NATO summit illustrates political complexities
"The military-industrial complex" was the theme of Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address as he completed two terms in the White House, sustaining remarkably strong public support throughout that tenure. At the time, the speech was largely ignored by reporters and professors, who generally underestimated Ike.
Down the decades, however, Eisenhower's warning has resonated with increasing impact, and has become a shorthand reference for the inherently dangerous collaboration of enormous corporate capital and the armed power of the state.
Eisenhower, the first NATO supreme commander in Europe, had an outlook and career helpful in evaluation of the recent alliance summit in Chicago. This is particularly true given superficial media emphasis on inconvenient security measures for foreign dignitaries, and the possibility of disruptions by demonstrators
The North Atlantic Treaty dates from the earliest days of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and its allies. The Soviet empire and the associated Warsaw Pact military structure collapsed two decades ago, yet NATO endures. Part of the explanation is the alliance is useful to the business of the largest arms merchant in the world ― the United States.
Chicago is heavily involved with defense industries. Boeing and General Dynamics are the most obvious examples, but in addition a wide array of firms in the greater Chicago region provides weapons, materiel and services to the Defense Department and foreign nations.
In July 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Chicago to address the Economic Club, the first defense secretary to speak before the largely business group. In earlier times, Pentagon heads usually chose the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Before a notably attentive audience, Gates bluntly discussed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and beyond.
Big money is unavoidably important but that should not be the primary concern of government officials handling national security. References to weapons were balanced by considerable attention to personnel, an even more complex dimension than contemporary technology.
Gates emphasized the tragedies of military suicides. The man some criticized as a bloodless bureaucrat proved to be the reverse.
The speech included post-Cold War threats and the importance of our allies. He criticized the Pentagon emphasis on preparing for unlikely major wars with China, Russia and other major powers, while our most serious immediate challenges involve unconventional conflicts.
Gates savaged defense industry inefficiency and profiteering. In direct manner, the former head of the CIA and Texas A&M University provided key insights into what is probably the most complex management challenge on earth.
Eisenhower was a brilliant manager, whose record at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces greatly furthered his career. The College was established to rectify the logistical disasters that plagued American military performance in World War I. Ike's exceptional skills were fully utilized in World War II in Europe.
Chicago was the scene of the tumultuous, hotly contested 1952 Republican convention, which nominated Eisenhower. The initial front-runner for the nomination was isolationist Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, an opponent of NATO and the U.N.
Newly elected Sen. Richard Nixon of California played a pivotal, and controversial, role in the ultimate Eisenhower victory, in consequence securing the vice presidential slot.
Gates in June 2011 delivered a farewell address to NATO in Brussels. He generated controversy with blunt criticism of allies for insufficient spending on defense.
Managing alliances, in domestic politics or across the ocean, is extremely tough work.
Chicago, past and present, effectively demonstrates this reality of life.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. Email him at email@example.com.