Last Saturday, Joe Biden signed a bill that provides $40.1 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine, including $24.6 billion for military programs and $15.5 billion for nonmilitary ones. By Washington’s standards, the legislation moved through Congress in the blink of an eye. Congress received the funding request from the White House on April 28, and just three weeks later — after easily passing the House (368 to 57) and the Senate (86 to 11) — the bill was ready for Biden’s signature.
But what’s in the bill? Who is the main beneficiary? And will it bring the conflict closer to an end?
While it’s difficult to tell how much of the $40.1 billion Ukraine aid bill will end up as direct aid to Ukraine, it is clear that private contractors will receive a significant amount to provide the weapons and military-related services whether they’re for Ukraine or another country “impacted by the situation in Ukraine,” as the bill puts it. In fact, the domestic arms industry may turn out to be the bill’s main financial winner.
The legislation, according to my estimates, will produce at least $17.3 billion in revenue for US military contractors — more than the total amount of nonmilitary funding ($15.5 billion). This estimate — a conservative one — is based on the bill’s language, accompanying documents from the White House and House Appropriations Committee, and overall trends in military contracting.
Some of that $17.3 billion in projected private sector revenue is under the “direct aid” umbrella. For example, an estimated $1.5 billion of the $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (a bill provision that provides Ukraine with weapons, training, intelligence, logistical support, and salaries and stipends for enlisted personnel in Ukraine’s army) will be used to buy weapons from contractors.
On a fundamental level, this bill is a massive redistribution of wealth from the public coffers to the pockets of private military contractors. It allows the Biden administration to continue escalating the United States’ military involvement in the war as the administration appears increasingly disinterested in bringing it to an end through diplomacy. It does not provide nearly enough oversight to mitigate the inherent risks of dumping so many weapons into a country so quickly. It earmarks money for the Department of Defense to buy weapons for its own stockpiles. Moreover, the emergency funding for the US pandemic response that Biden originally requested was stripped from the bill.
Despite all of this, Democrats decided unanimously in both the House and Senate to approve the bill. All the opposing votes came from Republicans. Not even Bernie Sanders opposed the measure.
Until congressional progressives can mobilize sufficient pushback, the Biden administration will continue on a dangerous path of prioritizing military escalation over conflict resolution — and investing in weapons instead of public well-being.