This research retheorizes military-industrial relations as adaptive complex systems whose spatial strategies change as the nature and location of threats shift across space and time. A central contradiction fuels these dynamics: nation-states are existentially motivated to achieve and maintain technological superiority relative to other nations and many invest heavily in transformative technologies as a result. In times of geopolitical tension, defense money flows to existing agglomerations with the capacity to innovate, resulting in a higher rate of technological change that helps to reduce the external security threat. Yet rapid technological progress can induce skill-biased technological change, aggravating domestic spatio-social inequality and potentially seeding an existential threat from within as structural and geographical economic transformation can lead to political instability and insurgency. At this point the equilibrating strategy involves the spatial redistribution of military spending to places in need. Taken together, these cycles produce an historical trend that alternates between spatial clustering and dispersion. To test this theory, 52 million geolocated U.S. defense contracting records dating from 1965 to 2021 are analyzed using Global Moran’s I time series. The results reflect the trend the theory predicts and reaffirm the usefulness of merging complexity theory with large historical datasets to reveal major structural political and economic dynamics.
Keywords: Complex systems|Big data|Political economy|Place-based policies|Innovation