The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group
Air Commodore Jasjit Singh (retd.) ·       

Ever since US President D Eisenhower, in his farewell address to the nation twenty two years ago, immortalised the term ?military-industrial complex?, a great deal of attention has been focused by scholars and researchers across the world on the issues that the concept raises. The moralist position derides the phenomenon; and the realist school of thought tries to explain it with near-endorsement as an inevitable process in any modern state that must produce and procure weapons either for its own defence or in pursuit of a broader techno-economic-foreign policy agenda.

Because of the nature of arms production and sales within and outside the country, powerful extraneous factors impinge on the whole process. Rapid advancement in military and civil technologies has raised the premium on modern and advanced systems. The 1991 Gulf War and the Iraq War this year have showcased this in dramatic ways. The end of Cold War had promised retrenchment of military power with an expected ?peace dividend? But even a decade after the end of the biggest and costliest arms race in human history, this is yet to happen.� On the other hand, Cold War itself had spread the central rivalry across the developing world with each side in the bipolar contest vying for influence and control through weapons supplies ranging from nuclear weapons to small arms. And today the world is faced with the mess created by the debris of the Cold War across the world. In every bit of that debris is hidden the tale of arms proliferation, political manoeuvring, and corporate wheeling- dealing for personal profit as well as the pursuit of perceived national interests.

The Iron Triangle, made up of the three segments of defence-government-business in the United States, is a chronicle of a corporate entity called the Carlyle Group that rapidly rose to power in the United States and how it pedalled influence and manoeuvred the institutions of the most powerful liberal democracy in the world ? the United States. The book charts a landscape well beyond the traditional approach to military-industrial complex. This account provides the picture of something approaching a corrupt society at its highest levels. For example, the author affirms that former US Defence Secretary, Frank Carlucci (on the board of 33 companies besides Carlyle) has not only been in the pay of the Group as its Chairman, but has been liberal in using his contacts and influence with Pentagon to provide substantive business and profit to the company. Carlucci, incidentally, has been on the board of 32 companies mostly dealing with Pentagon that he headed during the Reagan administration in the late 1980s. Carlyle Group also contributed nearly half a million dollars to political candidates in 2000 and eighty four per cent of the funds went to Republicans. President Bush is supposed to have received $190,000 from defence contractors, an amount that was four times higher than his rival, Al Gore.

�But it is not necessarily apparent that the iron triangle of government, business and defence, as it functions in the United States, is intrinsically crooked, or that the former officials are pursuing their personal agendas in the corporate sector at the expense of national interests. In fact, in the well-established system of a ?revolving door? it is inevitable that people occupying high posts would shift to higher decision making levels in the corporate sector with the change in administration every four years if not earlier. Numerous policy options proposed even by think-tanks may have a resonance in the government without any linkage with each other because the two sets of people come to similar conclusions even where the facts do not entirely converge. To that extent there is a need for caution in coming to the conclusion about the apparent pursuit of corporate interests as projected in the book.

A highly readable book which rapidly takes the reader through the myriad linkages and programmes of a modern corporate organisation which, of necessity, must also pay a great deal of attention to the government?s decision making processes and influence them in its favour. To what extent these decisions were in pursuit of personal interests is something that would call for a value judgment based on detailed examination of facts.

�Every country that maintains a military force is compelled to acquire weapon systems and hence liable to influence by the military-industrial complex of the weapon producing country, besides its own propensity toward bureaucratic influences and turf preferences. The author?s account of the Carlyle Group would be useful for anyone faced with the challenges of balancing the realities of high finance and corporate strategies with national aims and objectives; or for that matter understanding the working of the US system in a key area of business and governance.