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What Is the Military-Industrial Complex?
The term the"military-industrial complex" was made famous by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address. Eisenhower warned:"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." Eisenhower (or his speechwriters) did not coin the phrase, but its previous usage referred to physical connections between industrial and military production, not political relationships. Eisenhower referred to a novel set of challenges facing the American polity in the Cold War, while other definitions refer to more general relationships between the military and industry.
One use of the term MIC refers to any set of relationships between military policy and industrial production. For example, scholars have examined the MIC in the former Soviet Union and in Latin American countries. Their concern is usually with the reciprocal influence of the military and industry on each other's policies, rather than the hijacking of foreign policy by a collective interest in maintaining military-related production.
A second generic meaning focuses on the historical relationship between sections of industry and the military in the United States. A central concern in this literature is profiteering by industry, especially during wartime production. In this use of the word, specific armed services are more interested in ensuring friendly and stable relations with suppliers than in obtaining fair prices. The term is also used anachronistically to refer to the 'merchants of death' debates in the 1930s over the alleged conspiracy of arms manufacturers and bankers for U.S. intervention in the World War I. In these cases, there is no complex of military-industry at work. Instead, industry employs bribery and propaganda to increase profits and alter government policy.
Eisenhower believed that in 1961 the" conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry [was] new in the American experience." The level of peacetime expenditure on the military was unprecedented. Eisenhower also worried that the public would feel that"some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. Like many in the American political elite, he believed the public was unlikely to understand the complexities of superpower politics. This posed two dangers: they might ignore international affairs and allow the new military apparatus to set policy autonomously, or they might be active but misled into endorsing unwise policies."Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry," Eisenhower said," 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."
Although potentially dangerous, Eisenhower considered the MIC necessary to deter the Soviet Union from becoming more aggressive. With the United States possessing a powerful peacetime military, war would be too risky a means to victory for Communism. Eisenhower never called for the MIC to be eliminated; he urged citizens to be vigilant so that its power would not be abused.
For Eisenhower conservatives, the emergence of the MIC was part of a broader pattern of the growth of federal power, starting with the New Deal. While Eisenhower supported minimal social welfare programs, he championed local over centralized control of government and the economy, believing that federal solutions to national problems would be ineffective. He feared that political power would accumulate in the hands of a few. The MIC was one of two"threats" he cited in his farewell address; the second was the"technological revolution" and its implications for academia."The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present - and is gravely to be regarded."
These beliefs about the MIC had a partisan dimension. Many Congressional Democrats had promoted increased defense spending, aware of the electoral implications of greater spending in their districts. Organized labor supported such spending, too. During the 1952 campaign, Democratic nominee Adlai E. Stevenson had called for defense contracts to be directed at areas suffering from economic downturns. For Democrats supportive of existing or greater levels of progressive taxation, the resources for such projects were available. For Republicans like Eisenhower, who sought to lower taxes from the Roosevelt-Truman levels, the MIC was a potential obstacle.
As Aaron L. Friedberg argues in In the Shadow of the Garrison State, an array of societal forces blocked more ambitious proposals for the federal government to extract and direct resources to build American strategic power during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. As a percentage of GNP, military spending declined from fiscal year 1958 to 1966. With this measure, one could argue that the MIC did not have the effects that Eisenhower had feared it would (of course one could argue that his warning was heeded).
Even if the MIC did not succeed in keeping military expenditures at the level maintained through most of the 1950s, it still may have had an effect on U.S. grand strategy. One of the potential abuses of the MIC was that it could shape U.S. policies toward the Soviet Union. Eisenhower had supported disarmament measures, but failed to achieve an agreement with the Soviet Union. The MIC could support wasteful spending that would discourage cooperative disarmament under the illusion that national security was improved by such unilateral efforts.
The concern that the MIC continues to have an effect on grand strategy persists in some critiques of U.S. defense and foreign policy. In this view, the MIC has harmful effects on U.S. policy through a revolving-door relationship in which retired military officers become consultants to defense contractors, and some are later appointed to important civilian positions in the Pentagon. These relationships perpetuate excessive military spending and hinder arms reduction efforts. Nevertheless, Eisenhower never argued that the MIC harmed U.S. grand strategy, although he did worry how about how to integrate the"machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals." His primary concern was how the complex would alter American domestic order over time, entrenching and expanding a powerful federal state to pursue social and national security.