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I read this internet article recently, which argued that weapon manufacturers are benefiting from war between Russia and Ukraine. Did this article get it right? Do weapon manufacturers benefit from wars? Who else might benefit, if any?

This question is more general than: In what ways will the Russian-Ukraine war benefit/harm the United States?

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    Can't say the article aged very well. It's written, in January, as if the war worries were unfounded and weapons companies were just fueling the hysteria. There is ample reason in normal times to be cynical about the hold of the military industrial complex on Western, and especially US, budget spending. May 2022 is not one of those times. Writing this question in January, citing this article? Sure. In May, looks like aim to discredit. Jun 1 at 17:40
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    @Constantthin why would a formal declaration of war matter? It's a Russian invasion of Ukraine. That makes it Russia's war against Ukraine. Drawing any kind of moral equivalence among them is incredibly misinformative, to say the least.
    – wrod
    Jun 2 at 4:40
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    This implied symmetry in phrase "killing each other" disturbs me. For sure Ukrainian benefits from killing Russians are less civilians raped, murdered, less goods robbed etc. Jun 2 at 6:08
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    @Constantthin no, we don't. This is not a discussion of what somebody outside of this platform says. It doesn't matter who calls what what. Russia is waging a war against Ukraine. It doesn't matter what Russia says. It only matters what it does. And what it does is wage an unprovoked war of aggression against a neighboring sovereign country. Calling it anything else whitewashes the aggression. Please, don't use this site to whitewash a genocidal war.
    – wrod
    Jun 2 at 14:55
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    As for your first question, it seems to be the "yes captain obvious" kind of question, i.e rhetorical. Is anyone claiming otherwise, that weapons manufacturers stand to lose from war? When was the last time that happened? (And I'm not even sure if that's a political rather than economics question.)
    – Fizz
    Jun 2 at 15:23

7 Answers 7

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A few beneficiaries that come to mind:

  • Oil producers around the world are benefiting from the high oil prices.
  • Electricity producers in Europe (who are not using natural gas) are benefiting from the high wholesale electricity prices.
  • Food producers around the world are benefiting from the inflated food prices.
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  • @Obie2.0: For the total profit of the entire sector you are correct. But if you are one of the producers who's production is unaffected by the war, then your profit increases.
    – user000001
    Jun 1 at 15:47
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Wars are fought for a reason. If Russia can somehow win this war, then they (mainly the governing elite including but not limited to Vladimir Putin) will benefit. If Ukraine on the other hand can successfully defend their country, then they also benefit greatly although at a very high price.

As for weapon producers, yes military spending will increase in the future because of the increased risk, so weapon producers will produce more weapons and make more profit. For example, just this week Germany confirmed a one time investment in their army of 100 billion € over the next 10 years with a big chunk expected to go into new military airplanes.

On the other hand there is a quite long list of losers of this War, so not sure it's so interesting to ask for beneficiaries alone.

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    Will Ukraine benefit greatly from the war if they win ? They can benefit from a victory but they will still have lost greatly from the war itself Jun 1 at 14:41
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    And I don't understand your last sentence because there is a lot of loser it's not interesting to ask about the less numerous beneficiaries ? How does that make any sense ? Jun 1 at 14:45
  • @Bougainville The last sentence puts the question into context. Many lose in this war, only a few win. So you can count yourself already quite lucky, if you do not lose too much.
    – Trilarion
    Jun 1 at 16:17
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Many countries which do not participate in the EU/US sanctions will most likely benefit from an increased trading with Russia. Russia will try to replace goods imported from the sanctioning countries as well as will seek for new export markets. This is usually beneficial for both sides. For example, China, India and Pakistan are already interested in increasing the trading with Russia in the near future. I also heard that Tadjikistan and Kyrgizistan may win a lot by "relabelling" various Russian products and trying to export those to EU or in the other direction by selling sanctioned stuff to Russia; they already did this with the sanctions made back in 2014.

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Many beneficiaries were already mentioned in other answers, so I´ll not repeat them. I am wondering why NATO wasn´t mentioned in this context. No meter who winns at the end, NATO is profiting the most:

Finland and Sveden gave up their neutrality and going to join NATO

Most countries (when not even all) will now folow the 2% goal.

The aliance is united against the common enemy as strong as during Cold War, posibly even stronger.

EU also benefiting in a similar way.

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One party that benefits, short term, is Putin and his security state.

Popularity:

Putin’s favorability ratings jumped from 69 percent in January to 83 percent in late March,

Dissidents can now be sent to jail for 15 years if they criticize the war.

Expect more doctoring of the election processes.

Russian balance of trade: highly spiked oil profits (so far), lessened imports.

Longer term, this endeavour is risky for Putin and his regime. Neither a frozen conflict with ongoing low level Russian losses in the occupied areas, a la Afghanistan, nor a settlement restituting the status quo of February 2022 will make them look good. Strangely enough, Putin seems to be getting challenged from the pro-war side, rather than anti-war.

Domestic dissent within Russian military circles, claiming that the Kremlin is not doing enough to win the war, continues to grow. Former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin (also known as Strelkov) condemned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statements about the priority of the “special operation” in Ukraine being the liberation of the Donbas.2 Girkin claimed that the Kremlin has forgone the ideological underpinnings of the conflict by focusing the conflict on the Donbas, rather than the entirety of Ukraine.

Girkin’s dissent is emblematic of continued shifts within circles of Russian military enthusiasts and ex-servicemen. As ISW has previously reported, the Kremlin has repeatedly revised its objectives for the war in Ukraine downwards due to battlefield failures. The Kremlin is increasingly facing discontent not from Russians opposed to the war as a whole, but military and nationalist figures angry at Russian losses and frustrated with shifting Kremlin framing of the war. Russian officials are increasingly unable to employ the same ideological justifications for the invasion in the face of clear setbacks, and a lack of concrete military gains within Ukraine will continue to foment domestic dissatisfaction with the war.

Russia's gas is going to have less European buyers - keeping in mind that fossil fuels are getting phased out, this might be foregoing future sales. Sanctions are impacting the Russia supply chain. Look at what goes into an Orlan drone (I realize that video is Ukrainian propaganda, but does that mean it is untrue?).

Others who benefit:

  • Western arms companies are seeing their shares climb: their gear seems more useful than usual and is being used up. Unlike the OP, I don't see this as nefarious, though I am very cynical the military industrial complex's impact on budgeting most of the time.

  • Energy companies. Perhaps counter-intuitively, energy company profits go up when oil price is up.

  • Alternative energy industrials in Europe. This has intensified the drive to uncouple Europe from Russian oil and gas, which will drive investment in renewables in Europe (and also LNG terminals, as a question asked here inquired about). So public money is being thrown at the problem, which will certainly benefit some.

  • NATO. See @convert's answer for details.

Groups that do not necessarily benefit all that much:

One could assume that countries that do not participate in sanctions are getting discount on Russian imports. But they will often find that the increased cost of other inputs (fertilizers, food, oil) more than offsets the benefits. India for example is getting some cheap oil, but can't import all that much of it due to logistical bottlenecks (Russian exports are highly pipeline-bound).

Russian ship loadings headed for the subcontinent are expected to have risen to 230,000 bpd in March, up from nothing in the previous three months (this excludes cpc, a blend of mainly Kazakh and Russian crude). Yet India is unlikely to buy much, at least in the short term. Nearly half its imports come from the Middle East, and shipping from the Gulf is much cheaper than shipping from Russia. Payment cannot be settled in dollars, requiring India to experiment with a rouble-rupee mechanism.

And if you get a 30% discount on a product that is now 50% more expensive than 6 months ago, how much are you ahead, compared to 6 months ago?

Likewise, food producers and farmers are also uncertain winners. Sure, their output go up in price, but so do their inputs in fertilizers and fuel. And if people are stretched on their food budget, they will cut back on more expensive foods with higher margins so a food conglomerate may not see all that much upside.


Also the article this question is based on conflates two different issues:

  • who benefits from the war?
  • who decided to go to war?

It is not wrong to look at public policy decisions and try to untangle who gains and who loses to determine what kind of influence parties brought to bear to achieve their preferred outcome. For example, one might cynically look at ethanol fuel regulations in the US and see little benefit for the environment and lots for corn farmers. Then you can cross-check how climate-skeptics senators from the Midwest vote on ethanol regulations.

This is what the article linked to in the OP's question explicitly does:

The war-promoting hydras are not going to go away any time soon, and they play a far greater role in the Ukraine crisis than is being widely acknowledged. Any understanding of the crisis simply must factor in that as well as everything else, it is a matter of business: the business of war.

This is not a new concern, Eisenhower was already stating the risks back in 1959:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. 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.1

However, this war is different. Regardless of who benefits, and it would be foolish to argue that Western arms manufacturers aren't benefiting, this war was not started by some conspiracy cabal of cigar-chomping arms and oil barons. As far as anyone understands what started it, the choice of going to war seems to have been largely based on the will of one person: Putin himself. With a distant and very debatable runner-up of perhaps NATO having mishandled its expansion intents back in 2007.

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  • I don't thinkt that's what OP has asked for.
    – alamar
    Jun 1 at 18:05
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    @alamar Correction, I don't think that's what the OP wanted to hear. But it is a relatively complete view of who is gaining something from this war. There are very few winners in it otherwise. Jun 1 at 18:07
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Russia's war against Ukraine is contributing to a global economic crisis. The outcome of such a crisis, and the ultimate beneficiaries, are hard to predict with any clarity.

  • President Putin seemed to believe that the Russian people will benefit from his actions, at least in the long run. (BBC on Russian war aims.)
  • The West seems to believe that President Putin miscalculated. Russia certainly miscalculated on the initial battles of the war, but part of the problem with this analysis is how one sees benefits. On the short run, the war allowed President Putin to consolidate his control over the Russian society, which might be more important than the economy, in his estimate. (Amnesty on the crackdown.)
  • Some industries in the West were able to make significant profits from the disruption of supply chains. At least on the short run. (Reuters on fertilizer.)
  • A global food crisis could destabilize some parts of the world and cause losses for companies with exposure to those markets. (UN on the global scope.)
  • Poland had been under severe criticism for their human rights/rule of law record and the treatment of Syrian refugees. Their newfound status as a frontline state and their extremely generous treatment of Ukrainian refugees has muted this. How it plays out for Orban remains to be seen.

So my not-too-clear answer is that only hindsight can tell. People who happily garner profits on arms contracts or commodity futures in the immediate future could suffer in a depression which comes in the long term. Not least, it will depend on who seems to have won -- will the West be reinvigorated and Russia diminshed, or the other way around?

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Weapon manufacturers from all the NATO countries are benefiting from this war in Ukraine. US and other NATO countries are either buying weapons from weapon companies or taking out weapons from their military warehouses, to send them over to Ukraine. When clearing out their weapons warehouse, the countries will buy the newer advanced versions from the weapons companies. Either way, weapons companies profit from war.

Note that the west is not supplying medical resources to Ukraine, nor training medical troops in Ukraine. Every foreigner who goes to Ukraine to for 'humanitarian' causes, ends up with a gun/RPG, to fight on the front lines. This means the west is not concerned with saving lives, only profiting from this war.

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    And Russian weapons companies as well, one presumes?
    – Obie 2.0
    Jun 1 at 15:43
  • @Obie2.0 Not really. The OP's article is not incorrect that weapon manufacturers love to talk up the, relatively uncommon, times their gear gets used in actual combat. Exocets are still probably getting talking up from the Falklands in 82. Now, look at the performance of Russia's gear in Ukraine - that's not going to be good for the export potential, esp. keeping in mind these are Russia-bound versions, not de-specced export gear. Arguably some of this is caused by maintenance and training but Russia itself is not going to admit to that. Jun 1 at 17:36
  • see timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-editorials/… for another reason for worrying for Russian arms purchasers. Jun 1 at 17:36
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica The Russian government still will be paying them.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jun 1 at 17:41
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    Russia will win this war, & de-Nazify Ukraine, regardless of the time required. More weapons supplied to Ukraine will only mean prolonging this war, not the outcome.
    – Neel
    Jun 19 at 17:53

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