12th February 2024 – (Washington) In the theatre of modern warfare, where the cacophony of exploding ordnance echoes from the war-torn terrains of Ukraine to the battered enclaves of Gaza, a less conspicuous sound can be discerned—the quiet ka-ching of cash registers thousands of miles away in the United States. Here, defence juggernauts like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing are witnessing their sales surge, riding the wave of increased demand for munitions that sustains conflicts across continents. Yet, the stark dichotomy between profitability and human suffering has thrown into sharp relief an ethical dilemma: the moral complicity of an industry reaping substantial returns from the theatre of war.
In the shadow of the escalating violence in Gaza, where the death toll has surpassed the grim milestone of 20,000 since last October, the ethical debate intensifies. With Israel’s defense arsenal bolstered by billions in annual U.S. military aid, American defence contractors supply a steady stream of arms, which, while lawful, casts a long shadow over the moral landscape.
The fiscal allure of conflict is undeniable for the arms industry. Raytheon’s 2022 financials boasted a soaring 10% year-over-year sales increase, reaching the enviable revenue pinnacle of nearly $20 billion. Lockheed Martin’s stock mirrored this ascent, witnessing a 25% leap since the inception of the latest military engagements. Northrop Grumman, too, saw its shares swell as tensions mounted, although they have since receded somewhat, with the promise of further fiscal prosperity on the industry’s horizon.
The financial underpinnings of these weapon flows are anchored by the American taxpayer. Israel’s military might, augmented by an approximate $3.8 billion in U.S. aid annually, is funnelled into these defence coffers. The year 2023 saw a further $3.5 billion earmarked for Israel’s munitions stockpile, including thousands of Raytheon’s Hellfire missiles.
These defence titans are not solely reliant on foreign engagements—the U.S. government remains their most lucrative client. The backlog of orders for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon signals an enduring feast for the industry, while Boeing’s proactive production ramp-up anticipates continued demand.
Yet, one cannot ignore the human cost of this fiscal success—each missile deployed extracts a toll in human lives, provoking deep ethical concerns. While corporate entities are beholden to their shareholders, the question persists: should profit continue unchecked in the face of armed conflict’s human cost?
Defence companies maintain a veneer of detachment from the moral implications of their trade. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) contends that companies simply furnish capabilities at the behest of the U.S. and its allies, with the onus of decision-making resting squarely on the shoulders of elected officials. This narrative deftly circumvents the reality of an industry that thrives on conflict, supplying arms with the knowledge that they may be used against civilian populations.
The current state of affairs starkly illustrates how military-industrial complexes perpetuate cycles of violence. The symbiosis between U.S. defence supplies and Israeli military operations is sustained by aggressive lobbying from defence contractors, who cement their influence through political donations and strategic government lobbying. This nexus ensures a self-sustaining loop of conflict and arms deals.
Defence heavyweights invest millions in lobbying efforts, with a revolving door between government positions and private sector defence roles, as reported by The New York Times. Politicians themselves are not immune to this intricate web of interests—Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Lockheed Martin share acquisition and subsequent political posturing highlight the entanglement of profit and policy in perpetuating violence.
Amid escalating tensions in Gaza, it is conceivable that change may spring from the collective will of the people rather than corporate benevolence. Public sentiment in the U.S. is shifting towards reduced international military involvement and expenditure. Eugene Gholz, of the University of Notre Dame, observes a public increasingly resistant to defence contractors shaping policy.
This shift presents an opportunity to disentangle politics from the defence industry’s grasp. Curtailing foreign arms transfers could tip the scales towards diplomacy and peace rather than military one-upmanship. The reliance on arms sales as an economic pillar endangers lives for corporate profit on both ends of the spectrum.
The lattice of interests that give rise to conflict is intricate, spanning internal and international domains. Unraveling whether relentless profit from violence through unbridled arms trade is ethical remains a pivotal question.
As the human cost in regions like Gaza becomes intolerable, the demand for accountability could usher in a new era of restraint for U.S. defense contractors and policymakers.