Wars and persecution have driven the number of refugees to record-breaking highs worldwide, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported in June 2015.
Currently 59.5 million people - nearly 1 percent of the world's population - are refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced. Half of them are children.
This crisis has everyone talking about the proper response, but very few are talking about who is profiting from this tragic situation.
The reality is that wars, including the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, fuel migration and extremism. Wars also fuel arms industry profits, which boost the industry's capacity to influence public policy and generate more sales. For example, the US Air Force has already fired so many (more than 20,000) missiles and bombs at ISIS positions that it is on the verge of running out, USA Today reported on December 3, 2015. That has to be good news for Lockheed Martin, which makes the Hellfire missile.
Geopolitical tensions are causing nations worldwide to ramp up their defense capabilities, according to the investment research website Zacks.com. "Increasing threats ... have pushed up demand for US weapons," according to a post on the site. "This is in turn benefiting the US defense manufacturers."
Military-industrial-complex executives have assured the titans of global finance that more war means more markets for their products. Lockheed Martin chief financial officer Bruce Tanner told a Credit Suisse conference that war in the Middle East would give his firm "an intangible lift," and enhanced demand for F-22s and the new F-35 jets. At the same meeting, The Intercept reported, Oshkosh president Wilson Jones asserted his confidence that a growing ISIS threat will create more demand for the company's armored vehicles.
Meanwhile, Gulf states are already supplying weapons manufactured in the United States to rebels in Syria, according to the Daily Mail, which quoted an executive from a US-based weapons firm as saying that the war in Syria is "a huge growth area for us."
It is no coincidence that stock values in such companies as Raytheon, General Dynamics, Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman all rose steeply the day after the Paris attacks, according to The Intercept's analysis.
International arms sales are trending upward, with the United States holding onto its position as the world leader. "The volume of transfers of major weapons in 2010-14 was 16 percent higher than in 2005-2009," reports the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. For the United States, arms sales were up 23 percent. "More than any other supplier, the USA delivered major weapons to at least 94 recipients in 2010-14," SIPRI's research found. The arms were spread throughout the world, but the Middle East received one-third of US weapons exports.
Arms sold to US allies such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia don't stay in one place. "[ISIS] fighters are using arms, mainly looted from Iraqi military stocks, which were manufactured and designed in more than two dozen countries, including Russia, China, the USA and EU states," according to Amnesty International. "The quantity and range of [ISIS] stocks of arms and ammunition ultimately reflect decades of irresponsible arms transfers to Iraq and multiple failures by the US-led occupation administration to manage arms deliveries and stocks securely, as well as endemic corruption in Iraq itself," Amnesty said in a new report, "Taking Stock: Arming Islamic State."
Conflict Armament Research, a London-based group which analyzed the ISIS arsenal, found that "the Islamic State's relatively newly-formed force has had little difficulty tapping into the huge pool of armaments fueling the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, supplied not only by the world's big powers but also by up-and-coming exporters such as Sudan," according to a summary from the Center for Public Integrity. One of the ammunition suppliers is a factory in Lake City, Missouri, run by Alliant Techsystems, which spent $1.35 million on lobbyists in 2014.
The cycle goes on. The military-industrial complex uses its lobbying clout and PAC contributions to win contracts for weapons production. Weapons used overseas drive people from their homes and create more enemies. Enemies capture weapons and turn them against US targets. Desperate migrants seeking safety provoke heightened waves of xenophobia, leading to more violence at home, especially against immigrants. More fear and more violence create more markets for weapons makers. More sales provide more funds to spend on lobbyists, election campaigns and pro-war think tanks.
We can break this cycle by ending wars, welcoming refugees and interrupting the unwarranted influence of those who profit from violence. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had it right 54 years ago when he warned about the "acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
"Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together," Eisenhower emphasized. It is long past time to answer his plea.