De­fense sec­re­tary un­der Carter over­saw arse­nal he helped de­sign

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY ROBERT D. MCFAD­DEN New York Times

Harold Brown, Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter’s de­fense sec­re­tary in an era of ris­ing Soviet chal­lenges, died Fri­day at his home in Ran­cho Santa Fe, Cal­i­for­nia. He was 91. His daugh­ter Deborah Brown said the cause was pan­cre­atic can­cer.

Brown was a bril­liant sci­en­tist of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy who helped de­velop Amer­ica’s nu­clear arse­nal and ne­go­ti­ate its first strate­gic arms con­trol treaty.

As de­fense sec­re­tary from 1977 to 1981, Brown presided over the most for­mi­da­ble power in his­tory: le­gions of in­tercon­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles and fleets of world-rang­ing bombers and nu­clear sub­marines, with enough war­heads to wipe out Soviet so­ci­ety many times over. But that was hardly the ques­tion.

In an age that im­per­iled hu­man­ity with nu­clear Ar­maged­don, the is­sue was whether Amer­ica could keep pace with Soviet strate­gic ca­pa­bil­i­ties, main­tain­ing the bal­ance of ter­ror – an as­sur­ance of mu­tual de­struc­tion, with hun­dreds of mil­lions killed out­right – that had dom­i­nated the nu­clear arms race and strate­gic plan­ning through­out the post­war era.

In those days, “Dr. Strangelove,” Stan­ley Kubrick’s 1964 black com­edy film about the doc­trine of mu­tu­ally assured de­struc­tion, shaded de­bates over nu­clear strat­egy be­cause the con­cept of de­ter­rence was based on the du­bi­ous as­sump­tion that if the Rus­sians launched a sur­prise nu­clear at­tack, Amer­ica could sur­vive and re­tal­i­ate, dev­as­tat­ing Soviet cities and strate­gic tar­gets, al­though mil­lions would die.

“I believe that in the age of mu­tual de­ter­rence – and we are still in the age of mu­tual de­ter­rence – the su­per­pow­ers will be­have the way hedge­hogs make love,” Brown said a few months af­ter tak­ing of­fice. “That is, care­fully.”

In ret­ro­spect, ex­perts say, the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion and Brown main­tained the strate­gic bal­ance, coun­ter­ing Soviet air­craft and bal­lis­tic in­no­va­tions by im­prov­ing land-based ICBMS, by up­grad­ing B-52 strate­gic bombers with low-fly­ing cruise mis­siles and by de­ploy­ing far more sub­ma­rine-launched mis­siles tipped with MIRVS, or mul­ti­ple war­heads that split into in­de­pen­dent tra­jec­to­ries to hit many tar­gets.

In his cav­ernous Pen­tagon of­fice, be­hind a 9foot desk once used by Gen. John J. Per­sh­ing, Brown, a soft-spo­ken and in­tensely pri­vate man, of­ten worked alone, ab­sorbed in his doc­u­ments, books and judg­ments. He seemed un­com­fort­able at brief­ings and hear­ings.

But col­leagues called him a force­ful po­lit­i­cal in­fighter who pro­tected his turf and im­pressed hawks and doves with his com­mand of facts.

By the time he joined the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion, Brown had played im­por­tant roles in the de­fense estab­lish­ment for two decades – in nu­clear weapons re­search, in the de­vel­op­ment of Po­laris mis­siles, in di­rect­ing the Pen­tagon’s multi­bil­lion­dol­lar weapons re­search pro­gram, and in help­ing plot strat­egy for the Viet­nam War as sec­re­tary of the Air Force.

He had been a pro­tégé of Edward Teller, fa­ther of the hy­dro­gen bomb, and his suc­ces­sor as head of the Lawrence Liver­more Lab­o­ra­tory in Cal­i­for­nia. He had been pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy; had worked for Pres­i­dents John F. Kennedy, Lyn­don B. John­son and Richard M. Nixon; and had been a del­e­gate to the Strate­gic Arms Lim­i­ta­tion Talks.

As the first sci­en­tist to be­come de­fense sec­re­tary, Brown knew the tech­no­log­i­cal com­plex­i­ties of mod­ern war­fare. He be­gan de­vel­op­ment of “stealth” air­craft, with low pro­files on radar. He ac­cel­er­ated the Tri­dent sub­ma­rine pro­gram and the con­ver­sion of older Po­sei­don subs to carry MIRVS. And, with an eye on cost-ef­fec­tive­ness, he and Carter halted the B-1 bomber as a suc­ces­sor to the B-52.

It was all very ex­pen­sive. De­spite Carter’s cam­paign prom­ises to cut mil­i­tary spend­ing, mil­i­tary bud­gets un­der

Brown rose to $175 bil­lion in the 1981 fis­cal year from $116 bil­lion in the 1978 fis­cal year, re­flect­ing the need to mod­ern­ize strate­gic arms and strengthen con­ven­tional forces to meet chal­lenges in the Mid­dle East and else­where.

Brown laid the ground­work for talks that pro­duced the Camp David ac­cords, me­di­ated by Carter and signed in 1978 by Pres­i­dent An­war Sa­dat of Egypt and Prime Min­is­ter Me­nachem Be­gin of Is­rael. The ac­cords led to an Is­raeli-egyp­tian peace treaty in 1979.

In 1980, Brown helped plan a mis­sion to res­cue Amer­i­can hostages held by Ira­ni­ans who seized the U.S. Em­bassy in Tehran in Novem­ber 1979. It failed. Eight U.S. ser­vice­men were killed in the op­er­a­tion, and the hostages were not freed un­til Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan took of­fice in Jan­uary 1981.

Con­cerned that Amer­ica’s al­lies were not shar­ing enough of the de­fense bur­den, Brown re­peat­edly urged the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion, and Ja­pan and South Korea, to in­crease mil­i­tary spend­ing, but with lim­ited suc­cess. He had sharp vale­dic­tory words for the al­lies: “They need to be­have as if their mil­i­tary se­cu­rity is as im­por­tant to them as it is to us.”


Harold Brown, Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter’s sec­re­tary of de­fense, at Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings in 1977.

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