Not Your Grandfather's Military-Industrial ComplexRoundup
tags: military-industrial complex, Pentagon, national defense, Defense Contractors
Ben Freeman, a TomDispatch regular, is a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and the author of a forthcoming report on Pentagon contractor funding of think tanks.
William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.
The military-industrial complex (MIC) that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans about more than 60 years ago is still alive and well. In fact, it’s consuming many more tax dollars and feeding far larger weapons producers than when Ike raised the alarm about the “unwarranted influence” it wielded in his 1961 farewell address to the nation.
The statistics are stunning. This year’s proposed budget for the Pentagon and nuclear weapons work at the Department of Energy is $886 billion — more than twice as much, adjusted for inflation, as at the time of Eisenhower’s speech. The Pentagon now consumes more than half the federal discretionary budget, leaving priorities like public health, environmental protection, job training, and education to compete for what remains. In 2020, Lockheed Martin received $75 billion in Pentagon contracts, more than the entire budget of the State Department and the Agency for International Development combined.
This year’s spending just for that company’s overpriced, underperforming F-35 combat aircraft equals the full budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And as a new report from the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies revealed recently, the average taxpayer spends $1,087 per year on weapons contractors compared to $270 for K-12 education and just $6 for renewable energy.
The list goes on — and on and on. President Eisenhower characterized such tradeoffs in a lesser known speech, “The Chance for Peace,” delivered in April 1953, early in his first term, this way: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…”
How sadly of this moment that is.
Now, don’t be fooled. The current war machine isn’t your grandfather’s MIC, not by a country mile. It receives far more money and offers far different rationales. It has far more sophisticated tools of influence and significantly different technological aspirations.
Perhaps the first and foremost difference between Eisenhower’s era and ours is the sheer size of the major weapons firms. Before the post-Cold War merger boom of the 1990s, there were dozens of significant defense contractors. Now, there are just five big (no, enormous!) players — Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. With so few companies to produce aircraft, armored vehicles, missile systems, and nuclear weapons, the Pentagon has ever more limited leverage in keeping them from overcharging for products that don’t perform as advertised. The Big Five alone routinely split more than $150 billion in Pentagon contracts annually, or nearly 20% of the total Pentagon budget. Altogether, more than half of the department’s annual spending goes to contractors large and small.
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