Robert McNamara


Robert McNamara : biography

June 19, 1916 – July 6, 2009

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.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, McNamara served as a member of EXCOMM and played a large role in the Administration’s handling and eventual defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was a strong proponent of the blockade option over a missile strike and helped persuade the Joint Chiefs of Staff to agree with the blockade option.

Increased attention to conventional strength complemented these special forces preparations. 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 War) and 1961, it increased to nearly 2,808,000 by June 30, 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.

Other steps

McNamara took other steps to increase U.S. deterrence posture and military capabilities. He raised the proportion of Strategic Air Command (SAC) strategic bombers on 15-minute ground alert from 25% to 50%, thus lessening their vulnerability to missile attack. In December 1961, he established the United States Strike Command (STRICOM). Authorized to draw forces when needed from the Strategic Army Corps (STRAC), 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. The end effect was to remove the Intelligence function from the control of the military and to put it under the control of the Secretary of Defense. In the same year, he set up the Defense Supply Agency to work toward unified supply procurement, distribution, and inventory management under the control of the Secretary of Defense rather than the uniformed military.

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 less account than had previous secretaries and to override military opinions contributed to his unpopularity with service leaders. It was also generally thought that Systems Analysis, rather than being objective, was tailored by the civilians to support decisions that McNamara had already made.