The “military-industrial complex,” or MIC, is a term which many Americans became familiar with in a speech by President Eisenhower, made in 1961 as he was leaving office. In the speech, Eisenhower warned citizens that the close connection between the armed forces and the companies which supply them could be dangerous for society. He felt strongly that the increased American military spending in the 1950s was not good for the country as a whole, and that it was triggered by the military-industrial complex, which promoted it.
Eisenhower actually left out a third leg of the so-called “iron triangle.” The military-industrial complex is about more than just the link between the armed forces and defense contractors. It also includes the government, in the form of a Congress which votes on spending bills, and an executive branch which promotes policy decisions. The power of the military-industrial complex is considerable, and the iron triangle has a great deal of influence over American society. Many people feel that the influence of the military-industrial complex is excessive, and that it may run contrary to the public good.
The link between the military and industry is an ancient one. Warfare has always led to technological advances, as nations develop new ways of waging war against each other. Some people suspect that the formula goes the other way as well, with companies which develop defense equipment promoting conflict, so that their goods will have a market. The companies which manufacture products for the armed forces rely on a large military which requires their equipment, and the military relies on those companies to dependably supply goods and services.
The government plays a crucial role in the military-industrial complex. For example, some members of the legislature have historically been accused of catering to defense interests, by helping companies land large contracts, turning a blind eye to regulations violations, and promoting policies which ensure that the defense contractors will continue to find work. This is a clear conflict between the interests of private industry, national security, and political policy.
Concern about the military-industrial complex was widespread during the Vietnam war, in which large amounts of American money and lives were expended. Some critics felt that the war was fed by the military-industrial complex, which clearly had a financial interest in continued hostilities. Concerns about the iron triangle faded into the 1980s, with a much smaller fringe of society expressing doubts about how government spending was allocated. The inherent problems associated with the military-industrial complex have not vanished, even if public awareness has waned.