Analysts claim that the defense industry has spent billions of money lobbying Congress, while quietly making a lot more by manufacturing weapons that fuel deadly wars in Ukraine, Yemen, or elsewhere around the globe under federal arms sales agreements that have very little congressional oversight.
There is a dangerous “feedback loop” between major weapons manufacturers in the United States that make billions in profits from arms sales, the countries that arm themselves with these weapons, and the U.S. government, which uses arms sales as “tools” to gain economic and diplomatic leverage, according to Dan Auble, a researcher at money-in-politics tracker OpenSecrets.
“Unfortunately, it’s ultimately the human beings on the ground who suffer as a result of the prolonged wars that are fed from these arms sales abroad,” Auble told reporters on Thursday.
Meanwhile, OpenSecrets reportsThe major U.S. weapon manufacturer Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics are all listed. capitalize on conflict,Over the past 20 year, Congress spent $2.5 billion on lobbying. $177 million was spent on lobbying in the last year alone. Raytheon Technologies was the defense industry’s top spender in 2021 with a $15.3 million investment in lobbying Congress, where ever-expanding military budgets provide endless opportunity for profit.
About 43 percentMost of the U.S. arms exports reached the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia is the top customer. Both countries lead a coalition fighting in a civil conflict in Yemen that is entering its eighth decade. An estimated 377,000 people have died in Yemen due to fighting, displacement, hunger and disease in what is considered by the United Nations to be the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
Weapons manufactured in the U.S. — ranging from helicopters to bombs and missile systems — are used in Yemen and result in deaths of civilians, despite recent assurances from the Saudi government and the Biden administration that U.S. weapons are only used for defensive purposes, Auble said. Congress has made several attempts at ending U.S. involvement in Yemen’s brutal civil war, but none have been successful.
“There is currently a ceasefire in place that is letting some [humanitarian] aid arrive, but it remains to be seen how well that will hold,” Auble said. “Of course, past truces have not.”
President Joe Biden made a campaign promise to end U.S. support of the Saudi-led war on Yemen. However, after a brief pause in arms sales the Biden administration was able to fulfill its pledge. approvedA contract worth $500 million for helicopter purchases and a $650 million contract to purchase air-to-air missiles by 2021. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) introduced a joint resolutionThe resolution was passed by the House to stop the sale of missiles.
The governments of some arms recipients spend large amounts on lobbying and influence, just like weapons manufacturers. An analysis of federal “foreign agent” registrations reveals that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have spent $130 million since 2016 on media outreach campaigns in the U.S. and on lobbying dozens of members of Congress on arm sales and other issues, according to Auble.
There is also a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, where millions of people have been displaced and thousands of civilians have been killed since Russia’s brutal invasion began in February. The U.S. has authorized $12M in security assistance for Ukraine since April 1. This brings the total U.S. military aid to the troubled nation to over $3B. accordingForum on the Arms Trade. More than two dozen countries and the European Union sent weapons or security assistance to Ukraine.
Russia’s bloody aggression and targeting of civilians has shocked the world, and U.S. military assistance to Ukraine enjoys ample support within Congress and the Biden administration. However, antiwar activists argue that simply dumping weapons into a complex proxy war pitting Russia’s imperialist ambitions against the expansionist NATO alliance is deeply misguided and is not the way to bring about peace. In fact, an influx from the U.S. can bring peace. prolong and intensify warsAs well as civilian misery.
Jennifer Erickson, a Boston College associate professor of political sciences and researcher with The World Peace Foundation, stated that U.S. arms sales are not affected by ongoing armed conflict, especially if the governments are repeat clients.
“The U.S. is pretty consistently exporting to most armed conflicts worldwide,” Erickson said on Thursday while promoting a new reportU.S. arms sales. “This is in part because U.S. export law provides presidents with significant flexibility for presidential policy and preferences.”
U.S. presidents use arms sales to build regional alliances and pursue global economic goals, but selling weapons has “intractable risks,” according to Erickson. Precautions taken by the U.S. to ensure that weapons do not end up in the “wrong hands” often fall short.
Of course, the U.S. government’s perception of the “right hands” doesn’t always ensure the weapons won’t be used to wage bloody wars and kill civilians. Weapons are durable and can often be reused in ways that the government cannot predict or control. They could fall into the hands of many armed groups, even those that are opposed to U.S. interests.
Despite these risks, Erickson said, “Congress is structurally incapable of serving as an effective check on arms sales” for several reasons. The lobbying of foreign governments and the defense sector aside, the president is legally only required to notify Congress about sales exceeding $14 million. These notifications often leave Congress with less than a month to act. To avoid a presidential vote, Congress must pass legislation that contains a two-thirds majority. This is a rare feat in modern history.
“We just haven’t seen it happen,” Erickson said, adding that presidential power “reigns supreme” in U.S. decisions over weapons transfers.
In recent years, Sen. Bernie Sanders, along with other progressives, has teamed up to pass historic war power resolutions to end U.S. support of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. However, those efforts were either rejected and/or met with a presidential objection that Congress was unable o override.
Bipartisan proposals to end U.S. complicity with the civil war in Yemen enjoyed substantial public support, and Erickson said the efforts were a “best-case scenario” for congressional action on arms sales. They failed.
With China and Russia flexing their imperialist muscles, a “New Cold War” mentality is gripping U.S. policy makers as well as global leaders as the world’s great powers enter an age of renewed competition. This could increase U.S. reluctance to cut off arms transfers to active conflict zones such as Yemen and Ukraine, according to Erickson’s report.
Congress could step in and reform the rules for arms sales by lowering the $14 million threshold for notifying lawmakers, for example, or by requiring a “substantive risk analysis” of whether the U.S.-made weapons could be used for genocide or war crimes, along with a mechanism that would allow a sale to be easily denied.
Erickson said that Congress members are often focused on domestic issues, and there is little incentive for lawmakers to enter the arena of weapons trade.
“I think that still leaves the question of whether Congress wants to do something” in the first place, Erickson said.