The surprise selection of Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary provides a clear signal of President-elect George W. Bush’s intent to transform radically the military policy of the United States. Of all the candidates considered for this position, Rumsfeld is the most ardent advocate of ballistic-missile defense and a tougher stance toward Russia and China. A longtime Republican activist with markedly conservative views, Rumsfeld is also known for his opposition to all arms-control measures and for favoring the deployment of weapons in space.
Along with other members of Bush’s national security team–Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice–Rumsfeld can be expected to push hard for the establishment of a full-scale National Missile Defense system. In 1998 he authored a report on ballistic missile threats that ignited the Republicans’ current drive for a national missile shield. Now, as Defense Secretary, he will be in a strong position to lead the charge for NMD.
But while NMD deployment will be Rumsfeld’s top priority, it is by no means his only major objective. With the blessing of President-elect Bush, Rumsfeld will campaign for a wide range of policy shifts. These will include a greater emphasis on warfare in space, the accelerated procurement of high-tech weapons and a diminished commitment to UN peacekeeping operations. It all looks depressingly like the cold war era, when “national security” meant distrust of all other states and the pursuit of ever more potent weapons.
Rumsfeld’s service to Republican Presidents (and presidential hopefuls) goes back to the Nixon Administration, when he became director of the Office of Economic Opportunity after several terms in Congress. While at the OEO, Rumsfeld impressed the White House staff with his managerial skills, and in 1970 he was made counselor to the President. (It was at this time that Rumsfeld developed close ties with Cheney, who had served as his special assistant at the OEO.)
Fortunately for Rumsfeld, Nixon appointed him ambassador to NATO in 1972, thus sparing him from possible association with the Watergate scandal. When Nixon was forced to abandon the presidency, Rumsfeld was brought back to Washington by the new President, Gerald Ford, to serve first as White House Chief of Staff and later as Defense Secretary. Although not remembered for any major innovations during his fourteen months at the Pentagon (late 1975 to early 1977), Rumsfeld shielded the military from any major penalties following its defeat in Vietnam and laid the groundwork for procurement of a wide range of new weapons systems, including the B-1 bomber and M-X missile.
Following the election of Jimmy Carter, Rumsfeld left Washington for the private sector. From 1977 to 1985 he served as chief executive officer and then president of G.D. Searle, a major pharmaceutical corporation later acquired by Monsanto. Several years later, he took control of another large company, the General Instrument Corporation. As at Searle, he slashed costs (mainly by eliminating staff) and boosted profits, giving him a reputation as a skilled, tough-minded corporate manager.