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Defense-spending hawks see an opportunity in Russia's war on Ukraine

Dan Grazier   

Defense-spending hawks see an opportunity in Russia's war on Ukraine
  • As Russian tanks crossed the border into Ukraine, US politicians called for more defense spending.
  • If the US increases military spending, the only real winners will be American defense contractors and those with political and financial interests in them.

At almost the same moment Russian tanks crossed the border into Ukraine, American politicians called for more defense spending.

Anyone with even a passing understanding of how the military-industrial-congressional complex works could have predicted such an obvious response. Members of Congress who rarely deny any funding request from the Department of Defense will seize upon any opportunity to justify their actions.

A report in Roll Call details the numerous spending proposals put forward by lawmakers from both parties in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Some are calling for extra funds to purchase weapons and munitions to send to Ukraine while others are calling for an increase to the Pentagon's budget.

Congress provided more than $650 million in military aid to Ukrainian in 2021. The House version of the yet-to-be passed 2022 appropriations bill would give Ukraine an additional $756 million while the Senate version would provide $803 million. The aid provided so far has obviously done little to deter Russian leaders, so it remains to be seen how more funds now would alter the unfolding situation.

Calls for targeted aid to Ukraine are an understandable if misguided reaction to the horror unfolding abroad. But calls for an increase in the Pentagon's budget are nakedly opportunistic.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) released a statement calling for increases to the budget still being negotiated on Capitol Hill.

"We must also improve the readiness of our own military as an act of deterrence during the current budget process in order to ensure our most innovative and effective defense technologies receive needed support and to also ensure that our current systems and military hardware do not fall into further disrepair," Portman said.

The proposed budget for 2022 would already provide nearly $780 billion to the Department of Defense. Lawmakers haven't stated yet how much money they want to add to the Pentagon's budget in response to the unfolding situation.

They certainly haven't explained how precisely a few extra billion taxpayer dollars would deter Russia when a $725 billion budget in 2021 or the even larger proposed budget for this year manifestly did not.

The calls for additional Pentagon spending are even more baffling considering President Joe Biden's statement that American troops would not be sent to fight the Russians in Ukraine.

New spending proposals do make sense, however, when you consider the long history of threat inflation and how it is used to keep defense spending high in the United States. The practice really began in the years following World War II as the Cold War with the Soviet Union began.

Discussions of bomber gaps and missile gaps were used to justify Pentagon largess in those years. The threat of terrorism served as an excellent cover for massive budgets to fund overly complicated and expensive weapon systems that have proven to be of little value fighting the counterinsurgency campaigns in the post-9/11 wars.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound to their inevitable ends, a looming China became the convenient adversary du jour. Press mentions of "China" and "military" rose dramatically in almost a direct correlation with end of the War on Terror.

China must take a back seat now as the Russians have once again regained their position as the most useful antagonist for defense hawks.

The unfolding conflict in Ukraine will produce few winners. The Ukrainian people are suffering as their country resists against a violent invasion. The Russian people will also suffer as they mourn the loss of their own soldiers killed and deal with the consequences of worldwide sanctions.

The only real winners will be American defense contractors and those with a political and financial interest in them if the US increases military spending.

Lawmakers proposing aid to the Ukrainians now aren't talking about sending money for them to purchase weapons on the open market. Members of Congress are talking about sending American-made weapons built by the same defense contractors that contribute to their campaigns.

The first war in Europe in nearly 80 years is a tragedy that all decent people rightly condemn. We should similarly condemn the opportunists who attempt to leverage this situation to profit or score political points.

Dan Grazier is the Jack Shanahan military fellow at the Project on Government Oversight.


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