The Public Interest

Systems analysis and the quest for rational defense

Stephen Rosen

Summer 1984

THERE have been serious problems with U.S. defense policy and with the performance of the U.S. armed forces over the last 20 years, and on more than one occasion these problems have been blamed on the methods of analysis and ways of thinking introduced by Robert McNamara during his tenure as Secretary of Defense. His approach, it is argued, inappropriately applied what were essentially economic tools of analysis to military questions. Weapons were purchased and military organizations reformed in the pursuit of cost effectiveness, with an accompanying disregard for practical military wisdom and experience.  That reduced the actual strategic effectiveness of our armed forees.  What was worse, it is argued, this outlook was adopted by the officer corps itself, partly in self-defense, partly because the tools of cost-effectiveness analysis were easier to learn and apply than the more traditional approaches that drew on personal experience, military history, and other non-quantitative sources. The bluntest statement of this argument has been made by Edward Luttwak...

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