When politicians profit from the sale of arms, then wars become sold to voters as new products.
War is “conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many,” with only a very few making huge fortunes, wrote Smedley D Butler, a retired United States Marine Corps Major General, in his 1935 book War is a Racket.
Last week, the US military-industrial-complex let slip just how vicious and opportunistic war profiteering has become in contemporary times. Greg Hayes, chairman and CEO of Raytheon Technologies, revealed to shareholders his company sees the recent Houthi rebel attacks against the United Arab Emirates, and counter strikes against Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition as “opportunities for international sales.”
During a quarterly earnings call with investors on January 25, Hayes identified current tensions in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and South China Sea as drivers “putting pressure” on defence spending, with Raytheon well placed to “see some benefit from it.”
This is the chief executive officer of one of the United States’ largest arms dealers acknowledging war, death and destruction equals greater corporate profits.
Hayes’ comments came just days after a Saudi coalition warplane bombed a Houthi-controlled prison in Sanaa, Yemen, using a Raytheon-manufactured laser-guided missile, killing at least 80 people and injuring more than 200, which Amnesty International described as “the latest piece in a wider web of evidence of the use of US-manufactured weapons in incidents that could amount to war crimes.”
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa called for an immediate halt on US arms sales to the Middle East, saying: “Horrific images that have trickled out of Yemen…are a jarring reminder of who is paying the terrible price for Western states’ lucrative arms to Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies.”
These multi-billion-dollar arms deals have also made a mockery of stated US commitments to peace and democracy, as illustrated in the way President Joe Biden approved the sale of $650 million worth of Raytheon-built missiles and missile launchers to Saudi Arabia just months after pledging to end the war in Yemen. These missiles have been used repeatedly to kill civilians in the Middle East’s most impoverished country.
Raytheon received orders of more than $3 billion in new missiles after the Yemen war began in 2015 and the US backed the Saudi-led coalition, according to the New York Times.
Growing American public opposition to the war, along with 233,000 dead Yemenis, has done nothing to slow or halt the flow of weapons to coalition forces, mostly because of the extraordinary influence weapons manufacturers have over the US government. Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and 17 other defence contractor firms donated nearly $50 million to political parties and candidates during the 2020 election cycle alone.
It’s little wonder then that analysts described 2021 as a “good year to be a weapons contractor,” with Congress authorising $778 billion in military spending, one of the highest levels since the Second World War, and $25 billion more than the Pentagon requested, with more than half of those funds going to companies such as Raytheon, as observed by Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
A recent report also revealed Raytheon to be contributing towards the undermining of American democracy by donating $110,000 to 62 members of Congress who had voted against certifying Biden’s electoral win.
Ultimately, donations from weapons manufacturers to political candidates and elected representatives serve only one objective – to ensure US government officials are equally enthusiastic about profiteering from war as the CEOs of these companies. It goes without saying that when politicians profit from the sale of arms, then wars become sold to voters as new products.
What the US government calls “corruption” in Middle Eastern countries is the same thing it calls “lobbying” or “pathways to influence” at home. A 2021 report found that defence contractors spent over $200 billion lobbying the US government from 2019 until the report was published – spending that brought considerable returns to the companies: the military takes up about half of the US discretionary spending budget, and America is the largest arms exporter in the world.
Under President Donald Trump, the White House was “more open to defence industry executives than any other in living memory,” said Loren B Thompson, a longtime consultant for major weapons manufacturers. Both Raytheon and Boeing signed Memorandums of Intent for new arms contracts with the Saudi government during Trump’s visit to the Arab country as president.
That said, President Biden has shown little interest in shutting the revolving door access the arms industry enjoys to the White House, having picked retired General Lloyd Austin III as his Secretary of Defense, an individual who served on the board of Raytheon, and was a partner in an investment firm that procures military supplies.
Ultimately, the violence and bloodshed in Yemen cannot be halted while the US continues to ship US-manufactured weapons to the Middle East, as noted by Jonathan Caverly, an associate professor at the US Naval War College. He said that it would be “impossible” for the Saudi-led coalition to continue its military operations without US munitions, adding: “Most of the [Saudi] planes would be grounded if Lockheed Martin or Boeing turned off the helpline.”
If the US government is unwilling to rein in its war profiteers, then peace and security in Yemen, and by extension the rest of the Middle East, will remain forever elusive.
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