The five pillars of the U.S. military-industrial complex
By Rodrigue Tremblay
Online Journal Guest Writer

Sep 25, 2006, 00:56

"Over-grown military establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty." --George Washington (1732-1799), 1st US President

"[The] conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . . In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." --Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), 34th US President, Farewell Address, Jan. 17, 1961

"It is part of the general pattern of misguided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear." --General Douglas MacArthur, Speech, May 15, 1951

In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge said, "the business of America is business." Nowadays, it can be said that the arms industry and permanent war have become a big part of American business, as the offshoot of a well-entrenched military-industrial complex. This is a development that previous American men of vision, men like President George Washington and President Dwight Eisenhower, have warned against as being intrinsically inimical to democracy and liberty. However, the current Bush-Cheney administration is not afraid of such a development; its principal members are part of it and are instead very busy promoting it.

Wars, especially modern electronic wars, are very murderous, but they are also synonymous with big cost-plus contracts, big profits and big employment for those who produce the required military gear. Wars are the paradise of profiteers.

Wars are also a way for mediocre politicians to monopolize both the news and the media in their partisan favor by whipping up patriotic fervor and by pushing for narrow-minded nationalism. Indeed, to inflame patriotism and nationalism is an old demagogic trick used to dominate a nation. When that happens, there is a clear danger that democracy and freedom will be eroded, and even disappear, if that development leads to an exacerbated concentration of power and political corruption.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were a bonanza for the American military-industrial complex. This was an event, a "New Pearl Harbor," that some had openly been hoping for. The reason? These attacks gave the perfect pretext to keep military expenses, which had been expected to fall after the demise of the old Soviet Empire, at a high level. Instead, they provided the rationale for dramatically increasing them, by substituting a �War on Terror� and a "War against Islamists" as a replacement for the �War against Communism,� and the "Cold War against the Soviet Union". In this new perspective, the gates of military spending could be open and flowing again. The development of ever more sophisticated armaments could go forward and thousands of corporations and hundreds of political districts could continue to reap the benefits. The costs would be born by the taxpayers, by young men and women who die in combat and by remote populations who happen to lie under the rain of bombs about to fall upon them and their homes.

Indeed, in September 2000, when the Pentagon issued its famous strategy document entitled "Rebuilding America's Defenses," the belief was expressed that the kind of military transformation the planners were considering required "some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor,� to make it possible to sell the plan to the American public. They were either prescient or lucky, because one year later, they had the "New Pearl Harbor" they had been hoping for.

The military-industrial complex needs wars, many and successive wars, to prosper. Old military equipment has to be repaired and replaced each time there is a hot war. But to justify the enormous costs of developing ever more deadly weapons, there needs to be a constant climate of fear and vulnerability. For example, there are many reports, originating from medical and international observers, that the Israeli attacks against Lebanon and Gaza during the summer of 2006, allowed for the use of 'new American-made weapons.' Such weapons are reported to include depleted uranium (DU) bombs, 'direct energy' weapons and new chemical and biological weapons. These weapons not only make the act of homicide easier but they also contaminate the environment with radioactive DU particles for decades to come.

But, to build a compact strong enough to steer a democratic country on the path of a permanent war economy takes an alliance of interests between militarists, industrialists, politicians, sycophants and propagandists. These are the five pillars of the military-industrial complex, as can be found in the United States.

1. The U. S. military establishment

In 1991, at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. defense budget was $298.9 billion. In 2006, that budget had increased to $447.4 billion, and this does not included the $100 billion-plus spent in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It is estimated that American military expenditures represent, at a very minimum, close to half of total world military outlays (48 percent of the world total in 2005, according to official figures), while the U.S. accounts for less than 5 per cent of world population and about 25 per cent of world total output. As a percentage, the U.S. military expenses gobble up a minimum of 21 percent of the total American federal budget (2006=$2.5 trillion). Such a military budget is larger than the gross domestic product (GDP) of some countries, such as Belgium or Sweden. It is sort of a government within a government.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Defense employed 2,143,000 people, while it estimates that private defense contractors employ 3,600,000 workers, for a grand total of 5,743,000 defense-related American jobs, or 3.8 percent of the total labor force. In addition, there are close to 25 million veterans in the United States. Therefore, it is safe to say that more than 30 million Americans receive checks which originate directly or indirectly from the U. S. military budget. Assuming conservatively only two voting-age people per household, this translates into a block of some 60 million American voters who have a financial stake in the American military establishment. Thus the clear danger of a militarized society perpetuating itself politically.

2. The private defense contractors

The five largest American Defense contractors are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics. They are being followed by Honeywell, Halliburton, BAE Systems and thousands of smaller defense companies and subcontractors. Some, like Lockheed Martin in Bethesda (Maryland) and Raytheon in Waltham (Massachusetts) draw close to 100 percent of their business from defense contracts. Some others, like Honeywell in Morristown (New Jersey), have important consumer goods divisions. All, however, stand to profit when expenditures on weapons procurements increase. In fact, U.S. defense contractors have been enjoying big Pentagon budgets since March 2003, i.e. since the onset of the Iraq war. As a result, they have posted sizable increases in total shareholder returns, ranging from 68 percent (Northrop Grumman) to 164 precent (General Dynamics), from March '03 to September '06.

It also has to be pointed out that private defense contractors play another social role: they are big employers of former generals and former admirals from the U.S. military establishment.

3. The political establishment

In the U.S., President George W. Bush, a former oilman, and Vice President Dick Cheney, as former chairman and CEO of the large oil service company Halliburton in Houston (Texas), epitomize the image of politicians devoted to the growth and development of the military-industrial complex. Their administration has expanded the military establishment and they have adopted a militarist foreign policy on a scale not seen since the end of the Cold War and even since the end of World War II. indeed, under the Bush-Cheney administration, the arms industry has become very profitable. Multibillion dollar contracts to sell planes and tanks to various countries in an increasingly lawless world are going full swing. Close to two-thirds of all arms exports in the world originate from North America.

Congress, for its part, is indebted to defense corporations that operate military plants in each congressman's district or senator's state, besides owing some gratitude to the lobbies that provide funds and media support in election times.

4. The "think tanks" establishment

The brain-trust and the sycophants behind the war-oriented economy form an interlocking network of Washington-based so-called 'think tanks' that are financed by the rich tax-exempt foundations which have billions of dollars of assets, such as, for example, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Foundation or the Coors Foundation, etc. Among the most influential and representative think tanks, whose mission is to orient American foreign policy, one finds the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, the Middle East Media Research Institute, the neoconservative Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, the Center for Security Policy, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and the Hudson Institute. Such think tanks serve a double purpose: they provide government officials with policy papers on various topics, usually on the very conservative side; and, they serve as incubators for government departments, supplying them with already trained personnel and providing employment for public officials who are out of office.

The same revolving door that exists between the military establishment and defense contractors is also observed to exist between the Washington-based think tanks and U.S. government departments.

5. The "propaganda" establishment

The pro-war economy propagandists are to be found in the fundamentally right-wing American media industry. This is because the selling of war-oriented policies requires the expertise that only a well-oiled propaganda machine can provide. The most potent propaganda tool is television. And there, Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Network is unbeatable. There is no American media outlet more openly devoted to the neocon ideology and more committed to supporting new American wars than Fox News. CNN or MSNBC may sometimes try to emulate it, but their professionalism prevents them from even coming close to Fox News in being biased toward war and in unabashedly promoting U.S. global domination. Fox's propaganda efforts are closely coordinated with other Murdoch-owned print media, such as the Weekly Standard and the New York Post. The Washington Times, which is controlled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, the neoconservative New York Sun, and other neocon publications such as the National Review, The New Republic, The American Spectator, the Wall Street Journal, complete the main pro-war propaganda infrastructure.

In conclusion, it is the conjunction of these five pro-war machines, i.e., the bloated military establishment, the large American arms industry, the Neocon pro-war administration with Congress being strongly under the influence of militarist lobbies, the pro-war think tanks network and the pro-war media propagandists that constitutes the framework of the military-industrial complex, of which President Dwight Eisenhower wisely feared the corrosive influence on American society, 45 years ago, in 1961.

Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and can be reached at rodrigue.tremblay@ He is the author of the book 'The New American Empire'. Visit his blog site at

Copyright © 1998-2006 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor