THE BLOG
07/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

War Contractor Funds Peace Institute

War Is Peace?

In case you missed it, earlier this year Lockheed Martin, the world's largest weapons contractor, made a $1 million donation to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). USIP describes itself as "a non-partisan institution established by Congress" to "help prevent and resolve violent international conflict, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools and intellectual capital worldwide." Stated in less bureaucratic terms, the institute is meant to help foster the conditions for, well, peace. How does taking money from the world's largest producer of the weapons of war square with that?

When I asked USIP whether any issues had arisen regarding the donation, they said the following: "Within our Board of Directors structure, we have a building committee that reviews gifts. Obviously there are many donors, giving varied amounts, both individual and corporate. The Lockheed Martin gift was carefully reviewed."

It's clear what's in all of this for Lockheed Martin -- image enhancement. As the USIP notes in its press release announcing the grant, Lockheed Martin will be the "premier sponsor" of the Institute's annual Dean Acheson lecture, in exchange for which USIP will be "prominently recognizing the company in all lecture-related materials." The arms maker will also be acknowledged as a "Founding Corporate Partner" of the institute's new National Mall headquarters and a supporter of USIP's public education campaign. All this for a company that brings you advanced combat aircraft, artillery systems that launch deadly cluster munitions, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles that can deliver hundreds of nuclear warheads.

But why focus on things that are designed to kill people when you can describe your company as an institution that is "the world's leading global security company" dedicated to "working to prevent conflict and promote peace as vital components of global security," as Lockheed Martin CEO Robert J. Stevens did in announcing the donation?

To be fair, Lockheed Martin does devote a small portion of the $32 billion in government contracts it receives each year -- $26 billion of which comes from the Pentagon -- to activities related to peacekeeping. If its website is to be taken at face value, the company does everything from human rights monitoring in the Sudan to recruiting and training personnel "who support peacekeeping operations," to providing logistics for the Department of State's Civilian Police Program (CIVPOL) in support of missions in Haiti, Liberia, East Timor, and Afghanistan. Why a weapons contractor is involved in human rights monitoring is not entirely apparent to me, but there you have it.

Whether or not you are bothered by the idea of an arms company funding a peace institute, there is an additional question that deserves to be asked. Why not have the government fund the USIP directly? According to its most recent 10-K report, Lockheed Martin receives 84% of its revenue from the U.S. government; in other words, the taxpayers. So to a degree the company is simply recycling funds it got from us in the first place to burnish its image.

There has to be a better way.