26 March 2019

Honoring the Many Contributions of Andrew Marshall, An Early Supporter and Sponsor of CMSI

Andrew Marshall was a great visionary who inspired and generously supported the research of many others. This included my own early efforts in Chinese-language open source analysis as a Office of Net Assessment-sponsored research fellow at the Naval War College in 2005-06 while completing my Ph.D. on leave from Princeton; and, more importantly, those of the China Maritime Studies Institute, which I helped Dr. Lyle Goldstein set up beginning well before its official establishment in 2006. Far beyond his essential contributions to our efforts in Newport, Mr. Marshall (as I and many others knew him) was notably ahead of his time in understanding (1) Soviet military overextension and susceptibility to competitive strategy, (2) the revolutionary potential of long-range precision-strike weapons, and (3) China’s rapidly evolving military capabilities and the growing challenges they increasingly pose to the United States and allies and partners. Intellectually active and acute to the very end of his long, extraordinary life, Mr. Marshall recently read CMSI’s new book on China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations and wrote an insightful blurb, just as he had kindly done for our previous volume on Chinese Naval Shipbuilding. Our email communications, which I now treasure, recalled the pithy comments he would dispense every time I briefed him at his Pentagon office in previous years. I will greatly miss his vision and oracular wisdom, particularly as our ever-more-frenetic world seems to impose ever-shorter time horizons on thinking.


Andrew Marshall, RAND Researcher Who Founded Department of Defense’s ‘Internal Think-Tank,’ Dies at 97,” RAND Corporation, 26 March 2019.

The RAND Corporation notes with profound regret the passing of Andrew W. Marshall, 97, a RAND researcher who went on to serve for more than four decades as director of the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment, which contemplates military strategy decades into the future. He held the position from 1973 to 2015, retiring at age 93.

After studying economics at the University of Chicago, Marshall joined RAND in 1949 when the nonprofit research organization based in Santa Monica, California, was barely a year old. During his 23-year affiliation with RAND, he researched Soviet military programs, nuclear targeting, organizational behavior theory and strategic-planning, among other concepts.

“Andrew Marshall was one of the nation’s most respected and far-sighted defense experts,” said Michael D. Rich, president and CEO of RAND. “He was a gifted futurist and strategist who had mentored generations of researchers, both at RAND and beyond. His influence will be felt for years to come.”

Marshall was the founding director of the Office of Net Assessment, which is referred to as the Department of Defense’s “internal think-tank.” It provides the secretary of defense with assessments of the military balance in major geographic theaters, with an emphasis on long-term trends, asymmetries, and opportunities to improve the future U.S. position in the continuing military-economic-political competition. … …

Aaron Mehta, “Andy Marshall, the Pentagon’s ‘Yoda,’ Dies at Age 97,” Defense News, 26 March 2019.

… The Office of Net Assessment is an independent organization within the Defense Department. It’s charged with identifying emerging or future threats as well as opportunities for the U.S. James Baker has run the office since 2015, when Marshall retired at the age of 93.

Known as farsighted, idiosyncratic, and free of political and bureaucratic thinking, Marshall made the office into an extension of himself. He was credited with grooming some of Washington’s leading thinkers, such as Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a large number of defense analysts in the think tank community.

An expert on nuclear strategy with the think tank Rand, Marshall was brought into the Pentagon during the Nixon administration to provide deep, long-term planning assessments about ways to impose costs on potential foreign competitors.

Allegedly seen by Chinese defense officials as a great strategic thinker and nicknamed the “Yoda” of the Pentagon, the legend of Marshall was canonized in 2015 with the publication of “The Last Warrior: Andrew Marshall and the Shaping of Modern American Defense Strategy,” by Andrew Krepinevich and Barry Watts.

At the time of Marshall’s retirement, Defense News wrote: “No single individual has had a greater, nor more sustained, effect on U.S. national security, whether through his work to ensure success during the Cold War, or the decades after by consistently finding ways to impose strategic costs on America’s adversaries.”

Julian E. Barnes, “Andrew Marshall, Pentagon’s Threat Expert, Dies at 97,” New York Times, 26 March 2019.

… In the early 2000s, at a time when the Pentagon was focused on counterinsurgency and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Marshall urged officials to focus on the challenge of China — a view that many considered outdated. But today, national security officials are increasingly adopting Mr. Marshall’s view of China as a potential strategic adversary, an idea now at the heart of national defense strategy.

Through his many hires and generous Pentagon grants, estimated to total more than $400 million over four decades, Mr. Marshall trained a coterie of experts and strategists in Washington and beyond. One veteran of the office, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, is now the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Another, Robert O. Work, was the deputy secretary of defense from 2014 to 2017. …

Mr. Marshall’s career as a strategic thinker began in 1949 at the RAND Corporation, where his theory of competitive strategies took root. Borrowing from business school theories of how corporations compete against each other, Mr. Marshall argued that nations are also in strategic competition with one another.

“His favorite example was if you can pit your strengths against someone else’s weakness and get them to respond in a way that makes them weaker and weaker, you can put them out of business without ever fighting,” said Henry Sokolski, a strategist who worked with Mr. Marshall.

… At the heart of Mr. Marshall’s work were highly classified reports called net assessments, about 24 of which were created from 1973 to 2015, when he retired several years into his 90s.

Mr. Marshall kept the distribution of his assessments extremely limited. Few people have read more than one or two of them. Even secretaries of defense were not allowed to keep copies.

The best of the assessments, according to people who have read them, compared Russian and Chinese strategies against American war plans, finding the weaknesses of the Pentagon’s approach and pushing for improvements. He urged the Pentagon to develop not single war plans but ones that would cover myriad scenarios.

Mr. Marshall began focusing on China in the mid-1990s. He was the first Pentagon official to talk about an emerging great power competition with Beijing, an idea now embraced by Pentagon leadership.

“His view was that because of the sheer size and potential economic weight” of China, it “could become a competitor over time,” General Selva said. “That proved to be a good question to ask, and that has started to play out.”