescence, strives to develop those that protect it from that
obsolescence and provide an advantage instead. The resulting interaction
has a technological dynamic of its own. This dynamic, as I have argued
earlier, is sustained by economic, bureaucratic, and military interest.
Public and private employment, the bureaucratic purposes of those guiding
the race, the financial interest of the weapons firms, the professional
interest of scientists and engineers, competition among the armed forces
are all generated or sustained by the arms competition. This is the
powerful combination of forces President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned
us about more than twenty years ago. We must be on guard, he said then,
"against this acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought
or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the
disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist
should take nothing for granted."
There is a certain reluctance in this tactful age to speak of the financial
motives for the arms race. Can anything so dangerous, so catastrophic,
be motivated by financial interest or personal gain? But the financial
analysts and like scholars in New York and elsewhere are not so inhibited.
They are currently and eagerly telling their customers and clients of
the corporate prospects stemming from the large current increases in
the arms budget.
There is a final, more general, and yet more influential force sustaining
the arms race. This is the belief, strong in the United States, much
cited in oratory, that we are defending an economic, political, and
social system. Because our institutions are under assault from socialism
and communism, we need a large and growing commitment to weaponry, at
whatever cost or danger, to protect them. The proliferation of arms
and the pursuit of ever more arcane and dangerous weapons are our ultimate
line of defense.
But the arms race, as I hope to make clear, does not strengthen free
institutions or free enterprise. On the contrary, it is gravely weakening
our economic and social system. And if or when, in some moment of error,
anger, or panic, this race goes out of controlif there is some
nuclear exchange, large or, as some now imagine, limitedwhat is
called free enterprise or capitalism will not survive. Nor will free
institutions. All will be shattered beyond recovery. So equally, of
course, will be what is now called communism. Capitalism, socialism,
and communism are all sophisticated social forms relevant only to the
advanced world as it has now developed. None would have existence or
relevance in the wreckage and ashes and among the exiguous survivors
of a post-nuclear world. This is not a matter of easy rhetoric; involved
are hard facts that no one, after serious thought, can escape.
Expenditure for arms, like any public expenditure, is made at cost
to other possible use. Notably, it is made at cost to private capital
use. This proposition is accepted by economists. Indeed, it is central
in the general thought of the economists of the present American administration.
The freeing of revenues now used for public purposes is deemed vital
for private capital improvementfor the revitalization of the American
industrial plant. The point, however, is not stressed as regards our
military outlays. Although we have occasionally heard reference to the
way military expenditures draw resources from other public needs, we
have heard much lessthere has been something approaching a conspiracy
of silence or neglectof the way these expenditures have contributed
to our industrial decline.
That contribution has been both general and specific. During the 1970s,
we spent annually about a hundred billion dollars on our defense establishment;
the total expenditure for the decade was roughly a thousand billion
dollars.1 If an appreciable part of this outlay
had gone into the improvement of our industrial plantas it would
have gone had it not been requisitioned by the governmentno one
can doubt that our economy would be stronger today. And from this stronger
economic position would have come some of the political prestige and
primacy that we enjoyed in the years following World War II. It was
our economic, not our military, strength on which our world position
in largest measure depended.
The general effect of massive military expenditures has been a transfer
of capital away from civilian industry over the years and a resulting
weakness that is easy to see. The specific effect within the industrial
system is even more visible. Modern military spending concentrates on
, and certainly benefits, the narrow range of industry and the highly
specialized technology that serve missile, aircraft, and marine weaponry.
But this development and the associated distortion in the allocation
of resourcesthe technical competence, capital, labor, and other
resources lavished on this small specialized sector of the economic
systemhave been at heavy cost to the industries on which we depend
for domestic or international competitive performance. As we have pressed
ahead on a narrow band of industry that serves our weaponry, we have
left behind, left competitively vulnerable, our steel, automobile, textile,
chemical, and a great range of other industries.
It is hardly news that in modern times our competitive position has
declined steadily in relation to that of Germany and Japan. We are not
less intelligent than the Germans and the Japanese. Our raw material
and energy base is not less goodindeed, it is far better. It is
not clear that our workers are less diligent. Germany spends more per
capita on its social services than we do; Japan does not spend greatly
less. The difference is that the Germans and the Japanese have been
using their capital to replace old civilian plant and build new and
better plant. We have been using our capital for industrially sterile
military purposes. The comparative figures are striking.
Through the 1970s we used from 5 to 8 percent of our Gross National
Product for military purposes. The Germans during this decade used between
3 and 4 percent. The Japanese in these ten years devoted less than 1
percent of their Gross national Product annually to military use. In
1977, to take a fairly typical year, our military spending was $441
per capita; that of Germany was $252 per capita; Japan spent a mere
$47 per capita. A substantial share of the civilian capital investment
that brought these countries to the industrial eminence that now so
successfully challenges our own came from capital that was saved and
invested rather than devoted to military expenditures. Again the figures
are striking. Through the 1970s our investment in fixed nonmilitary
and nonresidential investment ranged from 16.9 percent of Gross National
Product to 19.0 percent. That of Germany ranged from 20.6 percent to
26.7 percent. The Japanese range in these years was from 31.0 percent
to a towering 36.6 percent.2 The investment
in improvement of civilian plant was roughly the reciprocal of what
went for weapons. Of ten industrial countries in the years 19601979,
Japan, with its low military expenditures, had by far the highest rate
of growth in productivityan astonishing 8 percent annually. Germany
also had a highly favorable growth rate. The United States and Britain,
with the highest military expenditures, had the lowest rate of productivity
growth among the non-socialist countries.3
Can anyone looking at these figures suppose that our military spending
has been a source of industrial and economic strength? Can anyone doubt
that it has been at cost to our industrial eminence and to the prestige
and influence that go therewith?
Let us ask ourselves again: Have we strengthened our position in the
world by accepting a decline in our civilian industry? In an age of
overkill, do we win industrial strength by investing in yet more overkill?
At a minimum would we not be wise to urge the arms control that would
allow us to use more of our capital for improving the competence and
excellence of our civilian industry? One appeals here not to pacific
idealism, useful as that may be, but to practical self-interest. I think
there cannot be any doubt as to the answer.
1 In constant 1976 dollars.
2 Figures are from The Statistical Abstract of
the United States and International Economic Indicators, December
3 Ruth Leger Sivard, World Military and Social
Expenditures for 1981.