Rationalizing ABM in the 1960s: The Decisions to Deploy Sentinel and Safeguard

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The question of whether to deploy missile defenses is one of the most important national security dilemmas facing the administration of George W. Bush today. In an attempt to better frame the current missile defense debate, this paper discusses President Lyndon B. Johnson's decision to deploy the Sentinel anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system and President Richard M. Nixon's decision to deploy the Safeguard system in the late 1960s. Specifically, this paper addresses the question: Why did the U.S. deploy the Sentinel system to protect the U.S. population from a Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) attack in September 1967, only to switch to the Safeguard system to defend U.S. offensive strategic missiles from a Soviet first strike in March 1969? To solve this puzzle, this paper examines the switch in ABM deployment rationales through four theoretical lenses--the national interest model, the bureaucratic politics model, the military-industrial complex model, and the domestic politics model. The paper concludes that the selection of an ABM deployment rationale was ultimately based on the domestic political needs of each president. The rationale switch is therefore best explained by the fact that in March 1969, Nixon's domestic political environment vis-à-vis ABM deployment was significantly different from that which had prompted Johnson to deploy Sentinel in September 1967. The final chapter of the paper provides a summary of the findings of this study and a discussion of the policy implications for today's missile defense debate.


Type of resource text
Date created May 1, 2001


Author Noble, Daniel S.
Advisor Blacker, Coit D.


Subject CISAC
Subject Stanford University
Subject Center for International Security and Cooperation
Subject national security
Subject ABM
Subject ICBM
Subject intercontinental ballistic missile
Subject anti-ballistic missile
Subject missile defense
Subject United States
Genre Thesis

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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Noble, Daniel S. (2001). Rationalizing ABM in the 1960s: The Decisions to Deploy Sentinel and Safeguard. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at: http://purl.stanford.edu/wm169wd0213


Stanford University, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Interschool Honors Program in International Security Studies, Theses

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