Independent, nonprofit think tank founded jointly by the U. S. Army Air Forces and the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1945 to ensure the continuation of technological advancements begun during World War II. Since its foundation, the RAND Corporation (RAND is short for “Research and Development”) has served both the public and private sectors. Although it mostly addressed the defense concerns of the U. S. Air Force during its initial years, it was later expanded to tackle social problems as well. RAND played a significant role in the advancement of technology during the Cold War.
Project RAND, precursor to the RAND Corporation, began in October 1945 as the brainchild of Henry “Hap” Arnold, commanding general of the U. S. Army. He worked in collaboration with a number of influential individuals from both the public and private sectors-including Edward Bowles, Donald Douglas, and Major Generals Lauris Norstad and Curtis LeMay-to establish an institution that could successfully coordinate efforts among the military, government, industry, and academe to promote the development of science and technology.
In March 1946, Project RAND was inaugurated as a division of the Douglas Aircraft Company. RAND reported to the U. S. Army Air Forces’ deputy chief of air staff for research and development, which was established in December 1945 and headed by LeMay. The RAND staff grew to include several fields including mathematics, engineering, aerodynamics, physics, chemistry, economics, and psychology. RAND produced its first study in May 1946 and has since produced many volumes of original research.
Project RAND split from Douglas Aircraft in May 1948 and thereafter became the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan research and design enterprise. Both its goals and purpose are explicitly set forth in its articles of incorporation, which seek “to further and promote scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare and security of the United States.”
The exigencies of the Cold War, more than anything else, dictated RAND’s research agenda during its first years. Its directors’ insistence on cross-fertilization and free inquiry culminated in innovative approaches to defense problems that included systems analysis and game theory. Essential to RAND’s innovation was its interdisciplinary approach to problem solving. RAND is also responsible for having created a number of precursors to modern-day technologies that were essential to both the space age and the computer age. These innovations ranged from infrared detection, missile targeting, and reentry technology to video recording, computers, and the Internet.
In the 1960s, RAND began to move beyond defense matters, addressing domestic policy issues as well. This was in part because of a decrease in U. S. Air Force contracts as other research and design organizations emerged. Moreover, the armed forces had learned much about how to conduct their own research from years of collaboration with RAND. Aside from science and technology, RAND began to specialize in education, civil and criminal justice, the environment, population studies, terrorism, and transportation. Despite this shift, however, in the 1990s two-thirds of RAND’s research focused on national security issues.
Top secret report issued by a panel of U. S. defense and military experts in November 1957. President Dwight D. Eisenhower commissioned the so- called Gaither Committee, chaired by the RAND Corporation’s H. Rowan Gaither, to study the nation’s defenses and strategic posture after the launching of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 1 earlier that same year. The rather alarmist report spurred opposition to Eisenhower’s New Look defense posture and called for a $44 billion program to bolster conventional U. S. forces and the further development of missile and rocket capabilities.
Eisenhower tasked the Security Resources Panel primarily with studying the nation’s civil defense needs. But the hawkish committee members went far beyond their mission and considered all aspects of the nation’s defenses. The report was coauthored by Paul Nitze, anticommunist hard-liner and principal author of National Security Council Report NSC-68, and retired Colonel George Lincoln, a West Point professor and respected military planner and strategist.
The report argued that the Soviet Union harbored expansionist intentions and highlighted the alleged widening disparity between American and Soviet weapons programs. It concluded by proposing a $44 billion program of military spending in order to close the unproven gap. The report’s proposals were similar to those advocated in NSC-68. But just as Eisenhower had rejected some of the strategic doctrines of NSC-68, he also rejected the Gaither Committee’s findings. He objected to the high costs of its proposals and did not believe, as the panelists had argued, that such a dramatically expanded national security program would have no harmful effect on the nation’s economy. Moreover, he tended to view the report as an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction to Sputnik, which had created panic among some that the United States was not only losing the space race but was also losing ground to the Soviets on the scientific and military fronts.
Although Eisenhower objected to many tenets of the Gaither Report, he did not simply dismiss the recommendations out of hand. In fact, during the late 1950s, he presided over a substantial expansion of the U. S. nuclear arsenal. This effort was overlooked by contemporary observers.
Despite Eisenhower’s directive that the Gaither Report be kept secret, the contents were widely leaked. The release of this information fed the growing perception of a technological gap between the Soviet Union and the United States, contributing to increased anxiety among the American public and a loss of confidence in Eisenhower’s national security policies. Some contemporary observers interpreted President John F. Kennedy’s November 1960 election victory as a repudiation of Eisenhower’s policies and an affirmation of the Gaither Committee’s findings. Indeed, Kennedy’s campaign rhetoric, which repeatedly cited a missile gap between the two superpowers, was an important part of his campaign strategy, although such a gap never did exist in reality.
References Campbell, Virginia. “How RAND Invented the Postwar World.” Invention and Technology (Summer 2004): 50-59. Collins, Martin J. Cold War Laboratory: RAND, the Air Force, and the American State, 1945-1950. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press, 2002. Herken, Gregg. Counsels of War. New York: Knopf, 1985. Kaplan, Fred. The Wizards of Armageddon: Strategists of the Nuclear Age. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983. Snead, David L. The Gaither Committee, Eisenhower, and the Cold War. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1999.