The sum of their fears : the Committee on the Present Danger, the demise of détente, and threat inflation, 1976-1980
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This dissertation seeks to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the political pressure group the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), which formed in 1976. The group’s establishment, attainment of credibility, and influence in critical national security debates during the late 1970s has not yet been given sufficient attention. The Committee on the Present Danger has often been interpreted as a disingenuous propaganda group that dishonestly compiled an alarmist message to deceive politicians and journalists of the threat posed by the Soviet Union. However, the dissertation argues that the Committee’s alarmism was genuine. The fact that CPD board members themselves became so fearful of the Soviet threat is the most striking aspect of the group’s first four years of operation, and is the primary focus of this study. An examination of the group’s formation and activities from 1976 to 1980 permits a more sophisticated appreciation of the group’s goals, the promotion of its views, and the effects of its campaign on national security debates during this period. The dissertation adopts a chronological approach that recognises the creeping alarmism of the CPD over these years: warning of the dangers of détente gave way to prophesising an imminent Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Keeping the CPD as the focus of study in this period permits one to argue that the Committee’s members, as a private citizens’ group without government oversight and a shared worst-case methodology for assessing national security risks, sincerely came to believe in the veracity of their analysis of imminent Soviet military expansion. Committee experts generated and publicised a number of metrics that purported to demonstrate a military imbalance between the Soviet Union and the United States. Over time, and seemingly confirmed by alleged Soviet global aggression, the Committee came to believe that their worst-case estimates reflected reality.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy