William R. (“Bill”) Van Cleave, professor and director of the Defense and Strategic Studies Program at the University of Southern California (USC) from 1967-1987, and emeritus professor, director and founder of Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS), passed away on March 15, 2013, at his family home in Idyllwild, Calif. He was 77 years old.
Born and reared in Kansas City, Mo., Van Cleave enlisted in the Marine Corps a month shy of his 18th birthday and was deployed to Vienna, Austria, as an American embassy guard during the Four Powers Occupation of the city. He transferred to the Marine Reserves in 1957 and moved to California where he earned a B.A. in political science at California State University Long Beach (1961) and a M.A. (1965) and Ph.D. (1967) in government and international relations at the Claremont Graduate School. Upon graduation, he joined the faculty of the School of International Relations at USC and two years later was recruited to serve as a special assistant to the Secretary of Defense and a member of the U.S. delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). He was the sole witness called to testify before the Senate in opposition to the SALT and ABM Treaties in 1972 (from which the United States subsequently withdrew).
Van Cleave was a member of the precedent-setting “B-Team,” commissioned in 1976 by then Director of Central Intelligence George H.W. Bush to review intelligence community estimates of Soviet military capabilities and strategy. He was the senior defense advisor to candidate Ronald Reagan in both the 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns, during which time he was also a founding member of the Committee on the Present Danger. Upon Reagan’s election in 1980, Van Cleave headed the Pentagon Transition Team, later serving as a member of President Reagan’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control. He was a senior research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a member of the Board of Editors of several defense-related journals, and a consultant and advisor to numerous government boards and commissions.
Professor Van Cleave is best known for his work as an educator in defense and strategic studies, first at USC where he was thrice honored as Outstanding Professor of the Year and later at Missouri State University where the department he founded now resides. Van Cleave-trained students have served in some of the most prominent positions of government including senior members of the National Security Council staff, Secretary of the Air Force, Assistant and Deputy Assistant Secretaries of Defense and State and key leaders of the U.S. intelligence community, as well as distinguished positions in industry and academia.
He is survived by his daughter, Cynthia K. Van Cleave; three grandchildren, Amber D. Van Cleave-Misa, Monica K. Gibson, and Christopher R. Gibson; and three sisters, Linda Schooler, Pat Lamport and Marcia Donnelly. He had two other children who predeceased his passing: Monica K. Van Cleave and William R. Van Cleave II. A William R. Van Cleave scholarship fund has been established to support worthy graduate and undergraduate students; donations may be made payable to the National Institute for Public Policy, 9302 Lee Highway, Suite 750, Fairfax, VA 22031.