Lockheed Martin & CBU: Green Energy or Blood Money?

On  7 November 2011, to great fanfare, the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment (CSEE) was officially opened at Cape Breton University (CBU). A prominent participant in the ceremony, and key partner in the venture, was Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons manufacturer.

Verschuren Centre, CBU (Photo by By MPen92 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Verschuren Centre, CBU (Photo by MPen92, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Tom Digan, then president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Canada, told reporters the company was “pleased to be expanding our relationship” with the university by sponsoring “the first Chair in Renewable Energy” at the CSEE.

“Formalities concluded,” a CBU press release exalted, with then-CBU President John Harker, then-Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter (NDP) and then-Minister of Defence Peter MacKay (Conservative) “cutting a ceremonial ribbon reflecting the colors of Cape Breton University and Cape Breton Island.” A Mi’kmaq elder was also present to grace the event and smudge the dignitaries.

But did the collaboration with Lockheed Martin deserve anyone’s blessing?

A similar question confronted the citizenry of Burlington, Vermont, in December 2010 when Mayor Bob Kiss and Lockheed Martin Vice President Ray O. Johnston signed a letter of cooperation on “sustainable environmental practices.” As William D. Hartung writes in Prophets of War, examining the corporation’s checkered record:

Yes, that Lockheed Martin. The one that makes fighter jets, combat ships, cluster bombs, and ballistic missiles. But the words weapons, or arms, or defense were conspicuously absent in the materials announcing the new partnership.

In its bid to rebrand itself as a “global security” or “technology” enterprise, in 2009 Lockheed Martin even donated S1 million – out of $45 billion in sales and a $5 billion operating profit that year – to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). In return, USIP committed to “prominently recognizing the company as a sponsor in all lecture-related materials” and as “a Founding Corporate Partner for the Institute’s new National Mall Headquarters and public education center campaign.” (USIP Press Release. 22 April 2009.)  

Lockheed-Boeing-General Dynamics F-22 Raptor (Photo by USAF, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Lockheed-Boeing-General Dynamics F-22 Raptor (Photo by USAF, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

As Hartung documents, however, many in Burlington “weren’t buying into the notion of a ‘kinder, gentler’ Lockheed: “I’m deadly afraid,” Hartung quotes Green Energy Consultant Jeffrey Frost, “of polluting our image with their war machine record.” And what a record it is! The problem with Lockheed Martin isn’t just its massive contribution to mass destruction, but the abuse of its political power and influence.

When Lockheed, for example, assumed its present gargantuan form with the acquisition of Martin Marietta in the 1990s, its well-paid army of revolving-door lobbyists secured billions of federal dollars to cover ‘restructuring costs’ and ‘golden handshakes.’ The most outspoken Congressional critic of the scam was Representative Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vermont) – Mayor of Burlington from 1981-88 – who dubbed it the “payoffs for layoffs” scandal, throwing thousands of workers on the scrap-heap while, in Hartung’s words, “executives made out like bandits.” Indeed, with a significant presence in no fewer than 46 states, the corporation’s grip on Congress is ferocious, making an Orwellian mockery of its slogan ‘We Never Forget Who We’re Working For.’

It is, certainly, hard to forget the string of spectacular scandals and failures weathered by the company, from the ill-starred C-5A Galaxy transport plane in the 1960s, originally billed as a ‘mobile military base’ but soon crippled by malfunction and spawning a +$1 billion overrun; to the bribery of foreign governments exposed in the 1970s; to the overcharging revealed in the 1980s (e.g. $7,662 coffeemakers for the redesigned C-5A); to the company’s 1990s-brainchild, the F-22 Raptor, a fighter without a 21st century mission cancelled by the Obama Administration when costs soared to $350 million per plane.

And then, of course, there’s the infamous successor to the F-22, the even more expensive and troubled F-35, nicknamed ‘the plane that ate the Pentagon,’ beloved by the Harper Conservatives (and other heavily-lobbied governments) but slammed by Senator John McCain in April as “both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance.” And the company’s debacles, by the way, aren’t limited to the air: in November, Business Insider reported that the US Navy “can’t fire its awesome new gun” – Lockheed’s 155-mm Long Range Land-Attack Projectile – “because the rounds are costing the service nearly a million bucks a piece.”

Perhaps Lockheed Martin’s biggest challenge came with the end of the Cold War, and with it a half-century of relentless arms racing. As the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, maintained, neither the Warsaw Pact nor NATO were necessary, desirable or affordable in a new era of openness and cooperation. Faced with this dire prospect of peace and friendship, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and other major arms contractors began selling a strange, in fact strategically absurd, idea: instead of dissolving, and despite assurances given to Gorbachev in exchange for Soviet support for German reunification, NATO should expand as far and fast as possible. Sane members of the American national security establishment were aghast, sending President Bill Clinton an Open Letter in June 1997 describing expansion as “a policy error of historic proportions,” almost certain to “strengthen the non-democratic opposition” in Russia and “undercut those who favor reform and cooperation with the West.” Clinton and Congress turned a deaf ear, and on May Day 1998 the Senate voted by 80 votes to 19 to back NATO’s first eastward push, 400 miles towards Russia and a giant step to a new Cold War.

Lockheed C-5a Galaxy

Lockheed C-5a Galaxy (Photo by USAF, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the company’s recent interest in ‘greening’ its image aims in part to obscure its role in re-militarizing European politics. But in an ironic twist, it appears its real motivation in developing sustainable sources of energy is to meet new government regulations and requirements for defense contractors. As independent journalist Garry Leech detailed in a 2012 article in Canadian Dimension, Lockheed Martin’s cynical “attempt to create a positive environmental image” is actually part of a more sinister “greening of warfare.”

To the great credit of all involved, in September 2011, the campaign against Lockheed Martin’s Burlington overture ended with the company’s ignominious retreat. “We were unable to develop a mutually beneficial implementation plan,” a Lockheed statement dissembled; “I think we scared them off,” suggested ‘No Lockheed’ activist Liz Cowan. But what of the company’s Cape Breton greenwashing gambit?

No mention of the CBU collaboration can be found on Lockheed Martin’s main (or Canadian) website, and the Chair in Renewable Energy was never filled. In late November, Dr. Andrew Swanson, CEO of the Verschuren Centre, told me in an email that “we currently have no financial relationship with Lockheed Martin, this largely ended in 2012-13, and so there are no named chairs still existing.” Which is, for everyone committed to working for peace and fighting war, wonderful news. But why was the university ever tempted to associate itself with one of the world’s least reputable corporations, responsible for producing the most destructive and vilest weapons in history?




Sean Howard


Sean Howard is adjunct professor of political science at Cape Breton University and member of Peace Quest Cape Breton. He can be reached here.



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