The Russia-Ukraine conflict, also termed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, began on February 24, 2022. In less than two months, there have been atleast 46,000 deaths, 12,000 non-fatal injuries, atleast 400 people have gone missing and atleast 1.2 crore people have been displaced, around 18,000 buildings have been destroyed and there has been property damage worth $56,000 crore.
This is apart from the shadow of a nuclear war hovering ceaselessly over our so-called ‘civilized’ world.
Despite the large-scale outrage and condemnation against it, the conflict rages on and the casualties keep piling up. Human rights groups, anti-war crusaders and environmental activists keep protesting against the war but nothing changes on the ground. The surface-to-air missiles are launched assiduously, battle tanks roll down empty city streets, explosions rock residential areas and buildings lie shattered in business districts across Ukraine but the war does not seem to end, not any time soon.
What drives this? Are you as puzzled by the seeming longevity of the conflict and the egregiousness of the aggressors, despite all the right noises in the media and the sincere indignation on social media?
Well, one factor that might be held responsible for this turn of events is the profit motive and profit margins of what is called the ‘military-industrial complex’. The military-industrial complex (MIC) is a network of individuals and institutions involved in the production of weapons and military technologies. In a country, it typically attempts to marshal political support for continued or increased military spending by the national government.
The term military-industrial complex was first used by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his Farewell Address on January 17, 1961. Eisenhower warned that the United States must “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex,” which included members of Congress from districts dependent on military industries, the Department of Defense (along with the military services), and privately owned military contractors — e.g., Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Eisenhower believed that the military-industrial complex tended to promote policies that might not be in the country’s best interest (such as participation in the nuclear arms race), and he feared that its growing influence, if left unchecked, could undermine American democracy.
The annual report — 2021 — of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) mentions that 10 countries of the world monopolised 90.3% of the arms trade in the world. China, France, Russia, Germany and the US accounted for 75.9% of this during 2016-2020, whereas Israel, Italy, South Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom offered equipment to 14.4% of overall global military sales.
India — whose share was 0.2% — and the rest of the world provided the remaining 9.7% that largely comprised low-end kit, sub-assemblies and components that were supplied to larger producers.
The combined arms exports of European Union (EU) member states accounted for 26 per cent of the global total in 2016–20, the same percentage as in 2011–15. The top five West European arms exporters — France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy — together accounted for 22 per cent of global arms exports in 2016–20, compared with 21 per cent in 2011–15.
A webcast or teleconference in which a public company discusses its financial results related to a specific period is called an ‘earnings call’. In his January 25 ‘earnings call’ (according to the Chicago-based magazine In These Times), Ratheon CEO Greg Hayes included tensions in Eastern Europe as factors beneficial to his company. In another, similar ‘earnings call’ the same day, Jim Taiclet, head, Lockheed Martin, told investors that the ‘great power competition (between the US and Russia over Ukraine)’ bodes more business for the company, according to the magazine.
In These Times reinforces the omnipotence of the US military-industrial complex, which it states employed some 700 lobbyists per year since 2017, or more than one lobbyist per member of the US Congress, to push their military wares.
Besides, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics were also co-founders of the US’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, which had doggedly been encouraging the Joe Biden administration to take immediate action in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, In These Times reported.
Meanwhile, Eisenhower had mentioned that, “Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United State corporations.”
Over 61 years ago, Eisenhower had observed that “this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development.”
He had inserted a caveat, though: “Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Evidently, Eisenhower’s warnings and prescient observations have gone unheeded, to say the least. With the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, a new era in US politics began, which had a top-down effect on the policies and orientation of the worldwide MIC.
The Cold War, the Vietnam War, the conflicts in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, small-scale clashes and long-term civil wars across many parts of the world all led to the bolstering of the reach and influence of the MIC. With this latest conflict between Ukraine and Russia, if one were to separate the wheat from the chaff, the only people profiting are the large arms manufacturers, defence contractors, military equipment suppliers.
Will the world heed Eisenhower’s prognosis of the MIC or will we keep hurtling towards certain doom, in the coming decades, if not months, by letting war continue to be a business, oblivious to the implications of the business of war?