Michael Pillsbury

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Michael Pillsbury
Michael Pillsbury Official Photo.jpeg
Born (1945-02-08) February 8, 1945 (age 72)
California, US
Education Stanford University (BA in History)
Columbia University ( PhD)
Occupation Consultant at US Department of Defense (2003–present)
Political party Republican

Michael Pillsbury (Chinese: 白邦瑞; pinyin: Bái Bāngruì; born February 8, 1945) is an American defense policy adviser, former government official and author of books and reports on China.


During the Reagan administration, Pillsbury was the Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning and responsible for implementation of the program of covert aid known as the Reagan Doctrine. In 1975–76, while an analyst at the RAND Corporation, Pillsbury published articles in Foreign Policy and International Security recommending that the United States establish intelligence and military ties with China. The proposal, publicly commended by Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, and James Schlesinger, later became US policy during the Carter and Reagan administrations.

Pillsbury served on the staff of four US Senate Committees from 1978–1984 and 1986–1991. As a staff member, Pillsbury drafted the Senate Labor Committee version of the legislation that enacted the US Institute of Peace in 1984.[1] He also assisted in drafting the legislation to create the National Endowment for Democracy and the annual requirement for a DOD report on Chinese military power.

In 1992, under President George H. W. Bush, Pillsbury was Special Assistant for Asian Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, reporting to Andrew W. Marshall, Director of Net Assessment. Pillsbury is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

In 2015, a former CIA Director revealed that a book called The Hundred-Year Marathon "is based on work Michael Pillsbury did that landed him the CIA Director's Exceptional Performance Award." The official website, www.100yearmarathon.com, has declassified documents and photos that illustrate the book.

Pillsbury played a role in three Presidential actions:

US–China military and intelligence ties[edit]

Pillsbury participated in President Jimmy Carter's decision in 1979–80, as modified by President Reagan in 1981, to initiate military and intelligence ties with China.[2][3]

According to Raymond L. Garthoff, "Michael Pillsbury first floated the idea of arms sales and broad range of American military security relationships with China in a much-discussed article in Foreign Policy in the fall of 1975. Not known then was that Pillsbury had been conducting secret talks with Chinese officials … his reports were circulated to a dozen or so top officials of the NSC, Department of Defense and Department of State as secret documents."[4]:696 According to the book US–China Cold War Collaboration, 1971–1989, "The man spearheading the effort was not a public official, and enjoyed deniability. Michael Pillsbury, a China analyst at the RAND Corporation… spent the summer of 1973 secretly meeting PLA officers stationed under diplomatic cover at China's UN mission… The DoD managed Pillsbury. Pillsbury filed a report, L-32, in March 1974… L-32 was a seminal paper on which subsequent US-PRC military cooperation blossomed."[5]:81 James Mann wrote, "Outward appearances indicate that Pillsbury may have been working with American intelligence agencies from the very start of his relationship with General Zhang… In the fall of 1973, Pillsbury submitted a classified memo suggesting the novel idea tha the United States might establish a military relationship with China… This was the genesis of the ideas of a 'China card,' the notion that the United States might use China to gain Cold War advantage over the Soviet Union. The idea would eventually come to dominate American thinking about the new relationship with China."[2]:58–59

Stingers for Afghanistan decision[edit]

Pillsbury participated in President Reagan's decision in 1986 to order the CIA to arm the Afghan resistance with Stinger missiles. According to the UN Undersecretary General who negotiated the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, "Initially, the Stinger campaign was spearheaded by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Fred Ikle and his aggressive Coordinator for Afghan Affairs, Michael Pillsbury… The Stinger proponents won their victory in the face of overwhelming bureaucratic resistance that persisted until the very end of the struggle."[6]:195 Mann wrote, "For Michael Pillsbury, the covert operations in Afghanistan represented the fulfillment of the decade-old dream of American military cooperation with China… To help him win the argument, Pillsbury made use of his China connections."[2]:137–139 George Crile stated in Charlie Wilson's War that, "Ironically, neither [Gust] Avrakotos nor [Charlie] Wilson was directly involved in the decision and claims any credit."[7]:419[8][9][10][11][12][13]

Harvard University's JFK School of Government published what it called the first case study of how covert action policy is made and describes the role of Michael Pillsbury.[12]:24 According to Charlie Wilson's War, "The moving force in this group was an engaging, well-born conservative intellectual named Mike Pillsbury, then serving as the Pentagon's deputy undersecretary in charge of overseeing covert programs. Pillsbury, a former Senate staffer and China expert, had been an early believer in the program…"[7]:415–416 According to Philip Heymann in his 2008 book Living the Policy Process, "A policy player such as Michael Pillsbury may have absorbed many of the critical rules of the game of shared policy choice without even thinking of them as rules."[8]

Heymann wrote that "providing Stinger missiles was obviously of such importance or political prominence that the President would want to decide. This decision is obviously of that character for several reasons. If approved, we may be furnishing a terrifying weapon to a present or future enemy. There is a small chance that we will encourage dangerous forms of retaliation by the Soviet Union. Even the shift from a "plausibly deniable" covert action to the open support of a guerrilla force fighting the Soviet Union would raise issues in Congress that the President would want to consider in light of his staff's advice."[8]

Pillsbury worked through the secret Planning and Coordination Group. Heymann wrote, "This committee was secret, and public details about it are sketchy… The covert action committee met every three to four weeks. Its existence was not officially acknowledged, although such a committee had operated in every administration since Eisenhower. In the Kennedy administration, for example, it was known as the Forty Committee. Any information on covert actions was protected under a compartmentalized security system given the name VEIL."[8]

According to Steve Coll, in 1985–1986 Osama Bin Laden also wanted US weapons including the Stinger missiles. Coll wrote, "Michael Pillsbury flies to the Afghan frontier to review training facilities used by two Afghan warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf… Bin Laden family head Salem bin Laden asks the Pentagon to supply anti-aircraft missiles to Arab volunteers fighting in the Soviet-Afghan War. The request is made on behalf of Salem's brother Osama [Bin Laden], who is establishing a semi-autonomous group of Arab volunteers outside the direct control of local Afghan commanders and will set up a camp just for Arabs later this year… Later research will indicate that there is no formal decision by the Reagan administration not to supply the missiles or other equipment to the Arab volunteers. Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury will later say he was not aware of any such decision, but if such a decision had been taken, he would have been aware of it."[10]:287

Studies of China and the Pentagon's annual report[edit]

In 1997–2007, Pillsbury published research reports and two books on China's view of future warfare. According to the Wall Street Journal in 2005, Pillsbury's findings were added to the reports the Secretary of Defense sent to Congress on Chinese military power in 2002–2005.[14][15] In 2003, Pillsbury signed a nonpartisan report of the Council on Foreign Relations task force on Chinese military power. The task force found that China is pursuing a deliberate course of military modernization, but is at least two decades behind the United States in terms of military technology and capability. The task force report stated it was a "nonpartisan approach to measuring the development of Chinese military power."[16]


Pillsbury's scholarship has been questioned by Washington Monthly assistant editor Soyoung Ho, in his article "Panda Slugger, the dubious scholarship of Michael Pillsbury, the China hawk with Rumsfeld's ear", published in the July/August issue in 2006.[17]

VOA commentator[edit]

Since May 2014, Pillsbury has been a frequent guest on Voice of America Chinese providing opinions and participating in discussion in Mandarin Chinese typically on defense-related issues.

Government positions[edit]

  • Consultant at US Department of Defense 2004–present
  • Senior Research Advisor at US-China Economic and Security Review Commission 2003–2004
  • Policy Advisory Group at United States Department of Defense 2001–2003
  • Visiting Research Fellow at National Defense University, 1997–2000
  • Special Government Employee at US Department of Defense (Defense Science Board) 1998–2000
  • Research Consultant at US Agency for International Development 1991–1995
  • Special Assistant to Director of Net Assessment US Department of Defense 1992–1993
  • Congressional Afghan Task Force Senate Staff Coordinator at US Senate 1986–1990
  • Assistant Under Secretary for Policy Planning at US Department of Defense 1984–1986
  • Professional Staff at US Senate 1978–1981
  • Acting Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency at US Department of State 1981


Published works[edit]


Author of two books on China, available at National Defense University Press:

Reports and articles[edit]

US China Commission Congressional Reports[edit]

House and Senate testimonies[edit]

Journal articles[edit]

  • "Strategic Acupuncture". Foreign Policy. Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC (Winter 1980): 44–61. 1980. JSTOR 1148172. 
  • "US-China Military Ties?". Foreign Policy. Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC (Autumn 1975): 50–64. 1975. JSTOR 1148126. 
  • "A Japanese Card?". Foreign Policy. Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC (Winter 1978): 3–30. 1978. JSTOR 1148458. 
  • "Future Sino American Security Ties: The View from Tokyo, Moscow, and Peking". International Security. The MIT Press. 1 (Spring 1977): 124–142. 1977. doi:10.2307/2538627. JSTOR 2538627. 

RAND Corporation reports[edit]

Some of these are available online:[18]

  • Personal Ties and Factionalism in Peking. RAND Corporation. 1975. OCLC 1575577. 
  • Taiwan's fate: Two Chinas But Not Forever. RAND Corporation. 1975. OCLC 1575589. 
  • The Political Environment on Taiwan. RAND Corporation. 1975. OCLC 1462258. 
  • SALT on the Dragon: Chinese Views of the Soviet-American Strategic Balance. RAND Corporation. 1975. OCLC 2218652. 
  • Soviet Apprehensions about Sino-American Relations, 1971–74. RAND Corporation. 1975. OCLC 1549446. 
  • Statement to the Subcommittee on Future Foreign Policy Research and Development, Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives. RAND Corporation. 1976. OCLC 2731888. 
  • Chinese Foreign Policy: Three New Studies. RAND Corporation. 1975. OCLC 2379124. 


  1. ^ Montgomery, Mary E. (2003). "Working for Peace While Preparing for War: The Creation of the United States Institute of Peace". Journal of Peace Research. Sage Publications. 40 (4): 479–496. doi:10.1177/00223433030404007.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  2. ^ a b c Mann, James (1998). About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-76861-0. 
  3. ^ Garrett, Banning. The China Card and its Origins. Brandeis University doctoral dissertation. 
  4. ^ Garthoff, Raymond L. (1983). Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan. Brookings Institution. ISBN 0-8157-3044-6. 
  5. ^ Ali, Mahmud (2005). US-China Cold War Collaboration, 1971–1989. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-35819-1. 
  6. ^ Cordovez, Diego (1995). Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-506294-6. 
  7. ^ a b Crile, George (2003). Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-854-9. 
  8. ^ a b c d Heymann, Philip (2008). Living the Policy Process. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-533539-2. 
  9. ^ Bearden, Milt; Risen, James (2004). The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB. Ballantine. pp. 211–212. ISBN 0-345-47250-0. 
  10. ^ a b Coll, Steve (2004). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden. Penguin. ISBN 1-59420-007-6. 
  11. ^ Coll, Steve (2009). The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century. Penguin. ISBN 1-59420-164-1. 
  12. ^ a b Lundberg, Kirsten (1999). "Politics of a Covert Action: The US, the Mujahideen, and the Stinger Missile". Kennedy School of Government Case Program. C15-99-1546.0. 
  13. ^ Sullivan, Tim; Singer, Matt; Rawson, Jessica. "What Were Policymakers' and Intelligence Services' Respective Roles in the Decision to Deploy Stinger Missiles to the Anticommunist Afghan Mujahedin During the Rebels' Struggle with the Soviet Union?". 
  14. ^ King, Neil (September 8, 2005). "Secret Weapon: Inside Pentagon, A Scholar Shapes Views of China" (Fee required). Wall Street Journal. p. A1. Retrieved June 23, 2009. 
  15. ^ "The Pillsbury Factor". The Oriental Economist. August 2002. 
  16. ^ Segal, Adam (2003). Chinese Military Power Independent Task Force Report. Council on Foreign Relations. ISBN 0-87609-330-6. 
  17. ^ Ho, Soyoung. "Panda Slugger, the dubious scholarship of Michael Pillsbury, the China hawk with Rumsfeld's ear.". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 3 February 2015. 
  18. ^ Reports authored by Michael Pillsbury available at RAND Web site

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]