Who Profits from Nuclear Weapons?

Arnie Alpert on August 05, 2015

Big corporations stand to make billions of dollars from a new generation of nuclear weapons and the missiles, bombers, and submarines that would deliver them to their targets.  

With the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world learned that humans now had the ability to extinguish life on the planet.  Seven decades later, the nuclear threat continues to loom over humanity.  And instead of making comprehensive efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, the United States and other nuclear power are building up their arsenals.  

In fact, the Obama administration is backing a plan to spend upwards of a trillion dollars on new nuclear weapons, some of which are designed for first-strike attacks.  But while the use of nuclear weapons would be a disaster for the planet, their production means big bucks for the military-industrial-complex. 

Most of trillion dollars would go to the corporations that would produce a new generation of missiles, bombers, and submarines designed to carry nuclear weapons.  The “modernization” plan also calls for a new generation of nuclear warheads, to be designed and built in a complex of federal labs whose management has been outsourced by the Department of Energy to the private sector.  Those corporations are using their resources – much of which comes from the taxpayers – to support candidates favorable to their business plans and to lobby for policies that will produce more contracts.  

The specific components of the nuclear upgrade include

  • New land and sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs and ICBMs); new bombers; new submarines; and new air-launched cruise missiles

  • Re-designed warheads to be mounted on cruise and ballistic missiles and to be launched from aircraft

  • New facilities at the DOE-owned by privately-run weapons labs; and

  • New command, control, and communications systems.

The list of firms likely to get contracts for nuclear weapons production includes familiar players from the military industrial complex.   

The biggest player is probably Lockheed Martin, the nation’s number one Pentagon contractor and operator of the Sandia Lab.  Lockheed employs 82 lobbyists, including at least one former US Senator and two former US Representatives, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  Of the other Lockheed lobbyists, 70% are former federal employees, what the Center calls “revolvers” in reference to the “revolving door” between Capitol Hill and the lobbying industry.  Sometimes the lobbyists cross the line into activities prohibited by federal law.

According to a report by the Department of Energy’s Inspector General obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, Lockheed hired a lobbying firm headed by Heather Wilson, a former Congresswoman from New Mexico, where Sandia is located.  To secure Sandia’s contracts, Wilson’s firm advised, “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile.” Implementation of the “low profile” plan involved Sandia employees, whose positions were funded by the corporation’s existing federal contracts.    

“We recognize that LMC [Lockheed Martin Corporation], as a for-profit entity, has a corporate interest in the future of the Sandia Corporation contract,” the DOE Inspector General stated.  “However, the use of Federal funds to advance that interest through actions designed to result in a noncompetitive contract extension was, in our view, prohibited by Sandia Corporation’s contract and Federal law and regulations.”

It’s a classic case of GUI, Governing under the Influence, except in this case it was illegal.  In most cases, GUI is fully protected by the law and the US Supreme Court.  The ten corporations we see as key players in the nuclear weapons industry reported spending nearly $71 million on lobbying in 2014, and another $24 million on Congressional candidates in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

And that’s not the whole list of nuclear weapons producers; Don’t Bank on the Bomb identifies 20 more. 

As we remember the hundreds of thousands of people – mostly civilians – who perished in the atomic bombs 70 years ago, and consider what steps we need to take to make sure nuclear weapons are never again used by anyone, let’s also set aside time to discuss the need for nuclear weapons abolition with the candidates for president.   Ask them about plans to spend a trillion dollars on nuclear weapons and find out what steps they will take to make sure the military industrial complex is not leading the way to another nuclear holocaust.   

[Since this article was first published, Northrop Grumman won the contract to build the Long Range Strike Bomber.  According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Virginia-based corporation contributed $4.6 million to 224 members of Congress with seats on key committees in the years leading up to winning the LRS-B contract.]

Author

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert is co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program, which he has led since 1981.  In that time he has been involved in movements for economic justice and affordable housing, civil and worker rights, peace and disarmament, abolition of the death penalty, and an end to racism and homophobia.