I heard someone say recently that the United States had a political necessity to seek out an "enemy" to fight. They argued that when one was defeated, political leaders either explicitly or implicitly sought one out: the Nazis, Communism, the Middle East, North Korea, etc. They also argued that with the lack of a clear external enemy, that America began seeking an internal enemy by means of opposing political views.

It reminds me a bit of George Orwell's 1984 in which according to the protagonist, it was a political necessity for Oceania to be in a state of constant war with Eurasia Eastasia, especially to enable the military industrial complex.

Whether there is merit to this argument or not, I'm interested in knowing whether or not it has a name. Is there a term for the political concept of a nation always needing an enemy to fight?

  • Let me guess, Gore Vidal as covered in this Q&A? The man incapable of understanding that a concept may be universal and not applied to JUST the country he dislikes?
    – user4012
    Jan 15, 2018 at 13:45
  • Not technically an answer, but an example. The Russian economy has gone south, so they sell their military strength. nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/…
    – userLTK
    Jan 17, 2018 at 0:23

1 Answer 1


The political concept is Militarism:

Militarism is the belief or the desire of a government or a people that a state should maintain a strong military capability to use it aggressively to expand or promote national interests; examples of militarist states include the United States, Russia and France.1 It may also imply the glorification of the military and of the ideals of a professional military class and the "predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state"2 (see also: stratocracy and military junta).

However a word that is commonly used in political argumentation is warmongering (also).

This term is widely used both in politics, and specially in propaganda. Labeling a country with it, thought, is simplistic. It does not reflect its citizens, its context, and its history. There might be relevance to such opinion but I don't think comparing the US with Orwell 1984 is the way to go (although the "unite against common enemy" is a common social mechanism used in politics).

If you really wan't to understand the historical circumstances behind the views you seem to hinting at you should start by analyzing Einsenhower's farewell address (emphasis is mine):

...was the final public speech of Dwight D. Eisenhower as the 34th President of the United States, delivered in a television broadcast on January 17, 1961. Perhaps best known for advocating that the nation guard against the potential influence of the military–industrial complex, a term he is credited with coining, the speech also expressed concerns about planning for the future and the dangers of massive spending, especially deficit spending, the prospect of the domination of science through Federal funding and, conversely, the domination of science-based public policy by what he called a "scientific-technological elite".

As for this so called Military-Industrial complex you also have a nice article in wikipedia:

The military–industrial complex (MIC) is an informal alliance between a nation's military and the arms industry which supplies it, seen together as a vested interest which influences public policy.13 A driving factor behind this relationship between the government and defense-minded corporations is that both sides benefit—one side from obtaining war weapons, and the other from being paid to supply them.5 The term is most often used in reference to the system behind the military of the United States, where it is most prevalent6 and gained popularity after its use in the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961.7[8] In 2011, the United States spent more (in absolute numbers) on its military than the next 13 nations combined.

I'm not arguing that this is an accurate/full explanation for the phenomena you are asking about but it certainly seems more reasonable than to believe in a nationwide ingrained behavior for warmongering.

EDIT: another expression (mostly informal) that has been used in political context is Gunboat Diplomacy:

In international politics, gunboat diplomacy (or "Big Stick ideology" in U.S. history) refers to the pursuit of foreign policy objectives with the aid of conspicuous displays of naval power – implying or constituting a direct threat of warfare, should terms not be agreeable to the superior force.

  • Would this term apply as well to softer threats too, e.g. "war on drugs", or just overt military threats? Jan 15, 2018 at 14:36
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    @Thunderforge "Warmongering" is a general purpose term typically used as in a form of accusation (I don't remember any instance when it was used together with "war on drugs" though). "Militarism" was a political view mostly used/advocated during the late 19th, early 20th century. Nowadays no one wants to be labeled with it. The Military-Industrial complex notion was, AFAIK, coined by Eisenhower, and it relates mostly to the military of the USA. I'll add another expression (mostly informal but real) which is "Gunboat Diplomacy" (I'll edit the answer).
    – armatita
    Jan 15, 2018 at 14:54

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