Date of Award

Fall 12-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)





Committee Chair

Andrew Wiest

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Heather Stur

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Mao Lin

Committee Member 4

Chester Morgan

Committee Member 4 Department


Committee Member 5

Troy Gibson

Committee Member 5 Department

Political Science, International Development, and International Affairs


This dissertation explores the life of Caspar Weinberger and explains why President Reagan chose him for Secretary of Defense. Weinberger, not a defense technocrat, managed a massive defense buildup of 1.5 trillion dollars over a four year period. A biographical approach to Weinberger illuminates Reagan’s selection, for in many ways Weinberger harkens back to an earlier type of defense manager more akin to Elihu Root than Robert McNamara; more a man of letters than technocrat. And yet Weinberger, the amateur historian, worked with budgets his entire public career. Essentially, Pentagon governance is the formation of a military budget that proscribes strategy. In Weinberger’s case this meant financing a six hundred ship navy with fifteen aircraft carriers.

His career began in Sacramento hammering out budgets while an assemblyman on the California State Assembly Ways and Means Committee. By 1968, Governor Reagan selected him as California State Finance Director. By 1970, Nixon appointed him Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission and then Director of the Office of Management and Budget. By the time Weinberger left President Ford’s cabinet as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in 1975 he accumulated twenty-five years of budget expertise.

After five years at the Bechtel Corporation, Weinberger emerged a Republican senior statesman and was well prepared for the grueling defense budget battles ahead. Eventually the political momentum for more defense dollars waned but the Secretary remained committed to larger defense budgets and the loyalty of his boss. This dissertation explores the many challenges he faced through procurement scandals, MX basing, defense reorganization, and the selling of both the defense budget and the Strategic Defense Initiative. The President entrusted his good friend gifted with rhetorical skill to oversee the largest peacetime military buildup in American history. This study concludes that in the end Weinberger, a center-right Eisenhower Republican was beholden to no one but his boss, and accommodated his instinct for fiscal conservatism to the spending requirements of the Reagan Doctrine, thus “Cap the Knife” became “Cap the Ladle.”