Who’s Afraid of the Military Industrial Complex? — The Shifting Politics of Pentagon Spending

2021 was a good year to be a weapons contractor. Congress authorized $778 billion in military spending, one of the highest levels since World War II, and $25 billion more than the Pentagon even asked for. More than half of those funds will go to weapons contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. At time when the greatest challenges to our security are pandemics, climate change, and domestic discord, why do we continue to shower these enormous sums on the Pentagon and the arms industry? Part of the answer has to do with an overly ambitious, cover-the-globe military strategy. But another substantial part of the problem is the political influence wielded by the military-industrial complex. To explore these issues, the Quincy Institute is pleased to host a discussion featuring Michael Brenes, interim director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy and lecturer in history at Yale; Shana Marshall, associate director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University; and William Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute. Kelley Vlahos, senior advisor at QI, will moderate. This panel will explore the power of the military-industrial complex from its origins in World War II to the present, looking at its political strengths and weaknesses and how it might be overcome in service of a national security strategy that protects America’s vital interests and is much more cost-effective.


Michael Brenes

Michael Brenes is interim director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy and lecturer in history at Yale University. He is the author of For Might and Right: Cold War Defense Spending and the Remaking of American Democracy, published by University of Massachusetts Press. His writing has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, Politico, Dissent, Jacobin, and Boston Review. He is currently writing a history of the War on Terror.

Shana Marshall

Shana Marshall is associate director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She earned her PhD in International Relations and Comparative Politics of the Middle East from the University of Maryland in 2012. Her research focuses on the political economy of militaries in Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE, and has appeared in The Middle East Report (MERIP), The International Journal of Middle East Studies, Jadaliyya, and the Carnegie Middle East Center. She chairs the editorial committee of the Middle East Research & Information Project and is a member of the Political Economy Project and Security in Context.

William Hartung

William D. Hartung is a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His work focuses on the arms industry and U.S. military budget. He was previously the director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy and the co-director of the Center’s Sustainable Defense Task Force. He is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books, 2011) and the co-editor, with Miriam Pemberton, of Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding the Next War (Paradigm Press, 2008). His previous books include And Weapons for All (HarperCollins, 1995), a critique of U.S. arms sales policies from the Nixon through Clinton administrations.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos (Moderator)

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a senior advisor at the Quincy Institute and editorial director of its online magazine, Responsible Statecraft. Previously she served as executive editor, managing editor, and longtime foreign policy/national security writer at The American Conservative magazine. She also spent 15 years as an online political reporter at Fox News.