By the sheer fact he spent more than 40 years in the Pentagon advising secretaries of defense on big-picture strategy, Andy Marshall would be an influential figure. But his particular brand of analysis, combined with a large network of protégés, means Marshall stands out as a unique figure in the history of the American military.
An expert on nuclear strategy with the RAND Corporation, 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 department, 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 2015 retirement as the director of the Office of Net Assessment, Defense News wrote: "No single individual has had a greater, nor more sustained, effect on US 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."
Although no longer at ONA, Marshall's legacy will continue through his large network of protégés, 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.
Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, now the dean of the Mitchell Institute, calls Marshall "the role model for those in the Pentagon who believed innovative and strategic thought were just as important—if not more so—than weapons, manpower, and traditional approaches to warfare."
Andrew Hunter, a former Pentagon official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, adds that under Marshall, ONA "had the freedom to focus on long-term issues that no one else really had the freedom or the ability or interest to do.
"The fate of working in the Pentagon is you are always so consumed by daily operations, whatever those are for you, that it is exceptionally hard to ever lift your eyes above the horizon and look out long-term.
"The nice thing about Marshall and ONA is they had the freedom, because they didn't really have a day job, to be the only outfit in the Pentagon that was looking long-term and didn't have a vested interest in saying the answer is X because it supports my program," Hunter added.
This article is part of a larger Defense News 30-year anniversary project, showcasing the people, programs and innovations from the last three decades that most shaped the global security arena. Go to defensenews.com/30th to see all of our coverage.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.