Military Might as an Economic Resource

LAWRENCE J. FEDEWA

July 03, 1992|By LAWRENCE J. FEDEWA

TYSONS CORNER, VIRGINIA — Tysons Corner, Virginia. -- For 50 years, from December 7, 1941, till 1991, the United States has made major sacrifices in our civilian economy in order to protect the world from imperialism -- Japanese, German, Soviet and Chinese. Most notably, we have sacrificed whole industries -- consumer electronics, commercial shipbuilding, textiles and shoes, to name a few -- to our preoccupation with the defense of the free world.

Now it is time to take back these industries. Just as we transformed our civilian economy into a war machine in 1942, 1992 is the time to reverse the process. We can do what our parents did. But we must do it now.

Why now? What is the hurry?

We are in the process of demolishing the major advantage we now possess in our economic contest with the other major powers. That resource is the amazing technology that resides principally in the United States military establishment. One example is the information technologies common in U.S. military environments, such as LANS (local area networks), WANS (wide area networks), satellite locators, intelligence analyzers, multi-media presentations and a host of other devices.

These technologies were created and manufactured by American firms, firms which are today laying off their highly skilled engineers and technicians by the thousands. At the very time we are recognizing that the new challenges to America's future are primarily economic and civilian, we are also dismantling much of the very resource that today has the most promise of helping us to regain our economic pre-eminence.

The three major components of the successful enterprise of the future are commonly said to be: 1) a technology infrastructure, 2) a well-trained work force and 3) a well integrated supplier network. By these criteria, the United States military establishment -- to include both government and contractor enterprises -- qualifies ahead of any other industry. The problem is that no one is facing up to the need to convert our enormous military infrastructure to civilian applications.

With our current national debt and the collapse of the Soviet empire, no one believes that we can maintain a military commitment at the level of the past 50 years. Before we dismantle it, however, we must move immediately to salvage whatever will be useful to our new ''war,'' the economic competition with Europe and Asia.

We must immediately establish a temporary department of the federal government in which are to be placed all personnel and technologies due for elimination. The purpose of this department would be to develop and promote plans and practical implementation for the peaceful and complete transformation of appropriate military capabilities to civilian purposes.

We have an opportunity to leapfrog a generation of marketplace technology. For example, there has not been a commercial maritime freighter built in the U.S. since 1973. Imagine the tanker that could be built by the people who build nuclear submarines. No more Exxon Valdez incidents with guidance systems and protective hulls like nuclear submarines. We could use satellites and transponders to track hazardous cargoes on trains and trucks.

Various estimates put the cost of information transfer (i.e. developing, designing, testing, pricing, marketing, delivering, etc.) at 60 percent of the total cost of manufacturing, particularly when suppliers are included. The need for an information-technology infrastructure, by which all companies could communicate with each other and their suppliers, has been well documented.

Such infrastructures already exist in the military. The Gulf War introduced the 45-day (from request to delivery) personnel carrier, and the Strategic Defense Initiative has perfected new materials and surfaces which could revolutionize solar energy, television, household appliances and medicine.

Just prior to World War II, the United States had a completely civilian economy. So demilitarized was the nation that the soldiers at Fort Meyer, Virginia, the headquarters of the Army Chief of Staff, used to drill with wooden rifles because they had no real ones.

After Pearl Harbor, it took less than 18 months for our parents to begin winning the war and proceed to developing the greatest military machine ever seen. This 50-year period of American military ascendancy concluded in 1991 with a small war which was pursued with such precision, and won with so few casualties, that no question remained as to the identity of the greatest military power on earth.

Whether or not the Persian Gulf war influenced the then rulers of the Soviet Union, the fact is that it collapsed. It no longer exists. And now that America's chief enemy has disappeared, we are caught in the intolerable position of supporting a massive and highly advanced military machine that we are unwilling to use for conquest or for any other economic advantage to ourselves.

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