Who Chose the Weapons? Congress versus the US Military, 1950s–80s

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 10:00 AM
Delaware Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Mark R. Wilson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Many observers of the U.S. “military-industrial complex” point to Congress as a key player in a system that for decades has seen the United States spend huge sums on military hardware. But we don’t know enough about the historical transformation of Congress’s role in the defense sector, which seems to have been considerably more important after 1945. Nor do we have a good understanding of the ways in which Congress, in addition to supporting the military’s requests for large expenditures, has also clashed with the military establishment over the selection of weapon systems and the placement of contracts. This paper explores these subjects by drawing on new research in the papers of some of the members of Congress who were most heavily involved in Cold-War era military acquisition policy, including Richard B. Russell, Jr., Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, William Proxmire, and Les Aspin. It considers struggles over several varieties of major weapon systems, including naval warships, bomber aircraft, army tanks, and ballistic missiles. The paper points to Congress’s growing influence, over time, in the field of defense acquisition, and raises questions about how this shift may have affected defense spending and national security over the longer run.
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