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$1B More in U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine: Weapons Expert Urges Negotiation vs. “Military-First Approach”

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The U.S. has announced another $1 billion in military equipment to Ukraine, adding to billions in military aid to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion. Support for a “military-first approach” to Ukraine is fueled by the mainstream media and not only undermines ceasefire talks but also funnels profits directly into the pockets of weapons manufacturers, says William Hartung of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “The United States is a major player here, and its only policy shouldn’t be sending weapons without some sort of diplomatic strategy to go with it.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with Ukraine, as leaders of Germany, France and Italy are in Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Ahead of the trip, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced his support for Ukraine, but repeated his call for Ukraine and Russia to hold talks to end the war.

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: [translated] Because at some point, when we have helped as much as possible to resist, and I hope Ukraine will have won, and, above all, for the fighting to have stopped, we will have to negotiate. The Ukrainian president and his officials will have to negotiate with Russia, and we, Europeans, will be at the table bringing up the guarantees of security, the elements which concern our continent. And that is the reality of things.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the second known call between the two leaders since the war began. Xi reportedly expressed support for Russia’s, quote, “sovereignty and security” and pledged to increase ties with Moscow. He is also said to have called on all parties to push for a, quote, “proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”

Also on Wednesday, NATO defense leaders met in Brussels and pledged to increase military support for Ukraine. Speaking at NATO headquarters in Belgium, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a new $1 billion U.S. military package to Ukraine.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN: And I’m especially pleased to be able to announce today that the United States will provide an additional $1 billion security assistance package for Ukraine. And that includes our 12th drawdown from DOD inventory since August of 2021, and it includes guided MLRS munitions, 18 more M777 howitzers and the tactical vehicles to tow them, and 36,000 rounds of 155-millimeter ammunition.

AMY GOODMAN: The Washington Post reports the massive arms package also includes mobile Harpoon anti-ship missile launchers amidst concerns Russia will target Ukraine’s port cities.

For more, we’re joined by Bill Hartung, national security and foreign policy expert at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. His latest piece in Forbes is headlined “Hawks’ Arguments for Jacking Up Pentagon Spending Make No Sense.”

Bill Hartung, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain that piece.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, you know, here we have emergency aid to Ukraine of $53 billion, about half military, which is one of the largest packages ever, about twice the peak levels of aid to the Afghan security forces during that 20-year war. But then you have members of Congress turning around and saying, “Oh, no, that’s not enough. We also have to jack up the Pentagon’s regular budget,” which Biden has proposed at $813 billion, an enormous figure, which is larger than the peaks of the Vietnam War, the Korean War, $100 billion or more in excess of the peak of the Cold War. So you’ve already got this huge budget, and people like James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Mike Rogers of Alabama want to add at least $50 billion to that. And part of their rationale is support for Ukraine, which is just a kind of a stalking horse for increases that they were pushing anyway well before the war started.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk more about this billion dollars on top of the tens of billions that the U.S. has pledged and sent to Ukraine. And explain how it works. What’s paid for? What is just the U.S. sending weapons?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, some of it is what they call drawdown authority, which comes out of U.S. existing stocks. Some of it is from a special Ukraine security assistance fund that’s in the Pentagon budget. So, some of the money comes directly to the contractors. Some of it, though, gets paid later, because there’s funds to replenish those stocks by giving contracts to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and Boeing and the other countries that are cashing in on this war. So, there are sort of multiple ways that they’re getting paid, but they’re certainly getting paid quite a bit. And they’re even kind of crowing about this to their investors that this is going to be a source of revenue for them for some time to come.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the Lockheed Martin CEO speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation last month.

JIM TAICLET: We’re planning for the long run, and not just in the Javelin, because this situation, the Ukraine conflict, has highlighted a couple of really important things for us. One is that we need to have superior systems in large enough numbers, so, like Javelins, Stingers, advanced cruise missiles, equipment like that. So we know there’s going to be increased demand for those kinds of systems —

MARGARET BRENNAN: Throughout [inaudible] or — OK.

JIM TAICLET: — from the U.S. and for our allies, as well, and beyond into Asia-Pacific most likely, too.

The second really valuable lesson was control of the airspace is really critical. So, the Ukrainians are managing to control their airspace. The Russian Air Force doesn’t have free rein over the entire country. And the reason that they don’t is because the Ukrainians can still fly their aircraft, and they also have a pretty effective integrated air and missile defense system. So, products and systems like F-16, F-35, Patriot missiles, THAAD missiles, we know that there’s going to be increased demand for those kinds of equipment, too, because the threat between Russia and China is just going to increase even after the Ukraine war, we hope, is over soon. Those two nations and regionally, Iran and North Korea are not going to get less active. Probably they’re going to get more active.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the CEO of Lockheed Martin, James — is it pronounced Taiclet? Bill Hartung, author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes, and that was quite extraordinary. That really was a commercial for Lockheed Martin, run as if it was a news interview. And it was grounded in fearmongering about Russia, about China, about Iran, about North Korea, when many of these issues have to be dealt with diplomatically. There’s no way to buy your out of these challenges militarily.

Russia has shown its weakness in Ukraine. It can’t possibly threaten NATO members in Europe. China spends one-third of what the United States spends on its military, has only one-thirteenth time as many nuclear weapons. The U.S. has a superior navy and superior air force. But ultimately, that problem needs to be solved through diplomacy. We need to cooperate with China on things like reducing climate change, on preventing future pandemics, on righting the global economy.

So, this kind of military-first approach is just going to undermine the security of America and the world, and companies like Lockheed Martin are fueling that, you know, with the kind of interview that their CEO gave on a national news network.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it’s not only that the networks are brought to you, have — you know, break for commercials every however many minutes, five or six minutes, and often they are military weapons manufacturers, but they’re actually the so-called news hole, the news itself, is — now we’re having analysis of foreign policy by the weapons CEOs.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Exactly. “After this news commercial, we’ll bring you another commercial,” basically.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned nuclear weapons and nuclear war. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, known as SIPRI, is warning the risk of nuclear war is higher today than at any time since the height of the Cold War. It was in its annual report, SIPRI saying the global stockpile of nuclear weapons is expected to soon rise for the first time in decades, as the U.S., Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom move to expand or modernize their arsenals, the U.S. and Russia possessing about 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads. How concerned should people be, Bill Hartung?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, I think the biggest concern comes with Ukraine. If that conflict escalates into a U.S.-Russian or NATO-Russian confrontation, the risk of nuclear war will go up significantly.

The U.S. modernization program, $2 trillion over three decades, is part of that arms race and should be scaled back, as some members of Congress have called for. And there needs to be discussions about this among the nuclear powers. At the moment, there’s no real channels between the U.S. and China. There’s only one treaty left between the United States and Russia, the New START treaty. As far as we know, there’s not even low-level talks going on about ways to reduce the nuclear dangers going forward.

So, we’re really at a turning point, I think, where the public has to speak up. A majority of Americans are concerned about nuclear weapons in a way they haven’t been probably since the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s. Back then, it provoked a major nuclear disarmament movement, a million people in Central Park, the nuclear freeze movement, which pushed back the buildup, helped reduce the numbers, got some of the intermediate-range nuclear weapons out of Europe. So, I think, you know, with all that people have to deal with, this is another item that should be high on their agenda in terms of making the world a safer place.

And we have things coming up like the Poor People’s March on Saturday, which is going to raise a whole range of issues about things like reducing the military budget and funding human needs, meeting the needs of the poor in our country, and so forth. So, I think there is movement out there, but it needs to be accelerated. And I think all of us need to be thinking about this, because we can’t rely on the governments to take care of this problem if they don’t feel pressure from the public.

AMY GOODMAN: In another recent piece that you wrote, Bill, you say, “There can be no 'foreign policy for the middle class' without a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine war.” You talk about U.S. funding for the Ukraine war in a comparative context. Explain what you found.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, the big package, the two emergency packages of $53 billion, is more than the Biden administration has allocated to deal with climate change in its most recent budget. It’s almost as big as the budget of the State Department. And then the military piece is more than twice the peak year of aid to Afghan security forces. So it’s just an enormous package, and it’s at a time when many other programs are not being met nearly to the levels they need. And, of course, with the defeat of the Build Back Better plan, there’s going to have to be other means pursued to fund some of these needs. And if it’s an open-ended commitment to Ukraine without a diplomatic strategy, and it’s also an $800 billion-plus Pentagon budget, there’s just not a lot of money left to meet things like dealing with the pandemic, climate change, racial and economic injustice, which on a day-to-day basis are greater threats to people’s lives than anything we have to face militarily.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, just on that point about the comparisons of where money is going, you say the Pentagon request includes a weapons system, the F-35 combat aircraft program, slated to get as much as the entire discretionary budget of the Centers for Disease Control. The significance?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes, it’s a perfect example of how skewed our priorities are. A million Americans have died from the COVID pandemic, far more than in every war going back probably to World War I. And so, you know, the fact that we can’t invest there, but we can buy an aircraft that’s overpriced, underperforming, not really necessary as part of a rational defense strategy, is a testament in part to the power of the military-industrial complex. There’s an F-35 caucus that pushes this in the House, members who’ve got pieces of the plane built in their district. The industry as a whole has 700 lobbyists, more than one for every member of Congress. They spend millions and millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions. And their voices are heard much more loudly in the halls of Congress than the voices of people who are calling for more rational budget priorities that meet our needs. And that’s why I think the march on Saturday is going to be a big boost to the national conversation about getting our priorities straight.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Bill, how could the U.S. push Ukraine, and possibly Russia, if you think that’s possible, to engage in peace talks?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, I think, ultimately, the government of Ukraine will have to decide what kind of compromises it’s willing to make. But I think the United States can ratchet down the rhetoric, stop talking about weakening Russia, stop pushing Putin into a corner. I think, you know, certainly the sanctions may have to be adjusted in the context of a peace talk. So I think there can be a channel of the United States sending a signal both to Ukraine and Russia that there needs to be a negotiated end to this war and an end to the killing. Ultimately, you know, the two parties will have to work it out, but the United States is a major player here, and it shouldn’t just — its only policy shouldn’t be sending weapons without some sort of diplomatic strategy to go with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see that media egging on the military response of the United States?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, at different points, the media really has kind of pushed for a more hawkish response. I mean, there was the whole thing early on: “Why aren’t you doing a no-fly zone?” which would have meant direct U.S.-Russian military engagements; “Why can’t you send the weapons more quickly?” when, in fact, you know, this is quite an extraordinary arming campaign, of the likes we haven’t probably seen since World War II, just in terms of the speed of it and the volume of the weapons and so forth. So, the idea that, you know, just sending more weapons or even escalating to further measures is going to end the war, I think, is both misguided and dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Hartung, we thank you for being with us, national security and foreign policy expert at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. We’ll link to your latest piece in Forbes headlined “Hawks’ Arguments for Jacking Up Pentagon Spending Make No Sense.”

Next up, as President Biden marks Pride Month at the White House, we look at a wave of violent confrontations amidst an escalation of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric among far-right media figures and politicians. Stay with us.

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