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NATO Chicago summit places political policies in the spotlight

“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 supreme commander of NATO, had an outlook and career helpful in understanding the import of the 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 allies. The Soviet empire and associated Warsaw Pact military structure collapsed two decades ago, yet NATO endures. Part of the explanation is the alliance is useful to 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 U.S. Department of Defense 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 he 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.

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