Gates, Thomas

views updated Jun 08 2018

Gates, Thomas (1906–1983), secretary of defense (1959–61).Gates was born in Philadelphia and became an investment banker, serving in the navy in World War II. In the Eisenhower administration, he was successively undersecretary (1953–57) and secretary of the navy (1957–59) and deputy secretary of defense before succeeding Neil McElroy as secretary on 2 December 1959.

Gates moved quickly to establish close relations with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meeting with them regularly to force decisions on disputed issues. Gates's principal contribution to defense planning was his institution of the Single Integrated Operating Plan (SIOP), which unified the targeting of all strategic nuclear weapons in general war. In doing so, he overrode strong opposition from the navy, with its traditional hostility to centralized defense organization.

While supporting President Dwight D. Eisenhower's effort to hold down defense spending, Gates recognized the need for a modest increase to meet growing Soviet power. He firmly and accurately denied the existence of a “missile gap”—an advantage in missiles favoring the Soviet Union. In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon appointed Gates to head a commission that successfully recommended replacing the conscription with an All‐Volunteer Force.
[See also Defense, Department of; McNamara, Robert S.]


James M. Roherty , Decisions of Robert S. McNamara: A Study of the Role of the Secretary of Defense, 1970.
Roger R. Trask , The Secretaries of Defense: A Brief History, 1947–1985, 1985.
Robert J. Watson , History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Vol. 4, 1998.

Robert J. Watson