The Military‐​Industrial Complex at 50: Assessing the Meaning and Impact of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address

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Date and Time
January 13, 2011 10 AM - 1:30 PM EST
Auditorium/1st floor/Wintergarden

On January 17, 1961, President Dwight David Eisenhower delivered one of the most famous speeches of his storied career. In a televised farewell address to the American people, Eisenhower warned of the burdens imposed by a large, and seemingly permanent, military establishment, something that the nation had managed to avoid for most of its history. He charged his countrymen to be on guard against a “military‐​industrial complex” acquiring “unwarranted influence” in the halls of power.

Eisenhower called on “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” to balance the need for effective defense against the nation’s “peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” For decades, policy analysts have suggested ways to restrain the military‐​industrial complex, and to limit its effect on civil–military relations, the economy, and our political system.

By any objective measure, efforts to control the expansion of the military‐​industrial complex have failed. In inflation‐​adjusted terms, Americans will spend more than twice as much on national security in 2011 than they did during Eisenhower’s final year in office – without a large, nuclear‐​armed adversary to justify the cost. These spending patterns persist in large measure because of the influence of interested parties who derive enormous benefits from the maintenance of a permanent arms industry.

Please join us as two distinguished panels discuss the meaning and impact of Eisenhower’s farewell address.

Introductory Remarks: Susan Eisenhower, Chairman Emeritus, The Eisenhower Institute.

Panel I: The Wars Within: Thoughts on the State of Civil–Military Relations in 2011
Some of the most acrimonious debates within the Eisenhower administration pitted the president against his former colleagues in the uniformed services. Eisenhower’s attempts to adapt military force structure to a new national security strategy became highly politicized, and ultimately failed. Eisenhower was especially worried that future presidents, lacking his military credentials and deep knowledge of national security matters, would be even less willing and able to confront the military. Was he right? Can a commander‐​in‐​chief lacking military experience prevail over uniformed officers who are national figures in their own right? Four former military officers will discuss the complex interplay between civilian leaders and Pentagon brass throughout the last five decades, and offer suggestions for improving civil–military relations.

Andrew Bacevich, Professor of International Relations and History, Boston University
Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., Maj. Gen., USAF (Ret.), Visiting Professor and Associate Director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, Duke University School of Law
Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Lawrence Wilkerson, Visiting Harriman Professor of Government and Public Policy, College of William and Mary

Moderated by Christopher Preble, Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute

Panel II: Restraining the Military‐​Industrial Complex
Eisenhower noted that the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry [was] new in the American experience.” Though he believed that such an establishment was necessary at a time when the United States was confronting an ambitious nuclear‐​armed adversary, he nonetheless worried about its long‐​term effects on the nation’s economy and politics. Since then, however, much of the Pentagon’s budget has served as a thinly veiled jobs program that has created powerful, entrenched political constituencies who oppose reductions in military spending even in peacetime. Given the political and economic realities, what are the prospects for restraining military spending and reorienting the nation’s force structure?

Eugene Gholz, Associate Professor and Distinguished Scholar at the Robert Strauss Center on International Security and Law, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin
John C. Hulsman, Senior Research Fellow, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies
Richard K. Betts, Director, Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University
Christopher Preble, Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute

Moderated by Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute