Unguided Missiles: How America Buys Its Weapons; Affording Defense

In This Review

Unguided Missiles: How America Buys Its Weapons

By Fen Hampson
Norton, 1989
370 pp. $19.95

Affording Defense

By Jacques S. Gansler
MIT Press, 1989
415 pp. $24.95

"A biography . . . of the lives of weapons" that "outlive their political sponsors (and critics)," ranging from the B-1 bomber to the M-1 tank, is how Hampson, a Canadian and a subtle observer of American politics, describes his book. He lays out the weapons acquisition cycle in clean prose, and he dissects the politics of procurement. "Efficiency is not one of democracy's virtues," Hampson writes, and he argues that lengthy acquisition cycles weaken political accountability. Gansler's canvas is broader and his approach more scholarly. He is one of America's foremost students of defense acquisition, the author of The Defense Industry, and his conclusions overlap with Hampson's. Neither author's remedies are new-shorten lead times for weapons while lengthening and making more directly competitive the budgeting process-but Hampson's conclusions emerge strongly from his "biographies," and his emphasis on Congress is apt. Gansler's recommendations illustrate just how deep the political change will have to be; his case for removing "Congress's detailed regulation of the procurement process" is strong but is not the way this season's political winds are blowing.

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