The military spending frenzy

Image: Jessica Lewis


Military industrial complexes everywhere are rubbing their hands in glee

Today we see a striking paradox. Western media echoed all manner of military experts and intelligence sources emphasizing the extent to which Russian military might was overestimated prior to the invasion; how much weaker than expected it was at all levels, including its logistical capabilities and deployment of sophisticated weaponry; and how much damage Vladimir Putin's criminal attack on Ukraine has done to Russia itself, its economy and its military potential. And yet, various NATO governments have taken the opportunity of this war, which is obviously weakening Russia, to engage in a frenzy of increased military spending.

Military industrial complexes everywhere are rubbing their hands in glee. The top ranks of NATO armies are again resorting to the old trick of overestimating threats, as they used to do with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, to advocate rearmament. Such a term is wholly inappropriate given that NATO armies were never disarmed in the first place; instead, they were constantly over-armed during the Cold War and have maintained excessive weapon levels ever since. Furthermore, any deliveries of defensive weapons made to the Ukrainian people are only a small part of ongoing military spending – not even 1% of all NATO spending that the President of Ukraine has been asking for.

Not content with the massive current US military spending, which totaled $782 billion last year – up from the $778 billion spent in 2020, which represented, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 39% of global military spending, more than three times that of China ($252 billion) and more than twelve times that of Russia ($61,7 billion) — Joe Biden is now requesting $813 billion for the next fiscal year ($773 billion for the Pentagon and an additional $40 billion for defense-related programs at the FBI, Department of Energy and other agencies). According to Under Secretary of Defense Michael J. McCord: “This budget was finalized prior to Putin's invasion of Ukraine. So there's nothing in this budget that was changed specifically because it was too late to change it, if we wanted to, to reflect the specifics of the invasion."

Germany also seized the opportunity of the war to shake off the last remnants of its post-1945 military self-limitation. This once again came under the Social Democratic Chancellor (SPD), Olaf Scholz, following the precedent of German participation in the bombing of Serbia under Gerhard Schröder, also of the SPD, who later reconverted his position into highly remunerative perks with the Russian gas industry. Berlin decided on a huge and immediate increase of €100 billion ($110 billion) in its military spending and a massive permanent increase to more than 2% of GDP, up from 1% in 2005 and 1,4% in 2020. -Britain last year if became NATO's second and third largest military spender in the world.

Unsurprisingly, this renewed frenzy of military spending spells happy days for the industrial interests involved in producing the means of destruction. A recent report in the French newspaper Le Monde provided an instructive look at the financial impact of it all: after quoting Armin Papperger, the head of Rheinmetall, one of Germany's leading arms manufacturers, who complained in January of investment funds' reluctance to work with his company, the paper reported that the atmosphere has completely changed. It adds that Commerzbank, one of the largest German banks, has announced its decision to transfer part of its investment to the arms industry.

In France, following a growing trend of financial divestment in the arms industry under pressure from citizens for ethical responsibility – especially in light of the appalling contribution of Western arms sales to the Saudi kingdom's destruction of Yemen – Guillaume Muesser, director of defense and affairs of the French Association of Aerospace Industries, told the Le Monde that “the invasion of Ukraine is a watershed. It shows that war is still on the agenda, on our doorstep, and that the defense industry is very useful.”

It's not hard to imagine the current euphoria that prevails among manufacturers of killing machines in the United States, such as Lockheed Martin, the largest arms producer in the world. Germany decided to buy its F-35 jets, whose ability to carry nuclear weapons was explicitly mentioned as a key argument for choosing them, even though Germany does not have nuclear weapons of its own. The unit cost of these planes is around US$80 million. Lockheed Martin's share price peaked at $469 on March 7 following the German announcement, up from $327 on November 2 – a 43,4% increase in just four months.

The change in global climate since the end of last year is staggering. Last December, an appeal signed by more than fifty Nobel Prize winners called for the adoption of what they called “a simple proposal for humanity”: “The governments of all UN member states must negotiate a joint reduction of their military spending by 2% each year for five years. The rationale for the proposal is simple: (1) Adversary nations reduce military spending so that each country's security is increased while deterrence and balance are preserved. (2) The agreement helps to reduce animosity, thus reducing the risk of war. (3) Vast resources – a “peace dividend” of up to $1 trillion by 2030 – will be made available. We propose that half of the resources released by this agreement be allocated to a global fund, under UN supervision, to address serious common problems of humanity: pandemics, climate change and extreme poverty”.

Perhaps such a proposal can be considered naive or utopian. However, it is actually enshrined in the UN Statute among the functions of the General Assembly: “The General Assembly may consider the general principles of cooperation in the maintenance of international peace and security, including the principles governing disarmament and the regulation of armaments, and may make recommendations on these principles to Members or to the Security Council or to both”.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine should be a wake-up call for the global anti-war movement, whose main sectors have neglected these pacifist goals to focus exclusively on political opposition to Western governments. The current opportunistic apprehension of war as a pretext for a huge increase in warmongering and military spending fundamentally reverses the lessons that must be drawn from the ongoing tragedy.

Far from justifying such attitudes, the Russian invasion of Ukraine showed the high risk of militaristic postures. And no increase in military spending will change the basic balance of power with Russia, a country that has more nuclear warheads than the United States, Britain and France combined, and whose president has not hesitated to brandish the threat of resorting to its nuclear force. .

The anti-war movement must support the Nobel Prize winners' appeal and launch a coordinated global campaign demanding that the United Nations General Assembly put the appeal's proposals on its agenda. It is now clearer than ever that there can be no serious progress in the war against climate change in particular, on which the future of humanity depends, without a massive reduction and conversion of military expenditure, which is itself a major source of pollution, death and misery.

*Gilbert Achcar is professor of international relations at the University of London. Author, among other books, of Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising (Saqi Books).

Translation: Chey Seignemartin Ameni to the magazine's website Jacobin Brazil.


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