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Ukraine in NATO? War Inc. knows a great deal when it sees one

Politico published a letter calling for sending more weapons to Kyiv without disclosing the potential financial interests of its signatories.

Reporting | Military Industrial Complex

The upcoming NATO Summit on July 11 is emerging as an opportunity for Ukraine to press its case for membership in the alliance and expand on the military aid it has received from alliance members. On July 5, Politico published a letter “by 46 foreign policy experts” urging Ukraine’s membership into NATO and increasing the supply of Western weapons to Kyiv.

Left undisclosed by Politico: nearly half of the signatories hold positions at organizations that receive considerable financial support from weapons companies, consultancies and lobby-shops servicing weapons industry clients, or weapons companies themselves.

The letter’s signatories, many of whom have a financial stake in a ballooning Pentagon budget and congressional approval for the export of sophisticated weapons, repeatedly cite the need for greater weapons transfers to Ukraine as a central tenet of their justification for Ukraine’s NATO membership.

“[NATO heads of state and government] should further underscore their readiness to supply Ukraine weapons — including longer-range missiles such as ATACMS, Western fighter planes and tanks — in sufficient quantities to prevail on the battlefield,” says the letter. “This will demonstrate the allies’ unequivocal commitment to Ukrainian victory and send a clear message to Moscow that its military situation in Ukraine will only grow worse the longer the conflict continues.”

Returning to weapons again at the end of the letter, the signatories said, “The allies should also approve the updated Comprehensive Assistance Package to facilitate Ukraine attaining full interoperability with NATO forces and making a comprehensive transition to NATO standards.”

“The focus should be on the transition to Western weapons systems; creation of a modern, NATO-compatible air and missile defense system; creation of a medical rehabilitation system for wounded soldiers, as well as a system for soldier reintegration into civilian life and a comprehensive demining effort,” they concluded. Indeed, support for increasing Western military aid to Ukraine is not a view exclusively held by those with direct or indirect links to the weapons industry, but signatories of the letter are noticeably embedded in the financial umbrella of institutions and businesses with direct financial ties to some of the world’s largest weapons firms.

“I'm not surprised at all by this,” Dan Grazier, senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, told Responsible Statecraft. “It's a well trodden path for former policymakers who have a financial stake in the outcome of particular policy decisions to not disclose relevant information about themselves, specifically their own financial stake in the outcome.”

“It's sad that this is the way that Washington works but it's just the way it is,” added Grazier. “Frankly, when you ask questions about this, people sometimes get downright nasty about being questioned about their financial interest in these matters.”

For instance, the first signatory, Stephen E. Biegun, who Politico simply identifies as “Former U.S. deputy secretary of state,” is senior vice president of global public policy at Boeing.

“In this role, he is responsible for advising and executing on Boeing’s global public policy matters in support of the company’s priorities and optimizing relationships with key stakeholders in the U.S. and around the world. He is also a member of the company’s Executive Council,” says Boeing’s website.

Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark, who works as a senior board and company adviser at Vaya Space, also signed the letter but wasn’t identified by his Vaya Space affiliation. The company says it brought Clark on board to, “support investment in and expansion of Vaya Space's new technologies to the highly attractive Space (launch) and Defense (strategic and tactical missile) landscape.”

Seven signatories, including Clark who has his own namesake consulting shop, work at businesses that consult or lobby on behalf of weapons-industry clients.

Nine signatories hold positions at The Atlantic Council, a think tank that counts the Big Five weapons firms — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — as funders, including former diplomat Paula Dobriansky who serves as Vice Chair of the Council’s prominent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security but was simply identified as “Former under secretary of state for global affairs” in the letter.

The Council recently published a paper with a series of policy recommendations that would benefit Pentagon contractors.  

(The Council’s commission that produced the paper is sponsored by companies with financial interests in Pentagon and government contracts, posing a potential conflict of interest.)

“Ambassador Paula Dobriansky is a well-respected board member and counselor to the Atlantic Council. She receives no income from the Council,” Richard Davidson, director of strategic communications at the Council, told Responsible Statecraft.

“Our experts always represent their own views since the Council takes no positions on issues, and all our donors agree to the Council maintaining strict intellectual independence,” added Davidson. 

Five signatories work at other think tanks with significant funding from weapons firms, including the Hudson Institute, Center for a New American Security, the George W. Bush Institute, the McCain Institute and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, where Eric Edelman serves as counselor. He was listed as “Former under secretary of defense for policy 2005-2009,” in the letter.

The letter also fits neatly within the core “values” laid out by Politico’s new owner, Axel Springer, that include standing up for “a united Europe” and advocating for “the transatlantic alliance between the United States of America and Europe.”

“This is a public statement by 46 well known public figures and foreign policy experts outlining their position on NATO membership for Ukraine,” a Politico spokesperson told Responsible Statecraft in response to questions about the potential conflict of interest. “The signatories are listed by name and title so that readers can form their own conclusions based [sic]the array of professional experiences each signatory brings to the discussion.”

In total, 21 of the 46 signatories are associated with institutions with financial ties to the weapons industry, an industry that presumably stands to benefit from the policy recommendations laid out in a letter that had a particular focus on providing more Western weapons to Ukraine, a fact not shared with readers.

Team Dover Airmen load pallets of ammunition onto a C-17 Globemaster III bound for Ukraine during a security assistance mission at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Aug. 9, 2022. The Department of Defense is providing Ukraine with critical capabilities to defend against Russian aggression under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $11.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. (This photo has been altered to protect operational security.) (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cydney Lee)
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