President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.), better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, and the subsequent hardline speech from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Monday morning, threatening that the U.S. will “crush” Iran with economic and military pressure, will likely increase weapons sales and give a boost to the defense systems industry in the coming years.
It is clear that instability fosters security investment. Just read about this one exchange about the then-unratified Iran Nuclear Deal, excerpted from a Lockheed Martin earnings call, reported by The Intercept in 2015:
Myles Walton, an analyst from Germany’s Deutsche Bank, during a Lockheed earnings call this past January 27,  … asked Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, if an Iran agreement could “impede what you see as progress in foreign military sales.” Financial industry analysts, such as Walton, use earnings calls as an opportunity to ask publicly-traded corporations like Lockheed about issues that might harm profitability.
Hewson replied that “that really isn’t coming up,” but stressed that “volatility all around the region” should continue to bring in new business. According to Hewson, “A lot of volatility, a lot of instability, a lot of things that are happening” in both the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region means both are “growth areas” for Lockheed Martin.
And many experts believe that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal could engender greater instability in the region, thus creating, as Hewson said, new “growth areas” for Lockheed Martin and other major contractors. Even on the day of the President’s announcement, most major defense stocks were up.
The U.S.’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal is “serving as an accelerant for the dynamics already existing now,” said Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor for Syria at the US Institute of Peace, at a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council. “If we look at what happen just a few hours after President Trump announced withdraw from the nuclear deal—literally within a few hours—we had a tit-for-tat escalation between Israel and Iran, directly, that led to, eventually in a matter of just a couple of days, the largest Israeli attack on Syria since the 1973 [Yom Kippur] war. So that gives you a sense of where that is going.”
Yacoubian was referencing an exchange in Golan Heights, where Iran, for the first time during the Syrian conflict, fired missiles directly at Israeli military positions. Israel responded shortly after with direct strikes of their own at Iranian forces in Syria.
Fellow panelist Norman Roule, the former national intelligence manager for Iran at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, pointed out that no one really wants or thinks that more arms deals to the region is really the best option, including himself.
“[That] is a real problem for arms deals in the future,” he said. “But there’s a lot of money to be made in weapons sales in the Gulf, in Egypt and perhaps maybe even a little bit in Lebanon, so if you look at arms sales moving in the region, it’s not unreasonable to think you might look at air defense.”
Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services committee, at an event last week at Bloomberg Government, said that he was frequently frustrated by what he called the “slow walking” of arms deals by the Obama administration, adding that President Trump has made it “easier and quicker to get defense systems to our allies.” For example, during his first trip outside the U.S. as President, in March 2017, Trump touted a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia—although other reports say it was only about $68 billion—mostly from major contractors Boeing and Honeywell.
As Roule pointed out later in the panel, “The Saudis spend a lot of money on armaments [and] sometimes people will talk about how the Saudis spend far more money than the Iranians are,” he said. “Money spent does not always mean, you know, war is ended in 15 minutes.”