The RAND Corporation: History and Ideas

The RAND Corporation originated in the minds of leading Air Force Generals after World War II. The RAND Corporation was destined to play a large part in the formulation of U.S. policies and strategies in the "Cold War" with the Soviet Union. RAND specialists used ideas generated from game theory to understand how the Soviets would respond to a nuclear attack, as well as the possibility that the Soviets would strike the United States first.

Through a process called Systems Analysis figures at RAND would help the Air Force to develop strategies, tactics, and weapons platforms for dealing with the nuclear question on a more practical level.

Meanwhile in other departments of RAND, early computers were being constructed, and the first model for the internet was concocted by Paul Baran as a way to keep missile bases informed in the case of a nuclear attack that would stifle much electronic communications. He conceived of sending messages in digital format in packets. Simultaneously, a British scientist, Donald Davies came up with similar ideas. The idea was used to create ARPANET, which would one day morph into the internet.

Besides advising the Air Force and the U.S. Government on policy matters related to nuclear conflict with the Soviets, RAND employees began to become involved in presidential politics. Many at RAND were not happy with the way the Eisenhower administration was handling the so-called missile gap. People from RAND insisted that the Soviets had over 500 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, while sources in the CIA and photos from spy planes showed that the Soviets had no more than 50. Some members of RAND fed information to the Kennedy Campaign emphasizing the 500 missile figure (which proved vastly excessive - there were only 41). Kennedy used these bogus figures in his speeches to decry the administration policies regarding a slow buildup of the U.S. missile inventory. Eisenhower could not respond openly to Kennedy because he did not want to compromise intelligence sources.1 Eisenhower's famous warning about the military-industrial complex was said to have stemmed from this disagreement with people in RAND.

As people from RAND began to get positions of power in the Kennedy Defense department, they began to change the face of the military. Systems Analysis became the language of the officer corp. The effect on long range planning was also crucial. Originally in 1961, RAND figures in the Department of Defense had come up with a plan called SIOP-62 which would unleash the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal in case of provocation. The results would have been destruction of half the population of the planet. William Kaufmann, a RAND analyst presented to the Defense department a concept called counterforce, or second strike, which would be an attack by the residual nuclear forces should the United States be attacked first. This would create a deterrence to the Soviets either to use nuclear force first, or to invade Western Europe. This second strike capability would vastly reduce the probability that SIOP-62 would ever need to be implemented.

Thus, the huge nuclear arsenals held by the two superpowers pretty much precluded direct conflict between the super-powers. Central Europe became a standoff along the "Iron Curtain" (also largely because of the possibility of nuclear exchange). However, in the "Third World" the United States and Soviet Union could clash without provoking a nuclear nightmare, and so they did. The first great flare-up occurred in Korea, then in Cuba, and then in Vietnam. By the time the Vietnam War (Johnson's War) began to escalate, the RAND corporation was deeply embedded in the Defense Department and was becoming a greater influence with NASA as well as in foreign policy. Contracts from the Air Force were shrinking but in other areas they were growing.

Also, at this juncture the social scientists and departments within RAND were becoming even more prominent. Interestingly enough, this constituted a trend that began with RAND being dominated first by physicists, then by mathematicians, then by economists, and finally by social scientists. Yet all the disciplines worked together. Since the problem of Vietnam continued to grow, RAND spent much time working on projects that focused on small wars and insurgencies. This focus carried RAND deep into the Vietnam war, but the Johnson Administration's focus on both guns and butter was the catalyst that began to move RAND out of exclusively military contracts.

In the late 1960s the Mayor of New York was John Lindsay. RAND was hired by the city to help solve some of the social problems that were endemic. RAND came up with solutions for rent control, revamping and cleaning up the police department, and restructuring the fire department. Yet most of the ideas generated were left unimplemented because of political bickering. When Lindsay was replaced as Mayor, RAND lost its funding in the city.

Nevertheless, RAND began to delve into social issues, including education, and even health care. At this time too the think tank was building its own post graduate school from which it would influence leading political lights, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and author of "The End of History", Francis Fukuyama.

RAND would play a large part in the fall of the Soviet Union. It would begin with a group of "neo-conservatives" that met in Washington D.C. and would form the "Committee on the Present Danger". This committee came up with the idea that an arms race in which the Soviet Union could not keep up would eventually break the economic back of communism. It finally did bring about a peaceful result to a long cold war, finally culminating in the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Government in 1991.

The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) was another idea that came out of RAND. RMA hypothesizes that there are certain developments in history and technology that allow one nation to dominate all others militarily for a long period of time. Examples would be the development of iron for weapons. The creation of gunpowder, the stirrup - allowing riders a firmer seat on horseback, the phalanx, and recently the blitzkrieg, as well as GPS systems allowing pinpoint accuracy of weaponry. The idea was to intelligently use advances in tactics and weapons so that wars could be fought quickly and almost painlessly (at least by the winner and even somewhat by the loser).

RMA doctrines would allow the United States to sweep over the Iraqi forces in the Iraq War.

RAND still does considerable work for the government and still wields great influence in both military and civilian spheres.

Next Page: The Origins of the Rand Corporation LeMay, Collbohm, Arnold

  1. Soldiers of Reason, by Alex Abella, Harcourt, 2008, p165 Available at Amazon
  2. Ibid. p133

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