Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Politics. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 29 November 2021

Military-Industrial Complexes and Their Variationslocked

Military-Industrial Complexes and Their Variationslocked

  • Marc R. DeVoreMarc R. DeVoreSchool of International Relations, University of St Andrews

Summary

Dwight David Eisenhower delivered one final address to the American public on January 17, 1961, as he prepared to step down from the U.S. presidency. Often remembered as an inarticulate public speaker, Eisenhower surprised his audience with his clear warning that “in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Eisenhower’s words resonated with both his audience and subsequent generations because he gave voice to the growing level of popular anxiety over whether armaments’ increasing importance to national security would ultimately endow defense firms with a degree of power incompatible with liberal democracy.

Although Eisenhower’s concerns about defense firms’ antidemocratic potential echoed those of policymakers and scholars since the First World War, Eisenhower’s formulation of the military-industrial complex problématique followed on the heels of earlier analytic models—notably the “merchants of death” and “garrison state” hypotheses—and preceded later rearticulations, such as that of the “iron triangle.”

It is possible now, with a century of perspective on this literature, to assess which hypotheses about defense firms’ deleterious impact on society and government have been borne out by subsequent events and which have not. Within this context, many of the worst fears embodied in the earlier theories have not been borne out by subsequent events. Defense firms did not “cause” wars as per the merchants-of-death hypothesis, and democracy did not give way in states where it already existed to the authoritarian rule of “specialists of violence.” Nonetheless, the core insight of the military-industrial complex and iron triangle schools of thought—that defense industries and their allies in the military and politics will act as an interest group to promote procurement projects—has proven robust. The way that these dynamics occur, however, varies from state to state as a function of their institutions.

Even though the production of armaments by defense firms headquartered in one’s state exercises a distorting effect on national politics and military procurement, few states can escape this dynamic. The national security advantages of greater supply security and enhanced military adaptation, combined with the fear that once abandoned, defense-industrial capabilities cannot be quickly reconstituted, compels most states that can produce armaments to do so. A military-industrial complex, of some form, is thus a fatality for the modern state.

Subjects

  • Governance/Political Change
  • History and Politics
  • Political Economy

You do not currently have access to this article

Login

Please login to access the full content.

Subscribe

Access to the full content requires a subscription