De­fense sec­re­tary dur­ing the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - OBITUARIES - BY WILL LESTER

WASHINGTON — Harold Brown, who as de­fense sec­re­tary in the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion cham­pi­oned cut­ting-edge fight­ing tech­nol­ogy dur­ing a ten­ure that in­cluded the failed res­cue of hostages in Iran, has died at age 91.

Brown died Fri­day, said the Rand Corp., the Cal­i­for­nia-based think tank which Brown served as a trustee for more than 35 years. His sis­ter, Leila Bren­net, said he died at his home in Ran­cho Santa Fe, Cal­i­for­nia.

Brown was a nu­clear physi­cist who led the Pen­tagon to mod­ern­ize its de­fense sys­tems with weapons that in­cluded pre­ci­sion-guided cruise mis­siles, stealth air­craft, ad­vanced satel­lite sur­veil­lance and im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tions and intelligence sys­tems. He suc­cess­fully cam­paigned to in­crease the Pen­tagon bud­get dur­ing his term, de­spite skep­ti­cism in­side the White House and from Democrats in Congress.

That tur­bu­lent pe­riod in­cluded the Soviet Union’s in­va­sion of Afghanistan and the Ira­nian hostage cri­sis. An ef­fort in April 1980 to res­cue the hostages failed when one of the he­li­copters on the mis­sion struck a tanker air­craft in eastern Iran and crashed, killing eight U.S. ser­vice­men.

“I con­sid­ered the failed res­cue at­tempt my great­est re­gret and most painful les­son learned,” Brown wrote in his book “Star Span­gled Se­cu­rity.”

Carter nom­i­nated Brown to be de­fense sec­re­tary in 1977. He was quickly con­firmed and served through­out Carter’s term.

Brown faced nu­mer­ous ob­sta­cles when he took the job as Pen­tagon chief, in­clud­ing pres­sure to re­duce the de­fense bud­get both from within the ad­min­is­tra­tion and from in­flu­en­tial con­gres­sional Democrats.

“When I be­came sec­re­tary of de­fense in 1977, the mil­i­tary ser­vices, most of all the army, were dis­rupted badly by the Viet­nam War. There was gen­eral agree­ment that the Soviet Union out­classed the West in con­ven­tional mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity, es­pe­cially in ground forces in Europe,” he wrote later.

Wary of the grow­ing Soviet threat, Brown sought to with­stand the pres­sure to cut de­fense and, grad­u­ally, man­aged to in­crease spend­ing.

“The con­stant Cold War com­pe­ti­tion raged hot dur­ing the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion and pre­oc­cu­pied me through­out the four years,” Brown wrote. He noted later that “the De­fense Depart­ment bud­get in real terms was 10 to 12 per­cent more when we left than when we came in,” which he said was not an easy ac­com­plish­ment.

And he cited the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances in de­fense sys­tems, es­pe­cially weapons sys­tems such as pre­ci­sion-guided cruise mis­siles, stealth air­craft and ad­vanced satel­lite sur­veil­lance.

“Some of these came to vis­i­ble fruition 10 years later dur­ing Desert Storm, which re­versed Sad­dam Hus­sein’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Kuwait,” he wrote. “The Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion ini­ti­ated and de­vel­oped these pro­grams, the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion paid for their ac­qui­si­tion in many cases, and the Ge­orge H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion em­ployed them.”

Brown later main­tained that his ex­ten­sive work with the Sovi­ets on the arms race was not wasted.

“We also reached a spe­cific strate­gic arms con­trol agree­ment with the Soviet Union,” he wrote. “Though never for­mally rat­i­fied, the agree­ment was ad­hered to by both par­ties and lim­ited Soviet threats that our other con­ven­tional and nu­clear weapons pro­grams were de­signed to counter.”

The act­ing de­fense sec­re­tary, Pa­trick Shana­han, said in a state­ment Satur­day that Brown’s “steady lead­er­ship pi­loted our na­tion through a con­se­quen­tial seg­ment of the Cold War. His fo­cus on de­ter­rence through a strong nu­clear triad fa­cil­i­tated long-term peace and sta­bil­ity in the United States and Europe.” Shana­han praised Brown for his “de­voted lead­er­ship and lifetime of ser­vice.”


Former Sec­re­tary of De­fense Harold Brown ar­rives at the White House to meet with then-Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2006.

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