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The U.S. Politico–Military–Industrial Complex  

John A. Alic

The three large military services—Army, Navy, and Air Force—comprise the core of the U.S. politico–military–industrial complex. They dominate decision making on multi-billion dollar weapon systems and the operational concepts these are intended to embody. The armed forces need private firms to realize their visions of new weaponry, since government has limited capacity in engineering design and development and limited production facilities. Running a successful defense business means giving the services what they want, or think they want, whether this makes technical and operational sense or not; thus industry caters to the views of the services, and while it seeks to influence them, does so mostly at the margins. The political dynamics of the complex take place in two primary domains, only loosely coupled. The first is largely contained within the Defense Department. This is the main arena for conflict and bargaining within and among the services and between the services, individually and collectively, and Pentagon civilians. Most of what happens here stays hidden from outsiders. Service leaders generally seek to resolve disagreements among themselves; the goal, often although not always achieved, is to present a united front to civilian officials and the public at large. The second domain extends to the rest of government, chiefly Congress, with its multiple committees and subcommittees, and the White House, home of the powerful Office of Management and Budget among other sources of policy leverage. The complex as a whole is an artifact of the Cold War, not greatly changed over the decades. Repeated efforts at restructuring and reform have led to little. The primary reason is that military leaders, senior officers who have reached the topmost ranks after lengthy immersion in generally conservative organizational cultures, usually have the upper hand in bureaucratic struggles. They believe the military’s views on choice of weapons—the views of seasoned professionals—should have precedence over those of civilians, whether Pentagon appointees and their staffs, elected officials, or outside experts. They usually prevail, since few of the political appointees on the civilian side of DoD and in policy-influencing positions elsewhere can command similar authority. If they do not prevail on a particular issue, service leaders expect to outwait their opponents; if they lose one battle over money or some cherished weapon system, they anticipate winning the next.