28th Sep 2023


How the arms industry wins whether Ukraine wins or loses

  • The EU's ASAP includes a bail-out type mechanism to address potential financial losses to the arms industry, should the "concern" that the Ukraine war ends become a reality (Photo: Yarden Sachs)
Listen to article

Last week the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve the Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP), the latest EU measure framed as a response to Russia's war against Ukraine.

The act provides for faster delivery of weapons to Ukraine, the replenishment of EU member states' arsenals and a €500m 'Ramp-up Fund' to incentivise European arms companies to increase production.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In reality though, the ASAP has little, if anything, to do with supporting Ukraine, and everything to do with guaranteeing the profit-driven interests of Europe's highly-lucrative arms industry.

The European Parliament ASAP briefing reads more like a commercial risk assessment for arm company investors than a serious attempt by EU leaders to urgently address the desperate reality of the war.

The only "concern" raised in the briefing is not that the war in Ukraine continues, but perversely, that it ends, in which case "demand [for ammunition] may drop off instantly."

EU support for the arms industry is nothing new and the "starting position" for this act dates from a 2013 European Parliament resolution aimed at strengthening Europe's defence industry. Since then arms lobbyists have successfully positioned themselves as supposedly independent security experts, actively influencing political decisions while subsequently reaping the financial benefits.

Yet, despite the now multi-billion euro budget flowing directly from European tax payers to the arms industry, Jan Pie, secretary general of the Aerospace, Security and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) expressed regret with "the limits and the sources of the financial envelope" of the ASAP.

No scrutiny, no impact assessment

Although the €500m Ramp-up Fund may pale in comparison to the more than €200bn pledged to militarism by EU member states following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the regulation sets various dangerous precedents that erode the EU's democratic process.

The ASAP proposal included just one sentence in its fundamental rights section on the right to life. This was followed by three paragraphs detailing how the regulation intersects with the "freedom to conduct a business" and the "right to property".

The priorities are crystal clear — although the ASAP specifically provides for the production of lethal weapons that will undoubtedly cause loss of life, possible violations of this fundamental right did not merit further scrutiny where the "freedom to conduct a business" did.

The ASAP is peppered with business speak — optimising, expanding, modernising, upgrading — but devoid of any language about the war industry's results: death, displacement and destruction . Moreover, breaking with standard practice, "no impact assessment was attached to the proposal because of the urgency of the matter."

In light of the "exceptional context" the ASAP permits member states to derogate from norms on labour law, environmental standards and public contracts, encouraging them to use "defence related exemptions … to mitigate possible obstacles."

The ASAP is a co-financing instrument and projects funded through it will likely be supplemented with other pools of public money. Furthermore, it includes a bail-out type mechanism to address potential financial losses to the arms industry, should the "concern" that the Ukraine war ends become a reality.

Although an attempt to relax arms export criteria was eventually removed from the final draft, the ramping up of arms production across Europe and the encouragement of "cross-border partnerships" between member states, will undoubtedly lead to more EU arms ending up in the hands of authoritarian regimes or on the battlefields of war-stricken countries around the world.

By approving this regulation MEPs effectively voted themselves out of having any oversight role in how it is implemented, since the text does not provide for this.

'Unwinnable' can still be win-win

Similarly, because of the "emergency situation" national parliaments were denied the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation as is standard practice. Increasingly such exceptions have become the rule when it comes to boosting the EU's war industry.

EU commissioner Thierry Breton, who oversaw the ASAP from its inception through to parliamentary approval, called on stakeholders to "think outside the box" in times of a "war economy". This invitation for creative thinking appears only to encompass how to prolong the war and not to stop it.

Meanwhile military experts have regularly concurred that despite shipments of ever more sophisticated weaponry, the Ukraine war is unwinnable unless Nato enters into direct combat against Russia. This terrifying prospect would take us closer to nuclear warfare than any time in our recent past.

Despite peace plans being put forward by various states and endorsed by civil society, Western leaders have snubbed each and every one preferring instead to apply the logic that the answer to war is more war.

Eighteen months in to this gruelling war it is blatantly clear that we are being fed a nonsense by our political leaders. Pumping Ukraine full of weapons is not about solidarity but sabotage and the endgame is not about saving Ukraine but destroying it.

Author bio

Niamh Ní Bhriain is war and pacification programme coordinator at the Transnational Institute, the Amsterdam-based NGO founded in 1974 as the international programme of the Washington DC-based Institute for Policy Studies, advocating for justice, democracy, and sustainability.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

The military-industrial complex cashing-in on the Ukraine war

From the outset, arms manufacturers eyed this war as a profitable business opportunity. Structural changes took place across the EU, not only to fast-track arms to Ukraine, but also to make more public finance available to the highly-lucrative arms industry.

Poland and Hungary's ugly divorce over Ukraine

What started in 2015 as a 'friends-with-benefits' relationship between Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński, for Hungary and Poland, is ending in disgust and enmity — which will not be overcome until both leaders leave.


Ammunition to, and grain from Ukraine top This WEEK

During the week, the European Parliament special committee on foreign interference is set to adopt its proposals to fight foreign actors, particularly Russia and China, using information manipulation — which is likely to increase as the 2024 European elections approach.


Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

International media must make clear that these are not fair, democratic elections. The flawed race should be the story at least as much as the race itself.

Latest News

  1. Germany tightens police checks on Czech and Polish border
  2. EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making
  3. How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?
  4. Resurgent Fico hopes for Slovak comeback at Saturday's election
  5. EU and US urge Azerbijan to allow aid access to Armenians
  6. EU warns of Russian 'mass manipulation' as elections loom
  7. Blocking minority of EU states risks derailing asylum overhaul
  8. Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us