The Military Industrial Complex

by Raúl Romero*

On January 17, 1961 upon concluding his term as President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a speech about which much has been written since. On that occasion, the outgoing president reported on the power that the military-industrial complex had acquired: In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of undue influences, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.  Circumstances do and will exist that will make it possible for placed powers to arise in undue places, with disastrous effects. 

By the military industrial complex, Eisenhower referred to the link to the military system, the armaments industry and the government, a complex that involved the labors of more than 3.5 million people, as well as a multi-million budget that represented more than the net income of all of the companies of the United States in those years. The military-industrial complex,  built under the argument of national defense and world peace, began taking shape after the Second World War.  

The influence of this powerful alliance between industries, militaries and rulers, Eisenhower signaled, was total: economic, spiritual and “palpable in every city, in every state congress, in every department of the federal government.” In addition, the military-industrial complex also involve the reproduction of capital, development of military technology and the U.S. imperialist expansion. 

Although the alliances between industry, rulers and militaries date back a long time and have different approaches, according to the conditions and characteristics of each country, the military-industrial complex classification helped to understand some of the dynamics of militarism and militarization, and also facilitated the understanding of the consolidation and expansion of the power elite in the U.S. 

Five years before Eisenhower’s speech, Charles Wright Mills analyzed in his book, The Power Elite (1956) the changes in the U.S. elite and concluded that for its time, it was composed primarily of an alliance between warlords, top corporate bosses, and the political directorate. The warlords, explains Mills, got ahead by filling political vacancies, gained and were given more and more power to make decisions of the most serious consequences, or to influence them. Mills also warned about the role of publicity and technology in the complex, the reason for which some specialists prefer to use the term military-industrial-media and technology complex. 

More than half a century has passed since the warnings issued by Mills and Eisenhower. Their prognosis came true: the military-corporate complex is in force today and with a decisive weight in the internal and external politics of the United States. It matters not whether the government is controlled by Democrats or Republicans, the military elite remain in power, making many of the decisions or even making up wars to guarantee the reproduction of capital. But their survival has also implied their adaptation. Weapons and the enemies have changed, and for that today the military industrial complex builds technologies of surveillance, control and destruction while manufacturing a narrative of new threats, such as terrorism, organized crime and migrants.

Today as in Mexico the Army wins more and more influence in every sphere, be it in the political, economic and even in the ideological, it is worth recuperating the reflexions with respect to the category of the military-business complex to try to understand the phenomenon.

First of all, we must look at the renewed alliance between government, military and industrialists in 2006 and then reoriented in 2018 toward the extractive sector, of infrastructure and energy, whether it be in the construction of the Santa Lucía airport, of the Mayan Train or of the Interoceanic Corridor, to mention a few. Furthermore, defining these projects and works as national security reveals the importance of this alliance in the country’s current project. It is also necessary to observe if this alliance does or does not have to do with the interests of the U.S. military industrial complex, or if it has its own interests.

On the ideological plane, it is necessary to pay attention to measures ranging  from the return of obligatory service and the military passbook, to the broad publicity strategy that places the Army as a repository of patriotic values and the defense of the nation. 

Likewise, two possible scenarios should be noted, both of which are counterproductive for society: the possibility that this alliance is merely the germ of a new elite, or the possibility that the old elite reclaims the State apparatus, a scenario in which an Army with that power would mean an even greater threat to the progressive, democratic and revolutionary forces. 

When the military are predominant members of the power elite, Mills reflected, what they seek is  expansion. Hopefully we still have time to shut them down. 

* Sociologist

This article was published in La Jornada on December 12, 2021. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2021/12/12/opinion/014a1pol English interpretation by Schools for Chiapas.