Our Skyrocketing Military Spending Helps Pentagon Contractors—Not Ukraine | Opinion

Like the rest of the world, I've looked on in horror at Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It's heartbreaking to watch Ukrainians flee their homes as their cities are mercilessly bombarded. And yet as bad as this situation is, none of it justifies the $782 billion military budget just passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden.

That won't help Ukraine, and it won't help ordinary Americans either. The only winners are for-profit military contractors. It's tempting to think—as many in Congress and the military brass would have us believe—that the more money we give to the Pentagon, the safer the world will be. But it was never that simple.

Colossal military spending didn't prevent the Russian invasion, and more money won't stop it. The U.S. alone already spends 12 times more on its military than Russia. When combined with Europe's biggest military spenders, the U.S. and its allies on the continent outspend Russia by at least 15 to 1.

If more military spending were the answer, we wouldn't be in this situation.

The same could be said of the global U.S. military footprint. The U.S. military presence around the world, including more than 750 military installations in more than 80 countries, was supposed to keep the peace—or at least, Washington's preferred version of it.

In Europe, the U.S. has maintained bases in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and elsewhere on the continent since the end of World War II, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops permanently stationed there. As NATO has expanded eastward since the 1990s, U.S. troops and weapons systems have been deployed right up to Russia's borders.

Far from preventing conflict, that may actually have set the stage for it.

Either way, stationing all those troops is expensive. And since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, the U.S. has spent an additional $26 billion on the European Deterrence Initiative to deter further Russian aggression. Needless to say, it didn't live up to its name.

The only conclusion to draw is that ever higher military spending can't guarantee the world we want to see.

U.S. troops deploy for Europe
U.S. troops deploy for Europe from Pope Army Airfield at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Feb. 3, 2022. ALLISON JOYCE/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden has wisely decided not to risk nuclear war by engaging in direct combat with Russia—including by refusing to impose a "no-fly zone" over Ukraine, which would mean shooting down Russian planes.

But the budget he recently signed could pose serious risks in the long term by accelerating a superpower conflict between the U.S. and Russia—all without doing much of anything to help Ukraine. In fact, less than 1 percent of it will go to provide arms and military aid for Kyiv.

The same can't be said for the contractors that feed on the Pentagon's largesse. In recent months, U.S. military contractors have perversely characterized the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a business opportunity. "I fully expect we're going to see some benefit from it," said Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes.

Reality bears those expectations out. Stock prices for weapons companies have soared and are expected to continue to increase.

Over the past 10 years, more than half of the military budget has gone to for-profit contractors. In 2020, the U.S. already spent more on one military contractor, Lockheed Martin, than Russia spent on its entire military. Any increase in Pentagon spending is all but guaranteed to mean big new profits for these companies.

If none of this helps the people of Ukraine, it doesn't help the American people either. Domestic needs are ballooning, with schools, hospitals and nursing homes short of staff, Congress failing to pass additional COVID aid to end the pandemic and a climate crisis that's getting worse.

We need to invest in those things now. At the same time, we can extend real help to the people of Ukraine by investing more time and resources in diplomatic negotiations and humanitarian aid. The same budget that allocated $782 billion for the military allocated just $17 billion—about 2 percent as much—for diplomacy. And yet the only hope for peace for Ukrainians is for diplomacy to work.

All of which is to say that a military budget that's $42 billion higher than where former President Donald Trump left it, and nearly 30 percent larger than under former President Barack Obama, isn't solving anyone's problems. Unless you're a Pentagon contractor.

Lindsay Koshgarian directs the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.