Defense Expert William Kaufmann
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
William W. Kaufmann, 90, a political scientist and Pentagon adviser who helped shape Cold War nuclear defense strategy and later became a leading critic of Defense Department spending, died Dec. 14 at Hearthstone at Choate, an Alzheimer's care center in Woburn, Mass.
Dr. Kaufmann was an emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former national security expert at the Brookings Institution, a research and policy center in Washington. He served as a special assistant to every Defense secretary from 1961 to 1981, from Robert McNamara to Harold Brown.
In 1986, the journal Foreign Affairs called him "the man who may well be the most knowledgeable individual in this country on the defense budgets of the past quarter-century." But it was his earlier work on nuclear policy that launched his reputation in the defense establishment.
For much of the early Cold War, the prevailing war plan of the United States was all-out nuclear attack in response to any potential Soviet armed threat no matter how trivial. In 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles famously described the approach as a "capacity for massive retaliation."
Fred Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist specializing in national security issues, said Dr. Kaufmann was among the leading defense experts to challenge the nuclear war plan successfully.
"He provided the intellectual rationale for building up the U.S. Army in Western Europe, attempting to provide a conventional defense against a Soviet threat -- a notion that at the time was thought to be infeasible," said Kaplan, who profiled Dr. Kaufmann in the 1983 book "The Wizards of Armageddon."
Dr. Kaufmann had once been an obscure academic whose first book was on British colonial policy in Latin America. He attracted attention in military circles for a controversial 1954 essay, "The Requirements of Deterrence," that critiqued Dulles's "massive retaliation" strategy.
"We must face the fact," he wrote, "that, if we are challenged to fulfill the threat of massive retaliation, we will be likely to suffer costs as great as those we inflict."
Especially in Army circles, Dr. Kaufmann's essay found favor among those hoping to counter the influence of the Air Force and its nuclear arsenal. In subsequent years, Dr. Kaufmann continued to play a major role as an architect of new defense policies. He rose to lead the social science department at the Rand Corp., a national security think tank.
In 1960, he proposed what became known as "counterforce" strategy, which unlike massive retaliation would fire its first volley of nuclear weapons at Soviet bomber bases, submarine pens and other defense targets -- but avoid Soviet cities.
The hope was that this limited initial response would bring the war to a resolution shy of annihilation.
Starting with McNamara, Dr. Kaufmann was able to persuade secretaries of defense that counterforce would provide more options for the president in the event of nuclear war.
He "was one of those people who came up with ways to view nuclear weapons and nuclear war more rationally," Kaplan said. "What he came to realize 20 years after the fact, was that it defied rational thinking and that maybe it was even dangerous to think nuclear war could be subjected to rational planning."
William Weed Kaufmann was born Nov. 10, 1918, in Manhattan, N.Y. He was 10 when his father died after a heart attack, but the family was prosperous enough to educate William at the private Choate boarding school in Wallingford, Conn. Future President John F. Kennedy was a classmate.
He graduated from Yale University in 1939 and after Army Air Forces service during World War II returned to New Haven, Conn., to study international relations. He earned a doctorate in 1948.
Remaining at Yale as an instructor, he became part of a group of promising young scholars researching the causes of war and how countries respond to military threats. He moved on to Princeton University and Rand before joining MIT in 1961.
Dr. Kaufmann's tenure as defense consultant ended with the incoming Reagan White House in 1981. He then spent many years at Brookings conducting rigorous analyses of the annual defense budget. One of his later books, "Glasnost, Perestroika, and U.S. Defense Spending" (1990), called for the halving of the U.S. military budget.
With his dual roles as teacher and government consultant, he educated a generation of defense analysts with the belief that a disciplined and objective approach to defense budgeting was possible.
Among his MIT students were Kaplan, former federal counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke and Charles A. Duelfer, a retired defense and intelligence official who was the CIA's top weapons inspector in Iraq.
"The most powerful thing he instilled and promoted was the notion that analysis, rational analysis of defense policy and posture, was something that could be done and applied," Duelfer said.
"The government spends vast quantities of money to buy defense stuff," Duelfer said. "What he would do was try to tie those allocations to defined purposes."
Reflecting on his career in 1983, Dr. Kaufmann criticized the defense policy world, likening it to a deep pit. "It was easy to get caught up in the whole nuclear business," he told Kaplan. "You could eat and breathe the stuff. . . . Then you move away from it for a while, look at it from a distance and think, 'God that's a crazy world.' "
His marriage to Sarah Myers ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 46 years, Julia Alexander Kaufmann of Cambridge, Mass.