Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis open access



First Advisor

Lauren Turek

Second Advisor

Jason Johnson

Third Advisor

David Lesch


Since the dawn of the missile age in the mid-1940s, policymakers have grappled with the question of whether and how to defend against ballistic missiles. The saga of the rise of the United States’ first anti-ballistic missile system, known initially as Sentinel and later as Safeguard, and its subsequent demise after the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972, has been well cataloged by historians and strategic thinkers. Although many scholars present the story of this ABM system as the logical and inexorable consequence of the acceptance of deterrence theory and mutual vulnerability by the U.S and the Soviet Union, I argue it was instead the product of a remarkably dynamic and contingent process. The combination of intense interagency and intercabinet debates on ABM, synthesized with the peculiar domestic politics of the arms race, help explain this complex story. Examining disputes within the executive branch in the context of foreign policy and domestic politics can help shed light on this process and how this resolution came about, making extensive use of publicly available and declassified documents.