By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams
Military-industrial complex players big and small gathered in London this week, hawking everything from long-range missiles to gold-plated pistols to arms fair attendees—including representatives of horrific human rights violators—as weapon-makers and other merchants of the machinery of death reap record profits.
“War is good for business,” one defense executive attending the biennial Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI) conference at ExCel London flat-out told Reuters. “We are extremely busy,” Michael Elmore, head of sales at the U.K.-based armored steelmaker MTL Advanced, told the media agency.
Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the West’s scramble to arm Ukrainian homeland defenders have been a bonanza for arms-makers.
“Ukraine is a very interesting combination of First and Second World War technologies and very modern technology,” Kuldar Vaarsi, CEO of the Estonian unmanned ground vehicle firm MILREM, told Reuters.
Saber-rattling and fearmongering by government, media, and business figures amid rising tensions between the U.S. and its allies on one side, and a fast-rising China on the other, have also spurred military spending, including Japan’s $320 billion buildup announced last December.
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“We think this is a longer-term essentially ‘sea change’ in national defense strategy for the U.S. and for our Western allies,” Jim Taiclet, CEO of U.S. arms giant Lockheed Martin, told investors during a call earlier this summer announcing higher-than-expected sales and profit outlooks.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States, Russia, France, China, and Germany were the world’s top arms exporters from 2018-22, with the five nations accounting for 76% of all weapons exports during that period. The U.S. accounted for nearly 40% of such exports during those five years, while increasing its dominance in the arms trade. The U.S. also remains by far the world’s biggest military spender.
In addition to major corporations, middlemen like Marc Morales have also been profiting handsomely from wars in countries including Ukraine. Morales happened to have a warehouse full of ammunition in Bulgaria that the Pentagon originally intended for Afghanistan when Russia invaded its neighbor, and he has been richly rewarded as the U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars arming Ukrainian forces. He named his new $10 million yacht Trigger Happy.
Outside the sprawling ExCel convention center in London’s Docklands, anti-war protesters rallied against the global arms trade and the death and destruction it fuels. The Guardianreported that at least a dozen demonstrators were arrested during the course of the conference, including nine on Thursday for blocking a road outside the venue.
Sam Perlo-Freeman, a researcher at the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), told The Guardian that “a lot of countries that are being talked about as new arms export markets are ones we would be concerned about.”
“Egypt is a repressive regime and Vietnam an absolute dictatorship,” Perlo-Freeman added. “Indonesia is involved in brutality in West Papua.”
Emily Apple, also of CAAT, toldPeople’s World that “the companies exhibiting read as a who’s-who of the world’s worst arms dealers.”
“Israel is an apartheid state, and it is disgusting that the U.K. is not only selling weapons to Israel but encouraging Israeli arms companies to sell their weapons in London,” she continued. “Representatives from regimes such as Saudi Arabia, who have used U.K.-made weapons to commit war crimes in Yemen, will be wined and dined and encouraged to buy yet more arms.”
“Deals done at DSEI will cause misery across the world, causing global instability, and devastate people’s lives,” Apple added.
Inside ExCel, it was business as usual. Pressed by Declassified U.K. chief reporter Phil Miller on why Britain’s right-wing government supports “selling arms to the Saudi dictatorship that sentences someone to death for tweeting,” Minister of State for the Armed Forces James Heappey deflected.
Private sector leaders, however, have been more forthcoming. As Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes opined during a 2021 investor call touting the company’s “solid” growth: “Peace is not going to break out in the Middle East anytime soon.”
Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.