In her first few years in Congress, Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) has become a prominent voice on U.S. foreign policy. She sits on both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, and is the youngest member on both committees.
Last week, Rep. Jacobs — who is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — spoke to Responsible Statecraft about how her place as a millennial lawmaker gives her a different worldview from many of her older colleagues. “The generation of foreign policymakers before me, were really influenced by Rwanda and by the Balkans and by the idea that there was a lot of suffering and pain that could have been prevented by U.S. action,” she said. “Whereas my generation grew up under the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan, and saw that there was a lot of pain and suffering that American action actually contributed to.”
Growing up during the “War on Terror,” Jacobs experienced not only the pain that U.S. decisions could inflict on other populations, but also how the body she now serves in could abdicate its responsibility to make decisions on questions of war and peace. Earlier this year, she argued during a hearing on Capitol Hill that Congress was partly to blame for the 20-year long war in Afghanistan and the messy withdrawal.
“Congress didn't take a vote on Afghanistan since I was in middle school,” she told RS. “And we are asking these young people and their families to sacrifice so much. The least we can do is make sure that we are doing our job.”
When it comes to foreign affairs, Congress’s job is increasingly focused on great power competition with Russia and China. But Rep. Jacobs, who served in the State Department during the Obama administration where she focused on conflict prevention and U.S. foreign policy in sub-Saharan Africa, offers words of caution about viewing U.S. relations with the Global South through this lens.
“I think we need to focus on what's in the best interest of the United States, rather than trying to match the PRC [People’s Republic of China] or Russia one for one,” she says. “When I think about what our objectives actually are and what areas we need to work on, I think first of all, we should make sure it's not a race to the bottom. What we need to be doing is figuring out how we actually create an open international system and what we need to do to preserve that.”
Adopting this approach will require meaningful changes in the way many in Washington understand the world, says Jacobs, arguing that the first step is to acknowledge that we are now in a multipolar world and that maintaining U.S. hegemony is not possible. If we focus instead on creating a multipolar world that is advantageous to Americans, she says, “then it creates much more space for us to be able to work with the Chinese in the areas that we can, and stand up to them in the areas that we have to, without it necessarily becoming this all encompassing conflict.”
The full conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Responsible Statecraft: I want to start with a question about something that's been in the news a lot recently, which is congressional war powers. I know you've spoken a lot about the importance of Congress reclaiming its war powers during your time in Congress, and these questions have been brought up recently with the Syria war powers vote, the introduction of a similar bill for Somalia, and then the recent repeal of the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs. I was wondering, could you talk a little bit about the importance of congressional war powers. What next steps do you think Congress should take in reclaiming these powers and your thoughts on any efforts to repeal the 2001 AUMF?
Rep. Sara Jacobs: I think the Constitution is very clear: Congress is who has the responsibility to declare war. And I think that that's important for a couple of reasons. Mostly because we shouldn't be in conflicts that the American people don't support. General [Mark] Milley actually said this during his testimony this week in front of the Armed Services Committee. And Congress, as the people's representatives, are who are there to make that determination.
The other reason that Congress's war powers are important is because of the need to strategically think about and constantly gut check what our strategy, policy, and goals are and whether what we're doing is actually going to achieve them. We saw for a long time with Iraq and Afghanistan, where Congress really abdicated that responsibility, and multiple administrations went without that important check of making sure we're actually doing the right thing and that our means were meeting our ends.
As one of the youngest members of Congress and someone who represents the very proud military community of San Diego, it also is very personal. Congress didn't take a vote on Afghanistan since I was in middle school. And we are asking these young people and their families to sacrifice so much. The least we can do is make sure that we are doing our job.
RS: That Afghanistan AUMF is still active. Do you have any views on potential repeal or replacement of that AUMF?
Jacobs: I support repealing the 2002 AUMF, and I think we should repeal and replace the 2001 AUMF.
RS: During the first House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last month, you made an important point, which is “we talk a lot about competing with China, but we have to be clear about what we're competing for and what the end goal is of the competition so that we're not just competing for the sake of competing.” What do you think are the most important areas of healthy competition with China and what should be our goal for that relationship?
Jacobs: I think the key is that a lot of American policy is still about maintaining U.S. hegemony. And I think that is just not a realistic or desirable outcome. We are already in a multipolar world. So the question is, what kind of multipolarity do we want? And how do we work to achieve that? So I don't think we should just be competing for competing sake. I think we need to focus on what's in the best interest of the United States, rather than trying to match the PRC [People’s Republic of China] or Russia one for one, wherever they are. There are a lot of important lessons on that from the Cold War where we were partnering with autocratic regimes in pursuit of short term interests that actually have led to long term resentment of the U.S. all over the Global South. And so when I think about what our objectives actually are and what areas we need to work on, I think first of all, we should make sure it's not a race to the bottom. What we need to be doing is figuring out how we actually create an open international system and what we need to do to preserve that.
To me, that means focusing on some of the threats that can't be addressed by any individual country, like climate change, like some of these new technologies, and on figuring out what are the key areas that matter for an open international system, so shipping lanes and free and open internet and communication, and not just competing on every single thing just for the sake of it.
RS: You mentioned the importance of not trying to match China and or Russia in every area throughout the world. I know you've written about Africa and you're the ranking member of the subcommittee on Africa. How can we push for centering Africa and the rest of the Global South in our policymaking without falling into that trap of viewing it always through a lens of competing with China or combating Russia?
Jacobs: First of all, I think the Biden-Harris administration has been great at renewing engagement on the African continent. We're seeing that with the First Lady's visit, with the Vice President's visit right now, and with the African leaders summit. I think it is a real mistake to only view Africa and other parts of the world through the lens of competition with Russia or the PRC. Africa has the world's youngest population. And so, as we think about our engagement there, we have a responsibility to play a positive role in furthering progress on the continent, like addressing conflict, upholding human rights, strengthening good governance, and tackling global challenges together.
We have a responsibility to do that in a way where we're not just perpetuating the old cycles, but actually following the lead of local communities and centering local voices and reforming the global governance system so that states in the Global South, particularly African states, have a representative seat at the table, where they're directly impacted by the decisions being made.
RS: Moving back a little bit towards China. Are you concerned that our strategic competition with China is in danger of tipping over into outright conflict, for example through a "new Cold War" or even a hot war over Taiwan? If so, what do you think we can do to avoid this outcome while still defending our own interests and values?
Jacobs: Absolutely, I share that concern and I think the goal of U.S. policy should be about how we prevent that from happening. How do we maintain U.S. national security while preventing conflict or war with the PRC or anyone else? The way I think about it is what do we need to be doing to preserve our national security? A lot of that is our ability to build coalitions with other countries, which are really strengthened by upholding our values because that's what so much of what coalitions are based on. I think it's also important that we are mindful about escalation and our role in it. I think some people view the escalatory ladder as sort of static. But in actuality, it is a complex dynamic of countries and people reacting to what they see other entities doing.
So we always need to be mindful of our role in that. So, for instance, on Taiwan, I am very focused on how we can do deterrence without escalation, meaning how we make sure that President Xi Jinping wakes up every day and says, "today's not the day I'm going to invade Taiwan." When you actually look at deterrence theory, a lot of that is not about the military necessarily. It's about if someone believes that eventually they'll be able to get the outcome they want not militarily, then they will not engage in the military action.
Part of what I'm concerned about is that many colleagues of mine in Congress are focused on almost the opposite of that. They want to do symbolism over substance. So you know, the old adage: "You should speak softly and carry a big stick." Well, for a lot of my colleagues, it seems like they want to speak very loudly and carry no stick. And so the question is: how do we do things that will actually help Taiwan's security without unnecessarily escalating or antagonizing the PRC? I think we've seen those things that work: more investment, training, all of those kinds of things. Not the silly things like renaming an embassy or, just saying all this stuff rhetorically, that doesn't actually help Taiwan, but does escalate the conflict with China.
RS: That leads nicely into my next question, which is about rhetoric around China. It feels like many people in DC are treating conflict with China as intractable or unavoidable at this point. Are you concerned about the way that the relationship between the PRC and the U.S. is talked about in DC today?
Jacobs: Absolutely, I think it's always important for us to remember that conflict is not inevitable and that we have a role to play in that escalatory dynamic. We need to be mindful of how we're engaging. And part of that is going back to the idea that this isn't actually about maintaining American hegemony. This is about how we create the multipolar world that we are okay with. I think if we can focus on that latter idea, then it creates much more space for us to be able to work with the Chinese in the areas that we can, and stand up to them in the areas that we have to, without it necessarily becoming this all encompassing conflict.
RS: On this idea of multipolarity, I know you've written about and we spoke a little bit about the Global South and the importance of centering the Global South in our policymaking. You wrote a foreign policy piece during the African leaders summit about promoting good governance in Africa. Can you elaborate a little bit on the policies that you advocate for to promote good governance?
Jacobs: I think for a long time, the way we've engaged with countries, particularly in Africa, has been really centered on counterterrorism and counterterrorism partnerships, and we've really used our security cooperation as the tool. And I think that, as we've seen, that has not been terribly effective. We've seen that extremism in Africa has only grown over the past 20 years, despite billions of dollars in investments and American equipment and training.
When we really look at what will actually prevent violent extremism in the future, what we see is that the answer is actually preventing state sponsored violence against people or communities, making sure we're building in good governance and areas for human rights and civil liberties to be protected. Especially with the spate of coups we've seen, I think it's more important than ever that we get that approach right. So I do think we have opportunities here, with the Global Fragility Act and the new ten-year strategy to prevent conflict that the Biden administration released. And I think that that can be a real model for how we do things differently, and how we make sure that everything we're doing, including our security cooperation, is under the same strategy and is all pulling in the same direction into where we're trying to get a country to go.
RS: One thing that you mentioned earlier is that you are one of the youngest members of Congress. How do you think that that affects your worldview?
Jacobs: I think a lot of these things are generational. I was born in 1989. I don't remember the heyday of the Cold War and everything around that. I also think that the generation of foreign policymakers before me, were really influenced by Rwanda and by the Balkans and by the idea that there was a lot of suffering and pain that could have been prevented by U.S. action. Whereas my generation grew up under the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan, and saw that there was a lot of pain and suffering that American action actually contributed to. So I think, for a lot of policymakers in the generation above mine, the first idea is always "what can what can the U.S. do?” and “What should the U.S. do?" Whereas I think for us, our generation, the idea is often "will the U.S. be doing something, make the situation better or worse, and what can we do that will actually make the situation better?"
That's sort of how I think about things, especially representing a military community where I have to talk to so many of these families, and I feel like in every decision I make, I need to be able to look them in the eye and tell them that I thought deeply about the things I'm asking their loved ones to do and that I truly believe it will be better than if we hadn't and so I just think it's it's a generational shift in worldview.
RS: My last question is on arm sales. I heard you speak at a Stimson Center event yesterday, about the myth that if we don't sell arms, somebody else is going to fill that void. I was wondering, if you could talk to me a little bit about what principles you think should guide or arm sales policies?
Jacobs: I think when it comes to security assistance and arm sales, we need to be doing what's actually in our interest, not just trying to prevent Russia or China from gaining influence. And I think we have a lot of partners and allies around the world where it makes a lot of sense to be working with on this, our partners, NATO, etc. There was just a big AUKUS announcement in San Diego, the Australians and the Brits about how we're going to increase our defense industrial base together for submarines. Those kinds of things make a lot of sense.
Where I get concerned is when we are so focused on matching Russia and China one for one. We're so focused on trying to prevent them from gaining a foothold, that we actually are doing things that aren't actually in our interest, like working with autocratic regimes, empowering people or entities that are committing human rights abuses that we know were the very things that are fueling the challenge that we're trying to solve. I think we should have a more skeptical eye and we should have a tougher approach to how we are engaging with our partners around the human rights issues when it comes to these arms sales.
I also think there's a way we can do things just fundamentally differently. I'm really interested in some sort of MCC [Millennium Challenge Corporation]-like model where instead of it just being black and white, yes or no— if you did something bad so we're going to take something away—we would have a graduated model where we can give people clear benchmarks of what kinds of governance we need their country to have, and graduate them as they reach those governance goals. The Stimson report and event made clear it's not so simple as "if we just don't sell someone something they'll buy from someone else." There's a lot of complicated reasons why governments switch arms partners, and it's not necessarily a given that a partner would switch just because we decide it's not in our interest to sell them something.
Blaise Malley is a reporter for Responsible Statecraft. He is a former associate editor at The National Interest and reporter-researcher at The New Republic. His writing has appeared in The New Republic, The American Prospect, The American Conservative, and elsewhere.
Image: By https://www.flickr.com/photos/usarmyafrica/
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.