The new defense establishment received its first test in the Korean War. It was generally agreed that the department revealed a capability to react quickly to crisis, but there was criticism that too much reliance had been placed on strategic air forces and nuclear weapons to the neglect of conventional military forces. The Eisenhower administration, concerned about controlling military expenditures, emphasized deterring a nuclear attack with massive retaliation (see nuclear strategy), despite critics who advocated additional expenditures on conventional forces.
Under Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara (1961–68), the department aimed for a more balanced military program and established a new layer of civilian officials who imported civilian management techniques. In general, the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson aimed for a stronger conventional capability but still failed with their counterinsurgency strategy in the Vietnam War.
During the cold war, the Dept. of Defense became a major economic force, mostly through its massive purchases and research investments (see Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). However, the breakup of the USSR and the resultant reductions in defense spending have negatively affected civilian industries that supplied the Dept. of Defense. By 1997 the department had begun a "defense reform initiative," intended to streamline and modernize what had become one of the world's largest organizations.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.