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Former CIA Director, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger Dies at 85

James Schlesinger
James Schlesinger / Wikimedia Commons
• March 27, 2014 2:26 pm

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Former CIA Director and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger died at age 85 on Thursday from complications from pneumonia, according to the Department of Defense.

Schlesinger was also a university economics professor and Rand Corp. director of strategic studies during his career. He additionally was the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and assistant director at the Bureau of Budget.

Schlesinger was nominated as defense secretary by President Richard Nixon. While at the post, he faced several crises such as the Yom Kippur War launched by Egypt and Syria with an attack on Israel.

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 also favored improvements to NATO forces, including equipment standardization and an increase in defense spending by NATO governments.

Published under: Defense