The term military-industrial complex usually refers to the combination of the U.S. armed forces, arms industry and associated political and commercial interests, which grew rapidly in scale and influence in the wake of World War II, although it can also be used to describe any such relationship of industry and military. It is sometimes used to refer to the iron triangle which is argued to exist between weapons makers/military contractors, The Pentagon and the United States Congress.
The penultimate draft of the address in which Republican President of the United States (and former General of the Army) Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the term referred to the military-industrial-congressional complex, but it is said that Eisenhower chose to strike the word congressional in order to avoid offending members of legislative branch of the federal government.
The term was first used publicly in President Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the Nation on January 17, 1961:
- A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction...
- This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
- 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.
- We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Vietnam War-era activists referred frequently to the concept. In the late 1990s James Kurth asserted that "[b]y the mid-1980s . . . the term had largely fallen out of public discussion," and opined that "[w]hatever the power of arguments about the influence of the military-industrial complex on weapons procurement during the Cold War, they are much less relevant to the current era."
Contemporary students and critics of American militarism continue to refer to and employ the term, however. For example, historian Chalmers Johnson uses words from the second, third, and fourth paragraphs quoted above from Eisenhower's address as an epigraph to Chapter Two ("The Roots of American Militarism") of a recent volume on this subject (The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic [New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004], p. 39).
The expression permanent war economy is a related concept that has also been used in association with this term.
- Eisenhower, Dwight D. Public Papers of the Presidents, 1035-40. 1960.
- ________. "Farewell Address." In The Annals of America. Vol. 18. 1961-1968: The Burdens of World Power, 1-5. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1968.
- ________. President Eisenhower's Farewell Address , Wikisource.
- Hartung, William D. "Eisenhower's Warning: The Military-Industrial Complex Forty Years Later." World Policy Journal 18, no. 1 (Spring 2001).
- Kurth, James. "Military-Industrial Complex." In The Oxford Companion to American Military History, ed. John Whiteclay Chambers II, 440-42. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Nelson, Lars-Erik. "Military-Industrial Man." In New York Review of Books 47, no. 20 (Dec. 21, 2000): 6.