Brown, Harold

views updated

Brown, Harold (1927– ), nuclear physicist and weapons designer; secretary of the air force and secretary of defense; defense consultant.The first scientist to become secretary of defense, Harold Brown's career epitomizes the linkages between scientific, educational, and military institutions that developed during the Cold War. A high school graduate at age fifteen, Brown received his Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University in 1949, at twenty‐one. After working at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1952 Brown joined the newly created Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, where he worked on controlled fusion and nuclear explosives. Before becoming laboratory director (1960), he had played a leading role in the design of the Polaris missile warhead and taken part in discussions on Project Plowshare (peaceful uses of nuclear weapons). Brown joined the Kennedy administration in May 1961 as director of the Division of Research and Engineering (DDR&E) within the Department of Defense. As DDR&E, he scrutinized service proposals for new weapons systems, rejecting some, such as the Skybolt missile and the B‐70 bomber, while backing others, such as highly accurate multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) and the TFX fighter‐bomber.

From 1965 to 1968, Brown was secretary of the air Force. Initially a supporter of the Vietnam War, he was an architect of the bombing program, but became a supporter of deescalation. Appointed president of California Institute of Technology (1969), Brown served the Nixon administration as a member of the SALT I delegation. When Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, he appointed Brown secretary of defense. A strong secretary, who was committed to sustaining a strategic nuclear edge over the Soviet Union, Brown left his stamp upon the administration's defense programs, including the MX missile, SALT II, and nuclear strategy (Presidential Directive 59). Brown also presided over defense budget increases, especially after the invasion of Afghanistan (1979), although his rationale—a purportedly increased rate of Soviet military investment—remains contested. To bolster containment of the Soviet Union, Brown promoted military and intelligence cooperation with China, an initiative that he cemented with a major trip to Beijing (1980). During the 1980s, Brown became an investment banker but also held posts at Johns Hopkins University and the Center for International Strategic Studies.
[See also SALT Treaties.]


Current Biography, 1961, pp. 76–78.
Current Biography, 1977, pp. 86–89.
Bernard Weinraub , The Browning of the Pentagon, New York Times: 29 January 1977.
Raymond Garthoff , Detente and Confrontation: U.S.‐Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan, 1994.
Olav Njølstad , Peacekeeper and Troublemaker: The Containment Policy of Jimmy Carter, 1995.

William Burr

About this article

Brown, Harold

Updated About content Print Article