Weapons cargo bound for Ukraine is loaded onto a C-17 Globemaster III at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.
Photo: U.S. Air Force
‘Experts’ from defense industry funded think tanks are flooding the media, pushing for more arms without disclosing their benefactors. America’s top foreign policy think tanks are awash in funding from the defense industry. They’ve dominated the media market related to the Ukraine war, and they seldom, if ever, disclose that many of the weapons they’re recommending the U.S. give to Ukraine are made by their funders, writes Ben Freeman, a Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
In short, when you hear a think tank scholar comment on the Ukraine war, chances you’re hearing from someone whose employer is funded by those who profit from war, but you’ll probably never know it. That’s because 78 percent of the top ranked foreign policy think tanks in the U.S. receive funding from the Pentagon or its contractors, as documented in the new brief.
At the very top, defense industry influence is even greater: every single one of the top 10 ranked foreign policy think tanks receives funding from the defense sector. And, for many think tanks, the amount of defense funding is enormous. For example, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and The Atlantic Council all reported receiving more than a million dollars a year from the defense sector.
These and other think tanks that receive considerable defense sector funding have publicly advocated for more militarized U.S. responses to the Ukraine war and, compared to their counterparts at think tanks that accept little or no defense sector funding, have dominated the media landscape related to the Ukraine war.
Of the 1,247 think tank media mentions we tracked for the brief, 1,064 (or 85 percent) were mentions of think tanks with defense sector funding.
And, the two most mentioned think tanks in Ukraine war related articles were think tanks flooded with defense sector dollars: CSIS and The Atlantic Council.
The new brief found that nearly one third of the top U.S. foreign policy think tanks do not publicly disclose their donors. This included some of the most mentioned think tanks in media articles about the Ukraine war, like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Though AEI scholars have disclosed at public events that the organization receives funding from defense contractors, the organization does not list its donors on its website.
Media outlets were, similarly, not transparent about the conflicts of interest of the experts they were citing. In fact, none of the media mentions analyzed in the brief were accompanied by disclosures of defense industry funding of think tanks that were, at times, recommending policies that could financially benefit their funders.
Congress should mandate that think tanks disclose their funders. Given think tanks’ prominent role in the policymaking process and the enormous amounts of money they receive from the defense industry, foreign governments, and other special interests, it’s imperative that the public and policymakers know who is funding the think tank expert they’re hearing from, notes Ben Freeman.
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