| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
“”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, the 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 it 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 as foreign policy).
The term was coined by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 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 because they do not always get their money's worth on weapons, especially the most technologically advanced kind, unless there is an ongoing all out war. Money spent on defense could have been devoted to other things, such as public education (e.g. providing more funding for public schools serving poor neighborhoods or making public colleges tuition-free for all citizens), public infrastructure (e.g. investing in urban mass transits and high-speed trains), and 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 nation can 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."
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
- Transcript of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address (1961), Our Documents.gov.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower.The Chance for Peace, April 16, 1953
- That was Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State to Bill Clinton. 
- 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.
- Augustine’s Law Revisited