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Critical Defense Contractor Theory

Raytheon would like you to identify your privilege; Erik Prince wants to build jets in Ukraine.
Critical Defense Contractor Theory

Raytheon Technologies is one of the largest defense conglomerates in the world; in 2020 it reported $56.58 billion in revenue, $72.16 billion in equity, and $162.15 billion in total assets. As the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo has reported, through its “Stronger Together” initiative Raytheon Technologies is also heavily committed to promoting critical race theory as part of “anti-racist” diversity training. 

To readers who have recently attended a prestigious or wants-to-be prestigious academic institution, nothing Rufo describes will surprise, and much will sound familiar. Rufo reports, for instance, that employees are segregated into “resource” or “affinity” groups oriented around identities such as black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and LGBTQ. White employees, meanwhile, are taught that “white, straight, Christian, able-bodied, English-speaking men are at the top of the intersectional hierarchy—and must work on ‘recognizing [their] privilege’ and ‘step aside’ in favor of other identity groups.” Again, all of this likely rings a bell. What may surprise upon reflection is that it is occurring not at Columbia but in a company that is paid a lot of public money to build the armaments meant to keep our country safe. 

In an America still some 60 percent white by Raytheon’s non-Hispanic criterion, I’m inclined to guess a lot of the engineers being told to worry less about equality and more about equal outcomes are white men who would much rather be building an airplane or weapons system than be told to identify their privilege in another H.R. meeting. One wonders, especially in light of the fact Rufo was given the documentation behind his reporting by a corporate whistleblower, how morale is among people focused on keeping machines in the air. Meanwhile, Raytheon’s peer in the defense and aerospace sector, Lockheed Martin, can’t seem to get it up. The F-35 program continues to fail sideways, coming in over budget and short of its performance promises. Without implying any causality, it seems likely Lockheed has its own versions of “Stronger Together,” too—the client, and thus incentives, are the same. 

No, the intersectionality training is not causing a crisis in defense industry performance, but it may reflect one. Technologists, most notably and maybe originally Peter Thiel, have observed that hardware innovation in America slowed down precipitously after about 1970—the last man walked on the moon in ’72. America hasn’t won a war since Desert Storm’s textbook shock-and-awe execution of limited objectives in 1991. We do not have dominant aerospace and defense companies that behave in the popular imagination as the face of the future and pinnacle of American ingenuity, which is why Space-X found a market niche to fill. Raytheon may have latched on to this stuff so eagerly because work quality and innovation is declining, and it is easier to preach equity and win brownie points in a self-perpetuating acquisitions process than to build excellence. 

Add to all this the irony of these being corporations that profit off endless wars in places where, to use the jargon, black and brown bodies make up the majority of the casualties. Nevermind what happens in Yemen, or in Iraq, or in Somalia and Mozambique, at least in these corporate conference rooms, marginalized voices are being put front and center. What a relief that any weddings in developing nations massacred by drone strike will have been victims of a diverse military supported by diverse and socially conscious weapons contractors. Team America can make the world safe for democracy and all the blessings of liberty now, fully confident in the rectitude of its cause. 

In marked contrast to all this moral obfuscation is American defense contracting’s very own Alcibiades. Erik Prince, of Blackwater infamy, is back in the headlines after Time reported that he had been making moves in Ukraine to build a new private military company and take over a piece of the country’s aerospace industry. According to Time, his plan “includes a ‘roadmap’ for the creation of a ‘vertically integrated aviation defense consortium’ that could bring $10 billion in revenues and investment.” I call Prince the contracting world’s Alcibiades because, within a few years of the 2007 Blackwater killings in Baghdad, Prince—obviously feeling scorned by the America he had served as a Navy SEAL—sold his company, swore off contracting with the U.S. government, and moved to the United Arab Emirates to work with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Then, Prince went to Beijing to make money in the Chinese scramble for Africa. It’s not Athens to Sparta to Persia and back, but it’s not not that. 

Americans concerned about the country’s place and role in the world should probably hope our defense industry strikes a healthy balance someday between massive, failing, preachy sclerosis and piratical individualism. A return to the midcentury world of competing mid-size rocket and computer companies pushing the boundaries of physics with the generous, widely spread support of Uncle Sam would be fuel and form to innovation. But in the meantime, looking at the status quo and recalling when Prince suggested turning peacekeeping in Afghanistan over to mercenary forces, wondering if we’ll actually ever withdraw, I think I wish we’d taken him up on the offer when we had the chance.



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