The Future of the Defense Industry Panel

On Thursday, April 10, the Roosevelt Institute hosted three panelists for a discussion on the future of the United States’ defense industry and its impacts on the American economy and foreign policy.

The panelists included:

Austin Long, Assistant Professor, Columbia SIPA

Ken Nevor, President, National Defense Industrial Association Tri-State Chapter

John Schiffer, Vice President, Columbia Milvets

Katie Haller, Roosevelt’s President, and AJ Stoughton, Roosevelt’s Vice President, moderated the panel.

The discussion began as the panelists characterized the relationship between private industry and US national defense. The speakers then discussed the impact of the defense industry on the economy – there are differing views of how many jobs large firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing provide. The panelists pointed out that besides providing job, the defense industry stimulates the economy in other ways – for instance, Professor Long pointed out that we use GPS thanks to the military and the defense industry. All panelists seemed to agree that, regardless of jobs, the national defense industry produces a significant economic benefit in the form of technology.

Next, the panelists spoke on the effects of the sequester and reductions in the defense budget. While all three expressed their disappointment in the cuts produced by sequestration, none seemed particularly concerned with future strength or vitality of our armed services. These cuts, coupled with those present in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s new defense budget, will lead to some reductions in personnel, and a fair amount of reduction in the development of some new technologies such as warplanes or aircraft carriers. John Schiffer, also, pointed out the difficulties that might arise in personnel training. Citing his extensive time in Afghanistan, Mr. Schiffer emphasized that it was important for our nation’s armed services to produce more highly trained individuals, even at the expense of personnel volume. Though he could not comment on how these cuts might affect training, he did express fears that new steps would not be taken to train more of these specialists and soldiers.

Talk then turned to foreign policy. In the wake of 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror, non-traditional warfare and combating terrorism have significantly altered the industry. The panelists further discussed how the United States’ position as a leading producer and exporter of arms affects the country’s defense goals. Both Professor Long and Mr. Nevor highlighted a number of benefits that our nation’s tradition of exporting weapons has produced. America has a strong understanding of its allies’ and enemies’ military capabilities as a result of selling them weapons. Beyond that, it creates a dependent relationship between the U.S. and its buyers, as replacement parts and upgrades must be purchased from America, as there are no other providers of the same technology. Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, it makes money for the country, and produces jobs. Though Mr. Schiffer acknowledged these points, he respectfully disagreed. Discussing incidents in which American-trained Afghan soldiers took the lives of American servicemen with American-made weapons, Mr. Schiffer expressed doubt that selling weapons was a particularly safe or productive endeavor for our national defense.

The discussion concluded with a look at Eisenhower’s warning against the “military-industrial complex.” Citing a variety of statistics and dynamics, our speakers expressed optimism about the current state of our national defense industry. National defense takes up less of our budget now than it did under Eisenhower. Military issues do not preoccupy our economic organization; and lobbying does not strongly affect our nation’s policy. The panelists also provided their opinions on where the defense industry would go in the future, saying that we could expect our national defense to continue its trend towards fewer personnel, greater training, and more sophisticated technology.

Thank you to Alex Chang for taking photos.

Cosponsors included Columbia Political Union, Journal of Politics and Society, CU Libertarians, Columbia Democrats, and Columbia University College Republicans. Thanks as well to DeltaGDP and CORE.