On the Burgeoning Military/Industrial Complex

Posted on by

In his final speech as President, Dwight Eisenhower warned against a heretofore unrecognized danger to America, namely the growing influence of what the Commander in Chief called the “military/industrial complex”. This excerpt reminds us that despite our nostalgic view of the 1950s, the struggle against Communist was seen as an epic battle:

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology — global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger is poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle — with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties….

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs — balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage — balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration….

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well…

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 State house, 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….

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

I had to include the last bit, even though it deviates from the thrust of this post; you seldom hear public officials today conjoin the notions of stewardship and fiscal prudence.

Reader Charles directed us to an article in today’s Asia Times on the stunning growth in defense-related spending under the Bush administration. While the costs of the war in Iraq get a good deal of media attention, the overall expansion in military expenditures is given comparatively short shrift. This piece remedies that oversight.

From the Asia Times:

The Pentagon’s massive bulk-up these past seven years will not be easily unbuilt, no matter who dons the presidential mantle on January 19, 2009. “The Pentagon” is now so much more than a five-sided building across the Potomac from Washington or even the seat of the Department of Defense. In many ways, it defies description or labeling….

The Pentagon’s core budget – already a staggering US$300 billion when Bush took the presidency – has almost doubled while he’s been parked behind the big desk in the Oval Office. For fiscal year 2009, the regular Pentagon budget will total roughly $541 billion (including work on nuclear warheads and naval reactors at the Department of Energy).

The Bush administration has presided over one of the largest military buildups in the history of the United States. And that’s before we even count “war spending”. If the direct costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the global “war on terror”, are factored in, “defense” spending has essentially tripled.

As of February 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office, lawmakers have appropriated $752 billion for the Iraq war and occupation, ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, and other activities associated with the “war on terror”. The Pentagon estimates that it will need another $170 billion for fiscal 2009, which means, at $922 billion, that direct war spending since 2001 would be at the edge of the trillion-dollar mark….

With a military budget more than 30 times that of all State Department operations and non-military foreign aid put together, the Pentagon has marched into State’s two traditional strongholds – diplomacy and development – duplicating or replacing much of its work, often by refocusing Washington’s diplomacy around military-to-military, rather than diplomat-to-diplomat, relations.

Since the late 18th century, the US ambassador in any country has been considered the president’s personal representative, responsible for ensuring that foreign policy goals are met. As one ambassador explained, “The rule is: if you’re in country, you work for the ambassador. If you don’t work for the ambassador, you don’t get country clearance.”

In the Bush era, the Pentagon has overturned this model…

The Pentagon invariably couches its bureaucratic imperialism in terms of “interagency cooperation”. For example, last year US Southern Command (Southcom) released Command Strategy 2016, a document which identified poverty, crime and corruption as key “security” problems in Latin America. It suggested that Southcom, a security command, should, in fact, be the “central actor in addressing … regional problems” previously the concern of civilian agencies. It then touted itself as the future focus of a “joint interagency security command … in support of security, stability and prosperity in the region….

The Pentagon has generally followed this pattern globally since 2001. But what does “cooperation” mean when one entity dwarfs all others in personnel, resources, and access to decision-makers, while increasingly controlling the very definition of the “threats” to be dealt with…..

In the Bush years, the Pentagon has aggressively increased its role as the planet’s foremost arms dealer, pumping up its weapons sales everywhere it can – and so seeding the future with war and conflict.

By 2006 (the last year for which full data is available), the United States alone accounted for more than half the world’s trade in arms with $14 billion in sales…..

In the area of “intelligence”, the Pentagon’s expansion – the commandeering of information and analysis roles – has been swift, clumsy, and catastrophic….. The Pentagon’s takeover of intelligence has meant fewer intelligence analysts who speak Arabic, Farsi or Pashto and more dog-and-pony shows like those four-star generals and three-stripe admirals mouthing administration-approved talking points on cable news and the Sunday morning talk shows…..

the Pentagon now controls more than 80% of US intelligence spending, which he estimated at about $60 billion in 2007. As Mel Goodman, former CIA official and now an analyst at the Center for International Policy, observed, “The Pentagon has been the big bureaucratic winner in all of this…..

When the deciders in Washington start seeing the Pentagon as the world’s problem-solver, strange things happen. In fact, in the Bush years, the Pentagon has become the official first responder of last resort in case of just about any disaster – from tornadoes, hurricanes and floods to civil unrest, potential outbreaks of disease or possible biological or chemical attacks.

In 2002, in a telltale sign of Pentagon mission creep, Bush established the first domestic military command since the civil war, the US Northern Command (Northcom). Its mission: the “preparation for, prevention of, deterrence of, preemption of, defense against, and response to threats and aggression directed towards US territory, sovereignty, domestic population, and infrastructure; as well as crisis management, consequence management, and other domestic civil support.”

If it sounds like a tall order, it is.

In the past six years, Northcom has been remarkably unsuccessful at anything but expanding its theoretical reach….

The US Agency for International Development and the State Department have traditionally been tasked with responding to disaster abroad; but, from Indonesia’s tsunami-ravaged shores to Myanmar after the recent cyclone, natural catastrophe has become another presidential opportunity to “send in the Marines” (so to speak). The Pentagon has increasingly taken up humanitarian planning, gaining an ever larger share of US humanitarian missions abroad…..

In fact, the Pentagon doesn’t do humanitarian work very well. In Afghanistan, for instance, food-packets dropped by US planes were the same color as the cluster munitions also dropped by US planes; while schools and clinics built by US forces often became targets before they could even be put into use. In Iraq, money doled out to the Pentagon’s sectarian-group-of-the-week for wells and generators turned out to be just as easily spent on explosives and AK-47s….

Meanwhile, should the Earth not be enough, there are always the heavens to control. In August 2006, building on earlier documents like the 1998 US Space Command’s Vision for 2020 (which called for a policy of “full spectrum dominance”), the Bush administration unveiled its “national space policy”. It advocated establishing, defending and enlarging US control over space resources and argued for “unhindered” rights in space – unhindered, that is, by international agreements preventing the weaponization of space. The document also asserted that “freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power”…..(The leaders of China, Russia and other major states undoubtedly heard the loud slap of a gauntlet being thrown down.)…

Of all the frontiers of expansion, perhaps none is more striking than the Pentagon’s sorties into the future. Does the Department of Transportation offer a Vision for 2030? Does the Environmental Protection Agency develop plans for the next 50 years? Does the Department of Health and Human Services have a team of power-point professionals working up dynamic graphics for what services for the elderly will look like in 2050?

There’s a good bit more in the article proper.

In addition to the Pentagon’s sizable budget, there appear to be further expenditures not accounted for. This problem was identified by the Comptroller General in 2001:

The Pentagon’s financial statements are in such poor condition that they cannot be audited, Mr. Walker said, and most other agencies do not comply with federal accounting standards. As a result, he said, he cannot certify the accuracy of consolidated financial statements for the government as a whole. Federal auditors have been complaining about this problem for several years.

This hearing in 2006 (listen closely for McKinney’s second question, around one minute into the video) suggests little to no progress had been made:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Marcus Aurelius

    Eisenhower was just parroting the talking points of the Liberal Left Blogosphere.

  2. Anonymous

    With the CIA blowing such a major intelligence operation in the run-up to the war, I’m not sure if the proper solution is to shift more of the intelligence budget to them or not. The US does face a critical shortage of individuals with the requisite language and cultural skills to be our next generation of human assests but the left was sucessful at eviscerating our HumInt programs startiong with the Church committee in the 1970s. I’m all for having assets in the hands of those best able to advance US interests. The Asia Times, eh? Read the stories not hitting the web about the ChiComs, the huge amount of spying being conducted in the US including their responsibility for recent power outtages in the US and other shenanigans. I wonder if the Asia Times may be a part of their bidding.

  3. Legal Sodium

    excellent post. i was left wondering why we can’t produce any leaders with such heft as ike.

    the atimes article, after filtering out the america-hating, raised some good points. money follows success. after the DoD’s nadir at Desert One, not only was the reagan buildup about numbers of weapons, it also introduced discipline, leadership, and professionalism into the military. the result was the stunning Desert Shield/Storm. ever since the military has expanded it’s portfolio because it has had success while the state dept, CIA, et al have continually failed.

    i agree that the M/I complex needs to be pared down. rumsfeld, a good peacetime efficiency manager, was doing this until 9/11. he unfortunately was a poor wartime strategist who was kept around too long by an obsessively loyal bush.

  4. Reed

    “Eisenhower was just parroting the talking points of the Liberal Left Blogosphere.”

    Nice one, Marcus. You almost had me there.

  5. Anonymous

    “one of the largest military buildups in the history of the US”
    a buildup is not combat, it is creating the capability for combat (weapons and forces). Pose the question: is military equipment being worn out faster than it is being replaced. If the answer is yes (which would be my guess), there is no buildup at all. There is no buildup. What Bush has done is start expensive wars, plural. You can debate the global war on terror all day long, but it is global and it is a war (Afghanistan, Iraq, Philipines, Yeme, …). Legal Sodium makes a key point regarding Desert One. for DoD, failures are very painful and force the bureacracy to react. This doesn’t happen at the State Department. State is still organized for the cold war. From a presidents perspective (democrat or republican), the state department is useless: they don’t follow orders, they are stuck in the past, can’t adapt, … DoD at least does what they are told, so DoD will get bigger state will get smaller regardless of the party that controls the white house.

  6. S

    The military industrial complex has been a seedbed of innovation lest we forget. Furthermore, it is the only honorable institution left in this country. Rather $500B spent in the complex than more subsidies to farmers, handouts to subprime or transfer payments to deadbeats. Recall also that the $500B is largely recycled into the hands of those American companies (notwithstanding the recent tanker deal- a JV) and their employees. Perhaps the home bias resulting from national security is a template of how to incubate an infant industry. I say more of it. And by the way with all that “protection” sourounding the complex we still manage to produce the most cutting edge technologies. Rest assured the US will find a way to give that advantage away as well.

    I have no idea what the total value created by transfer technologies has been, but if we just use something like say I don’t know the internet (ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) developed by DARPA of the United States Department of Defense, was the world’s first operational packet switching network) I betting that the investment in defense R&D has been many times the ROE than pretty much anything else the Gov could invest in (healthcare R&D suffers from the drag of innefficient programs like medicare/etc). The military at least remians an effcient killing machine – lest we forget in the era of smart bombs that is their mission. I am sure there has been research that measure the value into the halo technologies and civilvian transfer, but it would be interesting to see what the measured value of such are against the money invested – i’m betting on above average returns, but I could be wrong.

    The A Times has some interesting articles- namely Spengler, but overall should be thought of as a NY Times with a more overt anti american slant cooked up by the international intelligenzia for the more “cosmopolitan” set. Not Pravda, yet..

  7. CrocodileChuck

    Addendum: for a more granular ‘look in’ on the growth and transmogrification of the intelligence sector in particular, see:



    1) explosion of funding and increasingly amorphous border of private: public entities (‘revolving door’)
    2) Booz Allen Hamilton’s Homeland Security ‘practice’ taken private last week by Carlyle Group


  8. NC Jim

    Empires are expensive – terminally expansive as history has shown which is why they always collapse.

    As will the American Empire.I do not suggest dollar based investments.


  9. Scott

    This is the same Asia Times that recently posted an op-ed piece suggesting that the USA should invade Myanmar to solve the problems there; because no countries in the region are interested in doing anything.

  10. Anonymous

    Does this mean the Pentagon doesn’t believe the ambassadors are competent? The military has been very anti-war in the last few conflicts, and may believe that they can do a better job than State of avoiding it.

  11. Anonymous

    Whoever succeeds Bush (ok, Obama) has a huge trump card in that fight. The militaro-industrial complex has failed.
    – Iraq is an abject failure.
    – Afghanistan is an abject failure.
    – The War On Terror is an abject failure.
    – Procurement is an abject failure.
    – New equipments are abject failures.

    Failure everywhere, quite often of the criminal sort from torture to defective armor.

    It’s a barrel and it’s full of fishes. So yes, it has gotten huge but it will be easy to bring down. Just shoot at everything that moves or hide and you are certain it’s a guilty party.

  12. Anonymous

    s at 1:34pm: ‘only honorable institution remaining…..’

    First, your comment is insulting to many human beings who try to be honorable in their jobs — even in the face of dishonorable leadership.

    Second: perhaps you missed the story about the Pentagon propaganda machine?

    Third: perhaps you missed the story about the replacement of the Gitmo judge?

    Fourth: perhaps you missed the stories about Rumsfeld?

    Fifth: perhaps you have overlooked the long history of what happens when any institution is put in a monopoly position?

    There are, without doubt, thousands of folks at the Pentagon and the many Pentagon contractors who are honorable.

    And, there are without doubt, thousands of folks in hundreds of other institutions who are honorable.

    And, without doubt, the dishonorable Bush Administration has shamed the decency of all these people.

    And, no amount of Asia Times-bashing will distract the eye of honorable people from the dangers so presciently anticipated by Ike.

  13. VennData

    One commenter claims, “…reagan buildup about numbers of weapons, it also introduced discipline, leadership, and professionalism into the military.”

    Was the cowardly retreat from Lebanon that gave two-bit bomb chucking Islamo-Facists the best propaganda tool they have ever had part of that discipline? How about the the wild-eyed Ollie North and his pay offs to the Iranians? ofr his illegal support of torturing militias? Mining South American harbors? Oh yeah they were so disciplined by the California Actor, yeah…

    Myths. More Reagan Myths.

    They got another actor running California now. The Debtinator. Come to think of it, Reagan quadrupled the debt (what discipline) but then Raised Social security taxes to.. cover the day-to-day operations of government, not for people’s pensions. That’s why Social Security is still so out of whack.

    Will Arnold screw up as bad as Reagan’s S&L fiasco though? That will take some real effort. Keep the 100,000 FDIC insurance, but let them invest anywhere they want. What discipline.

Comments are closed.