During the early days of the Cold War, the United States had a public and private weapons sector that consumed resources equivalent to 3-4% of gross domestic product. President Eisenhower referred to the industry and its supporters in government as the “military-industrial complex,” hinting that they might exercise undue influence over federal priorities. Perhaps he was right. However, today the military-industrial complex consumes barely 1% of GDP; its role in the economic and political life of the nation has shrunk correspondingly. The fiscal 2017 budget agreement that Congress reached last week provided $197 billion for development and procurement of military equipment, which is only a third of the $593 billion defense budget. The defense budget in turn represents only 14% of all federal spending, and 3% of GDP. Thus it appears the industrial colossus that Eisenhower labeled the “military-industrial complex” has largely disappeared, an artifact of an era now passed into history. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
Loren B. Thompson is Senior Adviser of GPI , Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute and Chief Executive Officer of Source Associates, a for-profit consultancy. Prior to holding his present positions, he was Deputy Director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and taught graduate-level courses in strategy, technology and media affairs at Georgetown. He has also taught at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Thompson holds doctoral and masters degrees in government from Georgetown University and a bachelor of science degree in political science from Northeastern University.
The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy of GPI.