A growing chorus of pundits and policymakers has suggested that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marks the beginning of a new Cold War. If so, that means trillions of additional dollars for the Pentagon in the years to come coupled with a more aggressive military posture in every corner of the world.
Before this country succumbs to calls for a return to Cold War-style Pentagon spending, it’s important to note that the United States is already spending substantially more than it did at the height of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or, in fact, any other moment in that first Cold War. Even before the invasion of Ukraine began, the Biden administration’s proposed Pentagon budget (as well as related work like nuclear-warhead development at the Department of Energy) was already guaranteed to soar even higher than that, perhaps to $800 billion or more for 2023.
Here’s the irony: going back to Cold War levels of Pentagon funding would mean reducing, not increasing spending. Of course, that’s anything but what the advocates of such military outlays had in mind, even before the present crisis.
Some supporters of higher Pentagon spending have, in fact, been promoting figures as awe inspiring as they are absurd. Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, is advocating a trillion-dollar military budget, while Matthew Kroenig of the Atlantic Council called for the United States to prepare to win simultaneous wars against Russia and China. He even suggested that Congress “could go so far as to double its defense spending” without straining our resources. That would translate into a proposed annual defense budget of perhaps $1.6 trillion. Neither of those astronomical figures is likely to be implemented soon, but that they’re being talked about at all is indicative of where the Washington debate on Pentagon spending is heading in the wake of the Ukraine disaster.
Ex-government officials are pressing for similarly staggering military budgets. As former Reagan-era State Department official and Iran-Contra operative Elliott Abrams argued in a recent Foreign Affairs piece titled “The New Cold War”: “It should be crystal clear now that a larger percentage of GDP [gross domestic product] will need to be spent on defense.” Similarly, in a Washington Post op-ed, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted that “we need a larger, more advanced military in every branch, taking full advantage of new technologies to fight in new ways.” No matter that the U.S. already outspends China by a three-to-one margin and Russia by 10-to-one.
Truth be told, current levels of Pentagon spending could easily accommodate even a robust program of arming Ukraine as well as a shift of yet more U.S. troops to Eastern Europe. However, as hawkish voices exploit the Russian invasion to justify higher military budgets, don’t expect that sort of information to get much traction. At least for now, cries for more are going to drown out realistic views on the subject.
Beyond the danger of breaking the budget and siphoning off resources urgently needed to address pressing challenges like pandemics, climate change, and racial and economic injustice, a new Cold War could have devastating consequences. Under such a rubric, the U.S. would undoubtedly launch yet more military initiatives, while embracing unsavory allies in the name of fending off Russian and Chinese influence.
The first Cold War, of course, reached far beyond Europe, as Washington promoted right-wing authoritarian regimes and insurgencies globally at the cost of millions of lives. Such brutal military misadventures included Washington’s role in coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile; the war in Vietnam; and support for repressive governments and proxy forces in Afghanistan, Angola, Central America, and Indonesia. All of those were justified by exaggerated — even at times fabricated — charges of Soviet involvement in such countries and the supposed need to defend “the free world,” a Cold War term President Biden all-too-ominously revived in his recent State of the Union address (assumedly, yet another sign of things to come).
Indeed, his framing of the current global struggle as one between “democracies and autocracies” has a distinctly Cold War ring to it and, like the term “free world,” it’s riddled with contradictions. After all, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates to the Philippines, all too many autocracies and repressive regimes already receive ample amounts of U.S. weaponry and military training — no matter that they continue to pursue reckless wars or systematically violate the human rights of their own people. Washington’s support is always premised on the role such regimes supposedly play in fighting against or containing the threats of the moment, whether Iran, China, Russia, or some other country.
Count on one thing: the heightened rhetoric about Russia and China seeking to undermine American influence will only reinforce Washington’s support for repressive regimes. The consequences of that could, in turn, prove to be potentially disastrous.
Before Washington embarks on a new Cold War, it’s time to remind ourselves of the global consequences of the last one.
Cold War I: The Coups
Dwight D. Eisenhower is often praised as the president who ended the Korean War and spoke out against the military-industrial complex. However, he also sowed the seeds of instability and repression globally by overseeing the launching of coups against nations allegedly moving towards communism or even simply building closer relations with the Soviet Union.
In 1953, with Eisenhower’s approval, the CIA instigated a coup that led to the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeqh. In a now-declassified document, the CIA cited the Cold War and the risks of leaving Iran “open to Soviet aggression” as rationales for their actions. The coup installed Reza Pahlavi as the Shah of Iran, initiating 26 years of repressive rule that set the stage for the 1979 Iranian revolution that would bring Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power.
In 1954, the Eisenhower administration launched a coup that overthrew the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz. His “crime”: attempting to redistribute to poor peasants some of the lands owned by major landlords, including the U.S.-based United Fruit Company. Arbenz’s internal reforms were falsely labeled communism-in-the-making and a case of Soviet influence creeping into the Western Hemisphere. Of course, no one in the Eisenhower administration made mention of the close ties between the United Fruit Company and both CIA Director Allen Dulles and his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Such U.S. intervention in Guatemala would prove devastating with the four decades that followed consumed by a brutal civil war in which up to 200,000 people died.
In 1973, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger followed Eisenhower’s playbook by fomenting a coup that overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Chilean President Salvador Allende, installing the vicious dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. That coup was accomplished in part through economic warfare — “making the economy scream,” as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger put it — and partly thanks to CIA-backed bribes and assassinations meant to bolster right-wing factions there. Kissinger would justify the coup, which led to the torture, imprisonment, and death of tens of thousands of Chileans, this way: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”
Vietnam and Its Legacy
The most devastating Cold War example of a war justified on anti-communist grounds was certainly the disastrous U.S. intervention in Vietnam. It would lead to the deployment there of more than half a million American troops, the dropping of a greater tonnage of bombs than the U.S. used in World War II, the defoliation of large parts of the Vietnamese countryside, the massacre of villagers in My Lai and numerous other villages, the deaths of 58,000 U.S. troops and up to 2 million Vietnamese civilians — all while Washington systematically lied to the American public about the war’s “progress.”
U.S. involvement in Vietnam began in earnest during the administrations of Presidents Harry Truman and Eisenhower, when Washington bankrolled the French colonial effort there to subdue an independence movement. After a catastrophic French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the U.S. took over the fight, first with covert operations and then counterinsurgency efforts championed by the administration of John F. Kennedy. Finally, under President Lyndon Johnson Washington launched an all-out invasion and bombing campaign.
In addition to being an international crime writ large, in what became a Cold War tradition for Washington, the conflict in Vietnam would prove to be profoundly anti-democratic. There’s no question that independence leader Ho Chi Minh would have won the nationwide election called for by the 1954 Geneva Accords that followed the French defeat. Instead, the Eisenhower administration, gripped by what was then called the “domino theory” — the idea that the victory of communism anywhere would lead other countries to fall like so many dominos to the influence of the Soviet Union — sustained an undemocratic right-wing regime in South Vietnam.
That distant war would, in fact, spark a growing antiwar movement in this country and lead to what became known as the “Vietnam Syndrome,” a public resistance to military intervention globally. While that meant an ever greater reliance on the CIA, it also helped keep the U.S. out of full-scale boots-on-the-ground conflicts until the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Instead, the post-Vietnam “way of war” would be marked by a series of U.S.-backed proxy conflicts abroad and the widespread arming of repressive regimes.
The defeat in Vietnam helped spawn what was called the Nixon Doctrine, which eschewed large-scale intervention in favor of the arming of American surrogates like the Shah of Iran and the Suharto regime in Indonesia. Those two autocrats typically repressed their own citizens, while trying to extinguish people’s movements in their regions. In the case of Indonesia, Suharto oversaw a brutal war in East Timor, greenlighted and supported financially and with weaponry by the Nixon administration.
Once Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981, his administration began to push support for groups he infamously called “freedom fighters.” Those ranged from extremist mujahideen fighters against the Soviets in Afghanistan to Jonas Savimbi’s forces in Angola to the Nicaraguan Contras. The U.S. funding and arming of such groups would have devastating consequences in those countries, setting the stage for the rise of a new generation of corrupt regimes, while arming and training individuals who would become members of al-Qaeda.
The Contras were an armed right-wing rebel movement cobbled together, funded, and supplied by the CIA. Americas Watch accused them of rape, torture, and the execution of civilians. In 1984, Congress prohibited the Reagan administration from funding them, thanks to the Boland amendment (named for Massachusetts Democratic Representative Edward Boland). In response, administration officials sought a work-around. In the end, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a Marine and member of the National Security Council, would devise a scheme to supply arms to Iran, while funneling excess profits from the sales of that weaponry to the Contras. The episode became known as the Iran-Contra scandal and demonstrated the lengths to which zealous Cold Warriors would go to support even the worst actors as long as they were on the “right side” (in every sense) of the Cold War struggle.
Chief among this country’s blunders of that previous Cold War era was its response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a policy that still haunts America today. Concerns about that invasion led the administration of President Jimmy Carter to step up weapons transfers through a covert arms pipeline to a loose network of oppositional fighters known as the mujahideen. President Reagan doubled down on such support, even meeting with the leaders of mujahideen groups in the Oval Office in 1983. That relationship would, of course, backfire disastrously as Afghanistan descended into a civil war after the Soviet Union withdrew. Some of those Reagan had praised as “freedom fighters” helped form al-Qaeda and later the Taliban. The U.S. by no means created the mujahideen in Afghanistan, but it does bear genuine responsibility for everything that followed in that country.
As the Biden administration moves to operationalize its policy of democracy versus autocracy, it should take a close look at the Cold War policy of attempting to expand the boundaries of the “free world.” A study by political scientists Alexander Downes and Jonathon Monten found that, of 28 cases of American regime change, only three would prove successful in building a lasting democracy. Instead, most of the Cold War policies outlined above, even though carried out under the rubric of promoting “freedom” in “the free world,” would undermine democracy in a disastrous fashion.
A New Cold War?
Cold War II, if it comes to pass, is unlikely to simply follow the pattern of Cold War I either in Europe or other parts of the world. Still, the damage done by the “good versus evil” worldview that animated Washington’s policies during the Cold War years should be a cautionary tale. The risk is high that the emerging era could be marked by persistent U.S. intervention or interference in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the name of staving off Russian and Chinese influence in a world where Washington’s disastrous war on terrorism has never quite ended.
The United States already has more than 200,000 troops stationed abroad, 750 military bases scattered on every continent except Antarctica, and continuing counterterrorism operations in 85 countries. The end of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and the dramatic scaling back of American operations in Iraq and Syria should have marked the beginning of a sharp reduction in the U.S. military presence in the Middle East and elsewhere. Washington’s reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine may now stand in the way of just such a much-needed military retrenchment.
The “us versus them” rhetoric and global military maneuvering likely to play out in the years to come threaten to divert attention and resources from the biggest risks to humanity, including the existential threat posed by climate change. It also may divert attention from a country — ours — that is threatening to come apart at the seams. To choose this moment to launch a new Cold War should be considered folly of the first order, not to speak of an inability to learn from history.
Taylor Giorno is a National Security/Foreign Influence research intern at the Quincy Institute. She earned her bachelor’s in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and her master’s in international affairs from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. A Rotary grant recipient, she successfully defended two theses, received multiple prizes for outstanding policy writing, and has published in Responsible Statecraft, The National Interest, and Inkstick Media.
Nick Cleveland-Stout is a national security/foreign influence researcher at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Nick is also a 2022-23 Fulbright research recipient and a recent graduate from Colorado College. The views expressed are entirely Nick's own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.
The body of one of four Marines killed in El Salvador during a guerilla attack in June 1985 is transferred to a C-141B Starlifter aircraft for return to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. (
Scene Camera Operator: SSGT Arnold Butler/DoD)
Two years ago on Feb. 24, 2022, the world watched as Russian tanks rolled into the outskirts of Kyiv and missiles struck the capital city.
Contrary to initial predictions, Kyiv never fell, but the country today remains embroiled in conflict. The front line holds in the southeastern region of the country, with contested areas largely focused on the Russian-speaking Donbas and port cities around the Black Sea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, having recognized the Russian-occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent days before the invasion, has from the beginning declared the war a “special military operation” to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine. His goals have alternated, however, between existential — bringing all of Ukraine into the influence of Russia — and strategic — laying claim to only those Russian-speaking areas in the east and south of the country.
It is in the latter that Russia has been much more successful. Yet after two winters of brutal fighting and hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides, as of the end of 2023 Russia only laid claim to 18% of Ukraine’s territory, as compared to 7% on the eve of the war and 27% in the weeks after the invasion.
Meanwhile, the West’s coffers have been opened — and, as some say, drained — to help Ukraine’s government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, defend itself against Moscow.
Regardless, Ukraine’s military forces have been wholly depleted as they compete with a much more resourced and populous Russia. While Ukraine’s military campaign was able to take advantage of Russian tactical mistakes in the first year, its much-heralded counteroffensive in 2023 failed to provide the boost needed not only to rid the country of the Russian occupation, but also to put Kyiv in the best position to call for terms.
If anything, as Quincy Institute experts Anatol Lieven and George Beebe point out in their new brief, “there is now little realistic prospect of further Ukrainian territorial gains on the battlefield, and there is a significant risk that Ukraine might exhaust its manpower and munitions and lay itself open to a devastating Russian counterattack.”
The only and best solution, they say, is to drive all sides to the negotiating table before Ukraine is destroyed.
The narrative of the war — how it began, where it is today — is well documented. On the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, RS thought it might be instructive to look at the numbers — weapons, aid, polling, population, and more — that illustrate the cost and the contours of the conflict over 24 months, and counting.
The U.S. Congress has allocated a total of $113 billion in funding related to the war. The vast majority of this money went directly to defending Ukraine ($45.2 billion in military aid) and keeping its government and society functioning ($46 billion in economic and humanitarian aid). Other funds went to rearming allies ($4.7 billion) and expanding U.S. military operations in Europe ($15.2 billion).
After two years of war, that funding has dried up. The Biden administration, which once shipped two or three new weapons packages each month, has not sent Ukraine a major arms shipment since Dec. 27, 2023. As Congress struggles to pass an additional $60 billion in Ukraine-related funding, observers increasingly believe that aid package may have been the last.
The Pentagon has sent at least 3,097,000 rounds of artillery to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. Most of those (2,000,000) have been 155 mm shells, the standard size used by the U.S. and its NATO allies. For perspective, that’s about 95,000 tons of 155 mm ammunition alone.
Despite ramping up military manufacturing, the U.S. still only produces about 340,000 155 mm shells per year, meaning that Ukraine has been firing rounds at three times the rate of American production.
Washington has also given Kyiv 76 tanks, including 31 Abrams tanks and 45 Soviet-era T-72Bs. Ukraine has received 3,631 American armored vehicles of various types, from infantry fighting vehicles to personnel carriers and medical trucks.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has made use of 39 American-made HIMARS, a mobile rocket launcher that has become famous for its utility in the war. As for smaller arms, the U.S. has sent at least 400,000,000 grenades and bullets in the past 24 months.
The war has killed at least 10,378 civilians and injured an additional 19,632, according to the UN. More than three in four non-combatant casualties occurred in areas held by the Ukrainian government, indicating that Moscow is responsible for the lion’s share of civilian harm.
When it comes to military casualties, good data still remains hard to come by and estimates are sometimes wildly different. Neither Russia nor Ukraine have offered detailed, public indications of the war’s impact on their soldiers.
The U.S. estimated in August that 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died and an additional 100,000 to 120,000 had been injured, putting the number of total casualties at over 170,000. Russia, for its part, claimed in November that 383,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed or wounded.
On the other side, the United Kingdom estimates that Russia has suffered at least 320,000 casualties, with 50,000 deaths among Russian soldiers and 20,000 deaths among Wagner Group mercenaries. Washington said in December that Moscow had suffered 315,000 casualties, though American officials did not provide a breakdown of deaths and injuries.
The United Nations estimates that the Ukrainian population (the entire country within internationally recognized borders), which totaled 43.5 million people in 2021, dropped to 39.7 million in 2022 as war swept through the country’s east. This trend continued into 2023, as the population dropped to 36.7 million — the lowest level since Ukraine became independent in 1990.
As of January, 6.3 million Ukrainians have become refugees abroad, with another 3.7 million displaced internally. As the frontlines have settled, Ukraine’s population has slowly started to grow again, reaching 37.9 million in early 2024. Meanwhile, demographer Elena Libanova estimates that only 28 million of those people live within areas currently under Ukrainian government control (outside of Crimea and the Donbas).
Two new polls that came out within the last week illustrate the complexities of Americans’ feelings toward the war in Ukraine and the U.S. role in it.
First, a Pew poll published February 16 found that a large majority of Americans (74%) see the war between Russia and Ukraine as somewhat (30%) or very important (43%) to U.S. interests. And another survey, from the Harris Poll and the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft, found that Americans broadly support a U.S.-led negotiated end to the conflict.
But the past few months in Washington have been largely focused on U.S. aid to Ukraine, specifically whether Congress will pass President Biden’s request for roughly $60 billion for Kyiv’s fight against Russia.
According to Pew, in March 2022, 74% of Americans said U.S. aid to Ukraine was “just right” or “not enough.” In December 2023, that same survey found that just 47% said the same. The biggest change came from Republicans: 49% said in March, 2022 that U.S. aid was “not enough,” while just 13% said the same in December.
Meanwhile, Gallup found in August 2022 that 74% of Americans said U.S. aid to Ukraine was “about right” (36%) or “not enough” (38%). Those numbers came down slightly in Gallup’s latest track on this question in October, 2023, with 58% saying U.S. aid was about right (33%) or not enough (25%).
There have been several attempts to bring nations together to outline talks to end the war. Russia and Ukraine engaged in five rounds of talks in Belarus and Turkey shortly after the invasion, but the talks collapsed amid allegations of Russian war crimes and Western pressure on Kyiv to keep fighting.
Since then, the belligerents have spoken directly about secondary issues, like Black Sea shipping and prisoner swaps. Ukraine, meanwhile, laid out a “10-point peace plan” that has formed the basis for five international summits, none of which included Russia. These took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, in June 2023; in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in August 2023; in Malta in October, 2023; in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December 2023; and Davos, Switzerland, in January of this year.
Since the start of the war, Congress has passed four aid packages for Ukraine, totaling $113 billion. While none of the four packages were identical and aid for Ukraine was sometimes bundled with other spending, the trends for support for Kyiv in Congress are similar to those we see in polling, particularly among congressional Republicans.
The 2022 supplemental, which became law in May 2022 and provided Ukraine with $39.34 billion in aid passed the House 368-57 and the Senate by a vote of 86-11. By September 2023, when the House voted on the Ukraine Security Assistance and Oversight Supplemental Appropriations Act, which provided Kyiv with $300 million in security assistance, it passed by a vote of 311-117, with a majority of Republican members opposing the legislation.
On February 12 of this year, the Senate voted 70-29 to pass a national security supplemental, which would provide approximately $60 billion in aid for Kyiv alongside money for Israel and partners in the Indo-Pacific. The bill has not yet been voted on in the House.
Ben Armbruster, Blaise Malley, Connor Echols and Kelley Vlahos contributed reporting. Graphics by Khody Akhavi.
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A woman lays flowers at the monument to the victims of political repressions following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, Russia February 16, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
President Biden was entirely correct in the first part of his judgment on the death of Alexei Navalny: “Putin is responsible, whether he ordered it, or he is responsible for the circumstances he put that man in.” Even if Navalny eventually died of “natural causes,” his previous poisoning, and the circumstances of his imprisonment, must obviously be considered as critical factors in his death.
For his tremendous courage in returning to Russia after his medical treatment in the West — knowing well the dangers that he faced — the memory of Navalny should be held in great honor. He joins the immense list of Russians who have died for their beliefs at the hands of the state. Public expressions of anger and disgust at the manner of his death are justified and correct.
The problem comes with the other part of Biden’s statement, that “[Navalny’s death] is a reflection of who [Putin] is. And it just cannot be tolerated.” If he had said “approved,” “justified,” or “defended,” that would have been absolutely right. But “tolerated”? What can Biden do in response, that he has not done already?
The U.S. president has promised major new sanctions intended to “cut Russia off from the world economy” — but that requires Washington to control the world economy. Economic sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine have failed, and even strengthened the Russian economy and the state’s grip on it. They cannot be significantly extended, because this would damage and infuriate countries that are dependent on Russian energy exports, including India, a key U.S. partner. As to sanctions against Russian individuals part of or linked to the Russian regime, there are already thousands of them, and they have had no effect whatsoever.
Statements like Biden’s are both pointless and dangerous. For the spoken or unspoken implication is that it is impossible to deal with Putin. But like it or not, Putin is the president of Russia. To all appearances, he will remain so for a considerable time to come, and will hand over to a successor of his own choosing. The Biden administration has said that it wants Ukrainian victory (whatever that now means), but it has also said that it believes that the war will end in negotiations, and following the failure of last year’s Ukrainian offensive, is now reported to be moving in this direction.
Who does Biden think that he will negotiate with, if not Putin? Seeking talks on an end to the Ukraine war does not imply approval of Putin’s crimes or his invasion of Ukraine, any more than the Eisenhower administration’s negotiation of an end to the Korean War implied approval of the North Korean regime and its invasion of South Korea.
By its own account, the Biden administration has supposedly made the promotion of democracy around the world a central part of its diplomacy, with the clear implication that only democratic governments that respect human rights are truly legitimate. Actual U.S. diplomacy does not work like this and never has; not because of American imperialist or capitalist wickedness, but because the world does not work like this.
Nobody should be required to like or admire the governments of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Mohammed Bin Salman or Narendra Modi (though we might well wish that U.S. officials had been less effusive in their praise of them). Like Putin, they are however the heads of their countries’ governments, and likely to remain so. You deal with Saudi Arabia and India — and you have to deal with Saudi Arabia and India — you deal with MBS and Modi.
The other thing to be wary of in the outpouring of outrage at the death of Navalny, is that this is already being used to build a strategy of greatly increased Western official support for the Russian opposition. Many (not all) people and groups in the Russian liberal opposition are personally and politically admirable. Some, like Navalny, have shown tremendous courage. To say this is quite different from believing that they are ever likely to form the government of Russia, and that the U.S. should base its policy towards Russia on the hope that this will be so.
The sad truth is that the Ukraine war has placed the Russian liberal opposition in a politically impossible position. Having been largely chased into exile by Putin, they are dependent on Western support. This means however that their principled opposition to the Russian invasion can be portrayed by the Russian government — and is seen by many ordinary Russians — as treason in time of war. As with the Iranian, Chinese, and other oppositions, official support from Washington only allows the ruling regimes to paint the name “traitor” in brighter colors.
A combination (differing from individual to individual) of idealism, dependence on the West and hatred of Putin means that instead of advocating a compromise peace in Ukraine, many Russian oppositionists have — willingly or unwillingly — identified themselves with Ukrainian and Western positions that explicitly demand complete Russian defeat.
And while not many Russians wanted the war, not many Russians want to see Russia defeated. As I have remarked before, even many Americans who strongly opposed the war in Vietnam were outraged when Jane Fonda went to Hanoi. If she stood a chance of being elected to any office in the U.S. before that trip, she certainly didn’t afterwards.
Any hope of rebuilding liberalism in Russia (and indeed Ukraine, albeit to a much lesser extent) therefore requires an end to the war. For some degree of authoritarianism is a natural accompaniment to every war, and regimes all over the world have exploited this to increase their own power. Equally importantly, mass support for Putin is critically dependent on the general belief that the West intends not just to defeat Russia but to cripple it as a state, and that to prevent this it is essential to support the government.
For the moment at least, this has eclipsed previously widespread resentments —which Navalny channeled — at regime corruption. No amount of Western or Russian opposition propaganda can change this Russian picture. Peace might, if it is given a chance.
For the third year in a row, globally, the number of investors in nuclear weapons producers has fallen but the overall amount invested in these companies has increased, largely thanks to some of the biggest investment banks and funds in the U.S.
“As for the U.S., while there is, like past years, indeed a dominance, and total financing from U.S.-based institutions has increased, the total number of U.S. investors has dropped for the third year in a row (similar to our global findings), and we hope to see this number will continue to fall in the coming years,” Alejandar Munoz, the report’s primary author, told Responsible Statecraft.
In 2023, the top 10 share and bondholders of nuclear weapons producing companies are all American firms. The firms — Vanguard, Capital Group, State Street, BlackRock, Wellington Management, Fidelity Investments, Newport Group, Geode Capital Holdings, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley — held $327 billion in investments in nuclear weapons producing companies in 2023, an $18 billion increase from 2022.
These companies are also profiting from the enormous government contracts they receive for developing and modernizing nuclear weapons.
“All nuclear-armed states are currently modernizing their nuclear weapon systems,” says the annual “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” report from PAX and ICAN. “In 2022, the nine nuclear-armed states together spent $82.9 billion on their nuclear weapons arsenals, an increase of $2.5 billion compared to the previous year, and with the United States spending more than all other nuclear powers combined.”
American weapons companies are some of the biggest recipients of contracts for nuclear weapons. Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics are “the biggest nuclear weapons profiteers,” according to the report. Combined, the two American weapons manufacturers have outstanding nuclear weapons related contracts with a combined potential value of at least $44.9 billion.
Those enormous government contracts for nuclear weapons, alongside contracts for conventional weapons, have helped make nuclear weapons producers an attractive investment for American investment banks and funds.
“Altogether, 287 financial institutions were identified for having substantial financing or investment relations with 24 companies involved in nuclear weapon production,” says the report. “$477 billion was held in bonds and shares, and $343 billion was provided in loans and underwriting.”
The report notes that while the total amount invested in nuclear weapons has increased, the number of investors has fallen and trends toward firms in countries with nuclear weapons.
ICAN and PAX suggest that concentration may be a result of prohibitions on nuclear weapons development for signatories to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), a 93 signatory treaty committing to the ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The report says:
The TPNW comprehensively prohibits the development, manufacturing, testing, possession, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance with those acts. For companies that build the key components needed to maintain and expand countries’ nuclear arsenals, access to private funding is crucial. As such, the banks, pension funds, asset managers and other financiers that continue to invest in or grant credit to these companies allow for the production of inhumane and indiscriminate weapons to proceed. By divesting from their business relationships with these companies, financial institutions can reduce available capital for nuclear weapon related activities and thereby be instrumental in supporting the fulfilment of the TPNW’s objectives.
Susi Snyder, managing director of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb Project, told Responsible Statecraft that even U.S. banks, like Pittsburgh based PNC Bank, are facing shareholder pressure to divest from nuclear weapons and that the tide may be shifting as shareholders in U.S. companies grow increasingly sensitive to investments in nuclear weapons.
“For three years shareholder resolutions have been put forward at PNC bank raising concerns that their investments in nuclear weapon producers are a violation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and that they are not in line with the bank's overall human rights policy guidelines,” she said.