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"A Smoking Radiating Ruin at the End Of Two Hours": Documents on American Plans for Nuclear War with the Soviet Union, 1954-1955
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“A Smoking Radiatm Ruin at the End Of Two Hours” I David Alan Rosenberg Documents on American Plans for Nuclear War with the Soviet Union, 1954-1955 I T h e question of how the United States would employ its stockpileof nuclear weapons in the event of war with the Soviet Union has been a subject surrounded by considerable mystery, speculation, and controversy for more than three decades. Despite tidbits of information provided by Defense Department reports, testimony to Congress, and news leaks, the basic policy guidance, courses of action, and prospective points of attack contained in, respectively, the Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy (NUWEP), Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), and National StrategicTarget List (NSTL)remain among the nation’s most closely guarded secrets. Earlier war plans and target lists from as far back as the 1940s have been kept classified as well, in part because they provide clues to current target selection criteria, strategy, nuclear weapons’ effects, and intelligence sources and methods. This continuing classification of past and present nuclear planning endeavors makes evaluation of recent developments in nuclear strategy difficult . The ongoing controversy over the implications of President Jimmy Carter‘s July 1980 approval of Presidential Directive 59 provides a good illustration. According to official sources, I’D-59 endorsed a “countervailing strategy” toward the Soviet Union, designed to deter the Soviet leadership from starting a nuclear war by countering what American strategic planners believe to be the objectives of current Soviet nuclear doctrine. To convince the Soviets that no use of nuclear weapons, “on any scale of attack and at any stage of conflict, could lead to victory,” the countervailing strategy mandated increased flexibilityin war planning, including ”the controlled use of nuclear weapons” in hopes of restraining escalation, as well as increased David Alan Rosenberg is an independent historian and defense consultant who is completing a book Toward Armageddon:The Foundations of American Atomic Strategy 1945-1955, and is writing a biography of Admiral Arleigh Burke. International Security, Winter 1981/82(Vol. 6, No. 3) 0162-2889/82/030065-35 $02.50/0 @ 1982 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 3 International Security I 4 capacity to attack Soviet strategic nuclear and other military forces, national leadership, and command and control targets. Secretaryof Defense Harold Brown described this doctrine as being neither new nor ”a radical departure” from plans and concepts ”built over a generation by men like Robert McNamara and James Schlesinger.”*Nevertheless , considerable debate ensued over whether the countervailing strategy actually enhanced deterrence or made nuclear war more likely. Questions were also raised regarding whether the increased emphasis on counterforce targets relative to “assured destruction” industrial and population targets meant that the United States was adopting for the first time a first-strike, preemptive posture. Employing a historical perspective in its commentary, The Nation proclaimed the strategy to be ”a return to John Foster Dulles’s threat of ‘massive retaliation’ to a Communist-inspired conventional conflict in Asia or Europe, a nuclear strategy that was abandoned when the Soviet Union acquired the capacity to respond in kind.”3 Aviation Week and Space Technology, meanwhile, reported the signing of I‘D-59 as a break with the mutual assured destruction targeting policy ”to which the superpowers have adhered since the beginning of the nuclear weapons age.”4 These comments point up the need for accurate historical data to provide a framework for analysis of new strategic developments. Only by examining the historical record is it possible to determine whether I‘D-59 represents a real break with, or a return to, past strategic doctrines, or whether the increased emphasis on counterforce targeting means that the United States is preparing for a possible preemptive strike for the first time. This examination requires information not only about the reforms initiated by Defense SecretariesMcNamara and Schlesingerin the 1960sand 1970s, but also about what U.S. nuclear war planning was like in the 1950s, the era of “massive retaliation” when basic American targeting and attack categorieswere established . 1. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, Department of Defense Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1982 (Washington, D.C.:Government Printing Office, 1981) pp. 3845. 2. E...