The Military-Industrial Complex - The impact of a permanent military industry

With all these forces at work, what are the consequences spawned from the powerful military-industrial complex? Several unfortunate consequences emerge—an undue influence on military policy and strategy, a tendency to extravagance and waste in defense spending, a negative long-range impact on the economy, and a possible weakening of the country itself.

To what extent do the pressures of manufacturers worried about profits, communities worried about unemployment, and members of Congress and presidents worried about local or general business depression—and ultimately about votes in key states—influence our choice of weapon systems, and thus affect the military considerations in our national strategy? Do we build a new bomber or a new missile or a new aircraft carrier because our strategy requires it, or because some group demands it, and then develop a strategy to include it? There always is the prospect that elements of a powerful military-industrial complex will influence national policy and strategy in the interest of favoring certain weapon systems not simply on the basis of military advantage, but for the benefit of the companies making them, or for the armed service using them, or for the locale where they and subsidiary instruments are made.

Why else would General Dynamics take out a two-page, full-color advertisement in Smithsonian magazine to proclaim its F-16 Fighting Falcon "the finest fighter in the world" and to review its achievements in producing the B-24 bomber during World War II and the B-36 afterward? Why would the same company take a two-page, color ad in National Review to extol the virtues of its M-1 Abrams tank? Why does McDonnell Douglas present a television commercial to "sell" its F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft?

In the fifty years after the conclusion of World War II, three forces led to the maintenance of a military establishment of unprecedented proportions

Contractor Headquarters DOD Contracts FY 1968 (billions of dollars) Main Projects
General Dynamics New York $ 2.24 F-111 fighter-bomber, Polaris submarine
Lockheed Aircraft California 1.87 C-141, C-5A transports, Polaris missile
General Electric New York 1.49 jet engines, electronics
United Aircraft Connecticut 1.32 jet engines, helicopters
McDonnell Douglas Missouri 1.10 Phantom F-4, Douglas A-4 bomber
AT&T New York .78 Safeguard missile, antisubmarine projects
Boeing Washington .76 B-52, helicopters, Minuteman missile
Ling-Temco-Vought Texas .76 A-7 fighter, electronics, Lance missile
North American Rockwell California .67 avionics, submarine electronics
General Motors Michigan .63 gas-turbine aircraft engines, tanks, M-16 rifle
Contractor DOD Contracts
Lockheed Martin $ 12.67 billion
Boeing 11.57
Raytheon 6.40
General Dynamics 4.56
Northrop Grumman 3.19
United Technologies 2.37
Litton Industries 2.10
General Electric 1.71
TRW 1.43
Textron 1.42

for the United States over such a length of time: the Cold War with the Soviet Union, involving an arms race throughout most of the period; the Korean War (1950–1953), and the Vietnam War (1964–1975). As the period ended (that is, as the Cold War at last appeared to have come to a close), a fourth situation assured continuation of military-industrial production—the deployment of forces and combat operations in the Persian Gulf region.

Military orders for goods and services went from $27.5 billion in 1964 to about $42.3 billion in 1969. The total defense budget for fiscal year 1969 was $79.788 billion, which amounted to 42.9 percent of the total federal budget, and between 9 and 10 percent of the gross national product (about the same percent as throughout the preceding decade). Defense funds went to every state, to 363 of the 435 congressional districts and to over 5,000 communities. Workers in defense industries and in defense-related production in mining, agriculture, construction, and services comprised over 10 percent of the total labor force. The Defense Department itself employed as many civilians as the populations of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine combined.

Despite the lowering of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union—and between Eastern Europe and western Europe—in 1989 and 1990, the Pentagon in 1990 still was planning to put $100 billion into the improvement of the nuclear arsenal over the next ten years. This was in addition to the continuation of the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") research program. The SDI effort began in a television address to the nation by President Ronald Reagan on 23 March 1983. It was a call for a defense system that would protect the United States from enemy nuclear missiles. The specific objectives of the program were not clear. At first it was offered as a more or less total net to protect against all missiles. Then it was suggested as something that would be valuable against missiles from China, North Korea, or other countries. Then it was seen mainly as protection of American missile silos so that the capacity to retaliate against a first strike would be guaranteed. To say the least, it was controversial largely out of conviction on the part of many scientists that it never would work, and on account of the vast expense involved. By 1987 the funding for SDI research and development had reached about $6 billion a year. The Department of Defense in 1990 estimated that the annual outlay would rise to about $12.5 billion in 1997. In September 2000 President Bill Clinton announced that he would not proceed with an order to build the missile defense system. Incoming President George W. Bush announced that he would continue the program. The total cost was estimated at $60 billion.

In any case, "Star Wars" was the epitome of the kind of program best calculated to encourage the military-industrial complex. It involved the expenditure of billions of dollars a year for many years, with no end in sight. Its effects spread into many kinds of activities and into many parts of the country. Much of it was conducted in secrecy. There was no way that it could be criticized for being over budget or behind schedule. Even many scientists who remained skeptical about the possible effectiveness of such a scheme were willing to acquiesce, and even to participate in it, for they saw it as a significant source for research funds when other sources were drying up.

At the end of the 1980s, Department of Defense officials were becoming concerned, not about an expanding military-industrial complex, but about a decline in American industrial capacity for military production. In 1990 the share of the United States in the world machine-tool market was less than half of what it had been in 1980. In the first half of the 1980s, the rate of growth of productivity in the United States was 3.5 percent, compared to nearly 6.5 percent in Japan. Deployment of forces to the Persian Gulf region changed all the impetus for reduction. That exercise in 1990–1991 added an estimated $30 billion to defense expenditures.

An increasingly significant arm of the military-industrial complex was the research community—the universities and private think tanks that lived on defense contracts. About half of all the scientific research being carried on in the United States in fiscal year 1969 was related to the military. Some 195 educational institutions received defense contracts of $10,000 or more during the year. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins were among the nation's top 100 defense contractors.

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