The War Industry

Wars Come, Wars Go

Vinod Mubayi

At the end of his presidency in January 1961, US President Eisenhower gave an important speech warning America that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Coming from a two-term president who had earlier in his career been a five-star general and the commander of allied forces in Europe in the second world war, this warning carried a certain resonance among liberal commentators who yearned for a peace dividend and the diversion of resources from the military to civilian needs. But hardly has a warning been more flagrantly disregarded or been less effective in the halls of government. Eisenhower’s successor, Kennedy, campaigned on the fraudulent slogan of a “missile gap” with the then enemy the Soviet Union and the arms race of the Cold War continued to swell the coffers of the arms industry.

Thirty years after Eisenhower’s speech, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Warsaw Pact offered another chance for a Europe-wide peace. Logically, the disappearance of its Cold War adversary should have meant that NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, was now redundant. While some triumphalism on the part of the Western alliance following the end of the Soviet bloc was understandable, if peace had ever been an important criterion in the politics of the world’s superpower, notwithstanding all the pious platitudes mouthed in the United Nations Charter, the years 1991-2 should have seen the end of NATO and a significant reduction in weapons systems, armaments, and military budgets. The fact that this did not happen reveals something significant about the priorities of the leading countries, including the key role played by the armaments industry, better described as the war industry, in the economics and politics of these countries. In particular, the big five war companies in the US, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, and North-Grumman, that share hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon contracts every year, set the agenda for the “defence” policies and budgets adopted by the US government.

The war in Ukraine, whatever its political and humanitarian aspects may be, looks ready to pour a flood of cash to the US war industry. The Biden Administration has proposed the largest defence budget in history for the current year of $813 billion, larger than the peak budgets of the Cold War or the years when the US actively fighting wars in Korea and Vietnam, and this is after the US ended combat in Afghanistan last year. The veteran analyst William Hartung in an article written with Julia Gledhill (https://www.counter points out that “The war in Ukraine will indeed be a bonanza for the likes of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. First of all, there will be the contracts to resupply weapons like Raytheon’s Stinger anti-aircraft missile and the Raytheon/Lockheed Martin-produced Javelin anti-tank missile that Washington has already provided to Ukraine by the thousands. The bigger stream of profits, however, will come from assured post-conflict increases in national-security spending here and in Europe.” Gledhill and Hartung go on to say that despite the “mind-boggling” size of the Pentagon budget “Congressional Republicans—joined by a significant number of their Democratic colleagues—are already pushing for more. Forty Republican members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have, in fact, signed a letter to President Biden calling for 5% growth in military spending beyond inflation, which would potentially add up to$100 billion”. This prodigious level of military spending literally dwarfs the amounts proposed in Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, which would have invested government funds in improving public health, mitigating climate change and reducing the worst impacts of income inequality that put millions of lives, including minor children, in jeopardy. But Build Back Better was deemed “too expensive” by a majority of the Senators that included all Republicans and at least two Democrats. Flush with large contributions from the arms lobbyists, it is not surprising that US legislators would find social spending to improve the lives of ordinary people as “unaffordable.”

William Robinson ( out&utm_medium =email&utm_campaign= Truthout+Share+Buttons) makes an incisive observation that “global capitalism has become dependent on war-making to sustain itself”. In the face of the extreme inequality generated by present-day capitalism in which the top 1% of the rich own more wealth than over 50% of the world’s population, in which working class wages have stagnated for decades while soaring profits accrue to the haves, saturated markets in the midst of lack of effective demand provide an impetus to war. Robinson terms this “militarised accumulation”, which “refers to a situation in which a global war economy relies on the state to organise war-making, social control and repression to sustain capital accumulation in the face of chronic stagnation and saturation of global markets…. Cycles of destruction and reconstruction provide ongoing outlets for over-accumulated capital; that is, these cycles open up new profit-making opportunities for transnational capitalists seeking ongoing opportunities to profitably reinvest the enormous amounts of cash they have accumulated.”

The war in Ukraine is having predictable effects. Share prices of the main arms manufacturers, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed and Northrop have risen steeply. Global military spending has soared to an all-time record of $2 trillion. While the events in Ukraine have their own specific causes, rooted in the attempt by the Russian leadership under Putin to overcome three decades of perceived humiliation of the post-Soviet Russian Federation at the hands of the US and NATO, the concerted attempt by all European NATO countries, especially Germany, to significantly step-up defence spending coupled with the accelerated supply of heavy weaponry to the Ukrainian forces means that military budgets will escalate more rapidly.

In addition, the US has launched an extensive effort to counter and contain China. Various military alliances like the Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the US) and AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) are being consummated and tooled in pursuit of this aim. These will have their expected effect on military budgets and the fortunes of the defence contractors.

Finally, it may be noted that under the Trump administration a massive effort was started to “modernise” nuclear weapons that would likely cost almost $2 trillion over several years and include designing new weapons as well as the means to deliver them. This effort is going to continue under the Biden Administration.


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Vol 54, No. 46, May 15 - 21, 2022