Schlesinger, Who’d Helmed
CIA, Pentagon, Dies at Age 85
By Terri Moon Cronk, American
Forces Press Service.
Washington D.C. – (AFPS)
– March 27, 2014 – Former CIA director and defense secretary James R.
Schlesinger died from complications from pneumonia today in a Baltimore hospital
at age 85.
Schlesinger was considered a tough, forthright and outspoken
leader throughout his career.
Schlesinger was considered an exceptional candidate for the
top Pentagon job. His career history included university economics professor,
the Rand Corp. director of strategic studies, and other senior government
appointments as the former Atomic Energy Commission chairman, CIA director, and
Bureau of the Budget assistant director, where he spent time on defense issues.
By the time he was nominated as defense secretary,
Schlesinger had a formidable background in security affairs. President Richard
Nixon tapped Schlesinger to become defense secretary in May 1973, the position
for which he became best known. He took office July 2 at the young age of 44.
James Rodney Schlesinger was born Feb. 15, 1929, in New York City to a
middle-class family. He married Rachel Line Mellinger in 1954, and the couple
had eight children.
Schlesinger graduated from Harvard University with a
bachelor’s degree in 1950, a master’s in 1952 and his doctorate in economics in
1956. Schlesinger was described as an intelligent and strong-willed
conservative, whose professorial expertise led to controversy in his career in
the federal government.
Serving as defense secretary until Nov. 19, 1975, Schlesinger
was dismissed by President Gerald R. Ford, reportedly for insubordination over
his demands for increased defense budgets, and disagreements with the
administration, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and the Congress.
Throughout his government career and into retirement, a large
part of Schlesinger’s legacy was his goal to make certain that arms control
agreements would never put the United States in an inferior strategic defense
position against the then-Soviet Union.
Schlesinger enjoyed a rapport with U.S. military leadership,
because he fought to give them more resources, consulted with them regularly,
and agreed with many of their views. Schlesinger also opposed amnesty for draft
resisters, and pressed for development of more sophisticated nuclear weapon
systems. His support for the A-10 and the lightweight fighter program -- later
the F-16 -- helped carry them to completion.
Schlesinger also realized the importance in the post-Vietnam
era of reinstituting the morale and prestige of the military services, to
modernize strategic doctrine and programs to increase research and development,
and to jumpstart a defense budget that had declined since 1968.
Because he regarded conventional forces as an equally
essential element in the deterrence posture of the United States, Schlesinger
wanted to reverse what he saw as a downward trend in conventional force strength.
He said because Soviet nuclear capabilities were nearly at parity with the
United States, the contribution to deterrence made by U.S. strategic forces had
declined. He emphasized that one of the missions of conventional forces was to
deter or defeat limited threats.
Schlesinger therefore dedicated much of his attention to
NATO, noting that its conventional capabilities must be strengthened. He didn’t
agree that NATO did not need a direct counter to Warsaw Pact conventional forces
because it could rely on tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, and said
nuclear near parity between the United States and the USSR in the 1970s made
that stand inappropriate.
In his discussions with NATO leaders, Schlesinger favored
qualitative improvements in NATO forces, including equipment standardization,
and an increase in defense spending by NATO governments by up to 5 percent of
their gross national product.
Schlesinger had a succession of crises in the Pentagon that
challenged his administrative and political prowess. In October 1973, three
months into his tenure as defense secretary, Egypt and Syria launched the Yom
Kippur War with a sudden attack on Israel. Israel’s military was not performing
well, and the USSR’s efforts to restock the Arab antagonists complicated the
situation for Israel.
Schlesinger said U.S. policy to avert direct involvement
depended on Israel winning quickly. But as the Israelis faced large-scale
military forces, the United States became involved by resupplying the Israeli
forces. A cease-fire soon was declared, but after the USSR threatened to get
involved to aid the Arab forces, the United States declared a worldwide forces
The final chapter of the Indochina conflict also took place
on Schlesinger's watch. While U.S. combat forces were out of South Vietnam in
spring 1973, the United States kept a military presence in parts of Southeast
During Schlesinger’s defense secretary confirmation hearings,
a handful of senators heatedly questioned him when he said he would favor
resuming U.S. bombing in North Vietnam and Laos if the North Vietnamese launched
a major offensive against South Vietnam.
When North Vietnam did so in early 1975, however, the United
States had few resources there to help South Vietnam, and it collapsed when the
North overtook Saigon in late April of that year. It was then that Schlesinger
announced the last helicopter evacuation of U.S. diplomatic, military and
civilian personnel from Saigon.
In Schlesinger’s quest to strengthen conventional and
strategic U.S. military forces, he devoted much of his time to increasing the
He noted the Defense Department was absorbing about 6 percent
of the gross national product, the lowest percentage since before the Korean War,
and that military manpower was at its lowest since before the Korean War.
Defense spending, he said, came to about 17 percent of national spending, which
was the lowest since before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. With those figures,
and with his concern over ongoing Soviet weapons progress, Schlesinger was a
dedicated advocate of bigger defense budgets.
After leaving the Pentagon, Schlesinger wrote and spoke
vehemently about national security issues, particularly the Soviet threat and
the need for the United States to maintain adequate defenses.
When Jimmy Carter became president in January 1977, he
appointed Schlesinger as his special adviser on energy, and later as the first
secretary of his new Energy Department. After two years, Carter replaced
Schlesinger at the Energy Department.
Following his federal government career, Schlesinger resumed
his writing and speaking engagements. He was employed as a senior adviser with
Lehman Bros., and Kuhn Loeb Inc., of New York.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkAFPS)