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“Iron Triangle” in Relation to “Military Industrial Complex” Research Paper

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Develop and test a significant hypothesis in relation to a topic directly related to the course. The project should involve substantial research.

I have already created a proposal so please follow my guidelines as it has already been approved.


As citizens in a fairly liberal democratic society, we are lead to believe that our political participation is very important in keeping our democracies alive. However, I truly believe that the democracy that we currently live in and the elections that we take part in are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, a simple facade. The true power of government and public policy lies not in the hands of the citizenry but in the hands of powerful special interest groups, media, and the corporate elite.

In this essay, I will discuss a number of topics to help shed some light on the topic at hand. The main idea will be based and focused around “THE IRON TRIANGLE” which relates to “MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX”. (special interest groups relating to the military).

One major example can be based around Gordon O’Connor former minister of defense for Canada hired by Prime Minister Harper. Gordon was a lobbyist for many defense industry companies before accepting the job from Harper. This would be a great conflict of interest – the ideas, beliefs, and opinions of the citizenry are not truly represented in government and government policies when they cast their ballot – people do not write and introduce bills to the government but special interest groups will make bills and have their legislative representative introduce that bill and have it passed.

In most cases – how the political elite have USED and CONTROLLED the media to support the Military-Industrial Complex and help them gain popular support – citizens having little or no say in foreign policies – the use of fear and propaganda to control the masses into believing they live in a free and democratic society If my hypothesis is correct and our government is really influenced by special interest groups, big business, and an infiltrated media, then are we truly democratic society? Is democracy just an idea that is used to control us, to keep us happy and tame?


It must be critically noted by consumers and the US citizenry in general how the media and the government agencies highlight the need for war and the need to address terrorism. In most probability, many already are aware of the stories beneath these news stories.

The term military-industrial complex often used in the case of the United States has been considered as the largest arms industry in the world as the US manhandles all other international forces, except for some such as the European Union or the fast-growing Peoples Republic of China. At the degree of dependence of the U.S. economy on its military and defense spending, the military-industrial complex is considered enormous.

While many pressing issues need to be addressed by the congress and federal states, the focus on warfare as well as fierce resistance of legislators to their defense cuts affecting their districts neither provided subtlety of its influence (Andreas, 2007).

Already, it has been reported that an economist estimated in 2002 that in Western Washington 166,000 jobs or some 15% of the workforce depended directly or indirectly on military installations alone and this excludes the defense industries. In Washington State alone, an estimated $7.06 billion arrived in U.S. Department of Defense payroll, pensions, and procurement contracts overall in the Fiscal Year 2001. This is in consideration that Washington State is seventh only among the fifty states. It was estimated that in the U.S. spending, defense acquisitions, and research amount to 1.2% of the GDP (Andreas, 2007).

This paper shall try to distinguish the terms, signify the relations within each other well as providing an insight into whether the government is really influenced by special interest groups, big business, and an infiltrated media, and if the US is truly a democratic society within this context.


Interest Groups

In order to fully understand the politics of governance, it is necessary to define interest groups, usually linked to political systems of which Duverger distinguished (quoted by Almond, 1958) as “[…] between single-party, two-party, and multi-party systems tend to become the fundamental mode of classifying contemporary regimes.” It is to be noted that while political parties, interest groups, and social movement organizations (SMOs) have a direct impact on public policy, Burstein and Linton (2002) strongly suggested that public opinion could be more forceful than political organizations; that political parties yield a greater impact than interest groups and SMOs; and activities of interest groups and SMOs account only when elected officials benefit from them.

All three are accepted to define public problems, propose solutions, aggregate citizen’s policy preferences, mobilize voters, make demands of elected officials, disseminate information to their supporters and the public, and provide for a coherent legislative action (Aldrich, 1995, Hansen, 1991, and Tilly, 1984).

Interest groups may also be called advocacy groups, lobby groups, pressure groups, and even special interest groups. They are usually an organized collective seeking to influence political decisions and policy-making, without necessarily seeking election to public office, and are considered components of a pluralist democracy (Burstein and Linton, 2002). There are several types of interest groups that include sectional, promotional, and fire brigade.

The sectional groups represent the interests of their members. They include business groups, professional bodies, and trades unions. The group usually represents the interest of their members and may have an influence on broader issues and may be led by political ideology.

Promotional groups may also be known as a cause or attitude groups. They try to influence policy in a particular area such as the environment like Greenpeace, gun laws, or the protection of birds like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds known as the largest advocacy group in Europe. On the other hand, “Fire brigade” groups usually lobby on a specific issue such as War in Iraq and may disband as soon as the issue has been resolved. While these groups may have defined targets, it is usual that they also influence political ideology as well as influence other policy areas, from local to international issues (Wright, 2002).


It is proposed and expected that an interest group may become influential when it has a large membership, adequate funding, reflects a public or popular opinion, and has garnered media support. Interest groups provide information, to and from their members, to and from politicians, executive agencies, and back to their constituents. The three types of information acquired by interest groups are mainly the status and prospect of bills under active consideration; the electoral implications of legislators’ support or opposition to potential legislation; and the political, economic, social, and environmental consequences of policies.

The next most important function of the group is in service delivery, often to their members. It has been suggested that the general theory is that individuals must be enticed with any benefit to join an interest group as individuals do not actually need to be a member of a particular interest group to reap the benefits of that group such as cleaner air, of which all breathing citizens would benefit. Selective material benefits may also be given, such as merchandise discounts, travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals (Olson, 1965) usually given out by trade and professional interest groups to their members.

Selective solidarity benefit is offered to members or preservative members of an interest group that involves socializing congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, among other things (Salisbury, 1969).

The expressive incentive is given to interest groups to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in, such as free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality. Interest groups in the USA had been said to exert influence in the form of amicus curiae or “friend of the court” briefs serving as direct representatives, sponsors of litigation, or by sending sponsors. They act as a legal service to a certain party in a case or provide to a party in the courtroom legal and policy expertise (Wright, 2002).

Iron Triangle

The iron triangle is a concept in U.S. politics used by political scientists on the three-sided relationship between Congress, a Federal department or agency, and a particular industry most specifically in this argument the Military-Industrial Complex. It specifically involves the policy-making relationship between the legislature, the bureaucracy or Government Agencies, and interest groups.

McConnell (1966) suggested that within the federal government, the phrase refers to the United States Congress or the congressional committees responsible for oversight linked with federal agencies or even independent agencies that regulate those industries, the industries, and their trade associations.

With reference to the military-industrial complex, the iron triangle is the Congress and the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services, defense contractors, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Central Assumption

In the discussion of the iron triangle, the assumption is that bureaucratic agencies as political entities, find ways to create and consolidate their own power base determined by its constituency, and not by its consumers. Constituency would refer to politically active members with a common interest or goal, whereas its consumers are listed in the agency’s written goals or mission statement as recipients of goods or services provided by the government (Adams, 1981). It has been proposed that a constituency is cultivated when a bureaucracy finds groups within its policy jurisdiction that will make the best allies and give it the most clout within the political arena (Adams, 1981).

The mass or biggest portion of “consumers” are least likely to be actual parts of the interest group in an iron triangle as they are loosely organized, so that the private or special interest groups with considerable power, well-organized, full of resources, easily mobilized, and extremely active in political affairs not only in voting but in campaign contributions and lobbying (Adams, 1981) fit best in the agency’s interest. Focus is then transferred from its officially designated consumers to a clientele of constituents that aid the agency in its quest for greater political influence (Adams, 1981).

Dynamics of an Iron Triangle

United States bureaucratic power is concentrated in the Congress particularly in congressional committees and subcommittees where agencies align themselves to influence policy outcomes. The iron triangle manifests itself in these instances. One corner is interest groups or constituencies, another corner sit members of Congress who to align themselves with a constituency for political and electoral support while they in return support legislation that advances the interest group’s agenda, and the third corner of the triangle are bureaucrats designated to regulate their agency pressured by the interest groups. This has been described as a stable alliance often referred to as a sub-government for its durability, impregnability, and power (Briody, 2003).

Military-Industrial Complex

De Groot et al (1996) described the military-industrial complex or the MIC to be made up of a nation’s armed forces, the suppliers or manufacturers of weapons systems, supplies, and services, as well as its civil government although first use of the term was by Sir Charles Trevelyan in the United Kingdom through the Union of Democratic Control on 5 August 1914.

Today, the term is popularly used in reference to the United States often broadly referring to the entire network of contracts and flows of money and resources among individuals as well as institutions of the defense contractors, the Pentagon, the Congress, and Executive branch. This sector has been criticized as prone to Principal-agent problems, moral hazard, and rent-seeking where political corruption was ordinary (Burstein and Linton, 2002).

History provided that the bronze and iron age gave rise to complex manufacturing industries engaged in weaponry so that by the 19th and 20th centuries, the industry became complicated to require a large subset of effort solely dedicated to warfare. Firearms, artillery, steamships, and later aircraft and nuclear weapons needed years of concentrated labor. The length of time to build large weapons needs pre-planning and construction even at times of peace so that this cultivated the concept of a “partnership” between the military and private enterprise (Hartung, 2001).


Interestingly, Wehrle (2003) argued that the postwar period had “most trade unions supported the overall contours of the U.S. official policy – from trade liberalization to the cold war, to the expansion of the military-industrial complex,” and that “decisions made by organized labor leaders must be understood within the context of increasingly limited options,” mainly hostile forces providing a dearth of alternatives except defense spending for jobs that “developed and promoted its own separate vision of the “warfare state,” (Wehrle, 2003, pp 525-526). Apparently, this addressed “pressing social and economic needs” that were not elaborated upon.

Wehrle, in fact, made it appear that trade unionists were for warfare state while military officials and civilian businessmen were “recruited to streamline, systematize, and rationalize the emerging military-industrial complex,” (p 526). Apparently, Social Keynesianism (Zieger, 1995) inspired progressive union leaders associated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) on the potential of a stronger labor and state cooperation and planning, slighted only by business interests.

Through labor-friendly economist, Leon Keyserling calling for major increases in defense spending through the NSC-68 in 1949, made military Keynesianism was a better option. “Military spending doesn’t really alter the structure of the economy… but the kind of welfare and public works spending that Truman plans… creates new institutions. It redistributes income,” (Business Week, 1949, quoted by Wehrle, 2003) opined. The nature of the defense sector, however, made it more open to political influence (Wehrle, 2003) leading to socially conscious, equitable economic growth (Wehrle, 2003). This was further promoted with the entry of the Korean war in 1950.

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the CIO at this turn already had to continue work on what had been earlier stated by earlier military or war/weaponry industries and put aside “their often bitter differences” to form the United Labor Policy Committee. In fact, in this light, the trade unionists were the heroes — that provided a response to the goals of promoting employment and addressing social needs as it helped fight the Cold War. When the war proved to be a long-lasting engagement in the late 1950s, the administration mobilized a greater organization and centralized authority under the defense production General Electric president Charles Wilson. In this instance, fears of the labor industry materialized (Wehrle, 2003).

Up to a point, Wehrle (2003) argued that a full evaluation of the labor’s defense policy had its creative efforts mold military outlays into economic tools as distinctly separate from the cold forces of the market harnessing a defense spending for its social and economic agenda. Were went on to conclude that trade unions were able to shape their own destinies within substantial economic, political, social, and cultural forces as a supporter of the military-industrial complex. He went on to highlight the substantial resistance from the interest group iron triangle in the labor groups’ efforts.


While Wehrle presents a convincing theory about the influence of trade unions which he tried to closely associate with the growth of the warfare state, it must be closely noted that business and trade leaders always had the upper hand. As already presented in the iron triangle theory, the control of the corner is by a small private group who are closely linked with both the military and the congress, or at most, probably the same peoples at the congress and at the military services. These are open and established truths for so long already.

These theories and postulations are always open to argument and debate as it is at most difficult to establish documentary links due to bureaucratic padding of legal papers within most government agencies of war, procurement, or spendings. The very few successful prosecutions in history also serve as evidence of this truth. Nevertheless, many obvious patterns have emerged (Andreas, 2007) including former military men putting up their own private corporations to provide war products and services while some or a few of them were always found to have bogus questionable transactions.

As has been debated by many war and economic critics for decades now, the US citizenry, at the interest group level of consumer, is at most kept away from military budget and planning as possible. The interest group has maintained a media that it feeds to inform and provide hysteria as well as paranoia to the freedom and information-loving US citizens. Wars will always be initiated in countries the US finds it could manhandle, to keep the funds coming in. Terrorism will always be a faceless enemy of which the citizenry will never identify, loathe, and to be kept away from them in their own land as much as possible.

The interest group has so far done its job well.


Adams, Gordon (1981). The Iron Triangle: The Politics of Defense Contracting, Council on Economic Priorities, New York.

Aldrich, John (1995). Why Parties? The origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. University of Chicago Press.

Allison, Graham T., and Philip Zelikow (1999) Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (second ed). Pearson Longman.

Andreas, Joel (2007) Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism. Frank Dorel.

Briody, Dan. (2003) The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group.

Burstein, P. and Linton, A. (2002). “The Social Impact of Political Parties, Interest groups, and Social Movement Organizations on Public Policy: Some Recent Evidence and Theoretical Concerns.” Social Foprces 81, pp 380-408.

DeGroot, Gerard J. Blighty (1996) British Society in the Era of the Great War, 144, London & New York: Longman.

Hansen, John (1991). Gaining Access: Congress and the Farm lobby, 1919-1981. University of Chicago Press.

Hartung, William D. (2001). “Eisenhower’s Warning: The Military-Industrial Complex Forty Years Later.” World Policy Journal 18.

Knott, Jack H. , Gary J. Miller (1987). Reforming Bureaucracy. (1st ed) Prentice-Hall.

McConnell, Grant (1966). Private Power and American Democracy.

Olson, M. (1965) The Logic of Collective Action pg. 133-134.

Rourke, Francis E. (1984). Bureaucracy, Politics, and Public Policy (3rd ed) Harpercollins.

Tilly, Charles (1984).”Social movements and national Politics.” Pp 297-317 in Statemaking and Social Movements (eds Charles Bright and Susan harding). University of Michigan press.

Wright, John R. (1992) Interest Groups and Congress, Lobbying, Contributions, and Influence.

Zieger, Robert (1995). CIO. University of north Carolina Press.

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