The military industrial complex is comprised of the arms industry and defense contractors, their supporting research establishment, lobbyists and assets. In recent years the military industrial complex of many countries has expanded rapidly, particularly in the case of the USA whose military-industrial complex is much more immense and vast than that of any other country. The military industrial establishment of any leading country is capable of immense destruction, yet considered essential nationally as a means of defense against any other aggressive nation or hostile force.
However in recent times a debate has grown regarding whether the military industrial complex merely provides the means of fighting wars, or whether this in some contexts can by itself even become a cause of forever continuing wars. This question has been most frequently asked in the context of the military industrial complex of the USA, possibly because this is the biggest military power (with a military and defense budget which is higher than that of the next 9 countries—including China and Russia– combined) with by far the biggest military-industrial complex, but there is no reason why at a lesser level such a question should not be raised in the context of some other countries as well.
More specifically important questions have been raised in the context of the USA that as expenditure of several hundred billions of dollars is involved annually and as legally earned profits as well as illegal earnings and political contributions in this sector can be very high, has a stage been reached in which to generate huge orders and budget allocations, the military industrial complex lobbies to influence political decisions, discourse and propaganda in such a way as to keep fanning the flames of forever wars and aggression? In other words, it is not just that wars lead to more business and profits for the military industrial complex, but rather that the military-industrial complex itself sets in motion forces which will result in more wars taking place! If true, this would be a very serious issue indeed and so we must examine carefully the likelihood of this being true.
What we know already is that in a single country the USA something close to 400 billion dollars is being being given out to defense and military contractors in a year. To give an idea of the amount involved, it is ten times the estimate given by the World Food Program regarding the annual funds needed ($ 40 billion) to end hunger in the entire world within a few years. This is 4 times the $100 billion annual fund which the richest countries of the world including the USA have been committed for years to collect for the Global South to check climate change but have not contributed yet.
Within these military contractors, there has been an increasing concentration of resources so that just five of the biggest contractors get almost 150 billion dollars in a year. These big five include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
This provides enough profits for the defense contractors to emerge as one of the biggest funders for election campaigns, contributing hugely to politicians and candidates of both the dominating political parties so as to help create a consensus on the need for very heavy defense spending. In particular they make more contributions to those involved in defense decisions. However heavy defense spending has to be justified and this is most easily justified in situations of war, proxy war, war-scare and war-mongering.
In addition they contribute heavily to most foreign policy and defense policy think tanks where academics and experts regularly write papers and documents arguing in favor of more aggressive policies and military interventions. These papers are regularly quoted by the biggest and most prestigious newspapers and magazines, without informing that these were funded by weapons suppliers and military contractors, while in addition defense contractors also maintain more direct contacts with newspapers, TV and Hollywood, influencing public opinion in favor of more aggressive policies while also creating artificially high insecurities in the minds of most people from many imagined or exaggerated enemies.
In addition the military-industrial complex employs hundreds of highly paid full-time lobbyists who are known to be very influential among policy makers. Many of them have in fact in the past held senior positions in the government and more particularly in defense and foreign policy jobs in the government and hence know many important officials and understand well how the government system works. This also means that several government officials are softened towards the leading defense contractors, knowing that they can get lucrative jobs with them after leaving their government jobs.
At the same time many persons supported by the think tanks funded by defense contractors, or even those employed directly by defense contractors, regularly find jobs with the government, particularly in defense and foreign policy sectors, adding to the influence leading defense contractors have on government policy.
Another factor is that of illegal money and corruption. The Pentagon is notorious for not passing audits, failing time and again to account properly for most of its highly expensive assets spread over the entire world. In such a non-transparent system with layers of secrecy, it may be reasonable to expect that levels of corruption are higher than in other parts of the economy and governance.
Now once the capacity and motivation of the leading defense contractors to influence government policy is well established in legal, illegal and grey ways, the next question is –in which direction they are likely to influence government policy, particularly defense and foreign policy? Are they likely to lobby for peace, disarmament and conflict resolution? No, certainly not. Anecdotal evidence suggests that morale is low among the leaders of the military-industrial complex during those increasingly rare phases in the country when there is more talk of peace than of war. The military industrial complex is the only entity in the world which fears peace, not war.
Clearly the lobbying of the military industrial establishment, in the context of policy, is most likely to be for more aggressive foreign and defense policy and more military interventions leading to heavier need for weapons and other resources supplied by military contractors, leading also to heavier overall defense spending. The unfortunate huge power it has been allowed to acquire, ignoring the clear warnings of Eisenhower, Kennedy and King, are likely to be used more and more to push USA policy makers in the direction of war and conflict, thereby making the entire world more dangerous and unsafe. The greater the increasing resources and influence of the military industrial complex, the more the USA has been pushed towards forever wars, with one costly misadventure ending only to initiate an even more costly one. This has become a very big risk for world peace, and the peace movement should give a big priority to reducing the power and influence of the military-industrial complexes in the USA as well as in other countries.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071 and Protecting Earth for Children.