Eisenhower and the Military-industrial Complex

“…. we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sort or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”* Eisenhower 1961

“…it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.” Trump 2019

President Dwight D Eisenhower, 1953-61, was America’s most senior general during the Second World War. In his valedictory speech he warned the American public against the growing power of the defence industry. Eisenhower knew the military-industrial complex saw war as a business opportunity. Equally perniciously, they promoted fear to justify ever larger Federal defence budgets. The military-industrial complex made the world less safe.

Sixty years after Eisenhower’s speech, America has been involved in thirty-six conflicts. They ranged from Vietnam and Afghanistan to the 1983 invasion of Grenada. America feels ‘entitled’ to use overwhelming military power to impose its wishes across the world. This includes regime change: an imperialist policy. Surrogates were placed in power to implement America’s wishes.

Externally imposed regime change is provocative, guaranteeing further conflict. Central America is a case in point. US covert action and funding has destabilised governments. The Mafia controlled Batista regime of Cuba is notorious. When Fidel Castro successfully ousted him, the USA inflicted Cold War. This escalated into a US sponsored invasion, which failed utterly. America’s sanctions thrust Cuba into the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence in the 1960s. This in its turn provoked the Cuban Missile Crisis, which Kennedy averted with very adroit diplomacy.

Eisenhower implied that the military-industrial complex initiated wars. American involvement in Vietnam began in 1955** following France’s defeat. The USA drifted into full-scale war with 55,000 dead over the next 19 years. The Vietnam war evolved from innocuous beginnings, into a vicious conflict and numerous war crimes. The military-industrial complex provided a context where escalation was seen as a solution to complex diplomatic issues. Clausewitz discussed the folly of this in his book On War (see Addendum One).

The military-industrial complex replaced diplomacy with war. Their capture of the defence budget is reflected in the amount spent. The USA hasn’t been invaded and isn’t going to be (Addendum Two) so the Defence budget is an intervention budget. Incidents of internal terrorism are spectacular pin pricks but are only examples of asymmetric warfare. The 9/11 attack wasn’t warfare as understood by the Defence department. It was achieved by unarmed men. Spending billions on drones is irrelevant if low tech solutions, paying for training and decent management, is needed. There isn’t much profit in low tech solutions which remain unloved.

The Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden revelations should have demonstrated the capture of the US government’s foreign and domestic policy by the military-industrial complex. However, senior generals hold principal government roles*** and bring their mind set with them. The military is a default option guaranteeing volatility and more threats to US security. The cycle continues. Eisenhower’s 1961 warning was prescient. Trump has inherited its logic, which is endless wars.

Addendum One: War is a mere continuation of policy by other means: Clausewitz

“We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses. That the tendencies and views of policy shall not be incompatible with these means, the Art of War in general and the Commander in each particular case may demand, and this claim is truly not a trifling one. But however powerfully this may react on political views in particular cases, still it must always be regarded as only a modification of them; for the political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”

Addendum Two: Regime change

A White House statement followed on November 25 2019 which characterised Nicaragua as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” — thus prolonging for an additional year an executive order signed by Trump in 2019 declaring a “state of emergency” in Nicaragua.



* https://www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/research/online-documents/farewell-address#:~:text=Eisenhower%27s%20Farewell%20Address%2C%20famed%20for%20its%20reference%20to,17%2C%201961.%20Audio%20recording%20of%20the%20Farewell%20Address See also Trump on ‘endless wars’, which reflect the actuality of military-industrial complex. https://www.politico.eu/article/donald-trump-slams-ridiculous-endless-wars-as-he-defends-dramatic-shift-in-syria-policy-turkey-erdogan-kurds-isis/

** During the Eisenhower presidency

*** General John Kelly was Trump’s Chief of Staff 2017-9 for example


For the US defence budget see https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/10/30/the-defense-budgets-brewing-storm/ See also https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/military-spending-defense-budget for a discussion of the relative size of the defence budget to GDP

For regime change see https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-cias-dirty-war-in-nicaragua/5629008

For USA support of business in Chile see https://nacla.org/article/itt-chile

For Chelsea Manning see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11874276 and for Edward Snowden see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11874276

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1 Response to Eisenhower and the Military-industrial Complex

  1. Pingback: The British Army’s Global Delusions | Odeboyz's Blog

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