This week the Pentagon met with leading U.S. weapons manufacturers as Russia warned the Biden administration to stop arming Ukraine, claiming it was “adding fuel” to the conflict. This comes as a Russian warship sank in the Black Sea hours after Ukraine claimed to have attacked it with cruise missiles, and as Sweden and Finland say they may join NATO, which would require more weapons spending. We speak with William Hartung, national security and foreign policy expert at the Quincy Institute, author of “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.”
AMY GOODMAN: Russia’s invasion in Ukraine is now in its 50th day. On Thursday, the most powerful Russian warship in its Black Sea fleet sank as it was being towed to port, hours after Ukraine claimed to have attacked the warship with cruise missiles. Russia denies this and said the ship was damaged after a fire caused ammunition onboard to explode.
This comes as The Washington Post is reporting the Russian government has formally warned the Biden administration to stop arming Ukraine, claiming it’s “adding fuel” to the conflict. In a diplomatic note dated Tuesday, Russia also accused NATO of pushing Ukraine to, quote, “abandon” talks with Russia, quote, “in order to continue the bloodshed,” unquote. The note was sent on the same day news broke of the Biden administration’s plans to send a new $800 million arms transfer to Ukraine that includes armored Humvees, coastal defense drones, howitzers and weapons training. This is Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.
JOHN KIRBY: The United States has now committed more than $3.2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including approximately $2.6 billion since the beginning — just since the beginning of their unprovoked invasion on February 24th.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Pentagon officials held an extraordinary meeting with eight top weapons contractors, but the Pentagon attempted to downplay the significance of the meeting.
JOHN KIRBY: It was part of a normal, scheduled, routine conversation that we have with defense industry leaders, but obviously focused much more specifically on what’s going on in Ukraine. So, Boeing was represented. L3Harris was represented. Raytheon, Bay-E — BAE, sorry, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Huntington Ingalls, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman were all represented today.
AMY GOODMAN: Ukrainian officials have also been meeting directly with U.S. weapons manufacturers, this according to The Washington Post, which reports the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. met last week with General Atomics, a leading drone manufacturer.
We’re joined now by William Hartung, national security and foreign policy expert at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His latest book, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.
Bill, if you can start off by responding to this meeting that Kirby calls just run-of-the-mill, but the level of involvement of the weapons manufacturers right now in the war in Ukraine?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, yeah, I mean, it’s routine in the sense that it’s the military-industrial complex in action, but it’s extraordinary in the sense that it was very specifically to coordinate how to arm Ukraine and how these companies would profit from it. So, the Pentagon has been giving missiles, anti-tank, anti-air missiles, and other equipment through its existing stocks that it already has, and then it’s going to pay these companies to replenish those stocks. And so, the discussion was: How quickly can you crank out these weapons? Do you need new production lines? Do you need more money to make it happen more quickly? So, it was really, in part, about how — how best these companies could profit from the war.
And they’ve been posturing as if they’re some sort of bastions of promoting democracy because they’re arming Ukraine, but, of course, they’re also sending weapons to Yemen that are being used to bomb school buses and civilians, killing thousands of people. So, really, they’ll sell to anybody with the money, but they’re using the Ukraine crisis to sort of try to remold their image.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bill, could you talk about the relative size we’re talking about here — this is now about more than $3 billion from the Biden administration to Ukraine — in terms of the context of what this means to these companies, this increased amount of money not only now, but, clearly, there will be security needs for years, and maybe decades, into the future?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, this is a bonanza for the companies. You know, they’re going to profit from this in so many ways, it makes my head spin. But you’ve got the $3 billion in direct arms, which is a substantial amount for these companies. Then you’ve got countries like Germany increasing their Pentagon — military budgets to buy things like Lockheed Martin F-35s for billions of dollars, or Poland buying General Dynamics tanks. And then you’ve got several flows of money. There’s a Pentagon program to arm Ukraine. There’s a State Department aid program to help arm Ukraine. And then, of course, there’s the Pentagon budget. And these companies and the Pentagon are arguing that Ukraine is a reason to push it to record levels: over $800 billion in the Biden proposal, which is $100 billion more than at the peak of the Cold War.
So, between the arms to Ukraine, arming the European buildup, the Pentagon being jacked up far beyond what is needed even to address the Ukraine crisis, these companies, which already get — you know, the top five get $150 billion a year from the Pentagon. That’s just going to go up and up. So this is kind of unfortunate for the world, but it’s good financial news for these companies.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you’ve talked about, for instance, Lockheed Martin in fiscal year 2020 alone received $75 billion. That’s more than the entire budget of the State Department. So, so much for the emphasis of the Biden administration on diplomacy, isn’t it?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, exactly. I mean, it’s just so stunning that one company could get more Pentagon contracts than the entire State Department, especially for an administration that said their policy was going to be diplomacy first. So it’s just a sense of how our budget is still very much skewed towards a militarized foreign policy at a time when I think diplomacy is more urgent than ever.
AMY GOODMAN: Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes defended how the Ukraine war has boosted their profits during an interview last month with the Harvard Business Review. This is what he said.
GREGORY HAYES: I make no apology for that, I think, again, recognizing, you know, we are there to defend democracy. And the fact is, eventually we will see some benefit in the business over time. Everything that’s being shipped into Ukraine today, of course, is coming out of stockpiles, either at DOD or from our NATO allies. And that’s all great news. Eventually we’ll have to replenish it, and we will see a benefit to the business over the next coming years.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes. If you can talk about the significance of that comment and also NATO expansion, once again, with Finland and Sweden now talking about joining, what that means, and what weapons manufacturers have to do with NATO and the deals that are made, what is required of countries when they join NATO?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, yes. I mean, I think, yeah, the Raytheon CEO, that is a stunning statement. It’s sort of the height of hypocrisy to say their role is to defend democracy. I mean, if arms sales are to defend democracy, U.S. contractors should stop arming Saudi Arabia, the UAE, there’s a recent deal to Nigeria, a fighters sale to Egypt, firearms to the Philippines — all these countries that are major human rights abusers using U.S. weapons either to suppress their own citizens or in reckless, devastating wars, like in Yemen. If that’s really what the industry is about, they should refrain from those sales. So it has nothing to do with defending democracy, everything to do with padding their bottom lines.
As for NATO extension, you know, NATO has a goal of 2% of gross domestic product to be spent on their militaries. About a third of NATO countries meet that. But Germany is going to push up to that level, spend another probably at least $50 billion a year. And they’ve already said they want to buy Lockheed Martin F-35s. Finland, even before joining NATO, made a $9 billion deal to buy F-35s from Lockheed Martin. Sweden has its own weapons industry, may buy a little less from the U.S. But the whole push for more spending by NATO will be a huge boon to U.S. weapons contractors. And, of course, we can’t forget that back when NATO was expanding, companies like Lockheed Martin lobbied heavily to see that happen, because they knew that the new joining countries would have to get rid of Soviet-era weapons and buy U.S. and European systems so they could operate alongside NATO allies. So, there’s been a long history of U.S. companies cashing in on the whole NATO arrangement.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bill, I wanted to ask you — there were two major powers in the world that were effectively disarmed after World War II: Germany and Japan. And they’ve pretty much remained disarmed for all these decades. What is this conflict doing? You’ve written about the situation in Japan, that’s not — between Japan and Russia, that hasn’t gotten much attention. Could you talk about that, as well?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, I think between the focus on China, which the Pentagon still calls their, quote, “pacing threat,” and the attempt to exploit the Ukraine crisis to further push up the Pentagon budget, but also to get allies like Germany and Japan to spend more, you know, you have the situation where the countries that were disarmed in World War II, that were the aggressor nations, have now transformed into U.S. allies and now are remilitarizing. And so, there’s a danger that even if the U.S. were to take a more sensible policy in terms of balancing diplomacy, not having a sort of military-first approach to Russia and China, that other countries might take up that course or that approach. And so there is a danger in kind of this generalized militarization of not only the U.S. but also its allies.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Bill Hartung, just very quickly, the revolving door with the Biden administration, which we’ve seen with Republican and Democratic administrations, as high up as Lloyd Austin, right? He was formerly on the board of Raytheon. These weapons manufacturers have total access to these government officials.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes. Well, this is sort of business as usual, but it hasn’t changed under Biden. The GAO said 1,700 people have gone from the Pentagon to the contractors to lobby for them. And then you have people like Secretary Austin coming from the companies to the Pentagon. So, you’ve got this very tight relationship, where often the contractors and the government officials that are supposed to be regulating them are actually almost partners with them in promoting higher spending and more contracts for those countries.
AMY GOODMAN: William Hartung, we want to thank you for being with us, national security and foreign policy expert at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His latest book, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.
When we come back, Vijay Prashad joins us about how the war is reverberating across the globe. Stay with us.