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Despite Republican hesitance on Ukraine aid, red states reap economic benefits

by Nate Ostiller November 30, 2023 4:07 PM 6 min read
A U.S.-supplied and manufactured M142 HIMARS used by the Ukrainian military launches a rocket. (Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
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Amid signs of a growing reluctance among U.S. Republicans to continue aid for Ukraine, proponents have been trying a new narrative – highlighting that a considerable amount of the money the U.S. spends actually goes toward the domestic defense industry, funneling jobs and investments back to the U.S.

A recent op-ed by Marc Thiessen, a fellow at the center-right think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, argued that it is "the best-kept secret" of the entire $68 billion U.S. endeavor to support Ukraine.

Citing one analyst, he said that as much as 90% of the money allocated by the U.S. for military aid for Ukraine has been spent domestically.

Thiessen and some of his colleagues from the American Enterprise Institute worked on a project to map where in the U.S. these funds have gone. In total, 31 states are producing weapons or military equipment for Ukraine, using money earmarked by Congress.

The U.S. Defense Department (DoD) has also weighed in, sharing its own infographics that illustrate the extent of the economic benefits of the revived domestic defense industry.

Although the DoD's estimates are not as striking as the unnamed analyst cited by Thiessen, they still show that the U.S. has received more than $27 billion in investments from Washington's military aid for Ukraine.

In addition, the funds have also provided $3.3 billion in direct industrial investments to improve the capacity of the domestic defense industry across the U.S.

"Across the board, the response of our U.S. industrial base to meet Ukraine's defense needs has been truly historic," said William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Weapons for Ukraine, American jobs

A total estimate of the jobs created has not been made public, but a few examples are illustrative of the economic boon that the U.S.'s military aid for Ukraine has created at home.

Lockheed Martin, which produces the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) prized by the Ukrainian military, received a contract from the Pentagon worth nearly $500 million in late 2022 to keep manufacturing the systems.

Local officials in Camden, Arkansas, where one of Lockheed's factories is located, saw the announcement as a significant economic opportunity for the town.

The state's Chamber of Commerce estimated that perhaps as many as 1,000 new jobs would be created as a result of the new contracts from Lockheed and other defense companies operating in Ouachita County, of which Camden is the county seat.

As the defense industry has grown, it has helped revitalize the town, which had been economically stagnating since other industries left. It was not the first time Camden saw growth from defense jobs- some 25,000 workers came to the town after a naval plant was opened there in 1944.

"Retail jobs follow manufacturing jobs, so the more manufacturing jobs that you have in a community, (the more) retail will soon follow," said Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development's executive director, James Lee Silliman.

The Camden story is not an isolated event– new contracts for domestic defense production have led to the creation of new factories and the expansion of existing ones, all circulating money back into the U.S. economy.

A more striking example is in Mesquite, Texas. Unlike Camden, there was no previous defense industry until the defense contractor General Dynamics announced the opening of a new factory in early 2024 to produce 155mm shells.

Mesquite, a suburb of Dallas with a population of around 150,000, invested more than $1 million to attract General Dynamics, and local officials hoped that the plant would usher in a larger wave of economic revival. Although housing projects continue to spring up around Mesquite, the downtown remains quiet, and boarded-up storefronts are a common sight.

Local officials believe that the plant, along with its high-paid jobs, will help jumpstart a larger growth of advanced manufacturing in the area, that will ultimately make Mesquite a more desirable place to live.

The partisan divide

The Biden administration and other proponents of U.S. support for Ukraine have increasingly sought to emphasize that the oft-cited narrative that the U.S. is "giving" money to Ukraine is simply not true.

Moreover, a considerable portion of the money has gone either to states that voted for previous President Donald Trump in 2020 or battleground states.

So far, the top recipients are Pennsylvania ($2.4 billion), Arizona ($2.3 billion), Arkansas ($1.5 billion), Texas ($1.4 billion), and Florida ($1 billion).

Texas, Florida, and Arkansas went for Trump in 2020, and Pennsylvania and Arizona narrowly voted for President Joe Biden.

Despite the clear economic benefits for constituents, many Republican politicians representing these states have voted against aid for Ukraine.

Lance Gooden, the Republican Congressman representing Mesquite, Texas, joined other Republican congressmen to publicly oppose aid for Ukraine.

Other prominent Republican politicians, such as Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, have voted against Ukraine aid even though Vance also decried the decline of the U.S. defense industry.

The M1 Abrams tank, which is being supplied to Ukraine, is produced at the General Dynamics plant in Lima, Ohio.

Across the board, poll after poll has found that Republicans think the U.S. is giving Ukraine too much money. A Gallup poll released in early November found that 62% of Republicans said the U.S. is doing too much to help, compared to only 14% of Democrats who think so.  

Pocketbook issues

The U.S. electorate, still mostly in favor of support for Ukraine, has other issues in mind as the 2024 presidential election approaches.

An Ipsos poll released on Nov. 5 found that almost all Americans (97%) believed economic issues were their primary concern, followed by inflation, education, healthcare, crime, and gun violence.

Ukraine was towards the bottom of the list, with 28% believing it was "very important," lower than the war between Israel and Hamas (36%).

Amid the broader isolationist tendencies in the Republican party, the messages of defending democracy abroad, supporting our European allies, and standing up to Russia do not appear to be enough to motivate a majority of the Republican electorate to support continued aid to Ukraine.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a senior member of the Republican Party and proponent of U.S. support for Ukraine, has emphasized the economic benefit it brings to the country, including his home state of Kentucky.

"Our support to Ukraine is grinding down one of America's biggest strategic adversaries (Russia)," McConnell said in September.

He added that it is also "measurably strengthening the U.S. military, growing the U.S. industrial base, and supporting thousands of good-paying American jobs."

"The overwhelming majority of the money we have appropriated is being spent here in America. Right here in this country," the Republican leader in the Senate commented.

Even if voters are unconvinced by the moral and geopolitical arguments, the economic one could be the winning message.  

As of the time of this publication, Congress has been deadlocked for months on a new spending package for Ukraine aid, which has been caught between infighting and wider budgetary debates.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Nov. 26 that the Senate would consider a vote on the proposed $61 billion in military aid for Ukraine as early as Dec. 4.

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