Friday 15 November 2019

Former US defence secretary James Schlesinger dies

James R. Schlesinger, former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
James R. Schlesinger, former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency

Former US defence secretary James Schlesinger, a hawkish and erudite Republican who served under three presidents, has died at the age of 85.

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, where Mr Schlesinger was a trustee, confirmed his death.

The former University of Virginia economics professor built an impressive national security resume as defence secretary for Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and was the nation's first energy secretary under Democratic president Jimmy Carter.

Earlier he was a top White House budget official, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Former Senator Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat, who sparred with him as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee called him "a remarkable public servant".

In later years, he served on a host of defence and energy-related taskforces and advisory committees and continued to push for more sophisticated nuclear weapons systems.

He was a long-time member of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board and was appointed by President George W Bush to the Homeland Security Advisory Committee.

"He left an astounding mark on American security and energy policy," CSIS said on its website. "After leaving government, Dr Schlesinger continued to promote a stronger and more prosperous country through his work at many policy institutions, including CSIS."

The Harvard-educated Schlesinger gained a reputation as a perceptive thinker on nuclear strategy, advocating a retreat from reliance on mutually assured destruction as a means of avoiding nuclear war with the Soviet Union. "Deterrence is not a substitute for defence," he said.

Becoming defence secretary in 1973 aged 44, Mr Schlesinger was well-liked among military leaders, consulting with them frequently and aggressively lobbying Congress for more money for the armed forces.

His pro-interventionist foreign policy also brought him favour with the new-right coalition of the day. He worked to rebuild military morale and revamp nuclear strategy in the turbulent period after the Vietnam War era. He opposed amnesty for draft resisters.

But his bluntness and tenacity in military budget struggles made for often prickly relations with Congress and he clashed frequently with secretary of state Henry Kissinger. President Ford fired him in 1975 and replaced him with his White House chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld.

But Mr Schlesinger was not gone for long.

He was back in the senior ranks of government roughly two years later, serving first as Mr Carter's energy "tsar" and then as the first secretary of the new Energy Department, created amid severe fuel shortages and soaring prices spawned by oil embargoes and tensions with Iran in the 1970s.

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