The New York Times headline said it all: “Middle East War Adds to Surge in International Arms Sales.” The conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine, and beyond may be causing immense and unconscionable human suffering, but they are also boosting the bottom lines of the world’s arms manufacturers. There was a time when such weapons sales at least sparked talk of “the merchants of death” or of “war profiteers.” Now, however, is distinctly not that time, given the treatment of the industry by the mainstream media and the Washington establishment, as well as the nature of current conflicts. Mind you, the American arms industry already dominates the international market in a staggering fashion, controlling 45% of all such sales globally, a gap only likely to grow more extreme in the rush to further arm allies in Europe and the Middle East in the context of the ongoing wars in those regions.
In his nationally televised address about the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine wars, President Biden described the American arms industry in remarkably glowing terms, noting that, “just as in World War II, today patriotic American workers are building the arsenal of democracy and serving the cause of freedom.” From a political and messaging perspective, the president cleverly focused on the workers involved in producing such weaponry rather than the giant corporations that profit from arming Israel, Ukraine, and other nations at war. But profit they do and, even more strikingly, much of the revenues that flow to those firms is pocketed as staggering executive salaries and stock buybacks that only boost shareholder earnings further.
President Biden also used that speech as an opportunity to tout the benefits of military aid and weapons sales to the U.S. economy:
“We send Ukraine equipment sitting in our stockpiles. And when we use the money allocated by Congress, we use it to replenish our own stores, our own stockpiles, with new equipment. Equipment that defends America and is made in America. Patriot missiles for air defense batteries, made in Arizona. Artillery shells manufactured in 12 states across the country, in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas. And so much more.”
In short, the military-industrial complex is riding high, with revenues pouring in and accolades emanating from the top political levels in Washington. But is it, in fact, an arsenal of democracy? Or is it an amoral enterprise, willing to sell to any nation, whether a democracy, an autocracy, or anything in between?
Read the full piece in TomDispatch.