Globalizing the iron triangle? The changing face of the US defense industry

Date of Completion

January 2005


Political Science, General|Political Science, International Law and Relations




For the United States, national defense industrial policy has been a strictly national venture; production, ownership, research and design, manufacture of advanced weaponry was purposely kept outside the market and insulated from international market pressures. Theoretically, the traditional understanding of defense policy making was one of an 'iron triangle' referring to the relative isolation in which defense contractors, Congress and the Pentagon were left alone by the democratic forces of our political process to make defense policy. This understanding, however, has been challenged by the dramatic changes that have taken place within the US defense industrial sector: changes, which cannot be explained through domestic political explanations alone. US defense policy has undergone a major restructuring in which the defense industry is not outside the limits of the market but is structured around the global economic pressures of the international market: a process of 'globalizing the iron triangle' has begun. ^ The US defense industrial sector has responded to the changing global economic environment by implementing policies directed at increasing productivity through export control reform, acquisition and procurement reform, defense firm consolidation and transnational government and industry-led collaboration arrangements. These changes within the US defense industrial policy begs the question: why has the US defense sector paralleled globalization trends within the consumer sector when historically, traditionally defense policy has been such a highly insulated and protected area considered essential to maintaining a strong national military industrial base? This study finds that globalization trends are occurring due to a combination of factors. Domestic policy actors are increasingly being incorporated into a globalizing policy process brought on by an expanding interconnected global system. Defense industrial decision-makers, therefore, are consciously undertaking strategies (policy choices) to cope with the forces of globalization by pursuing policy choices that attempt to capture the benefits of the global marketplace. ^