Military–industrial complex explained

Military–industrial complex (MIC), or Military–industrial-congressional complex[1] (MICC) is a concept commonly used to refer to policy and monetary relationships between legislators, national armed forces, and the defense industrial base that supports them. These relationships include political contributions, political approval for defense spending, lobbying to support bureaucracies, and beneficial legislation and oversight of the industry. It is a type of iron triangle.

The term is most often used in reference to the military of the United States, where it gained popularity after its use in the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961, though the term is applicable to any country with a similarly developed infrastructure.

The term is sometimes used more broadly to include the entire network of contracts and flows of money and resources among individuals as well as institutions of the defense contractors, The Pentagon, and the Congress and executive branch. This sector is intrinsically prone to principal–agent problem, moral hazard, and rent seeking. Cases of political corruption have also surfaced with regularity.

A similar thesis was originally expressed by Daniel Guérin, in his 1936 book Fascism and Big Business, about the fascist government support 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."[2]


Technology has long been a part of warfare. Neolithic tools were used as weapons prior to recorded history. The bronze age and iron age saw the rise of complex industries in the manufacturing of weaponry. However, these industries also had practical peacetime applications. For maybe rod for example, industries making swords in times of war could make plowshares in times of peace. It was not until the late 19th to early 20th century that military weaponry became so complex as to require a large subset of industry dedicated solely to its procurement. Firearms, artillery, steamships, and later aircraft and nuclear weapons were markedly different from their ancient predecessors.

These newer, more complex weapons required highly specialized labor, knowledge and machinery to produce. The time and supporting industry necessary to construct weapon systems of increasing complexity and massive integration, made it no longer feasible to create assets only in times of war. Instead, nations dedicated portions of their economies for the full time production of war assets. The increasing reliance of military on industry gave rise to a stable partnership—the military–industrial complex.

The first modern MICs arose in Britain, France and Germany in the 1880s and 1890s as part of the increasing need to defend their respective empires both on the ground and at sea. The naval rivalry between Britain, Germany, and France, and their revenge sentiment against the German Empire that followed the Franco-Prussian war, was significant in the inception, growth and development of these MICs. Arguably, the existence of these three nations' respective MICs may have only fueled their military tensions.. Similar MICs soon followed in other nations, including Japan and the United States.

Admiral Jackie Fisher was influential in the shift toward faster integration of technology into military usage, resulting in strengthening relationships between the military, and innovative private companies. Noteworthy industrialists involved in the expanding arms industry of the time included Alfred Krupp, Samuel Colt, William G. Armstrong, Alfred Nobel, and Joseph Whitworth.

The term military–industrial complex is often used in reference of the United States, where it came into the public's general lexicon, following its introduction by President Dwight Eisenhower in his "Farewell Address". This may be attributed to the relative dollar expenditure of the United States as compared to other nations. Currently, the annual military expenditure of the United States accounts for about 47% of the world's total arms expenditures.[3] In contrast, prior to World War I, the U.S. maintained a relatively small peacetime military as compared to other nations. In times of war it relied on militia or, in later years, reserves.

Following World War I, the United States never completely demobilized. Standing forces were maintained to an even greater extent in the years that followed. World War II was influential in the change of the United States' previous historical pattern of a small peacetime military. During the Second World War, the United States underwent total mobilization of all available national resources to fight and win, alongside its allies, a total war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. This mobilization of resources exceeded the combined history of all conflicts the nation had previously encountered. By the war's end, East Asia was gravely damaged, and Europe was devastated. The United States and the Soviet Union stood as the two remaining great powers.

Still faced with a potential threat immediately following the Second World War, the U.S. never demobilized. The two remaining powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, grew suspicious and hostile toward one another in a period known as the Cold War. This 45-year period of low-intensity, unconventional conflict between the two superpowers, overshadowed by the constant threat of a potential nuclear conflict reinforced the need for constant procurement of military goods and services including large naval, air, and land forces. Thus was born the military industrial complex in the United States.

In 1977, following the Vietnam war, U.S. President Jimmy Carter began his presidency with what historian Michael Sherry has called "a determination to break from America's militarized past." However, increased defense spending in the era of President Ronald Reagan was seen by some to have brought the MIC back into prominence.

Origin of the term

President of the United States (and former General of the Army) Dwight D. Eisenhower used the term in his Farewell Address to the Nation on January 17, 1961:

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.[4] 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.[5] 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".[5] [6] Additionally, Henry Giroux claims that it was originally "military-industrial-academic complex".[7] The actual authors of the speech were Eisenhower's speechwriters Ralph E. Williams and Malcolm Moos.[8]

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.[5] [9] 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 organisation of industry from WWII political remnants:

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."

In the late 1990s James Kurth asserted, "[b]y the mid-1980s the term had largely fallen out of public discussion... whatever 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."

Contemporary students and critics of American 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 recent volume[10] 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. Government and the Pentagon.[11]

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.

Linguist and anarcho-socialist 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."[12] He claims, "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)."[13]

Current applications

According to SIPRI, total world spending on military expenses in 2009 was $1.531 trillion US dollars. 46.5% of this total, roughly $712 billion US dollars, was spent by the United States.[14] The privatization of the production and invention of military technology also leads to a complicated relationship with significant research and development of many technologies.

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.[15] This does not include many military-related items that are outside of the Defense Department budget. Overall the United States government is spending about $1 trillion annually on defense-related purposes.[16]

The defense industry tends to contribute heavily to incumbent members of Congress.[17]

See also


Further reading

External links

Notes and References

  1. e.g. Web site: Higgs. Robert Higgs. Robert. World War II and the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex. 1995. May.
  2. Pursell, C. (1972). The military-industrial complex. Harper & Row Publishers, New York, New York.
  3. Web site: Recent Trends in Military Expenditure.
  4. News: Papers shed light on Eisenhower's farewell address. January 28, 2011. John Milburn. December 10, 2010. Associated Press.
  5. Web site: Guest Post: 50 Years of the "Military-Industrial Complex". Ledbetter. James. 25 January 2011. Schott's Vocab. New York Times. 25 January 2011.
  6. 52. 6. Eisenhower; His farewell speech as President inaugurated the spirit of the 1960s. Brinkley. Douglas. September 2001. American Heritage Magazine. American Heritage. 25 January 2011.
  7. Web site: The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex. Giroux. Henry. June 2007. Paradigm Publishers. 16 May 2011.
  8. Griffin, Charles "New Light on Eisenhower's Farewell Address," in Presidential Studies Quarterly 22 (Summer 1992): 469-479
  9. Riefler. Winfield W.. October 1947. Our Economic Contribution to Victory. Foreign Affairs. 26. 1. 90–103. 20030091.
  10. The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004. p. 39
  11. Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.
  12. Interviewed by David Barsamian, International Socialist Review 37 (September–October 2004)
  13. In On Power, Dissent, and Racism: a Series of Discussions with Noam Chomsky, Baraka Productions, 2003.
  14. Web site: Anup Shah. World Military Spending. October 6, 2010.
  16. Web site: Robert Higgs. The Trillion-Dollar Defense Budget Is Already Here. March 15, 2007.
  17. Defense goes all-in for incumbents