World Policy

World Policy Journal
Volume XVIII, No 1, Spring 2001


Eisenhower's Warning: The Military-Industrial Complex Forty Years Later
By William D. Hartung


Dwight Eisenhower's presidency is probably better remembered less for what he did than for what he said while heading for the exit. In a nationally televised address on January 17, 1961, only four days before John F. Kennedy's inaugural, Eisenhower warned of the dangers of "undue influence" exerted by the "military-industrial complex." He cautioned that maintaining a large, permanent military establishment was "new in the American experience," and suggested that an "engaged citizenry" offered the only effective defense against the "misplaced power" of the military-industrial lobby.

Press accounts at the time and the remembrances of those on the scene suggest that Eisenhower's surprising attack on the military lobby initially had only a modest ripple effect. The historian Douglas Brinkley points out that it was only years later, as the Vietnam War loomed large in the national consciousness, that activists in the antiwar movement seized on Eisenhower's remarks to support their own critiques of the national security state. 1

Forty years on, it is surely fitting to look afresh at Eisenhower's warning, and to appraise the present and future of the military-industrial complex. At first glance, Dwight David Eisenhower seemed an unlikely candidate to launch a blistering critique of the military-industrial complex (a phrase coined by Eisenhower's speechwriters Ralph Williams and Malcolm Moos). As a four-star general and a hero of the Allied assault against Hitler, he certainly believed in maintaining a strong military. And although Eisenhower tried to hold the line on military spending, his administration still maintained an annual military budget ranging from $42 billion to $49 billion-three to four times higher than defense spending during the brief postwar demobilization. As the historian Blanche Wiesen Cook has remarked, it is not as if Ike was a raving peacenik: his doctrine of massive nuclear retaliation increased the risk of nuclear war, and his administration's support for coups d'etat that helped install repressive regimes in Iran and Guatemala undermined the stability of the Persian Gulf and Central America, even as they tarnished America's reputation as a force for democracy. 2

Yet in retrospect, it was precisely Eisenhower's martial posture that gave authority to his warning about the growing influence of the military-industrial establishment. As the late Washington columnist Lars Erik-Nelson noted in his last published essay, Eisenhower's speech was not just a rhetorical throwaway meant to steal the thunder of the incoming Kennedy administration: it was deeply felt, grounded in his own bitter experiences. 3 In the 1956 elections, conservative Democrats, egged on by officials in the air force, accused Eisenhower of permitting a "bomber gap" by refusing to fund their new B-70 bomber. And in 1960, Richard Nixon, who served eight years as Eisenhower's vice president, was excoriated by his Democratic rival John F. Kennedy for allowing a supposedly dangerous "missile gap" to develop between U.S. and Soviet forces. The bomber gap proved a figment of the fevered imaginations of the weapons boosters, while the missile gap was real enough-though it was a gap that dramatically favored the United States, not the Soviet Union, as hard-line Democrats like Kennedy and Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson had maintained.

If an Eisenhower could not rein in the military lobby, small wonder that Bill Clinton, perceived as a draft-evading child of the 1960s, let the Joint Chiefs have their way. Clinton bequeathed his Republican successor a Pentagon budget not only higher in constant, 2001 dollars than it was when Eisenhower sounded his alarm, but also higher than the budget that Donald Rumsfeld presided over during his first stint as secretary of defense in the mid-1970s. The United States has no superpower adversary, as it did then, yet we spend more on our military forces than eight runner-up nations combined. As for the so-called rogue states, or "states of concern" as former secretary of state Madeleine Albright called them, the United States now spends 22 times as much as Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea, and Cuba combined. And the United States and its closest allies, including the NATO member-states, Japan, and South Korea, currently account for nearly two-thirds of global military spending, a much greater proportion than obtained during the Reagan buildup of the 1980s, when the United States and these same allies accounted for just over half of total expenditures. 4

Given these realities, Clinton's Pentagon budget was as much testimony to the enduring power of the military-industrial complex as it was to the military capabilities of potential adversaries. It is too early to tell how President Bush's military priorities will fare in the maelstrom of Beltway politics. Like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush may surprise us by being more skilled in the arts of political communication and less rigid in the implementation of major policy initiatives than seemed possible at first glance. Or, like William Jefferson Clinton, he may permit his national security policies to be distorted by pressures brought to bear by the military-industrial lobby. Informed speculation needs to begin with a review of what candidate Bush said during campaign 2000.

Ambitious Goals

George W. Bush's only comprehensive defense policy speech, delivered at the Citadel on September 23, 1999, serves as a touchstone for his administration's early moves. He set three ambitious goals: 1) to "renew the bond of trust between the American President and the American military"; 2) to "defend the American people against missiles and terror"; and 3) to "begin creating the military of the next century."

Bush proposed restoring trust by increasing military pay and benefits and by clarifying the mission of U.S. forces to "deter. . . and win wars," not to undertake "vague, aimless, and endless deployments." The latter phrase signaled the new administration's reluctance to send U.S. forces on open-ended peace-keeping missions like the Clinton administration's deployments in Bosnia and Kosovo. Candidate Bush gave few specifics on his second promise but indicated that as president he would make substantial new investments in anti-terrorism efforts and "deploy anti-ballistic missile defenses, both theater and national," at the earliest possible date. And he promised "an immediate, comprehensive review of our military" designed to "challenge the status quo and to envision a new architecture of American defense for decades to come." Beyond marginal improvements, he urged the replacement of existing programs "with new technologies and strategies" aimed at creating forces that would be "agile, lethal, readily deployable and require a minimum of logistical support."

To achieve this leaner, meaner, more mobile military, Bush suggested it might be necessary to "skip a generation of technology" in certain systems. These were fighting words for the military, the arms industry, and their allies in Congress. Skipping a generation implies canceling one or more big-ticket systems, such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter, the Boeing/Textron V-22 Osprey (half airplane, half helicopter), or the United Defense Crusader artillery system. That would mean sacrificing jobs and contracts now to husband resources for novel future systems-a perfectly reasonable management strategy, and arguably the only way to make room in the budget for Bush's ambitious missile defense system, plus tens of billions in research and development money for the next generation of weaponry. But it is also an extremely difficult feat in the face of opposition from the pampered "iron triangle": the military, the arms industry, and Congress.

The alternative to killing the Pentagon's sacred cows would be to seek a massive increase in military spending-in the range of $50 billion to $100 billion annually-that would cover costs of pork-barrel schemes already in the budget and simultaneously provide funding for missile defenses and new-wave weaponry. 5 An increase on that scale, however, would conflict with Bush's commitment to a multi-year, $1.6 billion tax cut. For the moment at least, the Bush team has decided against such a defense-funding boost until it has more clearly defined its priorities.

In sum, Bush's military vision portends a substantial increase in missile defenses, new investments in smart maneuverable weapons and weapons platforms, and a major increase in military pay and benefits. These large expenditures would be offset by a reduction in U.S. overseas deployments and the cancellation of one or more costly Cold War weapons programs. Were Bush to "skip a generation" of big-ticket conventional weapons, he might be able to keep his campaign promises without breaking the bank. But if he gives in to pressure from Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, Lockheed Martin, and the Joint Chiefs, he would face a stark choice: either sacrifice his high-tech reform agenda or seek a politically controversial boost in the Pentagon budget. The guerrilla war between the administration and the military-industrial complex over what kind of buildup America should pursue is already under way, and the outcome will depend on whether the president can win key battles over spending against a Republican-controlled Congress.

Criticizing Congress

In the penultimate draft of his final address, President Eisenhower warned of the "growing influence of the military-industrial-congressional complex" but decided to strike the word "congressional" because he thought it was "not fitting. . . for a President to criticize Congress." 6 George W. Bush may not have the luxury of being so gracious. If he wants to win approval for his military build-up - rather than one that conforms to Trent Lott's wishes, or John Warner's, or Joe Lieberman's-he will have to play hardball.

As Sen. John McCain noted during Donald Rumsfeld's confirmation hearings, congressional "add-ons"-weapons systems and construction projects stuck into the budget even though the Pentagon has not requested them-have increased geometrically in the past two decades. When Rumsfeld held office under President Gerald Ford, Congress added $200-300 million a year in home-state "pork" to the defense budget. By the 1990s, McCain asserted, the add-ons had snowballed to some $7 billion annually. 7

As an example, McCain spotlighted the Lockheed Martin C-130 transport plane, produced in Marietta, Georgia, and shepherded through Congress by heavy hitters from the South-including former Senate Armed Services Committee member Sam Nunn and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. From 1978 to 1998 (according to a report by the General Accounting Office), the air force requested a total of five C-130s, but Congress voted funds for 256 of the aircraft, surely a record in pork-barrel politics. 8 McCain complained there were so many excess C-130s that we could afford to park one in "every schoolyard in America." Without missing a beat, or blushing, the next speaker at the same hearing, Democratic senator Max Cleland of Georgia, said he felt compelled to suggest that the excess C-130s were justified since America needed the capability to deploy our schoolyards anywhere in the world on short notice.

Senator Cleland isn't the only lawmaker who thinks bringing home the bacon is a suitable subject for political humor. When a former Georgia senator, Mack Mattingly, was running to regain his former seat in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Trent Lott joined him for a day of campaigning. The GOP Majority Leader said that if Georgia voters picked "good old Mack," he would keep the lucrative F-22 fighter project at Lockheed's Martin Marietta plant, but if they elected a Democrat, production might move to Lott's Mississippi. Given Lott's proclivity for shoveling defense dollars to his own state for everything from a $1.5 billion Marine helicopter carrier to a space-based laser project, it took a moment for Georgians to realize this was a joke. The irony of Lott's remark was heightened by the fact that Mattingly had just completed a stint as paid lobbyist for Lockheed Martin. 9

In fall 1998, when Representatives Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, and Jack Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, put procurement funds for the F-22 on hold, on grounds of cost and performance, (at $200 million per plane, it is the most expensive fighter ever built), Lockheed Martin hired Mattingly to spearhead its successful lobbying campaign to rescue the project. Other legislators, including Democrat Buddy Darden, who used to represent the Georgia district where the C-130 is built, and former Mississippi Republican representative Sonny Montgomery, who chaired the committee that added C-130s to the Pentagon budget for distribution to National Guard units, have also worked as lobbyists for Lockheed Martin since leaving Congress.

A list of constituencies for redundant weapons systems would include the Litton Ingalls military shipyard in Trent Lott's home town of Pascagoula, Mississippi; the Newport News shipyard, launcher of submarines and aircraft carriers, in the home state of Virginia's John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; the McDonnell Douglas division of Boeing in St. Louis, maker of the F-18E and other combat planes favored by House Minority Leader Dick Gephart; and the Boeing plant in suburban Philadelphia, maker of the troubled V-22 Osprey, whose booster is Republican representative Curt Weldon. Connecticut's Democratic senators, Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman, have gone to bat for everything from General Dynamics' Electric Boat facility in Groton to the United Technologies/Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters that are part of the $1.3 billion U.S. military aid package for Colombia. In Washington State, Democratic representative Norm Dicks has campaigned doggedly to revive Boeing's B-2 bomber program. Add to this the assiduous labors of House Majority Whip Tom "The Hammer" DeLay and Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and others in the Texas delegation on behalf of Lockheed Martin's and Bell Textron's fighter plane and helicopter factories in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

All concerned were generously rewarded with campaign contributions. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and TRW together provided more than $11 million in soft money contributions during the year 2000 election cycle, and the giving continued through election day. At the GOP convention, Lockheed Martin kicked in $60,000 for the "Lott Hop," a dance fundraiser honoring Trent Lott, including performances by Bobby Vee and the Four Tops. TRW, which is under investigation for possible fraud in the national missile defense program, sponsored a luncheon at the Philadelphia Union League Club in honor of Sen. John Warner and Virginia representative Tom Davis, the chief fundraiser for House Republicans.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, Raytheon pitched in with a fundraising party at the Santa Monica pier for "Blue Dog" Democrats, a conservative caucus whose members tend to be in favor of missile defense. Ironically, California Democrat Loretta Sanchez, herself a "Blue Dog," had been criticized by the Gore-Lieberman campaign for planning a fundraiser of her own in Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion. Sanchez moved the fundraiser to avoid losing her speaking slot at the Democratic Convention. Apparently, associating with Hugh Hefner was viewed as too Clintonesque, but raking in contributions from weapons manufacturers was acceptable. 10

Friendly Fire

Besides defending their version of the military buildup from "friendly fire" on Capitol Hill, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld will have to do battle with the Joint Chiefs. The Joint Chiefs and their allies on the Hill were caught by surprise in early February when the White House indicated that there would be no big supplemental spending bill in the first part of 2001, and the projected Clinton/Gore budget of $310 billion would have to suffice for now. And Bush and Rumsfeld's decision to tap Andrew Marshall, an unconventional thinker who runs the Pentagon's Office of Net Military Assessment and has criticized Cold War weapons platforms ranging from aircraft carrier battle groups to the F-22 fighter, to oversee the defense policy review, suggests they may be willing to dispense with some of the old weapons in the pipeline.

The shrill complaints by conservatives in both parties that Bush was somehow disavowing his campaign pledge to build up the U.S. military masked their true concerns. What this means, however, is that if Bush and Rumsfeld are to achieve the military buildup they have in mind, which will emphasize an expansive missile defense, a new generation of more "usable" low-yield nuclear weapons, and a new generation of more maneuverable weapons platforms equipped with the latest sensor and communications technologies, they will have to do battle with key players within the military-industrial complex.

The Bush-Rumsfeld agenda, which amounts to a unilateralist drive for U.S. preeminence based on an ambitious missile defense scheme and a re-legitimation of the role of nuclear weapons as an instrument not only of deterrence, but of warfare, ought to be opposed. 11 The good news for those who would do so is that there is no single agenda within the defense establishment. There are competing agendas-on Capitol Hill, among the services, and in the White House. As these power centers fight it out to determine the outlines of U.S. military spending, there should be room for input from the forgotten actors in this drama, the "alert and knowledgeable citizenry" that Eisenhower saw as our best hope for making sure that the military establishment serves the public interest, not the economic interest of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, or the parochial interests of powerful members of Congress.



Note 1: Brinkley's remarks were made at a forum, "The Military-Industrial Complex Revisited: Is Eisenhower's Warning Still Relevant?" co-sponsored by the World Policy Institute, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, and The Nation Institute, held at New School University in New York City, January 17, 2001. Back.

Note 2: Figures from U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller), National Defense Budget Estimate for FY2000 (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, March 1999), table 7-1, p. 200; Blanche Wiesen Cook, Declassified Eisenhower: A Divided Legacy (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981). Back.

Note 3: Lars Erik-Nelson, "Military-Industrial Man," New York Review of Books, December 21, 2000. Back.

Note 4: On Clinton and the Pentagon, see William D. Hartung, "Ready for What? The New Politics of Pentagon Spending," World Policy Journal, vol. 16 (spring 1999), pp. 19-24. On global military spending, see International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2000/2001 (London: IISS/Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 297-302. Back.

Note 5: Jim Mann, "Pentagon: A Game of Priorities," Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2001. Back.

Note 6: Lars Erik-Nelson, "Military-Industrial Man." Back.

Note 7: Jim Mann, "Pentagon." Back.

Note 8: Walter Pincus, "Cargo Plane with Strings Attached: Congress Funds and Stations C-130s Unwanted by Pentagon," Washington Post, July 23, 1998. Back.

Note 9: John Mintz, "After House Setback, Lockheed Scrambles to Save F-22," Washington Post, September 12, 1999. Back.

Note 10: On corporate donations and lobbying efforts during Campaign 2000, see William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca, The Military Industrial Complex Revisited: How Weapons Makers Are Shaping U.S. Foreign and Military Policies, a joint report of Foreign Policy in Focus and the World Policy Institute, forthcoming. Back.

Note 11: On the dangers of the emerging Bush administration's policy, see William D. Hartung, "The Bush Nuclear Doctrine: From MAD to NUTS," a Foreign Policy in Focus Commentary, December 2000, at Back.