restricted access The Origins of Overkill
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The Origins of Overkill David Alan Rosenberg Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960 The history of American military policy in the early years of the nuclear age is beginning to be rewritten. The increasing availability of documentary evidence from the 1940s and 1950s enables us to enrich our knowledge and to re-evaluate our understanding of American nuclear strategy and planning during this period. While much relevant material remains classified, the large volume of recently declassified documents permits quite detailed reconstruction of the content and evolution of U.S. nuclear weapons policy during these formative years. Historian David Rosenberg is among the first to have exploited the newly accessible materials. He provides us here with a thorough account of U.S. nuclear war planning from 1945 to 1960. By focusing on operational issues rather than declaratory policy, he reveals the reality of nuclear policy that underlay the public rhetoric. The major trends and priorities of American nuclear weapons policy are uncovered, including the massive expansion of the U.S. nuclear stockpile and the factors that caused it; the emphasis in U.S. nuclear war plans on preemption of Soviet nuclear capability; the serious consideration at high levels of the U.S. government of preventive nuclear war; the early advocacy of a "no cities" strategy by those concerned about the destruction that could be wrought by Soviet nuclear capabilities in the mid-1950s; the emergence as early as 1955 of the perception that the USSR had acquired sufficient nuclear forces to possess a limited but frightening retaliatory capability; and the operationalization of massive retaliation as a first-strike doctrine whose viability was called into question The author gratefully acknowledges the patient encouragement and supportof the U.S. Military Academy History Department, particularly Colonel Paul Miles, USA; the assistance of Berend D. Bruins, Fred Kaplan, Thomas Cochran, Dr. Dean Allard and his staff at the Operational Archives of the Naval Historical Center, Mr. William A. Barbee of the Declassification Branch of the Secretariat of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mrs. Sybil Taylorof the Directorate of Freedom of Information and Security Review of the Office of the Secretary of Defense in tracking down significant source material; and the review comments of Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, USN (Ret.), John P. Coyle, General AndrewJ. Goodpaster, USA (Ret.), and Commander Peter Swartz, USN. This article isa revised version of a paper prepared for a conference on "TheTheory and Practice of American National Security, 1945-1960," held April 21-23, 1982 at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. The original version will appear with the other conference papers in a forthcoming volume edited by Norman Graebner, with whose permission it appears here. David Alan Rosenberg is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Houston. International Security, Spnng 1983 (Vol. 7, No 4) 0162-2889/83/040003-69 $02 50/1© 1983 by David Alan Rosenberg. Strategy and Nuclear Deterrence |114 as the Soviet Union acquired a primitive second-strike capability. Rosenberg's discus­ sion of these developments clarifies, and in some cases corrects, our impressions of U.S. nuclear policy before 1960. International Security is pleased to be able to offer this contribution to our understanding of this key part of the story of the nuclear age. —The Editors On the morning of Au­ gust 11, 1960, Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates met at the White House with President Dwight Eisenhower and top defense officials to present his proposal for coordinating planning for the use of strategic nuclear forces in the massive, simul­ taneous strike against the "Sino-Soviet bloc" planned for the first twenty-four hours of a war. Gates proposed that the commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) be designated as "Director of Strategic Target Planning" with authority to develop, on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), a National Strategic Target List (NSTL) and a Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). The defense secretary stopped short of endorsing the Air Force position that SAC should be given opera­ tional command of all U.S. nuclear forces. Gates argued, however, that the advent of operational ballistic missile forces, particularly Polaris missile submarines, created an urgent need for an integrated target and attack plan to replace the current system of joint target guidance, separate command operational plans, and periodic coordi­ nating conferences. His proposal would alsoeliminate duplication of effort, estimated at 200 to 300 targets, thereby reducing weapons requirements.1 A heated two-hour discussion ensued. Admiral...