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Harold Brown: Offsetting the Soviet Military Challenge, 1977-1981.

Harold Brown: Offsetting the Soviet Military Challenge, 1977-1981. By Howard C. Keefer. Washington DC: Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2017. Maps. Tables. Diagrams. Photographs. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xix, 815. $89.95 (free pdf download from the internet) ISBN: 978-016093755-2

The book is part of an official history series covering the office of Secretary of Defense (SecDef) from its inception. The volumes are written chronologically and are arranged not around specific SecDefs but, rather, periods of time corresponding to significant changes in the world situation or administration initiatives (e.g., Eisenhower's New Look). Howard Keefer is a long-standing government historian whose knowledge and understanding of governmental processes, especially the budget, help make sense of what can be daunting material.

Harold Brown served as Secretary of Defense for all four years of the Carter administration dealing with issues ranging from the post-Vietnam drawdown, all volunteer force, nuclear disarmament talks, a resurgent and increasingly belligerent Soviet Union, and the Iranian hostage crisis. A nuclear scientist and experienced government official (he ran the Livermore Labs and served in the McNamara Defense Department), he accepted the job because he believed in Carter and felt he could have an impact in a critical role in the new administration.

Brown worked hard and accomplished a great deal but is generally relegated to the ranks of indifferent or ineffective SecDefs because of his service for a President perceived as soft on defense and who failed in his greatest foreign policy and military challenge--bringing the hostages home. Keefer argues this is an unfair characterization and shows that Brown, far from being ineffective, actually led a revitalization of the U.S. military and laid the groundwork for the Reagan buildup. His key theme is the fact that the groundwork for the Reagan military buildup actually began under Carter and Brown. He effectively demonstrates that many of the Reagan-era programs used to defeat the Soviet buildup of the late 1970s and early 1980s (e.g., intermediate range nuclear missiles, cruise missiles, stealth) were started and nurtured under the supposedly soft Carter administration. This is not to say it was easy or uniformly successful (cancellation of the B-1 is one high profile example), but the fact remains that when Reagan took office, many of the tools he needed were already in development or in place. Brown deserves significant credit for making that happen.

The book is arranged by subject rather than chronology, but the writing is clear, and the time shifts as the book moves from subject to subject are easy to follow. Its strongest elements are the budget and weapons acquisition discussions and portrayal of Brown as a leader. The clear budget and acquisition discussions are detailed but, in the end, provide excellent explanations of the overall processes and Brown's role. Discussions of Brown's leadership show him as quiet and unassuming. He was detail-oriented while being consistent, persistent, and, at times, stubborn when he felt strongly about a topic. Keefer is a bit more superficial in other areas, particularly the section on the revolution in military affairs heralded by stealth and the systems-of-systems approach using technology such as JSTARS to network intelligence and the battle-field.

Overall the book delivers a balanced and thoughtful assessment of Secretary Brown. It is well researched and has easy narrative style. Keefer makes a convincing case for Brown as an effective SecDef who waged a quiet but consistent campaign within the Carter administration to strengthen the military while supporting the President. This book corrects a misperception on this subject many may still harbor.

Golda Eldridge, Lt Col, USAF (Ret), EdD
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Author:Eldridge, Golda
Publication:Air Power History
Date:Dec 22, 2018
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