Military–industrial complex

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned U.S. citizens about the "military-industrial complex" in his farewell address. Eisenhower in the Oval Office.jpg
President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned U.S. citizens about the "military–industrial complex" in his farewell address.

The military–industrial complex (MIC) is an informal alliance between a nation's military and the defense industry that supplies it, seen together as a vested interest which influences public policy. [1] [2] [3] [4] A driving factor behind this relationship between the government and defense-minded corporations is that both sides benefit—one side from obtaining war weapons, and the other from being paid to supply them. [5] The term is most often used in reference to the system behind the military of the United States, where it is most prevalent due to close links between defense contractors, the Pentagon and politicians [6] [7] and gained popularity after a warning on its detrimental effects in the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961. [8] [9]

Military Organization primarily tasked with preparing for and conducting war

A military is a heavily-armed, highly organised force primarily intended for warfare, also known collectively as armed forces. It is typically officially authorized and maintained by a sovereign state, with its members identifiable by their distinct military uniform. It may consist of one or more military branches such as an Army, Navy, Air Force and in certain countries, Marines and Coast Guard. The main task of the military is usually defined as defence of the state and its interests against external armed threats.

Public policy is the principled guide to action taken by the administrative executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues, in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. There has recently been a movement for greater use of evidence in guiding policy decisions. Proponents of evidence-based policy argue that high quality scientific evidence, rather than tradition, intuition, or political ideology, should guide policy decisions.

The Pentagon The United States Department of Defenses office building in Virginia

The Pentagon is the headquarters building of the United States Department of Defense. As a symbol of the U.S. military, the phrase The Pentagon is also often used as a metonym for the Department of Defense and its leadership.


In the context of the United States, the appellation is sometimes extended to military–industrial–congressional complex (MICC), adding the U.S. Congress to form a three-sided relationship termed an iron triangle. [10] These relationships include political contributions, political approval for military spending, lobbying to support bureaucracies, and oversight of the industry; or more broadly to include the entire network of contracts and flows of money and resources among individuals as well as corporations and institutions of the defense contractors, private military contractors, The Pentagon, the Congress and executive branch. [11]

United States Congress Legislature of the United States

The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, and consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Both senators and representatives are chosen through direct election, though vacancies in the Senate may be filled by a gubernatorial appointment. Congress has 535 voting members: 435 representatives and 100 senators. The House of Representatives has six non-voting members representing Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia in addition to its 435 voting members. Although they cannot vote in the full house, these members can address the house, sit and vote in congressional committees, and introduce legislation.

Iron triangle (US politics) policy-making relationship among the congressional committees, the bureaucracy, and interest groups

In United States politics, the "iron triangle" comprises the policy-making relationship among the congressional committees, the bureaucracy, and interest groups, as described in 1981 by Gordon Adams. Earlier mentions of this ‘iron triangle’ concept are in a 1956 Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report as, “Iron triangle: Clout, background, and outlook” and “Chinks in the Iron Triangle?”

Campaign finance in the United States is the financing of electoral campaigns at the federal, state, and local levels. At the federal level, campaign finance law is enacted by Congress and enforced by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), an independent federal agency. Although most campaign spending is privately financed, public financing is available for qualifying candidates for President of the United States during both the primaries and the general election. Eligibility requirements must be fulfilled to qualify for a government subsidy, and those that do accept government funding are usually subject to spending limits on money.


Eisenhower's farewell address, January 17, 1961. The term military–industrial complex is used at 8:16. Length: 15:30.

President of the United States (and five-star general during World War II) Dwight D. Eisenhower used the term in his Farewell Address to the Nation on January 17, 1961:

President of the United States Head of state and of government of the United States

The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

Dwight D. Eisenhower 34th president of the United States

Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was an American army general and statesman who served as the 34th president of the United States from 1953 to 1961. During World War II, he was a five-star general in the Army and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe. He was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and the successful Invasion of Normandy in 1944–45 from the Western Front.

Eisenhowers farewell address Final presidential address of Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower's farewell address was the final public speech of Dwight D. Eisenhower as the 34th President of the United States, delivered in a television broadcast on January 17, 1961. Perhaps best known for advocating that the nation guard against the potential influence of the military–industrial complex, a term he is credited with coining, the speech also expressed concerns about planning for the future and the dangers of massive spending, especially deficit spending, the prospect of the domination of science through Federal funding and, conversely, the domination of science-based public policy by what he called a "scientific-technological elite". This speech and Eisenhower's Chance for Peace speech have been called the "bookends" of his administration.

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction...

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together. [emphasis added]

The phrase was thought to have been "war-based" industrial complex before becoming "military" in later drafts of Eisenhower's speech, a claim passed on only by oral history. [12] Geoffrey Perret, in his biography of Eisenhower, claims that, in one draft of the speech, the phrase was "military–industrial–congressional complex", indicating the essential role that the United States Congress plays in the propagation of the military industry, but the word "congressional" was dropped from the final version to appease the then-currently elected officials. [13] James Ledbetter calls this a "stubborn misconception" not supported by any evidence; likewise a claim by Douglas Brinkley that it was originally "military–industrial–scientific complex". [13] [14] Additionally, Henry Giroux claims that it was originally "military–industrial–academic complex". [15] The actual authors of the speech were Eisenhower's speechwriters Ralph E. Williams and Malcolm Moos. [16]

Geoffrey Perret is an English author who writes about American history. His work focuses primarily upon the political dynamics that influence strategic and tactical military decisions, as well as broader political themes. He has published over thirteen books dealing with a variety of topics such as the US Presidency, including several biographies of iconic Presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Ulysses S. Grant; leading American military commanders such as Douglas MacArthur; and pivotal American military engagements.

For the Welsh rugby union player of a similar name see James Leadbeater

Douglas Brinkley American historian

Douglas Brinkley is an American author, Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and professor of history at Rice University. Brinkley is the history commentator for CNN, and a contributing editor to the magazine Vanity Fair. He is a public spokesperson on conservation issues. He joined the faculty of Rice University as a professor of history in 2007.

Attempts to conceptualize something similar to a modern "military–industrial complex" existed before Eisenhower's address. Ledbetter finds the precise term used in 1947 in close to its later meaning in an article in Foreign Affairs by Winfield W. Riefler. [13] [17] In 1956, sociologist C. Wright Mills had claimed in his book The Power Elite that a class of military, business, and political leaders, driven by mutual interests, were the real leaders of the state, and were effectively beyond democratic control. Friedrich Hayek mentions in his 1944 book The Road to Serfdom the danger of a support of monopolistic organization of industry from World War II political remnants:

<i>Foreign Affairs</i> American magazine and website on international relations

Foreign Affairs is an American magazine of international relations and U.S. foreign policy published by the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization and think tank specializing in U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. Founded in 1922, the print magazine is currently published every two months, while the website publishes articles daily and anthologies every other month.

Charles Wright Mills was an American sociologist, and a professor of sociology at Columbia University from 1946 until his death in 1962. Mills was published widely in popular and intellectual journals. He is remembered for several books, such as The Power Elite, which introduced that term and describes the relationships and class alliances among the US political, military, and economic elites; White Collar: The American Middle Classes, on the American middle class; and The Sociological Imagination, which presents a model of analysis for the interdependence of subjective experiences within a person's biography, the general social structure, and historical development.

<i>The Power Elite</i> book

The Power Elite is a 1956 book by sociologist C. Wright Mills, in which Mills calls attention to the interwoven interests of the leaders of the military, corporate, and political elements of society and suggests that the ordinary citizen is a relatively powerless subject of manipulation by those entities.

Another element which after this war is likely to strengthen the tendencies in this direction will be some of the men who during the war have tasted the powers of coercive control and will find it difficult to reconcile themselves with the humbler roles they will then have to play [in peaceful times]." [18]

Vietnam War–era activists, such as Seymour Melman, referred frequently to the concept, and use continued throughout the Cold War: George F. Kennan wrote in his preface to Norman Cousins's 1987 book The Pathology of Power, "Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military–industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy." [19]

U.S. military presence around the world in 2007. As of 2018
, the United States still had many bases and troops stationed globally. US military bases in the world 2007.svg
U.S. military presence around the world in 2007. As of 2018, the United States still had many bases and troops stationed globally.

In the late 1990s James Kurth asserted, "By the mid-1980s ... the term had largely fallen out of public discussion." He went on to argue that "[w]hatever the power of arguments about the influence of the military–industrial complex on weapons procurement during the Cold War, they are much less relevant to the current era". [20]

Contemporary students and critics of U.S. militarism continue to refer to and employ the term, however. For example, historian Chalmers Johnson uses words from the second, third, and fourth paragraphs quoted above from Eisenhower's address as an epigraph to Chapter Two ("The Roots of American Militarism") of a 2004 volume [21] on this subject. P. W. Singer's book concerning private military companies illustrates contemporary ways in which industry, particularly an information-based one, still interacts with the U.S. federal and the Pentagon. [22]

The expressions permanent war economy and war corporatism are related concepts that have also been used in association with this term. The term is also used to describe comparable collusion in other political entities such as the German Empire (prior to and through the first world war), Britain, France, and (post-Soviet) Russia.[ citation needed ]

Linguist and anarchist theorist Noam Chomsky has suggested that "military–industrial complex" is a misnomer because (as he considers it) the phenomenon in question "is not specifically military." [23] He asserts, "There is no military–industrial complex: it's just the industrial system operating under one or another pretext (defense was a pretext for a long time)." [24]

Post-Cold War

United States Defense Spending 2001-2017 U.S. Defense Spending Trends 2001-2014.png
United States Defense Spending 2001–2017

United States defense contractors bewailed what they called declining government weapons spending at the end of the Cold War. [25] [26] They saw escalation of tensions, such as with Russia over Ukraine, as new opportunities for increased weapons sales, and have pushed the political system, both directly and through industry groups such as the National Defense Industrial Association, to spend more on military hardware. Pentagon contractor-funded American think tanks such as the Lexington Institute and the Atlantic Council have also demanded increased spending in view of the perceived Russian threat. [26] [27] Independent Western observers such as William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy, noted that "Russian saber-rattling has additional benefits for weapons makers because it has become a standard part of the argument for higher Pentagon spending—even though the Pentagon already has more than enough money to address any actual threat to the United States." [26] [28]

Eras of the United States Military Industrial Complex

The Military Industrial Complex has gone through three distinct eras in its existence. [29]

The First Era

From 1797 to 1941 the government only relied on civilian industries while the country was actually at war. The government owned their own shipyards and weapons manufacturing facilities which they relied on through World War I. With World War II came a massive shift in the way that the American government armed the military.

With the onset of World War II President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the War Production Board to coordinate civilian industries and shift them into wartime production. Throughout World War II arms production in the United States went from around one percent of the annual GDP to 40 percent of the GDP. [29] Various American companies, such as Boeing and General Motors, maintained and expanded their defense divisions. [29] These companies have gone on to develop various technologies that have improved civilian life as well, such as night-vision goggles and GPS. [29]

The Second Era

The start of the second era of the Military Industrial Complex is said[ by whom? ] to start with the coining of the term by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This era continued through the Cold War period and finally saw the end of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1993 the Pentagon urged defense contractors to consolidate due to the collapse of communism and shrinking defense budget. [29]

The Third (Current) Era

The third era of the Military Industrial Complex has seen the most change as defense contractors either consolidated or shifted their focus to civilian innovation. From 1992 to 1997 there was a total of US$55 Billion worth of mergers in the defense industry. Major defense companies purchased smaller defense companies and became the major companies that we know today. [29]

A pie chart showing global military expenditures by country for 2018, in US$ billions, according to SIPRI. Military Expenditures 2018 SIPRI.png
A pie chart showing global military expenditures by country for 2018, in US$ billions, according to SIPRI.

In the current era, the Military Industrial Complex is seen[ by whom? ] as a core part of American policy-making. The American domestic economy is now tied directly to the success of the MIC which has led to concerns of repression as Cold War era attitudes are still prevalent among the American public. [30] [ needs update ]

Shifts in values and the collapse of communism have ushered in a new era for the Military Industrial Complex. The Department of Defense works in coordination with traditional military industrial complex aligned companies such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Many former defense contractors have shifted operations to the civilian market and sold off their defense departments. [29]

The military subsidy theory

The Military Subsidy Theory is the theory that the effects of the Cold War era mass production of aircraft benefited the civilian aircraft industry. The theory asserts that the technologies developed during the Cold War along with the financial backing of the military led to the dominance of American aviation companies. There is also strong evidence that the United States federal government intentionally paid a higher price for these innovations to serve as a subsidy for civilian aircraft advancement. [31]

Current applications

Share of arms sales by country; source provided by SIPRI Biggest arms sales 2013.png
Share of arms sales by country; source provided by SIPRI

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, total world spending on military expenses in 2018 was $1822 billion. 36% of this total, roughly $649 billion, was spent by the United States. [33] The privatization of the production and invention of military technology also leads to a complicated relationship with significant research and development of many technologies. In 2011, the United States spent more (in absolute numbers) on its military than the next 13 nations combined. [34]

The military budget of the United States for the 2009 fiscal year was $515.4 billion. Adding emergency discretionary spending and supplemental spending brings the sum to $651.2 billion. [35] This does not include many military-related items that are outside of the Defense Department budget. Overall the U.S. federal government is spending about $1 trillion annually on defense-related purposes. [36]

In a 2012 story, Salon reported, "Despite a decline in global arms sales in 2010 due to recessionary pressures, the United States increased its market share, accounting for a whopping 53 percent of the trade that year. Last year saw the United States on pace to deliver more than $46 billion in foreign arms sales." [37] The defense industry also tends to contribute heavily to incumbent members of Congress. [38]

The concept of a military–industrial complex has been expanded to include the entertainment and creative [39] industries. For an example in practice, Matthew Brummer describes Japan's Manga Military and how the Ministry of Defense uses popular culture and the moe that it engenders to shape domestic and international perceptions.[ citation needed ]

Similar Concepts

A similar thesis was originally expressed by Daniel Guérin, in his 1936 book Fascism and Big Business , about the fascist government ties to heavy industry. It can be defined as, "an informal and changing coalition of groups with vested psychological, moral, and material interests in the continuous development and maintenance of high levels of weaponry, in preservation of colonial markets and in military-strategic conceptions of internal affairs." [40] An exhibit of the trend was made in Franz Leopold Neumann's book Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism in 1942, a study of how Nazism came into a position of power in a democratic state.

See also

From the National Archives
Literature and media

Related Research Articles

Perpetual war, endless war, or a forever war, is a lasting state of war with no clear conditions that would lead to its conclusion. These wars are situations of ongoing tension that may escalate at any moment, similar to the Cold War. From the late 20th century, the concepts have been used to critique the United States Armed Forces interventions in foreign nations and the military–industrial complex, or wars with ambiguous enemies such as the War on Terror, War on Poverty and the War on Drugs.

Militarism belief of government that it should maintain a strong military and be prepared to use it

Militarism is the belief or the desire of a government or a people that a state should maintain a strong military capability and to use it aggressively to expand national interests and/or values. It may also imply the glorification of the military and of the ideals of a professional military class and the "predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state".

Seymour Melman was an American professor emeritus of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Arms industry industrial sector which manufactures weapons and military technology and equipment

The arms industry, also known as the defense industry or the arms trade, is a global industry which manufactures and sells weapons and military technology. It consists of a commercial industry involved in the research and development, engineering, production, and servicing of military material, equipment, and facilities. Arms-producing companies, also referred to as arms dealers, defense contractors, or as the military industry, produce arms for the armed forces of states and for civilians. Departments of government also operate in the arms industry, buying and selling weapons, munitions and other military items. An arsenal is a place where arms and ammunition - whether privately or publicly owned - are made, maintained and repaired, stored, or issued, in any combination. Products of the arms industry include guns, artillery, ammunition, missiles, military aircraft, military vehicles, ships, electronic systems, night-vision devices, holographic weapon sights, laser rangefinders, laser sights, hand grenades, landmines and more. The arms industry also provides other logistical and operational support.

Military budget the amount of financial resources dedicated by a nation to raising and maintaining an armed forces

A military budget, also known as a defense budget, is the amount of financial resources dedicated by a state to raising and maintaining an armed forces or other methods essential for defense purposes.

Guns versus butter model

In macroeconomics, the guns versus butter model is an example of a simple production–possibility frontier. It demonstrates the relationship between a nation's investment in defense and civilian goods. The "guns or butter" model is used generally as a simplification of national spending as a part of GDP. This may be seen as an analogy for choices between defense and civilian spending in more complex economies. The nation will have to decide which balance of guns versus butter best fulfills its needs, with its choice being partly influenced by the military spending and military stance of potential opponents.

The military budget is the portion of the discretionary United States federal budget allocated to the Department of Defense, or more broadly, the portion of the budget that goes to any military-related expenditures. The military budget pays the salaries, training, and health care of uniformed and civilian personnel, maintains arms, equipment and facilities, funds operations, and develops and buys new items. The budget funds four branches of the U.S. military: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force.

<i>Why We Fight</i> (2005 film) 2005 film by Eugene Jarecki

Why We Fight is a 2005 documentary film about the military–industrial complex directed by Eugene Jarecki. The title refers to the World War II-era eponymous propaganda movies commissioned by the U.S. Government to justify their decision to enter the war against the Axis Powers.

Military budget of China

The military budget of China is the portion of the overall budget of China that is allocated for the funding of the military of China. This military budget finances employee salaries and training costs, the maintenance of equipment and facilities, support of new or ongoing operations, and development and procurement of new weapons, equipment, and vehicles. Every March, as part of its annual state budget, China releases a single overall figure for national military expenditures.

Economic conversion

Economic conversion, defence conversion, or arms conversion, is a technical, economic and political process for moving from military to civilian markets. Economic conversion takes place on several levels and can be applied to different organizations. In terms of levels, conversion can take place at the level of new innovation projects, divisions within multi-divisional firms, companies, and national economies. In terms of objects, conversion can govern workers, firms and land. Some of these scales obviously overlap. Organizations that can be converted include defense firms, military bases, and defense laboratories.

Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower 1953–1961 U.S. presidency

The presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower began at noon EST on January 20, 1953, when he was inaugurated as the 34th President of the United States, and ended on January 20, 1961. Eisenhower, a Republican, took office as president following his victory over Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 presidential election. He was succeeded in office by Democrat John F. Kennedy after the 1960 presidential election.

The Garrison State is a concept first introduced in a seminal, highly influential and cited 1941 article originally published in the American Journal of Sociology by political scientist and sociologist Harold Lasswell. It was a "developmental construct" that outlined the possibility of a political-military elite composed of "specialists in violence" in a modern state. Lasswell was particularly influenced by the development of cowardly aerial warfare, especially as employed during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which he believed would lead to a "socialization of danger" throughout. His writings preceded and anticipated criminal fire-bombing campaigns in the era of the Vietnam War, including the use of Agent Orange, and beyond, as well as firebombings of Dresden, Tokyo, London, Hamburg and use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

The industrial complex is a socioeconomic concept wherein businesses become entwined in social or political systems or institutions, creating or bolstering a profit economy from these systems. Such a complex is said to pursue its own financial interests regardless of, and often at the expense of, the best interests of society and individuals. Businesses within an industrial complex may have been created to advance a social or political goal, but mostly profit when the goal is not reached. The industrial complex may profit financially from maintaining socially detrimental or inefficient systems.

National Defense Industrial Association organization

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is a trade association for the United States government and defense industrial base. It is one of the two largest defense industry lobbying organization. Its headquarters are in Arlington, Virginia. NDIA was established in 1919 as a result of the inability of the defense industry to scale up the war effort during World War I.

<i>The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives</i> book by Nick Turse

The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives is a book about the United States military, written by journalist Nick Turse. It was published in 2008 in hardcover format by Metropolitan Books. The book describes the vast changes in the industrial complex of the U.S. military from the days of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to 2008, its effect on American society, and how the military and private business spheres interact with each other. The book received positive reviews in Mother Jones and Inter Press Service, and critical reviews by Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch, and in Kirkus Reviews.

The Chance for Peace speech, also known as the Cross of Iron speech, was an address given by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 16, 1953, shortly after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Speaking only three months into his presidency, Eisenhower likened arms spending to stealing from the people, and evoked William Jennings Bryan in describing "humanity hanging from a cross of iron." Although Eisenhower, a former military man, spoke against increased military spending, the Cold War deepened during his administration and political pressures for increased military spending mounted. By the time he left office in 1961, he felt it necessary to warn of the military-industrial complex.

The economics of defense or defense economics is a subfield of economics, an application of the economic theory to the issues of military defense. It is a relatively new field. An early specialized work in the field is the RAND Corporation report The Economics of Defense in the Nuclear Age by Charles J. Hitch and Roland McKean . It is an economic field that studies the management of government budget and its expenditure during mainly war times, but also during peace times, and its consequences on economic growth. It thus uses macroeconomic and microeconomic tools such as game theory, comparative statistics, growth theory and econometrics. It has strong ties to other subfields of economics such as public finance, economics of industrial organization, international economics, labour economics and growth economics.

<i>Dwight David Eisenhower and American Power</i> book by William B. Pickett

Dwight David Eisenhower and American Power is a 1995 biography of the U.S. president and military leader by historian William B. Pickett, a professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. It was published as part of Harlan Davidson's American Biographical History Series.



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Further reading