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The Origins o f Overkill Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960 David Alan Rosenberg The history of American militay policy in the early years of the nuclear age is beginning to be rewritten. The increasing availability of documentary evidence from the 2940s and 2950s 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. n’uclearstockpile 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 “nocities” strategy by those concerned about the destruction that could be wrought by Soviet nuclear capabilities in the mid-2950s; the emergence as early as 1955 of the perception that the USSRhad acquired sufficient nuclearforces 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 support of 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 DeclassificationBranch of the Secretariat of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mrs. SybilTaylor of 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 Andrew J. Goodpaster, USA (Ret.), and Commander Peter Swartz, USN. This article is a revised version of a paper prepared for a conference on “The Theory 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 Unioersity of Houston. International Security, Spring 1983 (Vol. 7, No. 4) 0162-2889/83/040003-69$02.50/1 0 1983 by David Alan Rosenberg. International Security 1 4 as the Soviet Union acquired a primitive second-strike capability. Rosenberg’s discussion 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 stoy of the nuclear age. --The Editors O n the morning of August 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, simultaneous 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 StrategicAir 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 StrategicTarget 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 operational 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...


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