Lest anyone doubt the late Chalmers Johnson’s statement that American embassy officials “spend most of their ‘diplomatic’ careers working as arms salesmen,” there’s plenty of confirmation in the US State Department’s own internal documents.
I’m referring of course to the Wikileaks cables (although I’ve resolved to start calling them the Bradley Manning cables, since the suspected leaker is in more imminent danger than the unethical publicity machine that has gotten all the attention).
The cables released so far contain multiple instances of government officials from around the world facilitating private arms deals. But one two-year-old cable originating from the US Embassy in Olso, Norway, is particularly striking for the enthusiasm it reveals on the part of US government officials working overtime to guarantee the profits of a big American arms manufacturer.
In the cable, a US diplomat in Olso writes that Embassy staff spent more than a year “living and breathing” their successful push to sell the Lockheed Martin-made Joint Strike Fighter to the government of Norway.
The cable’s “lessons learned” section suggests other embassies should “[g]et the whole country team involved” to duplicate the success of the deal with Norway. Why not just have Lockheed sign the Ambassador’s paycheck, at that point?
Then there’s this advice to US diplomats:
Jointly develop a press strategy with Lockheed Martin and collectively determine the role the Embassy will play in this strategy.
How does it benefit tax-paying Americans to have a private corporation decide what government officials should and should not say to reporters?
The cable also offers a lesson in the mechanics of conventional arms proliferation. Lockheed Martin works kind of like Amway—the customers become a sales agents, too:
While the [government of Norway] will not actively lobby on behalf of JSF with other governments, it is in the [government of Norway's] interest that other partners buy into the program. [Deputy Defense Minister Espen Barth-Eide] expects the Danes will ask for the [government of Norway] data analysis and the [government of Norway] will try to accommodate that within the limits of confidentiality.
The cable, and its “heart-stopping tale” of official arms brokering, is reproduced below, minus some header information.
SUBJECT LESSON LEARNED FROM NORWEGIAN DECISION TO BUY JSF
REF: A. A: OSLO 629 B. B: OSLO 585 C. C: OSLO 522
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Kevin M. Johnson for reasons 1.4 b and d
¶1. (C) Summary. After an extensive, coordinated USG effort, the Norwegian Government decided to buy F-35s in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, instead of the Saab Gripen. This first foreign JSF sale is an important step for the program as it will likely have a domino effect on other potential purchasers. The sale was not an easy one, however, and we outline a number of lessons learned that may prove helpful as other countries make their choice. End Summary.
¶2. (C) The country team has been living and breathing JSF for over a year, following a road to success that was full of heart-stopping ups and downs. A quick recap of key events includes:
–In 2007, the GON announced criteria for Future Combat Aircraft competition to include aircraft capability, life cycle costs and industrial participation. –In April 2008, the two remaining competitors (US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Swedish Saab JAS-39NG Gripen) delivered responses to MOD,s Request for Binding Information (RBI). Saab immediately claimed that the Gripen would be half the price of the JSF.
–Over the spring and summer, Saab,s promotion of its industrial package was intensive and covered every province of Norway. Norwegian Labor Party leaders admitted to Embassy that they received frequent calls from local mayors in favor of the Gripen.
–A sudden onslaught of negative press during this same time prompted us to meet with Lockheed Martin to better understand their media strategy and to discuss the best way to counter myths and disinformation about the JSF.
–Embassy and Lockheed Martin efforts to counter disinformation reaped some apparent success (ref B).
–In the fall of 08, we invited a number of USG officials to visit Oslo to make the public case on why the F-35 is an excellent choice, and the private case on why the choice of aircraft will have an impact on the bilateral relationship (see refs A,B).
– The delivery of Norway,s first C-130J transport aircraft in November 2008, which followed intense USAF efforts to rush this vital capability to Norway (and came directly from the USAF production line), allowed us to make the (unstated) point that we are good allies and reliable partners.
–On November 20, the GON announced the decision to buy the F-35s, using unusually strong language (for domestic political reasons) to say the Gripen was uncompetitive.
¶3. (C) Following the announcement, the Ambassador met with Deputy Defense Minister Espen Barth-Eide. In a very relaxed meeting, Barth-Eide thanked us for sticking to defending our plane, rather than attacking the Gripen. He praised the GON,s bottom-up process that focused on the criteria. Noting that while some politicians would have like to have chosen the Gripen, the overwhelming technical success of the F-35 in the ministry,s four scenarios made such a choice impossible. He complained about Saab,s, but not the GOS, reaction to the decision. For example, the GON had never promised them 24 hours notice of the decision (which would have been illegal under Norwegian insider trading laws). Commenting on the press coverage of the JSF, Barth-Eide said that Aftenposten (the paper of record) had &gone off the deep end8 with its open anti-JSF campaign of disinformation.
¶4. (C) Looking ahead, Barth-Eide said we were now on the same side and it would be very helpful if the USG were to: –publicly stress the strength of the F-35 and the viability of the JSF program. –confirm there was no USG political pressure to buy the plane. –note the low price of the F-35 is due to the scale of the JSF program (more than 3200 aircraft) and the timing of the Norwegian buy in 2016, when full-scale production of the aircraft will be in full swing. –arrange visits by U.S. officials to emphasize the above. –encourage US companies to enhance the Industrial Participation package (the one area that Gripen clearly dominated).
¶5. (C) Barth-Eide stressed that Norway,s role as the second to buy into the program (following the US) was an important bellwether and would have a positive impact on other governments, decisions. He noted that having a socialist government like Norway,s chose the JSF is an even more powerful symbol than if a right-wing government of another country had gone first. While the GON will not actively lobby on behalf of JSF with other governments, it is in the GON interest that other partners buy into the program. He expects the Danes will ask for the GON data analysis and the GON will try to accommodate that within the limits of confidentiality.
The Lessons Learned
¶6. (C) While many of the issues in this effort were unique to Norway, some lessons learned may be applicable elsewhere. The main ones include:
–Get the whole country team involved. The active involvement of the Ambassador and DCM, ODC, DAO, Pol/Econ, FCS, and Public Affairs offices ensured that the fighter plane decision was an Embassy priority. This was necessary to convince Lockheed Martin and Washington officials that it was important to devote time and resources on Norway,s decision.
–Working with Lockheed Martinto determine which aspects of the purchase to highlight. In Norway the capabilities of the JSF vs. the Gripen were the strongest suit, and Embassy and Lockheed Martin efforts focused on discussions of why the JSF,s capabilities were the best match for Norway,s needs, especially in the High North. This focus played to the JSF,s strengths and eventually proved to be the decisive factor, despite perceived weaknesses in other areas such as the industrial package.
–Jointly develop a press strategy with Lockheed Martin and collectively determine the role the Embassy will play in this strategy.
–Use the Ambassador to give numerous on-the-record interviews but also to have off-the-record in-depth discussions with editorial boards on the purchase.
–Be constantly available to the media to discuss the technical merits of the aircraft, and be assertive in refuting disinformation. In Norway, there were many self-proclaimed experts talking about the F-35 and making wildly inaccurate statements on everything from its lack of ability to its exorbitant price. It was important to counter these assertions and our ODC chief gave more than 20 separate interviews.
–Create opportunities to talk about the aircraft. The Ambassador hosted a luncheon for retired senior military and think-tankers during which an extensive presentation on the capability of the F-35 was given. This enabled our host nation advocates to actively contribute to the public dialogue from their respective positions of authority. Embassy also coordinated with Lockheed Martin for attendance at all relevant airshows and roundtable discussions. The fighter competition was consistently a part of our informal discussions with MFA, MOD and influential think tanks.
–Talk about the impact on the relationship carefully. Deciding our line on this was critical, given Norwegian sensitivities. We needed to avoid any appearance of undue pressuring (which was construed as &threatening8 Norway in its sovereign decision-making process), but we couldn,t let stand the view that the choice didn,t matter for the relationship. We opted for &choosing the JSF will maximize the relationship8 as our main public line. In private, we were much more forceful.
–Reach out to other USG agencies and experts to encourage their participation in the process and leverage their tools to support the effort. In this process also ensure the same messages are delivered in DC to the partner Embassy as are delivered overseas to the Host Nation government. WHITNEY