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President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned the US about the "military-industrial complex" in his farewell address.

Military-industrial complex (MIC) is a concept commonly used to refer to policy relationships between governments, national armed forces, and the industrial sector that supports them. These relationships include political approval for research, development, production, use, and support for military training, weapons, equipment, and facilities within the national defense and security policy. It is a type of iron triangle.

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

It 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” [1]



Technology has always been a part of warfare. Neolithic tools were used as weapons before recorded history. The bronze age and iron age saw the rise of complex industries geared towards the manufacture of weaponry. These industries also had practical peacetime applications, as well; industries making swords in times of war could make plowshares in times of peace, for example. However, it was not until the 19th or 20th century that military weaponry became sufficiently complicated as to require a large subset of industrial effort solely dedicated to warfare. Firearms, artillery, steamships, and later aircraft and nuclear weapons were markedly different from ancient or medieval swords -- these new weapons required years of specialized labor, as opposed to part-time effort.

The first modern MICs arose in Britain, France and Germany in the 1880s and 1890s as part of the need to defend their respective empires either on the ground or at sea.[citation needed]

The naval rivalry between Britain and Germany and France and their revenge sentiment against German Empire that followed the Franco-Prussian war was of utmost significance in the inception, growth and development of these MICs

Conversely, the existence of these three nations' respective MICs may have been the source of these military tensions.[citation needed] Officers like Admiral Jackie Fisher influenced the shift toward faster technological integration (which meant closer relationships with private, innovative companies). Similar MICs soon followed in nations like Japan and the United States.[citation needed]

Industrialists who played a part in the arms industry of this era included Alfred Krupp, Samuel Colt, William G. Armstrong, Alfred Nobel, and Joseph Whitworth.

Furthermore, the length of time necessary to build weapons systems of high complexity and massive integration required pre-planning and construction even during times of peace; thus a portion of the economies of the great powers (and, later, the superpowers), was dedicated and maintained solely for the purpose of defense (and war). This trend of coupling some industries towards military activity gave rise to the concept of a "partnership" between the military and private enterprise.

The term is often used to refer to the "complex" in the context of the United States, where the term came into wide use by the public, following its introduction by President Dwight Eisenhower in his "Farewell Address"; the U.S. has a complex which, on an annual basis, accounts for 47% of the world's total arms expenditures [2]. This also may be due to the historical pattern of the previous ~70 years of military expenditures by the United States; prior to World War I, the U.S. maintained a small military (in comparison to its peers) in times of peace and instead relied on militia or, in later years, reserves, in the event of war.

Though the United States never completely demobilized following World War I, and standing forces were maintained to a greater extent in the years that followed it, World War II was the driving force that utterly changed this historical pattern of general neglect of the military. During the Second World War, the United States underwent total mobilization of all available national resources to fight and win, alongside her allies, a total war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, a mobilization of resources far greater than that which took place during the entire previous history of the United States. At the end of the war, East Asia was gravely damaged, and Europe was devastated; several European states abandoned their colonial empires, faced by a loss of moral legitimacy, national will, and military strength; and the United States and the Soviet Union stood as the two remaining great powers left in the world, from that point, known as superpowers.

The United States and the Soviet Union grew suspicious and hostile to one another; faced with a threat immediately following the Second World War, the U.S. only partially demobilized, and left in place a sizable apparatus of military production and large naval, air, and land forces. This period, called the Cold War, represented a 45-year period of low-intensity, unconventional conflict between the superpowers, with the ongoing potential to metastasize into a nuclear conflict that could happen with only minutes of notice, could possibly destroy both superpowers, cause a new Dark Age, and might even result in the extinction of the human species. And in this time overshadowed by acronyms like M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) and N.U.T.S. (Nuclear Utilization Target Selection), the military-industrial complex rose to great prominence, and power, in the United States.

It is difficult to estimate the degree of dependence of the U.S. economy on its military and defense spending, but it is clearly enormous, and legislators fiercely resist defense cuts that affect their districts. In Washington State, an economist[citation needed] estimated in 2002 that in Western Washington 166,000 jobs, or about 15% of the workforce, depended directly or indirectly on military installations alone, not counting defense industries. In Washington State overall in FY2001, about $7.06 billion arrived in U.S. Department of Defense payroll, pensions, and procurement contracts—and Washington State was only seventh among the fifty states in this regard.[citation needed] Overall, U.S. spending on defense acquisitions and research is equal to 1.2% of the GDP.

In 1977, after the Vietnam war and the Watergate crisis, President Jimmy Carter began his presidency with what historian Michael Sherry has called "a determination to break from America's militarized past" (In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s [New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 342). However, increased defense spending in the era of President Ronald Reagan is seen by some to have brought the military-industrial complex back into prominence.

Origin of the term

Eisenhower farewell address.ogg
Eisenhower's farewell address, January 17, 1961. Length 15:30.

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:

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.

In the penultimate draft of the address, Eisenhower initially used the term military-industrial-congressional complex, and thus indicated the essential role that the United States Congress plays in the propagation of the military industry. But, it is said, that the president chose to strike the word congressional in order to placate members of the legislative branch of the federal government. The actual authors of the term were Eisenhower's speech-writers Ralph E. Williams and Malcolm Moos.[3] Shortly after Eisenhower's address, the issue of military-industrial-congressional influence came to the forefront after Kennedy canceled the B-70 bomber on March 28, 1961. After appropriations bills had been passed and signed with B-70 funding that Kennedy would not use, the House Armed Services Committee (with 21 members having B-70 work in their districts) subsequently attempted to "direct" — by law — the Executive Branch to use "the full amount" appropriated for the B-70. However, a March 19, 1962 eleventh hour White House Rose Garden agreement by chairman Carl Vinson retracted the language from the appropriations bill, and the B-70 cancellation remained permanent.[4]

Attempts to conceptualize something similar to a modern "military-industrial complex" existed before Eisenhower's address. 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.

Also F. A. Hayek mentions in his 1944 book The Road to Serfdom the danger of a support of monopolistic organisation of industry from WWII political remnants:

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 if coercive control and will find it difficult to reconcile themselves with the humbler roles they will then have to play [in peaceful times]."[5]

Vietnam War-era activists, such as Seymour Melman, referred frequently to the concept. 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[6] on this subject. Peter 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.[7]

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.

Noam Chomsky has suggested that "military-industrial complex" is a misnomer because (as he considers it) the phenomenon in question "is not specifically military."[8] 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)."[9]

Current applications

Total world spending on military expenses in 2006 was $1.158 trillion US dollars. Nearly half of this total, 528.7 billion US dollars, was spent by the United States.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

Cultural references

  • The Bob Dylan song "Masters of War" was written about the military-industrial complex.
  • The Eugene McDaniels song "Headless Heroes" is also about the military-industrial complex. It is famously rumored that Spiro Agnew contacted Atlantic Records to have the album containing the song discontinued.[13]
  • The concept of the military-industrial complex was heavily examined in the 2005 documentary film Why We Fight.
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address is featured at the beginning of the 1991 film JFK.
  • The Eisenhower farewell address footage is used in a trailer for the video game Army of Two.
  • A select portion of the speech is included in the song "End of Days (Part 2)" by the band Ministry on their final studio album The Last Sucker.
  • The Rage Against The Machine song "Bulls on Parade" alludes to the military-industrial complex. (Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes, not need just feed the war cannibal animal... What we don't know keeps the contracts alive and moving)
  • Sci-fi series Ghost in the Shell uses the term frequently to describe the economic state of certain countries in their future setting. Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG also portrays attempts to create a military-industrial complex in Japan by means of coup d'état.
  • The video game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots uses the concept of the military-industrial complex holding up the world's economy by the money made through constant fighting. Similarily, in Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes Kenneth Baker stated to Solid Snake after the latter realized that he bribed the military to create REX that he should just call it the military-industrial complex.
  • In the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four it is explained that the endless wars fought in it were solely for economic reasons very much like the military-industrial complex.
  • The Matthew Reilly novel Scarecrow has as its major antagonists a group of leaders of a worldwide military-industrial complex, hellbent on starting a worldwide war to increase its profits.
  • The video game Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution contains the Military-Industrial Complex as one of its wonders, which you can build after discovering The Corporation.
  • The Juan Bosch book: El Pentagonismo, Sustituto del Imperialismo (Pentagonism, substitute of the imperialism), refers constantly to the military-industrial complex and is based around the theory or fact that the United States is a Pentagonized society which international policy is not controlled by the civil government, it is controlled by the Pentagonism that needs frequent wars anywhere so it can generate wealth by the creation of industries, and jobs created by the weapon manufacture contracts, etc.
  • The cinema-concert Prophecies of War uses Eisenhower's inaugural and military industrial complex speech as the basis for the production.
  • The dad from Dharma & Greg frequently referred to this.
  • Comedian and social critic Bill Hicks makes multiple referenses to the military industrial complex in his "Revelations"

See also


  • DeGroot, Gerard J. Blighty: British Society in the Era of the Great War, 144, London & New York: Longman, 1996, ISBN 0-582-06138-5
  • Eisenhower, Dwight D. Public Papers of the Presidents, 1035-40. 1960.
  • ________. "Farewell Address." In The Annals of America. Vol. 18. 1961-1968: The Burdens of World Power, 1-5. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1968.
  • ________. President Eisenhower's Farewell Address, Wikisource.
  • Hartung, William D. "Eisenhower's Warning: The Military-Industrial Complex Forty Years Later." World Policy Journal 18, no. 1 (Spring 2001).
  • Johnson, Chalmers The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004
  • Kurth, James. "Military-Industrial Complex." In The Oxford Companion to American Military History, ed. John Whiteclay Chambers II, 440-42. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Nelson, Lars-Erik. "Military-Industrial Man." In New York Review of Books 47, no. 20 (Dec. 21, 2000): 6.
  • Nieburg, H. L. In the Name of Science, Quadrangle Books, 1970
  • Mills, C.Wright."Power Elite", New York,1956


  1. ^ Pursell, C. (1972). The military-industrial complex. Harper & Row Publishers, New York, New York.
  2. ^ "Recent Trends in Military Expenditure". 
  3. ^ Griffin, Charles "New Light on Eisenhower's Farewell Address," in Presidential Studies Quarterly 22 (Summer 1992): 469-479
  4. ^ "House Unit "Directs" Production of B-70". New York Times. March 1, 1962. 
  5. ^ Hayek, F.A., (1976) "The Road to Serfdom," London: Routledge, p. 146, note 1
  6. ^ The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004. p. 39
  7. ^ Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.
  8. ^ Interviewed by David Barsamian, International Socialist Review 37 (Sep–Oct 2004)
  9. ^ In On Power, Dissent, and Racism: a Series of Discussions with Noam Chomsky, Baraka Productions, 2003.
  10. ^ Wikipedia 2009, Arms Industry
  11. ^
  12. ^ Robert Higgs. "The Trillion-Dollar Defense Budget Is Already Here". Retrieved March 15, 2007. 
  13. ^ Chris Dahlen, "The righteous music of the Left Rev. McDaniels" -

Further reading

  • Adams, Gordon, The Iron Triangle: The Politics of Defense Contracting, 1981.
  • Andreas, Joel, Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can't Kick Militarism, ISBN 1-904859-01-1,
  • Cochran, Thomas B., William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, Milton M. Hoenig, U.S. Nuclear Warhead Production Harper and Row, 1987, ISBN 0-88730-125-8
  • Colby, Gerard, DuPont Dynasty, 1984, Lyle Stuart, ISBN 0-8184-0352-7
  • Friedman, George and Meredith, The Future of War: Power, Technology and American World Dominance in the 21st Century, Crown, 1996, ISBN 0-517-70403-X
  • Hossein-Zadeh, Ismael, The Political Economy of US Militarism, Palgrave MacMillan, 2006, ISBN 978-1-4039-7285-9
  • Keller, William W., Arm in Arm: The Political Economy of the Global Arms Trade Basic Books, 1995.
  • Kelly, Brian, Adventures in Porkland: How Washington Wastes Your Money and Why They Won't Stop, Villard, 1992, ISBN 0-679-40656-5
  • McDougall, Walter A., ...The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age, Basic Books, 1985, (Pulitzer Prize for History) ISBN 0-8018-5748-1
  • Melman, Seymour, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War, McGraw Hill, 1970
  • Melman, Seymour, (ed.) The War Economy of the United States: Readings in Military Industry and Economy, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971.
  • Mills, C Wright, The Power Elite,New York, 1956.
  • Mollenhoff, Clark R., The Pentagon: Politics, Profits and Plunder, GP Putnam's Sons, 1967
  • Patterson, Walter C., The Plutonium Business and the Spread of the Bomb, Sierra Club, 1984, ISBN 0-87156-837-3
  • Pasztor, Andy, When the Pentagon Was for Sale: Inside America's Biggest Defense Scandal, Scribner, 1995, ISBN 0-684-19516-X
  • Pierre, Andrew J., The Global Politics of Arms Sales, Princeton, 1982, ISBN 0-691-02207-0
  • Sampson, Anthony, The Arms Bazaar: From Lebanon to Lockheed, Bantam, 1977.
  • St. Clair, Jeffery, Grand Theft Pentagon: Tales of Corruption and Profiteering in the War on Terror , Common Courage Press (July 1, 2005).
  • Sweetman, Bill, "In search of the Pentagon's billion dollar hidden budgets - how the US keeps its R&D spending under wraps", from Jane's International Defence Review, online
  • Weinberger, Sharon. Imaginary Weapons. New York: Nation Books, 2006.
  • Winer, Stan, Between the Lies: Rise of the media-military-industrial complex, London: Southern Universities Press, 2007

External links


Simple English

The Military-Industrial Complex refers to the relationship between the government military and the businesses in the country that produce items for the military. Because the businesses make so much money, they seem to want the country to be at war because they make more money during war than during times of peace.

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