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Military-Industrial Complex

Military-Industrial Complex

According to the Military Intervention Project,

the US has undertaken almost 400 military interventions since 1776, with half of these operations undertaken between 1950 and 2019. Over 25% of them have occurred in the post-Cold War period."1

The study argues that many American interventions took place during the Cold War. Furthermore, U.S. foreign policy became more aggressive after the Cold War, even though American opponents, real or perceived, tended to deescalate theirs.

Some historians have also noted the link between U.S. foreign policy and the military-industrial complex. Its rise is traced to the early Cold War period and remains relevant to this day.

Military-Industrial Complex: Definition

A military-industrial complex is an interest group of arms manufacturers (defense contractors), government bodies, lobbyists, intelligence agencies, and other groups and individuals seeking to increase a country's military budget (defense spending) or make it central to policy-making.

Military-Industrial Complex: Cold War

During the Second World War (1939-1945), the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States were the main Allies responsible for the victory over Nazi Germany in May 1945. They shared different ideologies and had some disagreements over strategy. However, the alliance was highly successful.

Military-Industrial Complex, Elbe Day, April 1945, when the Soviet troops met the American counterparts near Torgau, Germany. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain), StudySmarter.

Elbe Day, April 1945, when the Soviet troops met the American counterparts near Torgau, Germany. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

In the U.S., the government led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt helped convert civilian manufacturing to wartime industries. Roosevelt used the War Production Board agency to do so. The World War II era was a precursor to the development of the military-industrial complex.

However, ideological and geopolitical cracks among the Allies began to show when they decided upon the postwar order. The Americans perceived the Soviet Union, which subscribed to socialism (Communism), as an ideological rival.

As a result, the U.S. decided to challenge this ideology—and the Soviet Union—all around the world. Thus was born the Truman Doctrine (1947) and the foreign policy of containment. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as superpowers after the Second World War, which is why they both had global reach.

This competition led to an extended conflict, the Cold War (1945-1991). The U.S. and the Soviet Union did not engage in a direct military confrontation, but many indirect clashes ensued, including:

DateConflictParticipants
1950-1953Korean War
  • South Korea, the United States versus
  • North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union
1948-presentArab-Israeli Conflict
  • Israel, United States (1967-present), Britain and France (1956), and others versus
  • Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon (1948-present), Egypt (1948-1978), Soviet Union (1967-1991), and others
1955-1975Vietnam War
  • North Vietnam, Viet Cong guerillas, Khmer Rouge, North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union versus
  • South Vietnam, United States, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia (1967-1970, and others

Military-Industrial Complex: Eisenhower

The best-known early critic of the military-industrial complex was President Dwight Eisenhower, who was in office between 1953 and 1961. During the Second World War, Eisenhower was General of the Army and the first Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Military-Industrial Complex, A celebration of Germany’s unconditional surrender in WWII, Reims, France, May 7, 1945, featuring the senior military leadership of the Allies (Soviet Union, Britain, U.S.): Eisenhower is second from the right. Source: U.S. Army, Wikipedia Commons (public domain), StudySmarter.

A celebration of Germany’s unconditional surrender in WWII, Reims, France, May 7, 1945, featuring the senior military leadership of the Allies (Soviet Union, Britain, U.S.): Eisenhower is second from the right. Source: U.S. Army, Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

During his time in office, Eisenhower presided over the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War. However, he also shared a realist approach to international relations.

On January 17, 1961, President Eisenhower gave his farewell address. His experience as a soldier made him understand the horrors of war like other American politicians did not. As a result, he warned against the growth of the military-industrial complex:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . .Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. . . . 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."1

Military-Industrial Complex: Elements

Historically, the military-industrial complex displayed many essential elements.

Technology

Many inventions came from the Cold War not only in military technology but also in fields like science and healthcare, including:

  • AK-47 assault rifle (USSR)
  • Chieftain Main Battle Tank: (Britain)
  • Antibiotics
  • GPS connected to satellites
  • Small recording devices
  • The Internet

Intelligence Agencies

The U.S. also created intelligence agencies during the Cold War, such as the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency in 1947. This occurred at the same time as the U.S. defense spending and the military-industrial complex, in general, were growing.

American historians Steven Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley described the CIA's activities as follows:

  • overthrowing foreign governments
  • meddling in foreign elections
  • economic and political warfare
  • training and funding paramilitary activities and insurgent groups

Space Race

The space race was the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States in space exploration. Science and technology are the focus of space exploration. Science and technology correlate to the arms race, including developing missiles and bombers. The Soviet Union beat the United States in many ways, including:

Military-Industrial Complex, Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, the first man and woman in space, Soviet Union, 1964. Source: RIA, Wikipedia Commons, RIA Novosti archive, image #628703 / Khalip / CC-BY-SA 3.0, StudySmarter.

Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, the first man and woman in space, Soviet Union, 1964. Source: RIA, Wikipedia Commons, RIA Novosti archive, image #628703 / Khalip / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

  • Sputnik, the first artificial satellite (1957)
  • Luna 2, the first manmade object to touch the Moon (1959)
  • Belka and Strelka, the first dogs to successfully return from space (1960)
  • Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space (1961)
  • Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space (1963)
  • Venera 7, the first spacecraft (unmanned) to land on Venus (1970)

However, the United States landed the first-ever human mission on the Moon with its Apollo 11 project and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Nuclear Arms Race

One of the most critical aspects of the Cold War was the growth of weapons arsenals, which included nuclear weapons. The U.S. was the first to develop the atomic bomb. It was the only country to use it against Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Military-Industrial Complex, Admiral William H.P. Blandy and his wife cut an Operation Crossroads mushroom cloud cake, Washington, D.C., 7 November 1946. Source: Library of Congress, Wikipedia Commons (public domain), StudySmarter.

Admiral William H.P. Blandy and his wife cut an Operation Crossroads mushroom cloud cake, Washington, D.C., 7 November 1946. Source: Library of Congress, Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

In the 21st century, these countries possess nuclear weapons:

  • United States
  • Russia (after the Soviet Union)
  • China
  • Britain
  • France
  • Israel
  • India
  • Pakistan
  • North Korea

NATO

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was established in 1949 by the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Iceland, Denmark, Portugal, Norway, and Luxembourg. Its leaders claimed to be a defensive military alliance tasked with providing collective security for Europe and countering the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union established its association, the Warsaw Pact (1955-1991), in response to NATO.

The United States has always been the most significant financial contributor to NATO. NATO supporters state that the organization provides collective security in Europe today. Its critics argue that NATO lost its purpose when the ideological rival of the U.S., the Soviet Union, was no more after 1991. Scholars and statesmen like George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, and John Mearsheimer have argued that NATO has been a destabilizing factor in international relations.

British political scientist Richard Sakwa has even questioned the existence of NATO after 1991 by highlighting the following paradox:

NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence."3

U.S. Military Bases

According to some estimates, the United States maintains approximately 800 military bases, installations, and other types of troop presence worldwide. All other countries combined keep only a few dozen counterparts.

During the Cold War, the United States established many military bases. However, after 1991, Russia, the legal successor of the Soviet Union, pulled back its troops in east-central Europe. In contrast, the U.S. did not, even though its declared rival, the Soviet Union, dissolved in 1991.

At present, foreign U.S. military presence includes:

  • Asia: Okinawa, Japan
  • Europe: Ramstein air base, Germany
  • Africa: Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Horn of Africa
  • South America: Eloy Alfaro International Airport, Manta, Ecuador, South America

The American position is that its vast and expensive troop presence around the world is to support its allies. Critics have pointed out that these bases serve as the muscle behind American hegemony worldwide.

Hegemony is a way for one powerful state to dominate others by using direct military and political methods and indirect economic and cultural methods.

U.S. Defense Budget

The United States has the largest defense budget in the world. It exceeds the combined budgets of about a dozen countries next in line, including China and Russia.

Defense Contractors

In the U.S., the largest defense contractors are weapons manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. In Britain, it is BAE Systems.

Nuclear Weapons' Treaties and Conferences

In the context of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union grew their weapons arsenals, which included the types of weapons that could carry nuclear warheads. In light of some close calls, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the two sides periodically met to discuss a nuclear-arms reduction. The meetings focused on:

  • strategic nuclear weapons (extended range)
  • non-strategic nuclear weapons (short and intermediate-range)

These meetings terminated agreements, or the agreements expired. Until 2026, the New START treaty between the U.S. and Russia is in effect.

Military-Industrial Complex, Jimmy Carter (U.S.) and Leonid Brezhnev (Soviet Union) sign SALT II treaty, Vienna, Austria, June 18, 1979. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain), StudySmarter.

Jimmy Carter (U.S.) and Leonid Brezhnev (Soviet Union) signed SALT II treaty in Vienna, Austria, on June 18, 1979. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

DateEventDetails
1969-1979SALT

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which comprised SALT I and SALT II, featured meetings between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1970s. SALT sought to limit the number of long-range ballistic missiles that each country possessed and codify the agreements through treaties such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (1972).

The parties involved in the process were:

The 1980s-1993STARTThe Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), START I, and START II involved limiting the number of deployed delivery vehicles and nuclear warheads. The treaties were signed in 1991 and 1993, respectively. The parties involved in the process were:
  • U.S.:Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush
  • Soviet Union / Russia: Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin
1987INFIntermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was signed in 1987 and focused on non-strategic nuclear arms control. The agreement eliminated short and intermediate ground missiles.The parties involved in the process were:

Theories

There are many theories about the growth of the American military-industrial complex:

  • The military-industrial complex allows the U.S. to stay one of the top global powers by dominating others through direct (military, political) and indirect (economic, cultural) means.
  • The increased government spending on military aviation, one of the historic strong points for the U.S., allowed the upgrading of civil aviation.
  • The military-industrial complex is an intrinsic part of the domestic American economy, even if its lethal products are sometimes used against foreign countries.

Military-Industrial Complex: Significance

The military-industrial complex is an essential part of the American domestic economy and American enforcement of its foreign policy around the world. However, international organizations like the United Nations should play a more significant role in ensuring collective security for all rather than promoting the interests of a single country.

Military-Industrial Complex - Key Takeaways

  • A military-industrial complex involves weapons manufacturers, institutions, government bodies, intelligence agencies, lobbyists, and other individuals, as a single interest group seeking to increase a country's military spending.
  • The Cold War gave rise to the American military-industrial complex in the context of an arms race with the Soviet Union. This arms race included conventional and nuclear weapons.
  • President Eisenhower is specifically associated with the military-industrial complex because he warned about its power.
  • The military-industrial complex in the United States remains influential in the 21st century relying on such weapons manufacturers as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

References

  1. Kushi, Sidita and Monica Duffy Toft, “Introducing the Military Intervention Project: A New Dataset on US Military Interventions, 1776–2019,” Journal of Conflict Resolution (8 August 2022), https://doi.org/10.1177/00220027221117546.
  2. National Archives, “President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address (1961),” Milestone Documents, https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/president-dwight-d-eisenhowers-farewell-address accessed 8 August 2022.
  3. Chomsky, Noam. Who Rules the World, New York City: Henry Holt, and Company, p. 237.

Frequently Asked Questions about Military-Industrial Complex

The military-industrial complex comprises weapons manufacturers (defense contractors), institutions, government bodies, lobbyists, and other individuals who operate as part of a network promoting the weapons manufacturing sector in a country. This network seeks to increase support for government spending for the military and public support thereof. 

In the 21st century, the main companies of the military-industrial complex are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Raytheon in the United States, and BAE Systems (UK) in Europe.

Eisenhower considered the military-industrial complex an interest group comprised of weapons manufacturers and individuals in government and other institutions seeking to increase military spending and change public policy in favor of increased spending.

President Eisenhower was not only the 34th President of the United States but he also was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe during the Second World War. His close experience with the horrors of war made Eisenhower skeptical about the growth of the defense sector and increased military spending in the U.S. during the Cold War. 


During his Farewell Address in 1961, Eisenhower stated, “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . .Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. . . . 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 (National Archives, “President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address (1961),” Milestone Documents,  https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/president-dwight-d-eisenhowers-farewell-address accessed 8 August 2022).


Final Military-Industrial Complex Quiz

Question

What is the military-industrial complex?

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Answer

The military-industrial complex comprises weapons manufacturers, lobbyists, institutions, and individuals as an interest group seeking to increase the military spending of a country.

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Question

Which American president expressed public concern about the growth of the military-industrial complex?

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Answer

Dwight Eisenhower

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Question

When did the military-industrial complex develop in the United States?

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Answer

Cold War

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Question

Which was the only country to use nuclear weapons in a war?

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Answer

United States

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Question

Which was NOT part of the nuclear-arms reduction meetings?

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Answer

PEPPER

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Question

When was NATO founded?

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Answer

1949

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Question

Which conflict was NOT part of the Cold War?

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Answer

Bosnian War

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Question

One theory states that the military-industrial complex helped which?

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Answer

Civilian aviation

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Question

When was American foreign policy more assertive?

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Answer

After the Cold War

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Question

What is hegemony?

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Answer

Hegemony is a way for one powerful state to dominate others by using direct military and political methods and indirect economic and cultural methods.

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