Money for guns, but not for hungry people

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Western humanitarian support for Sri Lanka can be measured in the millions – while western military aid to Ukraine is in the billions.

It seems that politicians in Washington, London and Paris care more about funding a war and boosting the profits of their own arms industries rather than preventing hunger and total economic meltdown in Sri Lanka.

Since the Russian invasion, NATO countries have committed more than US$8 billion in military equipment for Ukraine, with US$4.6 billion (£3.7 billion) coming from the US. The UK has pledged US$1billion, while the EU has allocated €2billion.

Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher at the arms transfers programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), says most of the weapons being sent to Ukraine are from existing military supplies.

Some countries have sent older items that were ‘on the way out already’ but many, like the US and UK, have sent newer stocks that will need to be replaced, he told Sky News.

The US has already approved a US$9 billion spending package to replenish supplies sent to Ukraine now and in the future.

US defence contractors are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries.

Washington is sending 6,500 Javelin anti-tank missile systems, which are made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. The cost of each missile is about US$78,000 (£66,000) and the reusable launcher is another US$100,000 (£85,000).

Ukraine is receiving 50 billion rounds of ammunition from the US, which is likely to benefit Olin, the US army’s largest small-arms ammunitions supplier.

In Europe, the big winners are expected to include BAE Systems and Thales. Britain’s BAE Systems manufactures nearly all the UK’s small-arms ammunition and is set to replace the 400,000 rounds sent to Ukraine.

The company also makes the 108 155mm howitzer artillery cannons sent by the US, as well as the MILAN anti-tank guided missiles provided by France and Italy, which are produced in a joint venture with Airbus and Leonardo.

Large defence companies are already seeing their share prices go up as investors anticipate the impact of the war on profits. Thales shares have risen by 35 per cent since the invasion, while BAE Systems shares are up 32 per cent. Lockheed Martin has seen an increase of 14 per cent.

The wholesale gifts of weapons to Ukraine are not only benefiting ‘legitimate’ arms dealers and manufacturers – but also fuelling a vast black-market trade with corrupt officials in Ukraine even allegedly selling western high-tech weaponry to Russia.

Other western weapons sent as aid to Ukraine are being sold on the dark net. ASB Military News reported on 2 June that some of the arms the US and NATO donated are being sold to buyers in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Many people are taking these weapons and selling them to terrorist organisations on the black market. As a result, these weapons will be used in the future to kill people in Europe and other places,” US journalist John Mark Dougan confirmed the news in an interview with the Global Times.

The Head of Interpol, Jürgen Stock, is also concerned that weapons sent to Ukraine will end up in the global hidden economy and in the hands of criminals.

Stock warns that once the conflict ends, a wave of guns and heavy arms will flood the international market and he urged Interpol’s member States, especially those supplying weapons, to cooperate on arms tracing.

“Once the guns fall silent [in Ukraine], the illegal weapons will come. We know this from many other theatres of conflict. The criminals are even now, as we speak, focusing on them,” Stock said.

“Criminal groups try to exploit these chaotic situations and the availability of weapons, even those used by the military and including heavy weapons. These will be available on the criminal market and will create a challenge. No country or region can deal with it in isolation because these groups operate at a global level.”

Meanwhile, western governments like the US and Australia have provided only a few hundred million dollars in support to Sri Lanka. The UK appears reluctant to help, with politicians warning that aid to Sri Lanka could end up bailing out corrupt politicians instead of people in need.

Earlier in June, the United Nations launched a worldwide public appeal for assistance. So far, projected funding barely scratches the surface of the US$6 billion Sri Lanka needs to stay afloat over the next six months.

By Michael Gregson