The Military Industrial Complex: Ike’s Nightmares Become Reality

By: Matthew Lowerre, Inside Politics Participant

In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the grave danger the United States faced if the abuses of power in government and the weapons industry he witnessed during his administration persisted. Today, the very thing Eisenhower warned about is happening at the expense of our nation’s once admirable foreign policy. The Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) is not a physical place where the production of industrial goods for the military takes place. It is a combination of many actors from the military, private, and public sectors that develop relationships and pursue their own self-interests; all in the name of national security. The seemingly unbreakable web of legislators, executives of defense firms, military personnel, and lobbyists construct an economic environment in which efficiency is sacrificed to ensure that political gains occur and profits are maximized for each party, usually at the expense of the taxpayer. This negative or positive feedback cycle, depending on one’s perspective, continues to solidify its roots in the absence of a competitive market. Elected Congressman and their staff will approve contracts to those defense industries that can give them something in return. While this is a rather broad example, there is evidence of similar exchanges between private and public sector workers.

When one follows the career path of certain individuals, one can clearly see how the MIC has strengthened internally, with very little success from external forces trying to break it up or make it more efficient. Looking at the case of Thomas L. Mackenzie, there is a suspicious pattern to be observed. He began his career in the U.S. Navy but later became a staff member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. This is a reasonable transition, as the knowledge Mackenzie gained in the Navy would suit him well for a position as an advisor for government relations with military operations. However, he later joined Northrop Grumman, a private defense firm, as Vice President of Naval Affairs. It didn’t stop there; Mackenzie returned several years later to the public sector as a staff member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The rate at which Mackenzie was changing jobs would imply a lack of success for most job markets. However, for the Military Industrial Complex, this type of movement is the norm. Mackenzie took the relations he gained from each stop on his career path and used them to strengthen his personal value. This is not sinister in and off itself, but when one considers that each of these sectors are constantly in the other’s ear, it begins to look like collusion. If the isolated incident of Mackenzie is not enough proof, there are more numbers to back it up. A US Government Accountability Office report from May 2008 showed that in 2006, 52 major defense contractors employed 86,181 of the 1,857,004 former military personnel who left the DOD since 2001. Additionally, eighty percent of retired three- and four- star officials relocated to the private defense industry between the years 2004 and 2008. This homogenous pool of individuals with aligning interests has not gone without consequence.

Another case study involves closely analyzing the influence of Lockheed Martin. Lockheed is a giant weapons corporation that seems to have a say in more than just what weapons it sells to the government. They received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008, more than any company in history. Not surprisingly, Lockheed Martin donated roughly $50,000 to the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Republican Howard McKeon. This highlights the earlier point, that Congressional staff is approving contracts to those firms who can provide them with something in return.

While one may argue this a huge conflict of interest, nothing illegal is occurring here. This immense allotment of government funds has allowed for Lockheed Martin to grow, seemingly without boundaries. That $36 billion comes from taxpayers, roughly $260 per household in the United States. To make sure that they keep their stranglehold on this market, the firm also spends $12 million on congressional lobbying. Lockheed Martin now employs 140,000 people across 46 states.

It can be argued that Lockheed Martin and other large defense firms have created a permanent war economy. The arms race and weapons proliferation the MIC arguably impacts the country’s involvement in war. There may not be any direct evidence, but this phenomenon is more indirectly related to country’s entering war or armed conflict. Lockheed Martin alone has been involved in overseeing assassination programs in Pakistan, recruiting interrogators from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan, and even providing personnel to draft the Afghani Constitution. The company’s involvement in such unstable areas, even with good intentions, can and has increased tensions between American forces stationed in these areas and the local rebels and armed forces that are tired of having their lives governed by foreigners.

Eisenhower warned of a Military Industrial Complex, but he never realized to what degree his dismal vision would become a reality.