Mattis: Carlucci Left ‘Indelible Mark’ on DoD


Former Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci died June 3 at his home in McLean, Virginia. He was 87.

Official portrait of Frank C. Carlucci.
Frank C. Carlucci, who served as secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, died June 3, 2018, at the age of 87. DoD photo
Official portrait of Frank C. Carlucci.
Frank C. Carlucci
Frank C. Carlucci, who served as secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, died June 3, 2018, at the age of 87. DoD photo

Carlucci was secretary of defense from Nov. 23, 1987, to Jan. 20, 1989, under President Ronald Reagan.

“Secretary Carlucci served our great nation under four U.S. presidents, both republican and democrat, as a lieutenant in the United States Navy, the Ambassador to Portugal, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and several other roles within the Department of Defense before becoming secretary of defense,” Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said in a statement.

“Appointed in 1987, with the end of the Cold War near, Secretary Carlucci was a transformative leader,” Mattis said. “He changed the way the department worked with Congress, and managed critical defense issues, such as procuring major weapon systems, and rebalancing military priorities and resources under dynamic and challenging geopolitical circumstances. 

“Secretary Carlucci left an indelible mark on the Department of Defense,” he continued. “On behalf of all our service men and women and civilians, past and present, we will forever be grateful for his leadership and long honor his patriotism, service and legacy.”

Numerous Government Positions

Carlucci was a Foreign Service officer in the State Department and later served as ambassador to Portugal. He was deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, undersecretary of Health Education and Welfare, and deputy director of the CIA.

Appointed as deputy defense secretary in February 1982 under Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Carlucci monitored the Pentagon’s day-to-day operations and oversaw the defense budget and procurement. His initiatives dealt with bringing more stability and order into the procurement system. 

He left the Defense Department briefly in 1983 for the private sector, but returned to federal service at the White House as assistant to the president for national security affairs.

With extensive roots in national security, Carlucci succeeded Weinberger and became defense secretary on Nov. 23, 1987.

He was known for doing things his way, and while he served only 14 months as secretary, his brand was clear through his initiatives such as weapons systems and downsizing the military, as well as through his relationship with Congress.         

In those 14 months, Carlucci made 13 foreign visits around the globe, and he was the first defense secretary to visit the Soviet Union.

Controversial Domestic Issues

At home, Carlucci faced numerous controversial domestic issues. He dealt with a shrinking defense budget for fiscal year 1989 after the stock market crash of 1987. In 1988, to tighten the defense budget belt and rid the department of unnecessary military facilities, Carlucci proposed the Commission on Base Realignment and Closure, which ultimately eliminated some 90 bases by September 2011. He was up against tough opposition from members of Congress who wanted to save military bases and posts in their districts.

Carlucci’s proposed $299.5 billion defense budget before Congress in 1988 included cutting 36,000 troops from a force of 2,174,000. That translated into cuts in all the military departments, for which he faced great opposition. The secretary of the Navy reportedly resigned after a Carlucci order to retire 16 frigates.

The budget request also provided for $4.6 billion for the Strategic Defense Initiative – also known as the “Star Wars” program – and $200 million for the Midgetman missile.

Reagan vetoed the bill that Congress passed, citing his displeasure over cuts in SDI and restricted Pentagon spending for space-based antimissile interceptor development, which was key to the SDI program. A bill finally was hammered out, and Carlucci accepted a spending ceiling.

INF Treaty

Carlucci was very much in favor of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, which he saw as enhancing NATO security. It would reduce the Soviet’s military threat to Western Europe by taking out a class of missile systems from the area, and show that NATO nations had enough political will to support decisions to secure their safety.

He also made it known that the INF Treaty included tough verification provisions, and to put them in place, Carlucci created the On-Site Inspection Agency in January 1988.

Carlucci also dodged some slings and arrows from the long-term war between Iran and Iraq. In 1988, U.S. ships destroyed two Iranian oil platforms to retaliate for damage sustained by the USS Samuel Roberts in the Persian Gulf from an Iranian mine. U.S. ships sank and severely damaged six Iranian ships. Reagan ordered the Navy to expand its work in the Gulf to protect neutral merchant ships when they were attacked. Carlucci kept a close eye on the events.

Proudest Accomplishments

Carlucci left office at the start of President George H. W. Bush’s term. He told reporters three of his accomplishments made him most proud: convincing Congress to go along with BRAC, developing a positive relationship with Soviet military leaders, and successful tanker escort operations in the Persian Gulf. But his achievements totaled much more than those three.

He also was responsible for establishing funding priorities and guiding the cuts in the fiscal year 1989 defense budget, taking a calm approach to the Pentagon procurement fraud investigation, emphasizing the dangers of long-range missile proliferation to world leaders, and convincing Congress not to use military force to close off U.S. borders in the battle against drugs. Carlucci said he most disappointed with how the Pentagon had not been able to preserve the defense consensus in Congress and the nation when developments in the communist world proved that negotiating from strength works.