New Cold War Feeds War Machine

The apparent madness in the Obama administration starting a new Cold War with Russia and China makes sense if viewed from the perspective of the Military-Industrial Complex, which must justify ever-larger budgets, as Chuck Spinney explains.

By Chuck Spinney

Today, America’s foreign policy is a shambles. Its primary features are (1) a perpetual war on terror, and (2) the seemingly inevitable march into a new and unnecessary Cold War against Russia and China.

At the same time, President Obama is leaving his successor with a budget plan containing a front-loaded and political-engineered procurement bow wave that guarantees steeply rising defense expenditures well into the next decade and possibly beyond. Such long term increases in the defense budget can only be justified by a new cold war. [For explanations on loading and political engineering, see my 1990 pamphlet Defense Power Games]

President Dwight Eisenhower delivering his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961.

President Dwight Eisenhower delivering his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961.

Yet the United States now spends far more on the military than any other country. Add in the expenditures of our allies, and the spending advantage over any conceivable combination of adversaries becomes overwhelming. Nevertheless, U.S. citizens are more fearful than they were during the Cold War, and politicians and the yellow journalism of the mainstream media are hyping those fears to a greater extent than they did during the Cold War. What is going on?

Most pundits and policy-makers who debate this dismal state of affairs subscribe to the view that fixing foreign policy is the first step toward getting control of the Pentagon and ultimately reducing defense budgets. In their view, the top priority should be to re-define our foreign policy goals (hopefully in accordance with the criteria for a sensible grand strategy, although these criteria are seldom examined in a systematic way).

The redefined grand strategic goals would then form a basis for defining a rational military strategy to meet these goals. Once the strategy is settled upon by the policy elites, the drones in the Pentagon can define the force structure to meet the strategy. That force structure would then provide the template against which the budgeteers can define the budget decisions needed to build and maintain the forces necessary to execute the strategy. QED.

This neat comforting top-down viewpoint conveys the illusion of control. It plays well in the high-brow salons of Versailles on the Potomac, the halls of Congress, and among the elitist punditocracy in the mainstream media and the ivory tower think tanks of Washington. But history shows this logic does not work.

The logic has been repeated ad nauseam by policy wonks on the left and right since the dawn of the Cold War in 1950. Yet for all their handwringing about strategy-budget mismatches, the policy wonks refuse to recognize the obvious: Since 1962, the Pentagon’s formal planning system — the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS) — is a set of bureaucratic procedures designed precisely in accordance with their sacred top-down logic. Yet the PPBS has failed repeatedly to link budgets to forces and strategy (for reasons I explained here and here).

A Money-Eating Organism

The simple-minded idea that foreign policy (i.e., grand strategy) drives strategy and shapes force structures and budgets simply does not work in the real world. And the reason is fundamental: the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex (MICC) is not a top-down mechanistic phenomenon that responds predictably to this kind of naive control theory.

F-15 Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, taxi to the runway during the final day of Anatolian Eagle June 18, 2015, at 3rd Main Jet Base, Turkey. The 493rd FS recently received the 2014 Raytheon Trophy as the U.S. Air Force's top fighter squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Burks)

F-15 Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, taxi to the runway during the final day of Anatolian Eagle June 18, 2015, at 3rd Main Jet Base, Turkey. The 493rd FS recently received the 2014 Raytheon Trophy as the U.S. Air Force’s top fighter squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Burks)


The MICC is more accurately thought of as a synthetic (bottom-up) living culture that creates its own political-economic ecology. Part of that ecology is the MICC’s corrupting effects on domestic politics. President Eisenhower’s prophetic warning about the rise of misplaced power hinted at but did not delve into the reasons for the living nature of this political-economic ecology.

It is now 54 years later, and the MICC has evolved into a deeply entrenched, bewildering variety of ever changing  goal-seeking factions, each fighting for money and power in a game of very messy domestic politics. These factions are loosely self-organized (via revolving doors, for example) into iron triangles that grow and decay over time.

These factions compete with each other or make temporary alliances of convenience in their efforts to acquire money and power (as I explained here, here, and here). Put another way, the MICC is fundamentally a bottom-up living, evolving political-economic organism, and it produces its own peculiar ecology.

It is made up of self-organizing factions in which the pursuit of each faction’s individual goals create combined effects that can be thought of as the MICC’s emergent properties. There is simply no way the sterile top-down logic described above can cope with the MICC’s ever-evolving power games and unpredictable work-arounds.

Or as Colonel John R. Boyd, a fighter pilot, aircraft designer and strategist, has observed: “People say the Pentagon does not have a strategy. They are wrong; the Pentagon does have a strategy. It is: Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”

Boyd’s quote pithily sums up the output of the game, and the MICCs players are now hell-bent on starting a new Cold War as the only way to achieve its factional ambitions. We will not fix this problem posed by the MICC until we come to grips with its elemental nature.

[For more on this topic, see a recent essay by my good friend Andrew Cockburn, who brilliantly elaborates on Boyd’s point and the apparent disconnect between strategy and budgets. I say “apparent disconnect” because the MICC has a real strategy, and like all effective strategies, it is not obvious.]

Chuck Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon who was famous for the “Spinney Report,” which criticized the Pentagon’s wasteful pursuit of costly and complex weapons systems.

12 comments for “New Cold War Feeds War Machine

  1. Bart Gruzalski
    June 23, 2016 at 18:17

    You begin by writing that “Today, America’s foreign policy is a shambles. Its primary features are (1) a perpetual war on terror, and (2) the seemingly inevitable march into a new and unnecessary Cold War against Russia and China”

    I don’t think perpetual war on terror is a primary feature of foreign policy. Rather, I’d suggest that the two core elements of/supporting foreign policy are: (1) maintaining USA hegemony; (2) controlling American citizens so that our faux democracy will not interfere with (1)]

  2. J'hon Doe II
    June 22, 2016 at 18:25

    But in some other fundamentals, Orwell had it right.

    is as sharia law.
    fascist conservatism
    is fundamentalism.

  3. Abe
    June 22, 2016 at 18:17

    Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, launched on 22 June 1941, was the largest military operation in history.

    On the 75th anniversary of the invasion, military history writer Christer Bergström, author of Operation Barbarossa 1941: Hitler against Stalin (2016) dispels 9 popular myths about the campaign

    The ultimate failure of German troops to defeat Soviet forces in the campaign signalled a crucial turning point in the Second World War.

  4. J'hon Doe II
    June 22, 2016 at 17:57

    America’s One-Party Government
    by Eric Zuesse —
    June 22, 2016



    Today’s United States is a more realistic version of the type of society that George Orwell fictionally described in his allegorical novel 1984.

    Like in 1984, the American public don’t know that they’re merely the tools of some unseen aristocracy who manipulate them by fear of ‘the other’, some ‘enemy’ group — manipulate the public via the media, which the aristocracy controls. But the big failing of Orwell’s model as a portrayal of the (when he wrote it) coming fascist-corporate dystopia was that he misunderstood how and why the public would falsely believe that they live in a democracy. His central character Winston Smith worked in an unrealistically portrayed propaganda-mill. But in some other fundamentals, Orwell had it right. The public don’t know that their real enemy is their own nation’s aristocracy who are mentally holding the public in bondage by lies systematically implanted into their beliefs, by means of ‘news’ media that are controlled by their own nation’s aristocracy, who own those media and/or control the government by bribery (sometimes subtle) of the politicians whom the aristocracy’s media are being paid to promote. In any case, the aristocracy control the public’s mind, to accept the fundamental legitimacy of the regime the aristocrats are imposing. Aristocrats hire the ‘news’ media.

  5. Ol' Hippy
    June 22, 2016 at 14:56

    This beast, the MIC seems these days to set their own agenda and with money no object goes into the vast unknown, with no regard for the near or foreseeable future. In all the ‘planning’ done for immediate actions is there ever an endgame, an actual outcome that can be implemented or is perpetual war the actuality desired? This vast organization expends more greenhouse gasses than the rest of the nation and yet this ‘little’ detail is never even brought up in the climate talks of late. When will this financial house of cards that supports this monstrosity come tumbling down and bring with it the rest of the global financial systems? These ‘minor’ details are never mentioned in the “Lets’ Make America Great Again” or “History Made” talks by the leading candidates when asking for votes. From all accounts the near future looks even more problematic as pointed out, of a new ‘cold war’, a distinct possibility. Where is the money going to come from? The youth are already leveraged to about 60,000$ and that doesn’t include education expenses. Others beside myself have expressed the alarm for more actions leading, once again, to more perpetual war. When is enough, enough? This nation has been at it for 54 of my 62 years and I, like many others are sick of it. Let’s just stop already!

  6. PlutoC
    June 22, 2016 at 14:21

    The big issues that are destroying this country, inequality, plutocracy, WWIII, etc., would stand a better chance of being addressed (and resolved?) by the people if there was 1) a press that was not under the control of the corporatists and influenced by government, 2) a functioning Fairness Doctrine, requiring “…broadcasters to cover controversial issues of public importance and offer contrasting viewpoints on those issues” and 3) registration, i.e. licensing that is required of architects, doctors, engineers, and others that has successfully been a part of life for many decades, to be required to own, manage, collect, write, or present news to the people, with a set of professional ethics and a 3-year renewal requirement to retain certification.

    Americans, the 75% that get their news from the 6 corporations that own 90% of US media, are for the most part ignorant due to the above noted deficiencies. I doubt Americans would stand for the direction this country is heading if they got the unvarnished truth.

  7. Madhu
    June 22, 2016 at 12:31

    Flexible was supposed to be after the description of DC culture.

    And “said editor should be said senator.” Sorry. Also, the crack about me being terrible is that no one wants to name names, and those that do, do it horribly, so a person trying to be decent and honest is stuck. Name the name? Is that nice, bad, wrong, good, what?

    The journalists that remember the 70s and 80s are the only ones that I think get some of that stuff above, I mean, not agreeing with as correct necessarily, but understanding its provenance. Bless you all, keep teaching us what happened. I wonder what is buried in archives about those areas that are less popular with contemporary rightists or leftists?

  8. Madhu
    June 22, 2016 at 12:26

    I like that description of living in the present because I keep trying to understand how anyone wouldn’t be frightened by what is happening. Accidents are more likely in certain environments and this creation of a Frankenstein Line of Control border between Russia and NATO is beyond anything the Pakistanis/Chinese and Indians have created at their Line of Control.

    Madness, stupidity, lack of imagination, living for the present with easy money.

    (That Andrew Cockburn piece is very good although his strange attitudes toward SA eally offended me, until I realized he maybe unwittingly had done what Michael McFaul has done with Russia, or the State types have done with Syria and the Saudis, bonded with one faction within a conflict and took on that political factions language, world view and biases.

    I need to drag up all those articles on Perry Anderson and link them here, they make the neocon islamofascist crowd sound quite tame when you examine the language of “those dreadful south asians, no, the other kind, just can’t help being little fascists”. The Economist, Perry Anderson, what difference does it make? Billions of people, reduced to a pantomime of one leader….)

    Sorry for the digression.

    DC culture fascinates–or frightens, really–me. The Borg, the Deep State, the Blob, it absorbs all, so one year the editor of an online platform like War on the Rocks can make fun of Senator McCain, and, then, one CNAS fellowship later, said editor is a-okay and a fine specimen. Or the a British Australian writer of realist books and deliverer of talks at CATO is now firmly Chatham House on Russia today. Or the “COIN” expert who once loathed all neocons and now is all CNAS cosy with the Kagans. Or the feminist daughter of a hero to the left who champions Michelle Fluornoy. Or the house non-militarist at Council on Foreign Relations, a fine fine writer, but what difference can it make? Well, perhaps some.

    Too many fellowships, contracts, all that “easy” money, the friendships, the whole world to be a part of and live in and pay mortgages through and marry into and so on. Why be a boring nobody when you can be somebody within a culture that rewards observing rules and isn’t it really sort of exciting and wonderful?

    It’s not so much that I am a terrible person, as that I have to look at that world as a novel of court intrigue and try and place all within, curiously needly characters, thin skinned and at the same time giantly self-regarding….

    Sorry for the ramble, I know these things don’t make sense to anyone else.


  9. David Smith
    June 22, 2016 at 11:46

    No, the Military Industrial Congressional Complex is not an independent organism that is driving a New Cold War as a justification for more money. The MIC is corporations owned by The American Propertied Class, who also own The President, Congress, The Pentagon, and everything else. The APC demands world domination and they intend confrontation with Russia and China to settle outstanding business. The APC knows what happened when Rome ignored the Germanic Tribes, an empire must eliminate every last adversary. China is dependant on import/exports and does not have a Navy that can dominate the World Ocean, but the US does, so China is locked down. Russia is the “hard case”. Russia is self-sufficient, does not need trade and has crushed foreign invaders repeatedly. The giant Pentagon war machine is meant to be used if “hybrid war” fails. The historical absurdity is that empire-building is meant to create a multiple-century long dominion(Ancient-World-Style), but The World Wide Climate Disaster is unfolding so quickly that in five to ten years conditions will be unbearable. Our era is historically unique in that history is over and the drive to empire will only result in a paroxysm of satanic self-annihilation.

    • TellTheTruth-2
      June 23, 2016 at 17:20

      If China and Russia are successful in completion of the New Silk Road, they’ll link commerce with Europe via land and the US and British sea power will be greatly diminished.

    • David Smith
      June 24, 2016 at 21:32

      You are reading too much Pepe Escobar. The Maritime Silk Road will always be much larger for raw material imports. The US Navy can shut it down and China can do nothing. The Terrestrial Silk Road(rail), is a decade from completion and is much lower capacity. The schedule for WW3 is timed to the emerging Climate Disaster, not before 2020 but not later than 2025, we won’t see 2030.

  10. Zachary Smith
    June 22, 2016 at 11:10

    Or as Colonel John R. Boyd, a fighter pilot, aircraft designer and strategist, has observed: “People say the Pentagon does not have a strategy. They are wrong; the Pentagon does have a strategy. It is: Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”

    To be more precise, to add to the money flow going to Big Weapons Makers. It seems that about every time I got to a drugstore these days the clerk waves a donation jar for me to “give money to the Troops” or to “help soldier’s familes”. The reason so many US servicemen and their families live near or under the poverty line is that all virtually all the humongous sums of “defense” money goes to pay for overpriced and nearly useless weapons systems.

    Consider the F-35B – the ones the Marines are slobbering over. The thing is supposed to provide close air support for the Marines. This beast of an aircraft is priced at somewhere between $100 million dollars and $200 million – depending on who you ask. When taking off and landing the blast of flame from the single engine damages the deck of a ship. Can the Marines afford a handful of these super-expensive planes to do close air support? Stealth isn’t worth a damn if the enemy can target the aircraft with a Mark 1 eyeball pointing a MANPAD or 40 mm rapid-fire cannon.

    Because the near-worthless F35B is so far behind schedule the Marines are having to go to the Arizona desert and pull retired F-18s out of the boneyard there. With some expensive overhauling they figure to get a few thousand more hours out of the derelicts if handled gently.


    And that’s just a single example of the beyond-belief waste of taxpayer money by the Pentagon.

    Boyd’s quote pithily sums up the output of the game, and the MICCs players are now hell-bent on starting a new Cold War as the only way to achieve its factional ambitions. We will not fix this problem posed by the MICC until we come to grips with its elemental nature.

    Scaring the hell out of Joe Sixpack is the only way they can continue the gravy train, and starting a new Cold War is one sure way of doing it. And that is happening at this very moment.

    The psychopaths involved in all of this probably don’t care a bit that a Cold War can easily turn into a Hot one almost instantly. They live for the present, and right now they’re rolling in easy money.

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