James Schlesinger, chairman of defense contractor MITRE Corporation, is an elite figure in U.S. policymaking circles who has held several high-level government positions since the 1960s. These include director of the Central Intelligence Agency, secretary of energy, secretary of defense, and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. More recently, he has served as a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, and the State Department's International Security Advisory Board.
Discussing his career, one journalist wrote, "For nuclear strategists, Mr. Schlesinger is Yoda, the master of their universe. In addition to being a former defense secretary (Nixon and Ford), he is a former energy secretary (Carter) and former director of central intelligence (Nixon). He has been studying the U.S. nuclear posture since the early 1960s, when he was at the RAND Corporation."
Schlesinger has promoted a number of hawkish policy campaigns in recent years, particularly opposing the strengthening of arms control regimes. He served as vice-chair of the bipartisan Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States. The commission's final report, released in 2009, was criticized by arms control groups. In a review of the report, the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation said that "the report uneasily straddles two competing visions. One vision seeks to reduce the role played by nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy. The other vision stresses that nuclear weapons remain as important today as ever before." While the report supported passage of a new START Treaty (which was eventually ratified by the U.S. Senate in December 2010), it failed to press for passage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and placed a heavy emphasis on extending nuclear deterrence instead of exploring alternative forms of maintaining peace and security.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Schlesinger cited Iran's nuclear program as one of the reasons for possibly extending the U.S. "nuclear umbrella" to the Middle East. According to the Journal, Schlesinger "worries about 'contagion' in the Middle East, whereby countries will decide to go nuclear if Iran does. 'We've long talked about Iran as a tipping point,' he says, 'in that it might induce Turkey, which has long been protected under NATO, Egypt [and] Saudi Arabia to respond in kind. … There has been talk about extending the nuclear umbrella to the Middle East in the event that the Iranians are successful in developing that capacity.'"
Although the commission was bipartisan (its chairman was William Perry, secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton), it included a number of long-standing security hawks, including John Foster, Keith Payne, Fred Ikle, and James Woolsey.
Schlesinger also served on the so-called Foster Panel (after its chairman John Foster), a controversial panel promoted by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) that was criticized for promoting new nuclear weapons development.The panel, officially titled the "Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the United States Nuclear Stockpile," was established by the FY 1999 Defense Authorization Act. Its members included Foster, Schlesinger, and nuclear weapons designer Harold Agnew.
In 2001, shortly after the election of President George W. Bush, Schlesinger was appointed to the Defense Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory board then chaired by Richard Perle. Observers were critical of many of the appointees at that time because of their numerous ties to defense industry interests, arguing there was a clear conflict of interest.Perle eventually stepped down as chair after his various industry ties were widely discussed in the media. Other members serving with Schlesinger at the time included Newt Gingrich, Ken Adelman, James Woolsey, Eliot Cohen, Richard Allen, and Martin Anderson. Many of these men had risen to prominence in the Reagan administration after initially joining forces in the late 1970s in the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), an hardline anticommunist pressure group.
In 2010, Schlesinger's term on the board was extended two additional years, until March 2012.Among those serving alongside Schlesinger during his most recent appointment were John Nagl of the Center for a New American Security, Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Brent Scowcroft, Robert Gallucci, Vin Weber, J.D. Crouch, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Fred Ikle, Robert Kaplan, John Keane, and Joseph Nye.
In 2009, Schlesinger was tapped to serve on the State Department's International Security Advisory Board, which advises on arms control, disarmament, international security, and other aspects of public diplomacy. At the time of Schlesinger's appointment, Paul Wolfowitz, the controversial former Pentagon official and World Bank chief, was the board's chair. Also serving on the board with Schlesinger were well known hawks Robert Joseph, Michael O'Hanlon, Keith Payne, William Schneider Jr., William van Cleave, and James Woolsey.
In recognition of his track record supporting hawkish arms control and security policies, the neoconservative Center for Security Policy (CSP) awarded Schlesinger its 2001 Keeper of the Flame award. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was on hand at the CSP even to present Schlesinger the award. According to a CSP press release about the event, Rumsfeld used the opportunity to promote the invasion of Afghanistan, saying: "We will conduct a sustained campaign to take out al-Qaeda and their Taliban protectors. And then we'd best get after the rest."Other recipients of the award have included Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Steve Forbes, Newt Gingrich, Christopher Cox, and James Schlesinger.
Schlesinger has worked for a number of defense contractors and financial companies, including the MITRE Corporation and Lehman Brothers. At MITRE, a major not-for-profit defense contactor, Schlesinger has served as the chairman of the board of trustees. He has been joined at MITRE by a host of other elite figures closely associated with militarist advocacy campaigns, including retired Admiral David Jeremiah, a one-time adviser to the neoconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, who served on the Perle-chaired Defense Policy Board (DPB) as well as the Rumsfeld-led "Space Commission," a controversial congressionally mandated commission whose 2001 final report called for developing space weapons; and Ronald Fogleman, a retired air force general who also served on the Space Commission as well as alongside Jeremiah and Schlesinger on the Perle-led DPB.
Summarizing his career, Schlesinger's MITRE bio says that he "was the nation's first Secretary of Energy, taking the oath of office one day after President Carter signed the legislation creating the new department. He served in this position from August 5, 1977, until 1979. In the previous year, President-elect Carter had asked Dr. Schlesinger to become assistant to the president, charged with the responsibility for drafting a plan for the establishment of the Department of Energy and a national energy policy. From July 1973 to November 1975, Dr. Schlesinger was Secretary of Defense. Immediately prior to this appointment, he served as Director of Central Intelligence. In August 1971, he was selected by President Nixon to become chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, a position he held until February 1973. Dr. Schlesinger began his government service in 1969 as assistant director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget (later the Office of Management and Budget), where he also served as acting deputy director. He was a senior staff member at the RAND Corporation from 1963 to 1967, and RAND's director of strategic studies from 1967 to 1969. He also served as consultant to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and to the Bureau of the Budget. From 1955 to 1963, he was assistant and then associate professor of economics at the University of Virginia."
Schlesinger is the author of The Political Economy of National Security(1960) and America at Century's End(1989).