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US Defense-Funded Think Tanks Shape Media Discourse on Ukraine War

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Foreign policy think tanks in the United States are facing scrutiny due to their close ties to the defense industry and lack of transparency in funding sources. A recent brief reveals that an overwhelming 78 percent of top-ranked U.S. foreign policy think tanks receive funding from the Pentagon or its contractors, with the top 10 think tanks all backed by the defense sector.

These think tanks, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and The Atlantic Council, heavily funded by the defense industry, have exerted significant influence in shaping the discourse on the Ukraine war, dominating media discussions and advocating for increased militarization.

Alarmingly, nearly one third of the leading think tanks do not disclose their donors, and media outlets often fail to disclose conflicts of interest tied to the experts they cite. Experts are calling for mandated disclosure of think tank funders to ensure transparency and accountability in the policymaking process and prevent undue influence.

 

Defense Industry Influence: Think Tanks Shaping Media Discourse on Ukraine War

 

In recent revelations, foreign policy think tanks in the United States have come under scrutiny for their close ties to the defense industry. Research Fellow Ben Freeman from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft sheds light on the pervasive influence of defense industry funding, raising concerns about conflicts of interest and the lack of transparency in the think tank landscape.

 

Pervasive Influence: Defense Industry Funding Dominates Think Tanks

 

According to a recently published brief, a staggering 78 percent of the top-ranked U.S. foreign policy think tanks receive funding from the Pentagon or its contractors. This funding extends even to the highest echelons of think tank rankings, where every single one of the top 10 think tanks is backed by the defense sector.

Prominent organizations such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and The Atlantic Council report receiving substantial annual funding of over a million dollars from defense sources.

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Militarized Recommendations: Defense-Funded Think Tanks Shaping Ukraine War Discourse

 

Think tanks that receive significant defense sector funding have been vocal proponents of increased militarization in the U.S. response to the Ukraine war. Their influence is evident in the media landscape, where they have dominated discussions and shaped narratives related to the conflict.

Out of the 1,247 tracked think tank media mentions, a staggering 85 percent referred to think tanks funded by the defense sector. The most frequently mentioned organizations in articles on the Ukraine war were CSIS and The Atlantic Council, both heavily reliant on defense sector funding.

the pervasive influence of defense industry funding on think tanks raises serious questions about objectivity, conflicts of interest

Funding Secrecy and Lack of Disclosure:

 

Alarming findings from the brief indicate that almost one third of the top U.S. foreign policy think tanks do not publicly disclose their donors. Notable organizations mentioned in media articles on the Ukraine war, including the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), have chosen not to disclose their funding sources on their websites.

This lack of transparency extends to media outlets, which often fail to disclose the conflicts of interest inherent in the experts they cite. Shockingly, none of the media mentions analyzed in the brief included disclosures of defense industry funding, despite instances where recommended policies could financially benefit the funders.

US Funded Think Tanks Shape Media Discourse on Ukraine War; U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cydney Lee
US Funded Think Tanks Shape Media Discourse on Ukraine War; U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cydney Lee

The Need for Transparency and Accountability:

 

To address these concerns, there is a growing call for congressional action to mandate the disclosure of think tank funders. Given the prominent role think tanks play in the policymaking process and the substantial financial support they receive from the defense industry, foreign governments, and other special interests, it is crucial for both the public and policymakers to have full transparency regarding funding sources. Experts argue that such transparency is essential to ensure informed decision-making and prevent undue influence.

In conclusion, the pervasive influence of defense industry funding on think tanks raises serious questions about objectivity, conflicts of interest, and the need for transparency. As the public grapples with understanding the nuances of complex geopolitical issues, the disclosure of funding sources becomes imperative to uphold the integrity of the policymaking process and foster public trust.

Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem is an Islamabad-based Senior Journalist

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