|How the sausage is made|
“”In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties and democratic processes.
|—President Dwight D. Eisenhower, coining the phrase.|
“”Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The military-industrial complex (MIC) refers to the interactions and interdependency between weapons manufacturers, government, and the public. In theory, these interactions provide a powerful incentive for arms manufacturers to produce expensive and possibly unnecessary weapons, who in turn sell them to the government, which then justifies the purchase of the weapons by going to war. These actions harm the public, both financially (taxpayers pay for the weapons and the wars) and morally (through casualties of war and the normalization of violence, hate, and prejudice as foreign policy).
United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower (a former army general), coined the term and used it in 1961 in his presidential farewell-address, wherein he sought to warn the U.S. of its dangers. This is one of the reasons why most Republicans rarely acknowledge that he held the office for eight years.
Taxpayers obviously get the raw end of the military-industrial complex system because they do not always get their money's worth on weapons, especially on the most technologically-advanced kind, unless there is an ongoing all-out war. Money spent on defense could go to other things, such as to public education (e.g. providing more funding for public schools serving poor neighborhoods or making public colleges tuition-free for all citizens), to public infrastructure (e.g. investing in urban mass-transits and high-speed trains), and to public healthcare (universal healthcare). One could further argue that since the probability of success of a conventional military invasion of the United States is abysmally low, the country could afford to (gradually) cut its military budget without creating security gaps. In economic terms, one says that the opportunity costs associated with feeding the military-industrial complex are high. Defense contractors have great incentive to bribe officials, which happens constantly. Once new "toys" are produced, there is an incentive to use them, rightly or wrongly. This happens over and over again until the MIC, as Ike said himself, has enough power to "[endanger] our liberties or democratic processes".
The military-industrial complex in Sweden produces and deploys and sells weapons, yet Sweden last fought a shooting war in 1814.
The military-industrial complex in the Soviet Union produced and deployed and sold weapons, then contributed to bankrupting and collapsing the USSR in December 1991.
The results of the military-industrial complex systems of (say) China, France and Israel remain to be determined.
In 1983, Norman Ralph Augustine, a former Lockheed Martin CEO and former Under Secretary of the US Army, coined 52 ultra-snarky aphorisms (known as Augustine's laws) to explain the tendencies of aerospace corporations. Most relevant here is Law 16, which acts like an inverse Moore's Law:
“”In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one tactical aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.
To be fair, modern warfare relies heavily on high-tech weaponry so the observation above is hardly a surprise. Inflation is another factor. In addition, one of the side-effects of high-tech warfare is the trickling down of military technologies for civilian use. Great examples include the electronic computer and the jet engine. Then there is the beauty of peace through strength. Thus, one should be aware of the military-industrial complex and seek to keep it under control rather to dismantle it.
- Eisenhower's full farewell address on YouTube.
- America’s staggering defense budget, in charts, Washington Post
- International relations scholars think that the U.S. spends too much on defense (Yes, even the realpolitik types.)
- Tax Dollars at War A video explaining where the US defense budget ends up.
- Why We Fight A documentary on the military-industrial complex.
- How Wartime Washington Lives in Luxury
- That was Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State to Bill Clinton. 
- Transcript of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address (1961), Our Documents.gov.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower.The Chance for Peace, April 16, 1953
- See the Wikipedia article on Eisenhower's farewell address.
- F-35 jet a waste of taxpayers' dollars, say McCain, Gates, Christian Science Monitor. February 17, 2011.
- A Contractor's Purchase on Power, The Washington Post. March 20, 2006.
- Defense contractor employee pleads guilty to bribery, Government Executive. September 3, 2010.
- Blank, Stephen J. (September 1991). Operational and Strategic Lessons of the War in Afghanistan, 1979-90. Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. p. 21. Retrieved 29 September 2020. "These wars [...] are seen to drain the USSR of international and domestic resources and strengthen those that oppose Perestroika's institutional, democratizing reforms, as well as its effort to curb the military-industrial complex's limitless appetite for state revenues and resources. [...] By invading Afghanistan, the Brezhnev regime reached the climax of its ideologically-based policy [...]. Not only was this a bankrupt policy, it highlighted the Soviet Union's international standing, military doctrine, strategy, operational art, and tactics. [...] And its economic and human costs to the USSR and Afghanistan are still incalculable. Bankruptcy is not too harsh a term to ascribe to a policy whose costs cannot be reckoned 11 years after the event."
- Augustine’s Law Revisited