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Armageddon's shortening fuse: ham advances in nuclear weapons technology pushed strategists to mutually assured destruction, 1945-1962.

Introduction: The Old Cold War, 1945-1962

In the latter half of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, nuclear conflagration hung like the sword of Damocles above the world. Over the course of approximately four and a half decades of standoff, the U.S. alone produced some 70,000 nuclear weapons for various purposes. (1) Exploded simultaneously at its 1960 peak, this vast arsenal would have yielded the explosive equivalent of 1.37 million atomic bombs of the sort dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. (2) Turnover and obsolescence, however, largely kept the arsenal to within a range of roughly 22,000 weapons from the early 1960s through the 1980s. (3) The rapid build-up of such an arsenal in the 1950s created a super-abundance of weapons, in contrast to their earlier scarcity in the late 1940s. (4) With no cause to worry over supplies of warheads, strategists responded by shifting American nuclear strategy from one limited only to military targets to a total war, aimed at devastating Soviet society. With the whole world hostage to the super powers, the new Cold War had begun.

Beginning with the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, Americans expected nuclear war to come, when it did, almost without warning--a sudden barrage of missiles carrying thermonuclear warheads and then, silence. This apocalyptic vision was the result of specific developments in American nuclear weapons technology in the period 1945-1962. (5) Advances in explosive yield-weight ratios, thermonuclear weapons, long-range jet bombers, missile guidance and targeting systems, warhead production, and intercontinental ballistic missiles drove a revolution in planning for nuclear war that imagined parallel Soviet advances, grew paranoid about American vulnerability to a first strike, and increasingly stressed rapid response and massive retaliation. (6) The fast pace of technological breakthroughs in weapons technology created this arguably defensible paranoia as a matter of course. There was no room for error. Every contingency had to be planned for--if American weapons scientists could create it, so could the Soviets, and newer technologies were called for by military strategists to counter the enemy's imagined advantages. (7) By the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the United States possessed 116 different nuclear delivery systems, including 11 types of ballistic missile, 11 types of strategic bomber, and 3 types of ballistic missile submarines. (8) Strategists had to scramble to accommodate these new technologies in their war games. This frenetic process brought about the invulnerable strategic triad of air-launched atomic bombs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and land-based inter-continental ballistic missiles, and with it, an ability to plan around the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) based on mature nuclear delivery platforms.

Therefore, by 1962, technological developments--and nuclear strategists' accommodation of those new technologies in their war plans--brought about the 'new' Cold War Americans remember, a hair-trigger away from mutual destruction. This paper will examine the leading, often unplanned, role technological developments played in influencing planners and policy-makers to create the mature, stable Cold War situation of MAD that ultimately resulted in the detente and disarmament negotiations that characterized the late Cold War world from 1962-1991.

Atomic Monopoly, 1945-1949

The first years of the atomic age, from 1945 to 1949, witnessed a nuclear America both supreme and impotent. No rival on the world stage, even its erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union, could not match the stunning show of weapons technology America had demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Simultaneously, a limited nuclear arsenal and technical problems with deployment curtailed strategic nuclear efficacy. (9) What Robert L. Perry, an analyst with the RAND Corporation described as "the attractive myth of American exclusiveness" formed the basis of thinking for the scientists and military strategists responsible for running America's nuclear weapons program. (10) There were dissenting voices, such as Bernard Brodie, a prominent nuclear strategist, who argued presciently in 1946 that the Soviet Union would be able "to produce them [atomic bombs] in quantity within a period of five to ten years," but it seems complacency reigned supreme for most American scientists and strategists during those years. (11)

In hindsight, it seems clear that the Soviets were catching up with the Americans, and rapidly, with their first successful atomic bomb test on 29 August 1949. These first Soviet tests were a shock to the Americans and a spur to further weapons development, but were not as worrying as their later thermonuclear tests. (12) That program, the Soviet effort to build a hydrogen bomb, had been under development since June 1948. (13)

Even the paramount American military in the late 1940s possessed an unimpressive arsenal by any standards. Atomic bombs were an immensely challenging weapon, expensive and technically demanding to produce. President Truman had only thirteen atomic bombs at his disposal on June 30, 1947. (14) A year later, in July 1948, there were fifty weapons in the American nuclear quiver, but with only thirty B-29 bombers modified to carry them. (15) Nor was this a force capable of raining nuclear fire on the Soviets. Preparation for a single bomb's flight could take thirty-nine men more than two days. (16) Even these specialist teams of bomb assembly workers were disbanded at the end of World War II--"and no permanent new teams had been trained as late as the spring of 1947"--demonstrating the initially marginal and constrained role of atomic weapons in American strategy. (17)


Of course, these were all bombs, unwieldy and carried only by purposely-fitted, long-range strategic bombers. The bombs were not standby, ready-at-a-notice weapons; they "could remain ready for only forty-eight hours before having to be partially disassembled to recharge the batteries," a technical problem that tended to mean bombs remained unassembled and unready for action. (18) The American nuclear force at this time "placed heavy emphasis on an atomic air offensive" in war plans such as FROLIC and HALFMOON, because ballistic missiles--which would later compose two of the strategic triad's three arms--were not yet developed. (19)

This method of air delivery had its problems. In the first years of American nuclear supremacy, "from 1945 through the summer of 1948," only one bomber group, the 509th (medium) group, was actually "capable of delivering atomic weapons" to pre-selected targets. (20) It was difficult to surprise the enemy--the bombers' speed was insufficient. (21) Another problem was the limited unrefueled combat radius of propeller-driven, long-range bombers, such as the B-29 or B-36, which were the workhorses the Strategic Air Command (SAC) relied on to deliver atomic payloads against Soviet targets. In October 1948, any "atomic air offensive launched from Great Britain, the Suez area, and Okinawa would be the primary U.S. war effort in the event of general war," due to limited heavy-bomber range. (22) Wider-ranging B-52 jet bombers would not replace these aircraft until the mid-1950s. (23) Earlier versions of jet bombers "greatly enhancing SAC striking power," such as the B-47 Stratojet, were also unavailable to SAC until after 1949. (24)

Swift nuclear holocaust was, therefore, not in the cards between 1945 and 1949. Although the successful detonation of the first Soviet atomic weapon gave American planners serious pause, causing "some second thoughts about Soviet backwardness in technology," according to Robert L. Perry, technology's limits necessarily bound the hands of nuclear strategists and the military at this time. (25) Bomber fleets and individual warheads were scanty, the distance to targets was considerable, and, from the American perspective, even several dozen atomic bombs dropped on the vast Soviet land mass could hardly redress the grievous Soviet advantage in conventional forces, poised to over-run Western Europe. (26) David Rosenberg, a military historian, concluded, "The atomic power of the United States during its vaunted era of 'nuclear monopoly' was thus seriously limited. The small size of the stockpile, limitations on production capacity, the complex and unwieldy nature of the weapon itself ... all contributed to constraining available options," a true case of technology creating new policy options (the use of atomic weapons in warfare) while constricting policy-makers' options and shunting American strategic policy down specific corridors. (27)

From the Soviet perspective, 1949 marked the infancy of their atomic weapons program. They needed time to stockpile their own nuclear arsenal, and if possible to "catch up and surpass" their American rivals. (28) They were already behind, especially as the prevalent belief at the time was that "war between the Soviet Union and the United States would in most respects resemble World War II," signaled by "a massive production buildup." (29) Far-reaching and fast flying, a breakthrough in ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads could have dramatically sped up timetables for nuclear war planners, who could then anticipate striking the enemy within hours, not days. Why did planners continue to rely on the SAC and its limited nuclear warfare conducted by long-range bombers?

Breakthroughs in ballistic missile technology proved elusive throughout the latter part of the 1940s. The story of the ballistic missile's ultimate triumph as the pre-eminent weapon of American and Soviet nuclear strategy is a long one, but it begins in the 1940s, with inter-service rivalries between different branches of the U.S. military, unreliable research funding, and intractable technical problems. Indeed, a decade later, in 1958, President Eisenhower remarked "for the next several years the greatest threat to destruction continues to be the military aircraft; missiles will not be ready in such quantity," to significantly affect American nuclear strategy. (30) The unanticipated importance of ballistic missiles in American nuclear strategy soon after this statement belied Eisenhower's confidence, but his doubts were rooted in the late bloom of ballistic missile technological breakthroughs.


Several obstacles were in the way of developing the kind of intermediate and, later, intercontinental range ballistic missiles that characterized the bulk of the American nuclear arsenal between 1962 and the present. The "inadequacy of technology" was the single greatest obstacle. (31) Scientists had to overcome various hurdles, including "guidance accuracy, thrust requirements, and re-entry," leading eventually to serious "disagreement about the real operational capability of the missiles themselves," within the technical community. (32) Seated before the Senate Special Committee on Atomic Energy in December 1945, Vannevar Bush, director of the government's Office of Scientific Research and Development (which had run the Manhattan Project till 1943), confidently proclaimed that long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles were too complex for the near future. The Soviets or "anybody in the world" could build them only with great difficulty. He felt "confident it will not be done for a long period of time to come." (33) This was surprising; German scientists worked extensively on ballistic missiles in the last war. However, rockets such as the V-2s developed late in the war had to cross a very short distance. Early on in the American atomic weapons program, by contrast, technicians worked under demanding standards of accuracy for nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that, armed with only kiloton payloads, tolerated far less deviation from targets without greatly diminished efficacy. (34)

Moreover, in the late 1940s the technical focus was on smaller atomic bombs with greater yields. The yields of atomic bombs multiplied by more than twenty-five times between 1948 and 1952, for example. (35) Planners were familiar with the by-then traditional delivery system of using long-range heavy bombers to deliver higher-yield fission weapons. Such familiarity influenced nuclear strategy. Tapp Taves, a Navy analyst quoted in Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi's study of gaming nuclear war, noted that "a considerable amount of intuition enters into [decision makers'] judgement [sic]," and that using their intuition, they saw a future of more bombs, carried forth by faster bombers with farther unrefueled ranges. (36) Not ballistic missiles.

Even so, there were stirrings in the technical community, whose long-term interest in ballistic missile development was evident from the end of World War II. As far back as 1946, work had already begun on a ballistic missile program whose "nominal or ultimate goal was a 5,000-mile ballistic missile," although no one involved had any "illusions about the military utility of anything that could be built in the foreseeable future." (37) A program to develop ballistic missiles in 1947 did not move forward due to budget cuts. (38) The Soviets, that same year, began their "gradual development" of ballistic missiles 39 Ultimately, of course, ballistic missiles would be the predominant force delivery system for American nuclear strategists. This change in emphasis, from aircraft to missiles, would be the result of "the pace of technology--which certainly had been more rapid for ballistic missiles than for weapons contemporary with them," even though "For nearly a decade objections to reliance on ballistic missiles focused on the contention that the missiles were technologically incapable." (40) Even by 1949, as the brief window of American atomic monopoly ended, the age of missiles had yet to arrive. The technology would mature, but more than a decade would go by after 1949 before ballistic missiles became "the chief instruments of strategic warfare" and the centerpiece of American plans for nuclear war against the Soviet Union. (41)

Soviet Atom Bombs, Confrontation, and SAC Strategic Dominance, 1950-1960

Entering the 1950s, the United States was no longer as confident about its advantages, atomic and otherwise, over the Soviet Union and the apparently monolithic threat of global Communism. After a long civil war, Mao Zedong's Communist forces gained control of China, the Soviets exploded an atomic device, and in 1950 President Truman chose to commit the U.S. (under a UN banner) to resist North Korea's invasion of the south. These shifts in the global alignment of forces led strategic planners to reassess their previous assumptions, such as the "ace card" nature of American atomic monopoly. (42)

The Korean War and revised National Security Council Document NSC 68/4 [December 1950], especially the floodgates of military spending they opened, played a major role in stimulating nuclear weapons technology. In 1950, for instance, the U.S. Air Force had renewed its previous 1947 effort to develop operational ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads and capable of advanced range. Called the MX-774 project, it initially had a timeframe of fifteen years due to high research and development (R&D) costs and limited budgeted funds. At the onset of war, however, the money issue faded. In 1951, defense contractor Convair (Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft) received a contract from the U.S. Air Force to develop a ballistic missile "with a 5,500 mile range and an 8,000 pound warhead" which was renamed the Atlas ICBM in March 1952. (43) This sudden burst of wartime funding helped ballistic missile technology clear its formidable initial technical thresholds. (44)


Through the rest of the 1950s, an explosion of scientific and technical innovation created faster, farther-ranging, more accurate ballistic missiles while simultaneous work in electronics miniaturization and thermonuclear warheads made missiles far deadlier and more destructive. (45) Thermonuclear warheads had to wait until the successful conclusion of physicist Edward Teller's work with the November 1, 1952, Ivy Mike test of the hydrogen bomb at Enewetak atoll in the Pacific. Considering such favorable developments, one might surmise that ballistic missiles immediately became the new mainstay of American strategic planning. In fact, this was not so. As Robert L. Perry pointed out, "until 1952 [and after!] a reluctance to depend over much on missiles was evident," in large part because "as yet there was no convincing indication that the Russians were paying much attention to them," a mistaken conclusion since Soviet development of ballistic missiles had begun in 1947. (46)

Mistaken or not, however, American perceptions of Soviet advances (or lack thereof) set the pace of urgency for research and development in nuclear weapons technology. Ballistic missile development continued at a desultory pace throughout the early 1950s, with each service pushing for its own nuclear weapons (if only for budgetary in-fighting). The U.S. Air Force's Atlas program evolved into a more advanced intermediate range missile called Thor, itself a rough contemporary of the Army's pet missile, Jupiter. (47) The Joint Chiefs pushed the Navy to accept modified Jupiter missiles, a move it later rejected in favor of lobbying for its own service-specific ballistic weapon, a solid-fueled missile launched from mobile submarine platforms. (48) These early ballistic missiles were problematic. Capable for the most part of only intermediate range and reliant on complex, expensive and volatile liquid fuel, these missiles did not fundamentally alter American grand nuclear strategy.

Despite rapid progress in ballistic missile technology, the mainstay of the American nuclear strike force in the 1950s remained the Strategic Air Command (SAC) fleet of long-range heavy bombers. While atomic bombs in the late 1940s had been clumsy and laborious to assemble, the perfection of sealed pits (the cores of implosion weapons) in the early 1950s enabled weapons to be stored fully assembled, reducing preparation time for launch. By 1959, these were the majority of weapons that a more flexible, responsive SAC possessed. (49) Other problems, like "a shortage of bombs, aircraft equipped to deliver them, crews trained in nuclear operations, and poor target intelligence on the Soviet Union," were challenges the SAC faced and to some extent overcame in the 1950s. Approximately 3,000 jet-powered strategic bombers came into active service that decade. (50)


Led by such vigorous (and controversial) veterans of the Second World War as Curtis LeMay, SAC was convinced of the Air Force's preeminent role in American nuclear strategy and the assured place of the long-range heavy bomber in that strategy. (51) No other delivery platform, it believed, was more efficient at striking targets deep within the Soviet Union on short notice, or capable of recall in an emergency. It is no exaggeration to describe American strategy in the 1950s as one emphasizing "long range strategic air power, relying on nuclear weapons," with SAC as "the mainstay of national security policy after 1954" through the first deployment of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the later 1950s and early 1960s. (52) To ensure prompt readiness, SAC frequently kept bombers aloft, equipped with nuclear warheads and skirting the Arctic Circle near Greenland and northern Europe close to the Soviet Union. This airborne alert force was ready to retaliate against targets in the Soviet Union at any time, very different from the days it would have taken to assemble bombs and dispatch bombers in the late 1940s. (53) The early 1950s were truly the halcyon days of the SAC and a bomber-centered nuclear strategy. (54)

At the height of its success and influence in nuclear strategy, SAC's window of dominance was closing. The Soviet acquisition of a true two-stage thermonuclear bomb in November 1956, panicked strategic planners, who rightly understood that if only a few Soviet long-range bombers made it through, American cities were vulnerable, as was SAC's retaliatory capacity--strategists had nightmare visions of the American nuclear bomber fleet annihilated on the ground. (55) Soviet acquisition of thermonuclear weapons laid the U.S. open to a Soviet first strike, shifting planners to a reliance on their deterrent's ability "to inflict greater loss against the enemy than he could reasonably hope to inflict upon us." (56) Soviet thermonuclear capacity led to considerations of deliberately striking first before the Soviets could become an even greater menace. (57) Fear of a Soviet first strike strengthened due to "mirroring"--the American strategists presumed the Soviets, with fewer nuclear weapons, would necessarily plan to strike the U.S. first in a surprise attack to eliminate American nuclear forces and then press their conventional military advantage in Europe. (58) After all, that is what American strategists considered doing in the Soviets' place. Preemption appeared less consequential, and therefore more attractive, prior to ballistic missiles and instant, mutually assured destruction to both belligerents.

Concerns about the vulnerability of the SAC bomber wings to sudden, overwhelming surprise Soviet attack gave fresh urgency to ballistic missile research programs. As the Eisenhower administration looked to balance budgets in the mid-1950s, after the rapid expansion of defense outlays during the Korean War, one obvious target seemed to be the multiple, overlapping ballistic missile programs the separate services ran.

Organized to recommend canceling costly missile development programs, instead the von Neumann group [led by famed computer scientist John von Neumann] in February 1954, urged expansion, acceleration, and extensive restructuring of the established but definitely undernourished ballistic missile program to give the U.S. a definitive advantage in the emerging alternative to SAC's long-range bombers. (59) In 1954, such ballistic missiles as Atlas or Jupiter "could have been used only for massive retaliation (or first strike)," were therefore of limited flexibility for planning purposes, and were unavailable in the kind of numbers needed to supplant SAC's keystone role in American nuclear defense. (60) One result of this new push for ballistic missile research was development of the Titan intercontinental missile beginning in 1956, a long-range ICBM that could complement Atlas, with greater range and heavier payloads. (61) Surprisingly, even with the new emphasis on developing ballistic missiles, "early force planning called for deploying only twenty to forty ICBMs, and not until 1958 were there serious recommendations within the Air Force to deploy more than 200." (62) More than anything, this demonstrated just how tenacious the concept of atomic weapons that bombers delivered was within the Air Force and planning/research institutions it had fostered, like the RAND Corporation. (63) Bombers' command of the sky would not change overnight. Even as late as 1957, the Gaither report "Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age" recommended an acceleration of U.S. ballistic missile programs to President Eisenhower, because the committee felt the military was moving too slowly to keep pace with Soviet advances. (64)

The U.S. Air Force did not sit idly by while SAC's predominant role waned, arguing that ballistic missiles were expensive, unreliable, and inaccurate. Missiles lacked the precision of manned bombers--they were truly a terror weapon, too inaccurate to be part of a counterforce strategy hitting only Soviet military targets. (65) Of necessity, the missiles would target cities. In turn, the Air Force argued, Soviets might target American cities. Any initially limited nuclear engagement would become a general conflagration.

In hindsight, the Air Force's arguments against switching American nuclear strategy may seem quaint. At the time, those arguments reflected serious doubts about the readiness of ballistic missiles for the limelight. (66) The technical challenges were significant; the Air Force simply failed to anticipate technicians' success in overcoming them. Liquid-fueled missiles, of a class with the Atlas, Jupiter, and Thor IRBMs, and Titan ICBMs developed in the early to mid-1950s, were cumbersome, expensive, and volatile. By themselves, they were certainly no threat to SAC bomber command of nuclear strategy. The Air Force was the victim of the "hypermodern domain of future war-planning, where one had only a few years ... before the strategic picture altered with the phasing-in of a novel component." (67) Only an inexpensive, reliable solid-fuel ballistic missile--ready around-the-clock for firing--could seriously challenge SAC.

While such a missile was a long time coming, technical breakthroughs in the 1950s, especially with the Air Force's Minuteman missile and the Navy's Polaris, made SAC bombers obsolete over time. Developing solid-fuel ballistic missiles was difficult. Nozzles that could "direct the gas exhaust that propelled and steered the missile" posed "major conceptual and manufacturing problems" that frustrated technicians. (68) High performance solid fuel was tricky to manufacture at appropriate scale; it was more challenging still to find a way to pour it into missile casings in a way that allowed "uniform flight performance and long storage before use," an absolute prerequisite for a reliable ballistic missile. (69)

Finally, there was "as yet no reliable way to terminate the burning of the fuel and hence the engine's thrust, which were critical in the missile's hitting its target." (70) These difficulties lent weight to Air Force arguments against ballistic missiles centering on their finicky nature, unreliable performance, and inaccuracy compared to manned bombers. The 1955 breakthrough for Minuteman and Polaris rested on the demonstration of the reliability of "large-grain, double-base solid propellants" that, with further research, overcame the previous hurdles to inexpensive, quick-launched, far-ranging ICBMs. (71) Despite technical breakthroughs, the missiles (Polaris and Minuteman) that formed the core of the emerging strategic triad of nuclear forces in the U.S. arsenal still did not come online until the early 1960s. (72) The first test flight of a Minuteman missile took place only on 1 February 1961, despite more than half a decade of research and development. (73) Fears of Soviet ballistic development, meanwhile, along with their consequences for SAC's vulnerability to a surprise first strike, spurred the Navy's calls for the (theoretically) invulnerable Polaris' inclusion as a full member of the triad. (74)

Fear of Soviet ballistic capabilities rose to new heights in the wake of the Soviets' successful launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in October 1957. It also loosened purse strings. (75) For the Navy's Polaris program in particular, "acceleration of the original program and substantial funding authorizations followed Sputnik," now that all the talk in American political circles revolved around fears of a 'missile gap' with the Soviets. (76) This fear was greatly exaggerated--only in 1957 had the Soviets demonstrated a ballistic missile capability; as late as 1958, the Soviets had only begun to deploy early medium-range ballistic missiles--nevertheless, it motivated missile deployment decisions and acceleration of production. (77) According to Jeremi Suri, an international historian, Sputnik and other reports of Soviet technological development affected even the unflappable Eisenhower, and "shook some of the president's self-assurance." (78) The Gaither Committee report entitled "Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age," did not offer the president consolation, but warned ominously that by 1959 Soviet capabilities might extend to fully equipped ICBMs with thermonuclear warheads, "against which SAC will be almost completely vulnerable under present programs." (79) A surprise Soviet "Sunday Punch" was not out of the question. (80)

In large part, the late arrival of fully-capable ICBMs in American nuclear strategy is traceable, not to technology, which developed with astonishing rapidity, but to planners' failure to incorporate novel technologies into coherent war plans. Ballistic missiles, Robert L. Perry of RAND claimed, were "marvelously contrived weapons capable of being bent to purposes about which few had thought," leading to long debates over their command-and-control, deployment, production, and future as an integrated part of nuclear strategy. (81) As late as 1960, upon reviewing the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) for using nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, President Eisenhower suggested using Polaris missile submarines simply in a support role, to clean up targets that long-range heavy bombers failed to destroy in SAC's initial strike. (82) One has the sense that Eisenhower, along with technical advisers, strategists, and military senior staff, struggled with the notion that, "with the evolution from the medium-range bomber in 1945 to the intercontinental ballistic missile in 1957, full-blown nuclear war could be initiated within a few hours of the executive decision." (83) The unrelenting pace of technological development left no space for those unsure of what to do with ballistic missiles, of how to fit them into the scheme of nuclear strategy. "The rapid development of nuclear technology, exemplified by the mating of the thermonuclear weapon to the long-range missile," George Reed commented, "required accompanying developments in organization and doctrine," a challenge the new Kennedy administration and its fresh-faced technocrats, like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, would soon take on. (84)

MAD Comes of Age

By the time John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency in January 1961, the strategic landscape of nuclear weapons had changed dramatically. While the SAC and its heavy bombers still dominated, the pendulum had swung irrevocably toward intermediate and long-range ballistic missiles as the nuclear delivery platform of the future. Both the new president and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, were enthusiastic proponents of missiles. Kennedy made the decision, early in his term, to increase the stock of Minuteman and Polaris missiles, moving toward the fully mature strategic nuclear triad that was the basis of strategic planning in the ensuing decades. (85) According to George Reed, "in speeches and budgets the [Kennedy] administration signalled [sic] its intention to rely on missiles for the majority of U.S. strategic defense," and thus began a new kind of Cold War, riskier and faster than before, a true war of mutually assured destruction. (86)


Kennedy was not alone in recognizing the importance of the transition from bombers to ballistic missiles. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, in a January 1960 speech to the Supreme Soviet, stressed reducing Soviet conventional forces in Europe by a third and adopting nuclear tactics. In possession of only a limited intercontinental bomber force, this strategy would allow the Soviets to achieve strategic parity with America cheaply via missiles, instead of a ruinously expensive bomber fleet. (87) American assessments of how quickly the Soviets could produce and deploy a significant missile deterrent differed substantially, though it quickly became clear that the feared 'missile gap' on which Kennedy had campaigned did not exist. (88)

Still, a world where both the Soviet Union and the U.S. possessed long-range ballistic missiles capable of instant devastation was a potential game-changer. In the "era before ballistic missiles, preemption appeared to be both militarily and constitutionally feasible," since a Soviet attack might take days or even weeks to materialize, and the U.S. would have substantial warning. (89) In the world that was taking shape for Kennedy-era nuclear strategists, missiles meant surprise attacks could come with only minutes of warning. This demanded sophisticated early warning systems, computerized command-and-control, integrated joint operational plans, satellite surveillance of enemy capabilities, and a whole world of strategic war-gaming for weapons never tested in combat, whose field effects were uncertain. (90) "After all," Gordon S. Barrass, a veteran Cold War intelligence analyst, observed, "especially after they [Soviets and Americans] had entered the missile age, they feared that even if they did launch a surprise attack the other side would still be able to retaliate with devastating and unacceptable consequences." (91) It was a world of uncertainty. (92)

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and other top Kennedy administration officials responded by putting in place a coherent, integrated nuclear strategy that formed the basis for mutually assured destruction. First on the docket was decreasing SAC's relative dominance of American nuclear strategy in favor of the triad. McNamara was unsympathetic to SAC's assertion that bombers were indispensable. (93) It became increasingly clear to defense planners, moreover, that Soviet air defenses made it potentially far more costly to rely on bombers to penetrate to their targets deep within Eurasia. (94) They felt that small, precisely targeted ICBMs, unstoppable by Soviet air defenses, were a safer choice of deterrent. (95) The administration felt it had to alter nuclear deployments. By the early 1960s, "technology had come along so rapidly during the previous decade [it] made the first generation missiles [Atlas, Jupiter, Titan, Thor] as obsolete as B-17S." (96)

A former RAND Corporation man, McNamara brought a new emphasis on systems analysis and planning for nuclear war to the White House. As Antoine Bousquet, a historian of international relations, observed, in the Kennedy White House, "mathematical and logical models and simulations of warfare became fetishized for their promises of predictability and control." (97) While this "fetishization" may seem extreme, it was a measured contrast to the previous decade and a half, when the U.S. "lacked a system for coordinating all nuclear weapons and strikes into a single, unified plan that would assign each weapon in the arsenal a particular target and time for attack." (98) As strategists understood, rapidly changing weapons technology, as well as technical advances in surveillance and early warning, necessitated almost constant planning, and revisions of planning, for nuclear war. (99) The Kennedy administration's turn toward missiles, then, reflected the desire for integrated nuclear strategy across military services and weapons platforms to ensure coherent retaliatory capability--shaping American nuclear forces into a "precision tool" compared with the "indiscriminate bludgeon" Eisenhower and Truman wielded. (100)


Even with official administration backing, ballistic missiles were not available at scale early in the Kennedy administration. Technicians overcame earlier technical hurdles such as fuel, guidance and warhead miniaturization in the 1950s, but production (of the iconic Minuteman, for example) had only just ramped up. The government had yet to construct hardened, dispersed silos. (101) More submarine launch platforms for the Polaris underwent construction. Other problems, such as computer guidance and control, also became apparent. (102) Defense Secretary Neil McElroy, in the Eisenhower administration, had "called for the introduction of the first ICBMs in July 1962, with ninety-six deployed by the end of 1963," but by 1961 that looked overly ambitious, as "the program ... struggled to meet the deadline of 1962 for initial deployment." (103) Part of the trouble was likely that Minuteman had "moved from an untested concept to the chief land-based strategic weapon," in the American arsenal so quickly. (104)

Regardless, missiles were the sine qua non of American nuclear strategy up to the present day. 'The Soviets," observed George Reed, "would be deterred primarily by the threat of immediate, devastating, and unstoppable retaliation by U.S. missiles, not attack by bombers." (105) The nature of war "had changed ... as a result of the marriage of nuclear weapons and the long range, low cost, high speed ICBM." (106) In the race to develop the technologies of mutual destruction, the logic of planning, deployment, and strategy those same technologies had made possible bound the hands of Americans and Soviets alike. (107) The Kennedy administration developed a nuclear strategy that would change remarkably little up to the present. (108) The iconic Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 sealed the issue: the age of missiles, instant devastation, and mutually assured destruction had dawned. (109)

Conclusion: A New Age, A New Cold War

"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops, uh, depending on the breaks."--Buck Turgidson in "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"

"The Americans, who had the good fortune of having forward-based radar stations in Greenland, could hope to know of a missile attack some twenty minutes before they arrived; the Kremlin had no more than ten minutes and, because of the relatively short distance from the missile launch sites in the Western Soviet Union, let alone Eastern Europe, the Elysee and No. 10 had just four."--Gordon S. Barrass. The Great Cold War, p. 96

These two quotes represent different mental images of the Cold War; arguably, they present us with two different Cold Wars entirely. When "Dr. Strangelove" was released, in 1964, its plot focused on a rogue SAC general who had ordered a bomber wing to strike targets within the Soviet Union, initiating nuclear war. In the film's ninety-five minute run, there is time for war-room bickering, planning for the future of the human race, and attempts to recall the wayward bombers. Although the character Buck Turgidson's casual line about "ten to twenty million killed, tops" supposedly captured, in humorous fashion, war strategists' disregard for human life, it is not far off as an assessment of the kinds of casualties (in the tens of millions) that might have been expected from a nuclear conflict between super-powers in the 1950s. Extended warning of nuclear strikes was available, which meant there was less pressure on strategists to develop hair-trigger plans with no margin for error. At least during the 1940s and, as we have seen, into the early 1950s the Soviet atomic threat was negligible. It was a different degree of Cold War, as different in degree as to be different in kind as well.


This is not to say that the "old Cold War" was not dangerous. The imbalance between American and Soviet nuclear forces created the temptation for either side to strike first, the Americans from strength, the Soviets from weakness, hoping surprise might carry them through. The absence of effective satellite or over-flight reconnaissance, at least until the late 1950s and U-2 flights and, later, satellites in 1960, made the 'enemy' and his capabilities into a cipher. The mystery of what the Soviets might be able to do, how far along their missile or anti-aircraft defense technology had come, threw American planners into frenzy. The arms race resulted. Every contingency needed a plan, every target should be struck by one; no two; better make that three atomic bombs. Abundant nuclear weapons posed their own danger.

The slower potential pace of nuclear conflict between super-powers in the 1950s had real advantages, though. Bombers were subject to recall; missiles were not. The time it took to glue atomic bombs together and ready them for a strike on Soviet targets was time to defuse tensions, and stow the bombs away. With only twenty minutes to decide whether to push the button for missile launch, however, there was little margin for error and tensions had no time to dissipate. The American nuclear deterrent of the 1940s and '50s was vulnerable; caught in a surprise attack, the annihilation of SAC's bombers was a real threat. Rapid development of ballistic missile technology in the 1950s created an invulnerable deterrent, and ushered in mutually assured destruction. A superabundance of nuclear warheads poised on missiles left populations constantly on tenterhooks. Technological developments, often unplanned and initially poorly integrated into strategy, were the driving force behind the ascension of the ballistic missile as the cornerstone of American nuclear strategy after 1962 and the 'new' Cold War it created. Once the Soviet Union developed its own strategic nuclear triad, the world laid a heartbeat from destruction for more than twenty years. Mutual vulnerability to mutual destruction, though, was the beginning of rapprochement between the Soviet Union and United States. Long before the legendary personal rapport and groundbreaking arms reduction treaties of President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev, leaders on both sides in the 1960s realized that missiles had made instant devastation too risky, and too costly, for anyone to declare victory. Detente had effectively begun, unheralded, a backing away from the brink brought on by the same technological developments that brought the U.S. and Soviet Union to the precipice in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.


(1.) Stephen I. Schwartz, "Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940," The Nonproliferation Review. 3.

(2.) Ibid. See also Gordon S. Barrass, The Great Cold War: A Journey Through the Hall of Mirrors, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009, pp. 124-25.

(3.) Jeremi Suri, "America's Search for a Technological Solution to the Arms Race: The Surprise Attack Conference of 1958 and a Challenge for 'Eisenhower Revisionists,'" Diplomatic History 21, no. 3 (Summer 1997): 418 and Schwartz, "Atomic Audit," p. 5. "Cycles of technological obsolescence and development" were one factor in the continual buildup of the massive American arsenal.

(4.) "Technological developments confirmed by the Sandstone nuclear weapons tests in the spring of 1948 suggested that the 'doctrine of scarcity which had governed all previous planning for nuclear war might no longer apply." David Alan Rosenberg, "The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960," International Security 7, no. 4 (Spring, 1983): 20.

(5.) "Post-war developments in U.S. strategy were an institutional and intellectual offspring of the natural sciences that spawned modern weapons." Fritz W. Ermarth, "Contrasts in American and Soviet Strategic Thought," International Security 3, no. 2 (Autumn, 1978): 140.

(6.) The 1958 Kistiakowsky report to President Eisenhower stated that "progress in weapons technology," was creating a situation wherein "warning time [is] diminishing and ... the strategic indicators of enemy intent that will be available in the missile age will be increasingly ambiguous." Suri, "America's Search," p. 426.

(7.) "The growing complexity of atomic weapons and their delivery systems, improvements in Soviet air defenses and Soviet acquisition of atomic bombs would require increasingly rigid operational planning." Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 15.

(8.) Schwartz, "Atomic Audit," p. 3.

(9.) "In the spring of 1948, depending on where atomic bombs were assembled, it would still have required seven to nine days for the three existing U.S. atomic bomb assembly teams to load twelve armed bombs into combat aircraft for launching at enemy targets. At the time where were [sic] only thirty-two B-29 aircraft modified for carrying atomic bombs still operational, and only twelve fully qualified and eighteen partially qualified crews capable of making a combat drop with an atomic bomb, all in the 509th Group." David Alan Rosenberg, 'Toward Armageddon: The Foundations of United States Nuclear Strategy, 1945-1961" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1983), p. 108.

(10.) Robert L. Perry, "The Ballistic Missile Decisions," The RAND Corporation (October 1967), p. 7.

(11.) Bernard Brodie, "The Development of Nuclear Strategy" International Security 2, no. 4 (Spring 1978): 65. A contrasting view--"In 1947 ... only a few isolated scientists argued the probability that the Russians could build their own atomic bombs." Perry, "Decisions," 5. And Rosenberg describes the confused state of scientific estimates of Soviet capability well--JWPC 416/1 of 14 December 1945 stated that the Soviets might develop the bomb "In five years, or thereabouts ..." while an interim committee established by President Truman reported a range "from a low of possibly three years, to a high of twenty" for American atomic monopoly. It seems fair to say confusion reigned. Rosenberg, "Toward Armageddon," pp. 31, 34.

(12.) 'The Soviet atomic explosion ... did not immediately alter the world military situation. Intelligence estimates ... projected that the U.S.S.R. would not acquire a large enough stockpile or the necessary delivery systems to threaten the United States before 1951 at the earliest, and more probably 1953 or even 1955." Rosenberg, "Toward Armageddon," p. 140.

(13.) "Truman did not know that in June 1948 Soviet scientists had told Stalin that they could build a bomb that would be far more powerful than anything the Americans had. A delighted Stalin immediately gave them the go-ahead." Barrass, The Great Cold War, p. 63.

(14.) Rosenberg, 'Toward Armageddon," p. 90. The situation was worse in April 1947, just a few months previously, when President Truman was "profoundly shocked to learn ... that the number of atomic bombs in the American stockpile was 'zero.' In terms of usable atomic bombs, the number was correct. The United States did have the components for constructing about ten bombs, but in order for these to work they would literally have to be glued together." Barrass, The Great Cold War, p. 53.

(15.) Rosenberg, "Overkill," pp. 15-16; Rosenberg, 'Toward Armageddon," p. 108.

(16.) Ibid.

(17.) Rosenberg, "Toward Armageddon," p. 13.

(18.) Ibid., p. 14.

(19.) Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 13; "In the winter of 1948, the Air Force ... was the only service capable of delivering an atomic attack of any kind." Rosenberg, "Toward Armageddon," p. 102.

(20.) Rosenberg, "Toward Armageddon," p. 14.

(21.) "It [the strategic bomber] could not serve as a counterforce weapon--it would arrive over its target long after Soviet strategic forces launched ..." George A. Reed, 'U.S. Defense Policy, U.S. Air Force Doctrine and Strategic Nuclear Weapon Systems, 1958-1964: The Case of the Minuteman ICBM" (Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1986), p. 250.

(22.) Rosenberg, 'Toward Armageddon," p. 116.

(23.) David Alan Rosenberg and W.B. Moore, "Smoking Radiating Ruin at the End of Two Hours: Documents on American Plans for Nuclear War with the Soviet Union, 1954-1955," International Security 6, no. 3 (Winter 198182): 7. Also: Not till June 1955 did strategists have at their disposal the first of the B-52 heavy bombers, which could carry 4 Mt yield weapons in an unrefueled combat radius of 3,000 miles at speeds of 550 miles per hour, replacing older B-36 bombers. Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 38.

(24.) Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 30. "The propeller-driven medium bomb and reconnaissance force was in the process of converting to the all-jet 600 mile per hour B-47, greatly enhancing SAC striking power."

(25.) Perry, "Decisions," p. 7.

(26.) The Soviet population, inured to hardship because of their recent experience in World War II, was also a factor. Americans feared the Soviets might not give up easily. The small American arsenal meant that "if only a small number of bombs could be deployed, it would be necessary to ensure that a high percentage of them would reach their intended targets ... Specific military targets, rather than area bombing, would have to be the objective in any atomic offensive," of the late 1940s. Rosenberg, 'Toward Armageddon," p. 72.

(27.) Ibid., p. 23.

(28.) "As late as 1952, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were working from a Central Intelligence Agency estimate which projected that the Soviet Union had only about 50 bombs and 800 TU-A bombers. The TU-4 bomber, nicknamed 'Bull' in intelligence reports, was virtually identical to the American B-29. With a combat radius of only 1,500 to 2,000 miles, Soviet TU-4s could only reach the United States on one-way "suicide' missions." [Emphasis added], Rosenberg, "Toward Armageddon," p. 157.

(29.) Peny, "Decisions," p. 6.

(30.) Suri, "America's Search," p. 426.

(31.) Perry, "Decisions," p. 3.

(32.) Ibid., pp. 6, 2.

(33.) Perry, "Decisions," p. 6. Bush's full statement read "I say technically I don't think anybody in the world knows how to do such a thing [make an accurate, nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile] and I feel confident it will not be done for a long period of time to come."

(34.) Ibid., p. 10.

(35.) Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 25.

(36.) Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, "Simulating the Unthinkable: Gaming Future War in the 1950s and 1960s," Social Studies of Science 30, no. 2 (April 2000): 196

(37.) Peny "Decisions," pp. 3-4.

(38.) Reed, "Policy" p. 32. 'The first ballistic missile program, the MX-774, undertaken by the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Company (Convair), was cancelled in 1947 as a result of budget cuts by the Truman administration."

(39.) Perry, "The Ballistic Missile Decisions," p. 5.

(40.) Ibid., pp. 20, 23.

(41.) Ibid., p. 23.

(42.) Plans to use nuclear weapons as part of a "massive retaliation" strategy against Soviet or Chinese conventional forces changed when the Soviets acquired the bomb, for example, according to The Nation, cited in: Rosenberg and Moore, "Smoking Radiating Ruin," 4; August 15, 1950, saw the adoption of war plans BRAVO, ROMEO, and DELTA, where "first priority was assigned to 'the destruction of known targets affecting the Soviet capability to deliver atomic bombs," instead of the previous priority given to the retardation of advancing Soviet troops. It was important to neutralize newly-acquired Soviet atomic capabilities first. Rosenberg, "Toward Armageddon," pp. 156-57.

(43.) Reed, "Policy," p. 32.

(44.) "Had it not been for the sudden increase in military appropriations that attended the expansion of fighting in Korea ... it is unlikely that the Atlas program would have obtained even the relatively slight financial support needed to get it past the preliminary research stage." Perry, "Decisions," p. 10.

(45.) The "thermonuclear breakthrough" in nuclear weapons heralded a future with "warheads with a yield of one to two megatons, yet weighing less than 3,000 pounds --small enough to be carried by ICBMs ... These developments were paralleled by engineering advances in the key areas of missile guidance and warhead reentry systems." Reed, "Policy," pp. 33-34.

(46.) Perry, "Decisions," p. 9.

(47.) "In 1955 [Defense] Secretary Wilson approved the development of an Air Force intermediate range missile (Thor) based on Atlas-derived technology and an Army-developed intermediate range missile evolved from Redstone (Jupiter)."Ibid., p. 16.

(48.) "In 1956 ... because of technical, safety and political reasons the Navy argued the Jupiter was unsuitable for deployment with the Fleet, and instead sought authority to proceed with the independent development of a solid fuel missile. In December, the Navy received authority for the Polaris program." Reed, "Policy," p. 61.

(49.) Rosenberg, "Overkill," pp. 50-51.

(50.) Reed, "Policy," p. 17 and Peny, "Decisions," p. 24.

(51.) They had reason to be confident. "Although material and personnel deficiencies continue to plague SAC into the 1950s, its nuclear capable aircraft ... increased from 60 in December 1948 to over 250 by June 1950," and "by the end of 1953, SAC contained ten heavy and 25 medium bomb and reconnaissance wings, nearly 23 of which were considered combat ready, along with 28 refueling squadrons, totaling in all over 1,500 aircraft, including 1,000 nuclear capable bombers," a far cry from the beleaguered force of the late 1940s. Rosenberg, "Toward Armageddon," pp. 119,189.

(52.) Reed, "Policy," p. 17.

(53.) Suri, "America's Search," p. 444.

(54.) "By the time President Truman left office [1953], atomic strategy had emerged from the confusion of the immediate postwar period into a semblance of maturity" Rosenberg, 'Toward Armageddon," p. 154.

(55.) Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 40-41.

(56.) Ibid., p. 34.

(57.) Ibid., p. 35.

(58.) In a study for the RAND Corporation, Jack L. Snyder, an analyst, warned against the temptations of mirroring Soviet strategy or technical achievements based on American experience. "Up to a point, modern weapons technology places obvious and, in many ways, similar constraints on Soviet and American strategic thought. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Soviet doctrine is a mirror image of 'American' doctrine." Jack L. Snyder, 'The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations," (Air Force Report prepared for the U.S. Air Force, RAND Corporation, 1977): 7

(59.) Perry, "Decisions," p. 12.

(60.) Ibid., p. 15.

(61.) Ibid., p. 16.

(62.) Reed, "Policy," p. 33.

(63.) The slow death of planners' reliance on atomic weapons delivered by SAC's long-range bombers was in part institutional failure to move forward, and belied the RAND Corporation's foundational mission to think broadly and "conduct research on 'intercontinental warfare, other than surface, with the object of advising the Army Air Forces on devices and techniques." Reed, "Policy," p. 24.

(64.) It placed particular emphasis on developing the Polaris submarine-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) because of its "advantages of mobility and greatly reduced vulnerability." Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 48.

(65.) "It [the ballistic missile] was not a counterforce weapon, that is, one suitable for use in precision strikes against enemy military facitilites [sic]. Missiles would be fired in a mass launch as a single salvo. If directed to launch, a missile unit would launch all its missiles within a 15-minute period." Reed, "Policy," p. 58.

(66.) "Technical feasibility considerations dominated the several key ballistic missile decisions before 1961." Perry, "Decisions," p. 28; Periy "Decisions," p. 9.

(67.) Led by veterans of the air war over Korea, Europe, and Japan, the Air Force had difficulty coping with "a dynamic age in which strategic problems arising from the deployment of any single generation of weaponry were transitory--to be supplanted by the next cycle of the arms race--the watchwords of the day were flexibility adaptability, and alterability." Ghamari-Tabrizi, "Unthinkable," 172-73.

(68.) Reed, "Policy," p. 52.

(69.) Ibid.

(70.) Ibid.

(71.) Perry, "Decisions," p. 18.

(72.) The mature strategic nuclear triad (SAC bombers, submarine-launched missiles, land-based ICBMs) would not coalesce until approximately 1962, at the end of the period under examination here. Polaris and Minuteman both come online within six months of each other, July 1960 and February 1961, taking full advantage of technological developments in warhead miniaturization and electronics miniaturization. Perry, "Decisions," p. 18. See also: Barrass, The Great Cold War, p. 124-25, which refers to the "emerging consensus" of the late 1950s that a strategic triad of nuclear forces was necessary for invulnerable retaliatory capacity.

(73.) Reed, "Policy," p. 189.

(74.) "Growing concerns about the vulnerability of SAC, as expressed in the Gaither report [to President Eisenhower], accelerated Navy efforts to present Polaris as an alternative to land-based bombers or missiles." Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 53; "The effect of the Sputnik furor of late 1957 ... accelerated development of Polaris." Perry, "Decisions," p. 19.

(75.) "Before Sputnik cut the purse strings, Minuteman could have been developed only at the price of limiting expenditures on one of the larger liquid-rocket missiles." Perry "Decisions," p. 19; 'The Soviet launching of the first artificial space satellite, Sputnik, on 4 October 1957, ignited a popular American outcry for greatly increased military appropriations." Suri, "America's Search," p. 418.

(76.) Ibid., p. 18.

(77.) Ibid., p. 2,16-17.

(78.) Suri, "America's Search," p. 421.

(79.) Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 48; Reed, "Policy" p. 45.

(80.) "Advances in the long-range striking capability, accuracy, speed, and fire power of American nuclear forces led prominent Soviet military thinkers, like Nikolai Talenskii and Vasilii Sokolovskii, to place newfound emphasis on strategic nuclear weapons (aircraft and rockets) and the importance of surprise in modern warfare." [Emphasis added]. Suri, "America's Search," p. 441.

(81.) In full: "Technological factors, and matters relating to the efficient direction of technology, were its sources [development of ballistic missiles]; an institution devoted itself wholeheartedly to the advancement of the technologies of missilery for most of a decade and at the end of that period had shaped a succession of marvelously contrived weapons capable of being bent to purposes about which few had thought." Perry, "Decisions," p. 24.

(82.) Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 9.

(83.) Antoine Bousquet, "Cyberneticizing the American war machine: science and computers in the Cold War," Cold War History 8, no. 1 (February 2008): 91

(84.) Reed, "Policy," p. 5.

(85.) Perry, "Decisions," p. 22.

(86.) Reed, "Policy," p. 203; "From these considerations [of the no-win scenario of strategic nuclear war] flowed a belief that an era of mutual deterrence was emerging between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Secretary McNamara believed it was approaching; the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Maxwell D. Taylor, believed it had already arrived." Ibid., p. 242-43.

(87.) Snyder, "The Soviet Strategic Culture," p. 26.

(88.) "By the fall of 1961, U.S. intelligence estimates indicated that the Soviets had no more than ten to twenty-five missiles installed on launchers, and predicted they would have no more than 125 by the middle of 1963." Reed, "Policy," p. 170; earlier, "Eisenhower's intelligence estimates ... indicated that the Soviets might have 10 prototype ICBMs available by 1959." Ibid., p. 47; while looking forward "U.S. intelligence estimates in July 1962 indicated the Soviets might have a maximum of 800 missiles deployed by mid 1967, and the added Minuteman deployment aimed in part at offsetting a Soviet buildup." Ibid., p. 221. Note the prominent use of 'indicated' throughout. Accurate assessments of Soviet capability were difficult to obtain, even in the White House.

(89.) "It was estimated that even after the first wave struck there would be time to blunt an attack, since it would take up to thirty days for the Soviets to deliver all of their nuclear weapons." Rosenberg, "Toward Armageddon," pp. 197-98.

(90.) "Not only were simulations of nuclear or future war used to generate data, but ... they [Army game designers] discovered that there was no available information about how to pinpoint fire from an anti-tank weapon. A field experiment was performed, and the resulting data were plugged into the original SYNTAC game," and "Given the uncertainties involved in plotting weapons effects phenomena ... it was impossible to determine any major parameter of a war definitively and positively." Ghamari-Tabrizi, 'Unthinkable," pp. 201, 206-07. Indeed, "weapons were developed and deployed sometimes before the rationale for their use had been fully tested in war games." Schwartz, "Atomic Audit," p. 6.

(91.) Barrass, The Great Cold War, p. 94.

(92.) "The technical horizon within which future wars would be fought would change constantly, albeit uncertainly." Ghamari-Tabrizi, 'Unthinkable," 164.

(93.) 'McNamara's antipathy centered on two issues: the increasing vulnerability of bombers before launch and during flight, and their long flight times, which reduced their usefulness in attacking time sensitive Soviet nuclear targets." Reed, "Policy," p. 213.

(94.) "The rapid qualitative and quantitative improvements in Soviet air defenses, for example, were obviating one of the main principles around which U.S. bomber doc trine had been built since the 1930s--high altitude penetration." Ibid., p. 227.

(95.) Ermarth, "Contrasts," p. 143.

(96.) Perry, "Decisions," p. 23.

(97.) Bousquet, "Cyberneticizing," p. 83.

(98.) Reed, "Policy," p. 138. President Eisenhower's science advisor dismissed previous computer-generated models of integrated, coherent U.S. nuclear plans as "sheer bull" and unrealistic. Rosenberg, "Overkill," p. 9.

(99.) "Planning for nuclear war was a particularly urgent task during the Cold War and required continuous reviewing as the technology and availability of bombs and missiles were subject to rapid change;" in fact all in all a rational defense policy demanded planning the unthinkable "systems analysis, game theory and the whole range of available mathematical and statistical instruments were the only means to rationalize Armageddon." Bousquet, "Cyberneticizing," p. 91. For information on early warning system developments and their influence on nuclear war planning, see: Rosenberg, "Overkill," pp. 32, 49; Ghamari-Tabrizi, 'Unthinkable," 184-185; Suri, "America's Search," p. 425; Bousquet, "Cyberneticizing," p. 85; Rosenberg, 'Toward Armageddon," pp. 192-94 as excellent resources. For the development of American surveillance capabilities and their impact on nuclear strategy, see: Rosenberg and Moore, "Smoking, Radiating Ruin," 16; Rosenberg, "Overkill," pp. 9, 12; Perry, "Decisions," p. 17; Suri, "America's Search," p. 423; and Reed, "Policy," p. 132.

(100.) "The defense decisions reached early on in the [Kennedy] administration and built on thereafter fundamentally shifted the composition of American strategic forces from reliance on bombers and heavy liquid fuel missiles to small, solid fuel missiles. Whereas in some ways American strategic nuclear forces and war plans before Kennedy could be characterized as an indiscriminate bludgeon, after Kennedy they were more a precision tool ... the Administration turned toward missiles and away from bombers." Reed, "Policy," p. 200.

(101.) Ibid., pp. 298-99

(102.) "Computers were another major problem ... all of this [computerized launch and control] hinged on the development of high performance computers to supervise the missiles while in the silos and direct them in flight... because of the weight of the missile and the comparatively lower performance of solid fuel, the on-board computers would have to be much lighter than any currently in production." Ibid., p. 85. However, computers were necessary for "effective and rapid processing and transmission of... incoming information," in a world where "the time available for detection and interception of bombers potentially carrying nuclear weapons shrank." Bousquet, "Cyberneticizing," p. 85.

(103.) Reed, "Policy," pp. 79,153, 222-23.

(104.) Ibid., p. 4.

(105.) Ibid., p. 274.

(106.) Ibid., p. 292.

(107.) "Both became captives of forces that were practically independent of their own will and comprehension." Barrass, The Great Cold War, p. 92.

(108.) In 1962 the World Wide Military Command and Control System was completed, allowing "centralized global command-and-control of American troops through a broad spectrum of telecommunication systems including military satellites, marking the extension of command-and-control structures across the globe and establishing total cybernetic system closure over the world," which was an integral structural asset for all future American strategists and force commanders. Bousquet, "Cyberneticizing," p. 87.

(109.) "In 1963 ... Secretary McNamara noted that, during the previous two years, the number of U.S. strategic nuclear warheads doubled ... With regard to missiles, in 1961 the U.S. had 63 deployed; by 1963 the total was 631 land- and sea-based strategic missiles." Reed, "Policy" p. 239.

Robert R Jameson is studying for an M.A. degree in history at Iowa State University of Science and Technology and international studies at Mount Mercy College. His fields of study are modern Central and East European history, with a focus on the changing urban environment in Central Europe and the Soviet nuclear weapons program.
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