ROBERT S. MCNAMARA Biography - Bussiness people and enterpreneurs


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Robert S. McNamara                                                                                 
January 21, 1961 - February 29, 1968                                                               
8th Secretary of Defense                                                                           
Kennedy and Johnson Administration                                                                 
Defense issues, including the missile gap, played a prominent role in the                         
campaign of 1960. President-elect Kennedy, very much concerned with defense                       
matters although lacking Eisenhower's mastery of the issues, first offered the                     
post of secretary of defense to former secretary Robert A. Lovett. When Lovett                     
declined, Kennedy chose Robert S. McNamara on Lovett's recommendation.                             
McNamara was born on 9 June 1916 in San Francisco, where his father was sales                     
manager of a wholesale shoe firm. He graduated in 1937 from the University of                     
California (Berkeley) with a degree in economics and philosophy, earned a master's                 
degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Admin-istration in 1939,                       
worked a year for the accounting firm of Price, Waterhouse in San Francisco, and                   
then in August 1940 returned to Harvard to teach in the business school. He                       
entered the Army Air Forces as a captain in early 1943 and left active duty                       
three years later with the rank of lieutenant colonel.                                             
In 1946 McNamara joined Ford Motor Company as manager of planning and financial                   
analysis. He advanced rapidly through a series of top-level management positions                   
to the presidency of Ford on 9 November 1960one day after Kennedy's election.                     
The first company head selected outside the Ford family, McNamara received                         
substantial credit for Ford's expansion and success in the postwar period. Less                   
than five weeks after becoming president at Ford, he accepted Kennedy's                           
invitation to join his cabinet.                                                                   
Although not especially knowledgeable about defense matters, McNamara immersed                     
himself in the subject, learned quickly, and soon began to apply an "active role"                 
management philosophy, in his own words "providing aggressive leadership                           
questioning, suggesting alternatives, proposing objectives and stimulating                         
progress." He rejected radical organizational changes, such as those proposed by                   
a group Kennedy appointed, headed by Sen. W. Stuart Symington, which would have                   
abolished the military departments, replaced the JCS with a single chief of                       
staff, and established three functional unified commands. McNamara accepted the                   
need for separate services but argued that "at the end we must have one defense                   
policy, not three conflicting defense policies. And it is the job of the                           
Secretary and his staff to make sure that this is the case."                                       
Initially the basic policies outlined by President Kennedy in a message to                         
Congress on 28 March 1961 guided McNamara in the reorientation of the defense                     
program. Kennedy rejected the concept of first-strike attack and emphasized the                   
need for adequate strategic arms and defense to deter nuclear attack on the                       
United States and its allies. U.S. arms, he maintained, must constantly be under                   
civilian command and control, and the nation's defense posture had to be "designed                 
to reduce the danger of irrational or unpremeditated general war." The primary                     
mission of U.S. overseas forces, in cooperation with allies, was "to prevent the                   
steady erosion of the Free World through limited wars." Kennedy and McNamara                       
rejected massive retaliation for a posture of flexible response. The United                       
States wanted choices in an emergency other than "inglorious retreat or                           
unlimited retaliation," as the president put it. Out of a major review of the                     
military challenges confronting the United States initiated by McNamara in 1961                   
came a decision to increase the nation's limited warfare capabilities.                             
The Kennedy administration placed particular emphasis on improving ability to                     
counter Communist "wars of national liberation," in which the enemy avoided head-on               
military confrontation and resorted to political subversion and guerrilla                         
tactics. As McNamara said in his 1962 annual report, "The military tactics are                     
those of the sniper, the ambush, and the raid. The political tactics are terror,                   
extortion, and assassination." In practical terms, this meant training and                         
equipping U.S. military personnel, as well as such allies as South Vietnam, for                   
counterinsurgency operations. Later in the decade, U.S. forces applied these                       
counterinsurgency techniques with mixed success in Vietnam.                                       
Increased attention to conventional strength com-plemented these special forces                   
preparations. The Berlin crisis in 1961 demonstrated to McNamara the need for                     
more troops. In this instance he called up reserves and also proceeded to expand                   
the regular armed forces. Whereas active duty strength had declined from                           
approximately 3,555,000 to 2,483,000 between 1953 (the end of the Korean                           
conflict) and 1961, it increased to nearly 2,808,000 by 30 June 1962. Then the                     
forces leveled off at around 2,700,000 until the Vietnam military buildup began                   
in 1965, reaching a peak of nearly 3,550,000 by mid-1968, just after McNamara                     
left office.                                                                                       
McNamara played a much larger role in the formulation of nuclear strategy than                     
his predecessors. In part this reflected both the increasing sophistication of                     
nuclear weapons and delivery systems and Soviet progress toward nuclear parity                     
with the United States. Central in McNamara's thinking on nuclear policy stood                     
the NATO alliance and the U.S. commitment to defend its members from aggression.                   
In a widely-noticed speech at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in June 1962, McNamara                         
repeated much of what he had told a NATO ministers' meeting in Athens several                     
weeks earlier, especially about the importance of NATO to U.S. security and the                   
proper response to a surprise Soviet nuclear attack on the Western allies. Basic                   
NATO strategy in such an unlikely event, McNamara argued, should follow the "no-cities"           
concept. "General nuclear war," he stated, "should be approached in much the                       
same way that more conventional military operations have been regarded in the                     
past. That is to say, principal military objectives, in the event of a nuclear                     
war stemming from a major attack on the Alliance, should be the destruction of                     
the enemy's military forces, not of his civilian population."                                     
With his principal goal deterrenceto convince Moscow that a nuclear attack                         
against the Western allies would trigger U.S. retaliation against Soviet forces,                   
perhaps eliminating their ability to continue military actionMcNamara also                         
wanted to provide the Russians with an incentive to refrain from attacking                         
cities. "The very strength and nature of the Alliance forces," he said in the                     
Ann Arbor speech, "make it possible for us to retain, even in the face of a                       
massive surprise attack, sufficient reserve striking power to destroy an enemy                     
society if driven to it."                                                                         
McNamara soon deemphasized the no-cities approach, for several reasons: public                     
fear that planning to use nuclear weapons in limited ways would make nuclear war                   
seem more feasible; increased Air Force requirements, after identifying                           
additional targets under the no-cities strategy, for more nuclear weapons; the                     
assumption that such a policy would require major air and missile defense,                         
necessitating a vastly expanded budget; and negative reactions from the Soviets                   
and NATO allies. McNamara turned to "assured destruction,'' which he                               
characterized as the capability "to deter deliberate nuclear attack upon the                       
United States and its allies by maintaining a highly reliable ability to inflict                   
an unacceptable degree of damage upon any single aggressor, or combination of                     
aggressors, even after absorbing a surprise first strike." As defined by                           
McNamara, assured destruction meant that the United States would be able to                       
destroy in retaliation 20 to 25 percent of the Soviet Union's population and 50                   
percent of its industrial capacity. Later the term "mutual assured destruction"                   
meant the capacity of each side to inflict sufficient damage on the other to                       
constitute an effective deterrent. In conjunction with assured destruction                         
McNamara stressed the importance of damage limitationthe use of strategic forces                   
to limit damage to the nation's population and industrial capacity by attacking                   
and diminishing the enemy's strategic offensive forces.                                           
To make this strategy credible, McNamara speeded up the modernization and                         
expansion of weapon and delivery systems. He accelerated production and                           
deployment of the solid-fuel Minuteman ICBM and Polaris SLBM missiles and by FY                   
1966 had removed from operational status all of the older liquid-fuel Atlas and                   
Titan I missiles. By the end of McNamara's tenure, the United States had                           
deployed 54 Titan II and 1,000 Minuteman missiles on land, and 656 Polaris                         
missiles on 41 nuclear submarines. The size of this long-range strategic missile                   
force remained stable until the 1980s, although the number of warheads increased                   
significantly as the MIRV (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle)                     
system emerged in the late 1960s and the 1970s.                                                   
McNamara took other steps to improve U.S. deterrence posture and military                         
capabilities. He raised the portion of SAC strategic bombers on 15-minute ground                   
alert from 25 percent to 50 percent, thus lessening their vulnerability to                         
missile attack. In December 1961 he established the Strike Command (STRICOM).                     
Authorized to draw forces when needed from the Strategic Army Corps, the                           
Tactical Air Command, and the airlift units of the Military Air Transport                         
Service and the military services, Strike Command had the mission "to respond                     
swiftly and with whatever force necessary to threats against the peace in any                     
part of the world, reinforcing unified commands or . . . carrying out separate                     
contingency operations." McNamara also increased long-range airlift and sealift                   
capabilities and funds for space research and development. After reviewing the                     
separate and often uncoordinated service efforts in intelligence and                               
communications, McNamara in 1961 consolidated these functions in the Defense                       
Intelligence Agency and the Defense Communications Agency (the latter originally                   
established by Secretary Gates in 1960), having both report to the secretary of                   
defense through the JCS. In the same year, he set up the Defense Supply Agency                     
to work toward unified supply procurement, distribution, and inventory                             
McNamara's institution of systems analysis as a basis for making key decisions                     
on force requirements, weapon systems, and other matters occasioned much debate.                   
Two of its main practitioners during the McNamara era, Alain C. Enthoven and K.                   
Wayne Smith, described the concept as follows: "First, the word 'systems'                         
indicates that every decision should be considered in as broad a context as                       
necessary . . . . The word 'analysis' emphasizes the need to reduce a complex                     
problem to its component parts for better understanding. Systems analysis takes                   
a complex problem and sorts out the tangle of significant factors so that each                     
can be studied by the method most appropriate to it." Enthoven and Smith said                     
they used mainly civilians as systems analysts because they could apply                           
independent points of view to force planning. McNamara's tendency to take                         
military advice into account less than had previous secretaries contributed to                     
his unpopularity with service leaders.                                                             
The most notable example of systems analysis was thePlanning-Programming-Budgeting                 
System (PPBS) instituted by DoD Comptroller Charles J. Hitch. McNamara directed                   
Hitch to analyze defense requirements systematically and produce a long-term,                     
program-oriented Defense budget. PPBS evolved to become the heart of the                           
McNamara management program. Accord-ing to Enthoven and Smith, the basic ideas                     
of PPBS were: "the attempt to put defense program issues into a broader context                   
and to search for explicit measures of national need and adequacy"; "consideration                 
of military needs and costs together"; "explicit consideration of alternatives                     
at the top decision level"; "the active use of an analytical staff at the top                     
policymaking levels"; "a plan combining both forces and costs which projected                     
into the future the foreseeable implications of current decisions"; and "open                     
and explicit analysis, that is, each analysis should be made available to all                     
interested parties, so that they can examine the calculations, data, and                           
assumptions and retrace the steps leading to the conclusions."                                     
Among the management tools developed to implement PPBS were the Five Year                         
Defense Plan (FYDP), the Draft Presidential Memorandum (DPM), the Readiness,                       
Information and Control Tables, and the Development Concept Paper (DCP). The                       
annual FYDP was a series of tables projecting forces for eight years and costs                     
and manpower for five years in mission-oriented, rather than individual service,                   
programs. By 1968, the FYDP covered 10 military areas: strategic forces, general                   
purpose forces, intelligence and communications, airlift and sealift, guard and                   
reserve forces, research and development, central supply and maintenance,                         
training and medical services, administration and related activities, and                         
support of other nations.                                                                         
The DPM, intended for the White House and usually prepared by the systems                         
analysis office, was a method to study and analyze major Defense issues. Sixteen                   
DPMs appeared between 1961 and 1968 on such topics as strategic offensive and                     
defensive forces, NATO strategy and force structure, military assistance, and                     
tactical air forces. OSD sent the DPMs to the services and the JCS for comment;                   
in making decisions, McNamara included in the DPM a statement of alternative                       
approaches, force levels, and other factors. The DPM in its final form became a                   
decision document.                                                                                 
The Development Concept Paper examined performance, schedule, cost estimates,                     
and technical risks to provide a basis for determining whether to begin or                         
continue a research and development program. The Readiness, Information, and                       
Control Tables provided data on specific projects, more detailed than in the                       
FYDP, such as the tables for the Southeast Asia Deployment Plan, which recorded                   
by month and quarter the schedule for deployment, consumption rates, and future                   
projections of U.S. forces in Southeast Asia.                                                     
PPBS was suspect in some quarters, especially among the military, because it was                   
civilian-controlled and seemed to rely heavily on impersonal quantitative                         
analysis. As Enthoven and Smith observed, "Much of the controversy over PPBS,                     
particularly the use of systems analysis, is really an attack on the increased                     
use of the legal authority of the Secretary of Defense and an expression of a                     
view about his proper role." In spite of the criticism, the system persisted in                   
modified form long after McNamara had left the Pentagon.                                           
McNamara relied heavily on systems analysis to reach several controversial                         
weapon decisions. He canceled the B-70 bomber, begun during the Eisenhower years                   
as a replacement for the B-52, stating that it was neither cost-effective nor                     
needed, and later he vetoed its proposed successor, the RS-70. McNamara                           
expressed publicly his belief that the manned bomber as a strategic weapon had                     
no long-run future; the intercontinentalballistic missile was faster, less                         
vulnerable, and less costly.                                                                       
Similarly, McNamara terminated the Skybolt project late in 1962. Begun in 1959,                   
Skybolt was conceived as a ballistic missile with a 1,000-nautical mile range,                     
designed for launching from B-52 bombers as a defense suppression weapon to                       
clear the way for bombers to penetrate to targets. McNamara decided that Skybolt                   
was too expensive, not accurate enough, and would exceed its planned development                   
time. He asserted that other systems, including the Hound Dog missile, could do                   
the job at less cost. Toward the end of his term McNamara also opposed an                         
antiballistic missile (ABM) system proposed for installation in the United                         
States, arguing that it would be too expensive (at least $40 billion) and                         
ultimately ineffective, because the Soviets would increase their offensive                         
capability to offset the defensive advantage of the United States. Under                           
pressure to proceed with the ABM program after it became clear that the Soviets                   
had begun a similar project, McNamara finally agreed to a "thin" system, but he                   
never believed it wise for the United States to move in that direction.                           
Despite serious problems, McNamara initiated and continued the TFX (later F-111)                   
aircraft. He believed that Navy and Air Force requirements for a new tactical                     
fighter could best be met by development of a common aircraft. After extensive                     
study of the recommendations of a joint Air Force-Navy evaluation board,                           
McNamara awarded the TFX contract to General Dynamics. The decision, based on                     
cost-effectiveness and efficiency considerations, irritated the chief of naval                     
operations and the Air Force chief of staff, both of whom preferred separate new                   
fighters for their services and Boeing as the contractor. Because of high cost                     
overruns, trouble in meeting performance objectives, flight test crashes, and                     
difficulties in adapting the plane to Navy use, the TFX's future became more and                   
more uncertain. The Navy dropped its version in 1968. Some of McNamara's critics                   
in the services and Congress labeled the TFX a failure, but versions of the F-111                 
remained in Air Force service two decades after McNamara decided to produce them.                 
McNamara's staff stressed systems analysis as an aid in decisionmaking on weapon                   
development and many other budget issues. The secretary believed that the United                   
States could afford any amount needed for national security, but that "this                       
ability does not excuse us from applying strict standards of effectiveness and                     
efficiency to the way we spend our defense dollars . . . . You have to make a                     
judgment on how much is enough." Acting on these principles, McNamara instituted                   
a much-publicized cost reduction program, which, he reported, saved $14 billion                   
in the five-year period beginning in 1961. Although he had to withstand a storm                   
of criticism from senators and representatives from affected congressional                         
districts, he closed many military bases and installations that he judged                         
unnecessary to national security. He was equally determined about other cost-saving               
Nonetheless, mainly because of the Vietnam War buildup, total obligational                         
authority increased greatly during the McNamara years. Fiscal year TOA increased                   
from $48.4 billion in 1962 to $49.5 billion in 1965 (before the major Vietnam                     
increases) to $74.9 billion in 1968, McNamara's last year in office. Not until                     
FY 1984 did DoD's total obligational authority surpass that of FY 1968 in                         
constant dollars.                                                                                 
In the broad arena of national security affairs, McNamara played a principal                       
part under both Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, especially during                       
international crises. The first of these occurred in April 1961, when a Cuban                     
exile group with some support from the United States attempted to overthrow the                   
Castro regime. The disastrous failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, carried                         
through by the Kennedy administration based on planning begun under Eisenhower,                   
proved a great embarrassment. When McNamara left office in 1968, he told                           
reporters that his principal regret was his recommendation to Kennedy to proceed                   
with the Bay of Pigs operation, something that "could have been recognized as an                   
error at the time."                                                                               
More successful from McNamara's point of view was his participation in the                         
Executive Committee, a small group of advisers who counseled Kennedy during the                   
Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. McNamara supported the president's                           
decision to quarantine Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from bringing in more                         
offensive weapons. During the crisis the Pentagon placed U.S. military forces on                   
alert, ready to back up the administra-tion's demand that the Soviet Union                         
withdraw its offensive missiles from Cuba. McNamara believed that the outcome of                   
the missile crisis "demonstrated the readiness of our armed forces to meet a                       
sudden emergency" and "highlighted the importance of maintaining a properly                       
balanced Defense establishment." Similarly, McNamara regarded the use of nearly                   
24,000 U.S. troops and several dozen naval vessels to stabilize a revolutionary                   
situation in the Dominican Republic in April 1965 as another successful test of                   
the "readiness and capabilities of the U.S. defense establishment to support our                   
foreign policy."                                                                                   
The Vietnam conflict came to claim most of McNamara's time and energy. The                         
Truman and Eisenhower administrations had committed the United States to support                   
the French and native anti-Communist forces in Vietnam in resisting efforts by                     
the Communists in the North to control the country. The U.S. role, including                       
financial support and military advice, expanded after 1954 when the French                         
withdrew. During the Kennedy administration, the U.S. military advisory group in                   
South Vietnam steadily increased, with McNamara's concurrence, from just a few                     
hundred to about 17,000. U.S. involvement escalated after the Gulf of Tonkin                       
incident in August 1964 when North Vietnamese naval vessels reportedly fired on                   
two U.S. destroyers. President Johnson ordered retaliatory air strikes on North                   
Vietnamese naval bases and Congress approved almost unanimously the Gulf of                       
Tonkin Resolution, authoriz-ing the president "to take all necessary measures to                   
repel any armed attack against the forces of the U.S. and to prevent further                       
In 1965, in response to stepped up military activity by the Communist Viet Cong                   
in South Vietnam and their North Vietnamese allies, the United States began                       
bombing North Vietnam, deployed large military forces, and entered into combat                     
in South Vietnam. Requests from top U.S. military commanders in Vietnam led to                     
the commitment of 485,000 troops by the end of 1967 and almost 535,000 by 30                       
June 1968. The casualty lists mounted as the number of troops and the intensity                   
of fighting escalated.                                                                             
Although he loyally supported administration policy, McNamara gradually became                     
skeptical about whether the war could be won by deploying more troops to South                     
Vietnam and intensifying the bombing of North Vietnam. He traveled to Vietnam                     
many times to study the situation firsthand. He became increasingly reluctant to                   
approve the large force increments requested by the military commanders. The Tet                   
offensive of early 1968, although a military defeat for the enemy, clearly                         
indicated that the road ahead for both the United States and the South                             
Vietnamese government was still long and hard. By this time McNamara had already                   
submitted his resignation, chiefly because of his disillusionment with the war.                   
As McNamara grew more and more controversial after 1966 and his differences with                   
the president and the JCS over Vietnam policy became the subject of public                         
speculation, frequent rumors surfaced that he would leave office. Yet there was                   
great surprise when President Johnson announced on 29 November 1967 that                           
McNamara would resign to become president of the World Bank. The increasing                       
intensity of the antiwar movement in the United States and the approaching                         
presidential campaign, in which Johnson was expected to seek reelection, figured                   
heavily in explanations of McNamara's departure. So also did McNamara's alleged                   
differences with the JCS over the bombing of North Vietnam, the number of U.S.                     
troops to be assigned to the ground war, and construction along the 17th                           
parallel separating South and North Vietnam of an antiinfiltration ground                         
barrier, which McNamara favored and the JCS opposed. McNamara's resistance to                     
deployment of a major ABM system also upset the military chiefs. The president's                   
announcement of McNamara's move to the World Bank stressed his stated interest                     
in the job and that he deserved a change after seven years as secretary of                         
defense, much longer than any of his predecessors.                                                 
McNamara left office on 29 February 1968; for his dedicated efforts, the                           
president awarded him both the Medal of Freedom and the Distinguished Service                     
Medal. He served as head of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981. Shortly after he                     
departed the Pentagon, he published The Essence of Security, discussing various                   
aspects of his tenure and his position on basic national security issues. He did                   
not speak out again on defense issues until after he left the World Bank. In                       
1982 McNamara joined several other former national security officials in urging                   
that the United States pledge not to use nuclear weapons first in Europe in the                   
event of hostilities; subsequently he proposed the elimination of nuclear                         
weapons as an element of NATO's defense posture. His book, In Retrospect,                         
published in 1995, presented an account and analysis of the Vietnam War that                       
dwelt heavily on the mistakes to which he was a prime party and conveyed his                       
strong sense of guilt and regret.                                                                 
Evaluations of McNamara's long career as secretary of defense vary from glowing                   
to negative and sometimes scathing. One journalist reported criticism of                           
McNamara as a "'human IBM machine' who cares more for computerized statistical                     
logic than for human judgments." On the other hand, a congressman who had helped                   
shape the National Security Act in 1947 stated when McNamara left the Pentagon                     
that he "has come nearer [than anyone else] to being exactly what we planned a                     
Secretary of Defense to be when we first wrote the Unification Act." Former                       
Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote, "Except for General Marshall I do not                       
know of any department head who, during the half century I have observed                           
government in Washington, has so profoundly enhanced the position, power and                       
security of the United States as Mr. McNamara." Journalist Hanson W. Baldwin                       
cited an impressive list of McNamara accomplishments: containment of the more                     
damaging aspects of service rivalry; significant curtailment of duplication and                   
waste in weapon development; institu-tion of systems analysis and the PPBS;                       
application of computer technology; elimination of obsolescent military posts                     
and facilities; and introduction of a flexible strategy, which among other                         
things improved U.S. capacity to wage conventional and limited wars. Although                     
McNamara had many differences with military leaders and members of Congress, few                   
could deny that he had had a powerful impact on the Defense Department, and that                   
much of what he had done would be a lasting legacy.