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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Keith Payne

  • National Institute for Public Policy: President
  • Missouri State University: Former Director, Graduate Department of Defense and Security Studies
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces and Policy (2002-2003)

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Keith Payne, a longtime advocate of hardline nuclear weapons and missile defense policies, is the founder and director of the National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP), a hawkish security think tank founded in 1981 that initially served as a home base for ideologues committed to developing winnable nuclear war strategies.[1] A deputy assistant secretary of defense in the first George W. Bush administration, Payne has also headed Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, which is based in Washington, D.C.

In 2003, Fred Kaplan wrote of Payne that he “is not a well-known figure, even in Washington policy circles. But he ought to be. He is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for ‘forces policy’—essentially, the Pentagon's top civilian official assigned to the development, procurement, planning, and possible use of nuclear weapons. For 20 years before he came to the Pentagon at the start of the George W. Bush administration, Payne was at the forefront of a small group of think-tank mavens—outspoken but, at the time, marginal—who argued not only that nuclear weapons were usable, but that nuclear war was, in a meaningful sense, winnable.”[2]

More recently, Payne has focused his attentions on criticizing the policies of the Obama administration, including its efforts to negotiate new arms control treaties and to confront Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. In a 2010 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Payne wrote that the New START treaty between the United States and Russia would “harm U.S. security in the future.” He added, “[S]ome hope that New START's amicable ‘reset’ in U.S.-Russian relations will inspire Russian help with other issues, such as the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, where they have been less than forthcoming. This is a vain hope, as is demonstrated by the past 40 years of strategic-arms control: Innovative strategic force agreements and reductions follow improvements in general political relations. They do not lead to them.”[3]

In a November 2011 report for NIPP titled “The Looming Middle East Crisis and Missile Defense,” Payne argued that the Obama administration’s response to Iran’s nuclear program, including purportedly “backtracking” on nuclear deterrence while emphasizing conventional defenses and current missile defenses to deter Tehran, was contributing to the creation of a “security crisis” in the Middle East. To respond to this “crisis,” the report argued that U.S. “friends and allies” should work to boost their own missile defenses: “They would do well to look toward acquiring missile defenses. In many cases, offensive missiles now have a potentially ‘free-ride’ to their territories. Missile defense is not a silver bullet, but it can enhance security by reducing vulnerability to missile strikes and thereby devaluing opponents’ offensive missiles and WMD. Perfect defenses are not necessary to introduce important and deterring uncertainties into an enemy’s offensive attack plans. Iran in particular has few reliable delivery options beyond offensive missiles and helping to shut those down as reliable military instruments would be no small advantage.”[4]

Track Record

Payne served as assistant secretary of defense for forces and policy from 2002 to June 2003. His appointment followed the release of an influential NIPP study called “Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control,”[5] which served as a model for George W. Bush’s controversial Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). Following the suggestions of the study, the NPR called for expanding the number nuclear targets and the development of “usable,” low-yield nuclear weapons. Soon after the study was released, and before the Pentagon post, Payne was appointed chairman of the Deterrence Concepts Advisory Panel, a specialized Pentagon panel that was charged with implementing the policies outlined in the NPR.

Other participants in that NIPP study, funded by the conservative Smith Richardson Foundation, served alongside Payne on the Deterrence Concepts Advisory Panel. They include Kurt Guthe, the former arms control expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who worked with Payne on the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission to assess the ballistic missile threat; James Woolsey, the former CIA director, former vice president of government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, and former member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board; and the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Linton Brooks, the former undersecretary of energy for nuclear security who helped negotiate the START treaty with the Soviet Union. Other study participants included Stephen Cambone, a military analyst chosen by then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as the first undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Stephen Hadley,  President George W. Bush’s national security advisor in his second term.

One of Payne’s claims to fame is a 1980 Foreign Affairs article he penned with NIPP researcher Colin Gray while he was working as a researcher for Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute.[6] The article, titled “Victory is Possible,” argued that the “United States must possess the ability to wage nuclear war rationally” and must develop “a plausible theory of how to win a war or at least insure an acceptable end to a war.” They also wrote: “The West needs to devise ways in which it can employ strategic nuclear forces coercively, while minimizing the potentially paralyzing impact of self-deterrence.” They urged the United States “to plan seriously for the actual conduct of nuclear war” and to develop a plan “to defeat the Soviet Union and do so at a cost that would not prohibit U.S. recovery.”[7]

Payne has testified before Congress on numerous occasions regarding missile threats and treaty issues. In 1997, he testified on ways to accommodate the ABM [antiballistic missile] Treaty to allow for a limited NMD system. However, he went on to say: “It is important to note that my preference … is that the United States and Russia move away from a strategic deterrence relationship based ultimately on mutual nuclear threats, i.e., ‘mutual assured destruction,’ or MAD. We [Payne and his coauthors on an AMB accommodation study] are not satisfied with our outline for mutual accommodation that essentially revises MAD only to allow for limited NMD protection against rogue missiles. … We are reduced to the hope that the mutual accommodation we outline can serve as a step toward the political relationship that ultimately will allow us to abandon MAD.” Soon after becoming president, George W. Bush followed Payne’s advice and abandoned the ABM Treaty, despite the protestations of a chorus of former government officials and arms control experts who argued that the treaty served as a cornerstone to the country’s nonproliferation efforts.

According to his biography on the NIPP site, “Dr. Payne serves on the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States. In addition, he is the editor-in-chief of Comparative Strategy: An International Journal, Chairman of the Strategic Command’s Senior Advisory Group Policy Panel, and co-chair of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum. He has served as a participant or leader of numerous governmental and private studies, including White House studies of U.S.-Russian cooperation, Defense Department studies of missile defense, arms control, and proliferation, as co-chairman of the Department of Defense’s Deterrence Concepts Advisory Group. He also has served as a consultant to the White House Office of Science and technology Policy, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and participated in the 1998 “Rumsfeld Study” of missile proliferation.

“Dr. Payne has lectured on defense and foreign policy issues at numerous colleges and universities in North America, Europe and Asia. He is the author, co-author, or editor of over one hundred published articles and sixteen books and monographs. His most recent book is entitled: The Great American Gamble: Deterrence Policy and Theory from the Cold War to the Twenty-First Century (2008). Dr Payne’s articles have appeared in many major U.S., European and Japanese professional journals and newspapers.”[8]

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[1] National Institute for Public Policy, http://www.nipp.org/

[2] Fred Kaplan, “Rumsfeld’s Dr. Strangelove: Payne says 7,000 warheads aren’t enough,” Slate, May 12, 2003, http://www.slate.com/id/2082846/

[3] Keith B. Payne, “Evaluating the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Deal,” Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303720604575169532920779888.html

[4] Keith Payne, “The Looming Middle East Crisis and Missile Defense,” NIPP, November 2011, http://www.nipp.org/Publication/Downloads/Downloads%202011/Middle%20East%20Security%2011.11.pdf.  

[5] National Institute for Public Policy Publication Archive, “Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control,”http://www.nipp.org/National%20Institute%20Press/Archives/archives.html

[6] Fred Kaplan, “Rumsfeld’s Dr. Strangelove: Payne says 7,000 warheads aren’t enough,” Slate, May 12, 2003, http://www.slate.com/id/2082846/

[7] Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne, “Victory is Possible,” Foreign Policy, Summer 1980, http://home.earthlink.net/~platter/articles/80-summer-payne.html

[8] National Institute for Public Policy, “Dr. Keith B. Payne,” http://www.nipp.org/Professional/Bio's/paynek.html

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Keith Payne Résumé


  • National Institute for Public Policy: President and Co-founder
  • Missouri State University: FormerHead of Department of Defense and Strategic Studies
  • Comparative StrategyEditor-in-Chief
  • Georgetown University: Faculty, 1983-2004
  • Hudson Institute: Former researcher


  • Department of Defense: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces and Policy 2002-2003;    Deterrence Concepts Advisory Group Co-chair, 2001-2002           
  • Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States: Member
  • Department of State: International Security Advisory Board member, Defense Trade Advisory Group former member
  • Strategic Command's Senior Advisory Group: Chairman
  • U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum: Co-Chair
  • Rumsfeld Missile Commission: Member, 1998
  • White House Office of Science and Technology Policy: Consultant
  • Arms Control and Disarmament Agency: Consultant


  • University of California at Berkeley: B.A., 1976 in political science
  • University of Southern California: Ph.D., 1981 in international relations 


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