The Pentagon’s Engagement with ‘Allies’ and Enemies Puts America Last

The Senate moved last week to prepare for debate over the National Defense Authorization Act for 2022. When passed, the NDAA will determine how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent. Unfortunately, our military and political leaders are likely to continue a decades-long tradition of spending billions on wasteful, poorly thought-out initiatives that will do little to protect our country, its borders, or its sovereignty.

Even worse, in some cases, U.S. tax dollars may end up empowering hostile powers and bad actors around the world—including those who call themselves allies of the United States yet pursue agendas that harm American interests. They often don’t make headlines at Fox or CNN, but their actions have real and lasting consequences.

This exact situation is unfolding with the French aviation firm Airbus, which is a top contender for the Air Force’s next-generation tanker aircraft program. The company has a lengthy track record of unscrupulous relationships with nations that are either apathetic or hostile towards U.S. interests. 

For example, the Department of Justice found in January 2020 that Airbus had engaged in a “massive” multi-year scheme to secure lucrative contracts in China through bribery and corruption. The firm also concealed its illegal dealings from the U.S. government in order to secure licenses to export sensitive American military technology. 

Airbus ultimately agreed to pay more than $3.9 billion in fines to the United States and other nations affected by its deceptive practices, but the damage has already been done. Nonetheless, the Department of Defense continues to view the firm as a potential reliable partner that might deserve to receive billions of American taxpayer dollars. 

Last year, one of Airbus’ former subsidiaries was also found guilty of corrupt dealings with a barbaric foreign regime: Saudi Arabia. Following an investigation by the British government, the French aerospace giant’s now-defunct subsidiary will be forced to pay more than £30 million, or approximately $42 million, in fines. 

At least Airbus hasn’t yet used American military funding to empower rival superpowers, as Israel did in the 1980s—four decades and billions of dollars of U.S. assistance ago. America’s difficult Middle East ally and client state developed an uncomfortably close relationship with China after the United States cut off support for an Israeli fighter jet program. The aircraft, called the Lavi, would have been Israel’s cutting-edge domestically built fighter at the time, but with American aircraft like the F-16 already available, the United States determined that paying Israel to design a similar jet made no sense. 

Rather than drop the Lavi, the Israelis promptly made an arrangement with China to share the program’s technology. Several years later, the Chinese unveiled a suspiciously Lavi-like aircraft called the J-10, which is now the most numerous fighter jet in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force inventory.

Israel is far from the only Middle Eastern power that has abused its alliance with the United States. Dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey have long exploited their role as arbiters of the region’s oil market and overall stability to get away with corruption scandals like the one involving the former Airbus subsidiary last year. Turkey, meanwhile, enjoys the added advantage of NATO membership, which gives it cover to fuel conflicts on Europe’s periphery—and profit from them in the process. 

In recent years, Turkey has sold unmanned aerial combat vehicles to Azerbaijan and Ukraine, two countries whose belligerence in local territorial disputes has threatened to draw in major players like Russia and the European Union. Azerbaijan deployed the drones in its most recent conflict with Armenia, and Ukraine has used them to harass the territories on its eastern border that declared independence from Ukraine in 2014.

The United States has enough unreliable partners around the world who abuse treaties and exacerbate regional tensions. It’s time to change course by not becoming more entangled with unscrupulous foreign defense giants like Airbus and foreign countries that leech off America’s superpower status. 

The United States should finally use its military might to protect its own borders and defend its sovereignty. And it should do so with technologies produced at home, not procured from bad actors abroad.

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About Chris Nagavonski

Chris Nagavonski is a writer and translator from Washington, D.C. who specializes in Eastern European affairs.

Photo: An Airbus A310 converted into a tanker aircraft flies with the tanker hoses removed and escorted by two Tornado fighters at Dresden International Airport, 2020. Robert Michael via Getty Images