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The Military Industrial Complex: Asset or Liability for America?

By Edited Jun 16, 2016 1 1


The military-industrial complex is a term which links both foreign policy and monetary relationships between several different entities. Some of which include national armed forces, legislators, heavy industrial corporations, and defense contractors. These relationships also deal directly with lobbying to support bureaucracies, immense political contributions, and other political connections to the industrial and defense industry. Some experts consider the military-industrial complex to be an iron triangle.

The first modern military-industrial complexes began in Europe in the late 1880s. Primarily western European nations (Britain, France, and Germany) used this new concept to gain robust economies, territorial acqusitions, and military superiority. Many historians believe that this concept eventually helped fuel both world wars.

World War I

During World War II, the U.S. was forced to merge all of its commercial business applications with the defense sector. This ultimately employed millions of Americans and shifted the economy into full gear to fight the war on two fronts. Many scholars would argue that the U.S.'s entry into World War II actually saved the American economy. Moreover, it allowed the U.S. government to create a military-industrial complex.

Interestingly, this concept did not disappear when the Second World War was concluded. During the administration of Harry Truman (1945–1953) Department of Defense (DoD) budgets declined steadily from 1945-1950, and rose once again in late 1950. This was primarily because of the Communist threat in Asia and other parts of the world.

On January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell address speech to the nation, in this speech he mentioned the military-industrial complex. This was clearly the start of a new concept which would shape American foreign policy and the overall structure of how the military functioned.


Although the term originated in the 1960s and has been applied since, the concept of coordination between the military, the government, and the defense industry largely traces its roots back to when the private sector provided weaponry to governments.

The Cold War allowed this concept to expand not just in the U.S. but in the Soviet Union as well. Although the Soviet Union may not have had the most advanced technology in the world, it had the capability to export weapons and military equipment to different governments (Primarily in Eastern Europe and Asia).

Opponents of American foreign policy during the 1950s and into the 1970s will argue that each war fought, ultimately supported the rapidly growing defense sector and was just another way to fuel the military-industrial complex. On the other hand, many historians would disagree because the U.S. and its allies offered another option to countries who faced the relentless grip of communism. Hence, if victorious, these wars would grant individuals freedom, democratic rights, and full access to free markets.

Vietnam War

In the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union sent shockwaves through the Soviet military, but the military-industrial complex as a whole didn't necessarily slow down for the U.S. In actuality, it gave American leaders and military strategists new opportunities to expand further into former Soviet states. Critics of this policy would argue that the American military should completely abandon the NATO alliance because the U.S. shouldn't pay to protect Europe from the Russian Federation. Others will argue that defending Eastern European NATO allies is a necessity to promote democracy and freedom in the region. Furthermore, American defense contractors and technology firms have invested billions of dollars into complicated antimissile defense systems to protect Europe from emerging threats.

After the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. the concept of the military-industrial complex became even more controversial, chiefly because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most scholars will point out that military-industrial's complex operations constitute ideas of military Keynesianism, a means of stimulating the overall U.S. economy; while others would argue, proposing defense spending as an industrial policy, albeit a limited and economically distorting one. Some critics of continuous military spending strongly believe that military professionalism will be under-mined by focusing inordinate attention on institutional growth and the advancement of careers instead of defending the nation as a whole.

US Military

Currently, the annual military expenditure of the United States accounts for almost half of the world's total arms expenditures. Around 40% of all global military spending comes from the U.S., while China is second with about 10%. Over the past decade Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Taiwan, India and Australia were the top buyers of American weapons. Currently, the U.S. has military bases in around 150 nations in the world.


In 2011 the DoD committed to spending nearly $100 billion on five major defense contractors alone. This is approximately the same amount of money that was spent on the entire federal education budget. Is the DoD spending too much money on the military?

Over the past two decades, several American defense contractors spent more than $1.5 billion on lobbying. Today, more than two thirds of the countries that purchased American military weaponry and equipment are still considered developing nations. Many military experts believe that these nations must be armed with high-quality American-made equipment in order to meet the demands of the threats the world presents to them. 


The debate of whether the military-industrial complex is an asset or liability to the U.S. economy will still remain controversial. Many scholars will argue that it is needed to keep the Petrodollar afloat, maintain peace and security against rogue nations, and ensure that the U.S. remains the preeminent world superpower of the world. Furthermore, it enables the U.S. to employ millions of engineers, technicians, contractors, computer programmers, and architects throughout the world. One must conclude that without this complicated system the American economy would not be as successful as it has been over the past several decades.




Jan 9, 2015 2:14pm
Great article, it will always be controversial when it comes to our military it seems. I believe we need a strong military force and they should always be compensated for the jobs they are asked to do which entails being away from their families in some cases. I believe our military today is probably the weakest it has ever been in my lifetime.
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