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Twentieth-Century Deterrents and Deterrence

ISSUE:  Winter 1970

Throughout 1969 a great defense debate raged, spearheaded by a bipartisan congressional coalition and fueled by a public generally impatient with the seemingly endless Vietnamese War and the voracious appetite of the Pentagon for the taxpayers’ finite dollars. It now appears inevitable that out of this current crucible of defense controversy, a new grand strategy will be forged that will control a new but related foreign policy and determine the selection of military force levels in the 1970’s and 1980’s. At the heart of the present defense system is the strategic doctrine of nuclear deterrence and the related weapons systems, or deterrents.

Post-World War II strategic policy is largely the institutionalization into national security policy of strategic theories developed by “defense intellectuals” during the last twenty-five years. Created and popularized by quasi-governmental corporations, like RAND, Hudson Institute, Institute of Defense Analysis, or by government-sponsored, defense-oriented research in the great universities, these theories spread throughout the society and crystallized as the prevailing orthodox policy and strategy.

Of all the complex defense theories and strategies developed by the nuclear strategists since 1945, the most significant by far is summed up in the word “deterrence.” The great postwar theoretical achievement of the defense intellectuals was the creation of a theoretical concept—nuclear deterrence—which competed with (some say replaced) the classic balance of power theory that had dominated Western and world history since the beginnings of nation states in the fifteenth century. Because deterrence means radically different things to individual strategists, it is no wonder that it has been called by C. L. Sulzberger “the most puzzling issue of our times.”

American strategists all agree, more or less, that nuclear weapons have been instrumental in deterring World War III, but beyond that they agree to disagree even within the various schools of deterrent thought in which commentators frequently group them. At the present time the United States is attempting to carry out simultaneously two nuclear strategies, both competing for scarce dollars. This policy principle has been called SIMULOPT, or the simultaneous adoption of mutually incompatible or contradictory policies. The end result has been a dominant orthodoxy uneasily coexisting with an alternate strategy. The result is a confused overlapping mix of weapons systems, foreign policy commitments, armed forces levels, and political-economic infrastructure that in turn supports a bloated defense system.

The dominant strategic orthodoxy from 1945 to 1969, around which the system has grown and fattened, relies primarily on a technological strategy anchored in fixed-based North American continental deterrents: bombers (B-17, B-29, B-36, B-52), intercontinental ballistic missiles (Atlas, Thor, Titan, Jupiter, Minuteman I and II). The strategic concepts connected with these fixed-based deterrent systems have included strategic bombing, instant retaliation, first-strike force, massive retaliation, strategic counterforce, strategic superiority, controlled thermonuclear war, and damage limitation.

An alternative strategic theory, struggling unsuccessfully to date for official recognition and implementation, is based primarily on mobile ocean-based weapons systems: the heavy attack carrier, Polaris-Poseidon, sea-based antiballistic missile intercept system (SABMIS), and underwater launch missile system (ULMS). The strategic concepts associated with this competing strategy have been balanced fleet, balanced deterrence, countervalue strategy, mutual deterrence, measured response, invulnerable second-strike force, and assured destruction.

The important thing to understand is that both nuclear strategies have developed in and are outgrowths of the Cold War and consequently have been devised with the Soviet Union as the principal adversary. Since the Chinese acquisition of the H-bomb in the mid-1960’s, Red China has entered into the deterrence calculations of both the U.S.S.R. and the United States. What was once a two-power game is now three players, and tomorrow will be four if the European deterrent is created by a merger of the Franco-British nuclear forces.

The advent of China and Britain-France into the nuclear deterrence club and the development of the multiple independently-guided re-entry vehicle (MIRV missile-bomber) and antiballistic missiles (ABM) are highly significant because these events have occurred after the development of the basic strategic theory that underlies the defense policy of the United States. Military deterrence is not new, but nuclear deterrence is by definition only twenty-four years old, dating from August 1945.

It is not necessary here to relate the entire history of military deterrence systems since the rise of nation states (1450-1969); it is sufficient to state that the typical Western deterrent systems used by modern nations to preserve their sovereignty and affect the balance of power have been land fortifications and standing armies, sailing ships of the line and dreadnaught battlefleets, bomber squadrons, and first generation ballistic missiles. All these deterrents had something in common: in their time they were the major weapons systems by which the nation state defended its borders from invasion or attempted to expand its territory at home or overseas.


In light of the deterrent effect of contemporary nuclear weapons, consider Admiral Mahan’s perceptive 1890 analysis of oceanic-based battleship deterrents in “The Influence of Seapower upon History, 1660-1783”:

Granted the meeting of two fleets which represent practically the whole present strength of their two nations, if one of them be destroyed, while the other remains fit for action, there will be much less hope now than formerly that the vanquished can restore his navy for that war; and the result will be disastrous just in proportion to the dependence of the nation upon her sea power.

Although Mahan’s main historical analysis was based on the Royal Navy’s sailing ships of the line in the years 1660-1812, the principles of sea power that he derived from the Age of Sail and Wood were readily applicable to the Age of Steam and Steel. The rise of the battleship to dominance as the capital ship of the world’s navies dates from the beginnings of the revolutionary steel-making breakthroughs of Bessemer and Kelly. The Age of the Battleship as the principal deterrent of nation states lasted from 1860 to 1942. Throughout that eighty-year period naval architects, scientists, and inventors engaged in a technological arms race between “armor and shell.” The size of the guns the battleship carried increased from 7 inches of H.M.S. Warrior and Black Prince to 18.1 inches of the Yamato and Musahi, tonnage from 9,200 to 72,000, and speed from 14 knots to 35 knots. For nearly one hundred years these great steel ships of the line had a great, if not determining, effect on world history.

To understand the true meaning of deterrence, it is necessary to examine twentieth-century strategic weapons systems that have been used as deterrents to war. The years from 1860 to 1942 can be regarded as the Era of the Battleship as the Great Deterrent. (Continental nations like

France, Germany, and Russia had to rely on the deterrent effect of large standing armies and accompanying fortifications because of their land frontiers.) Winston Churchill, in defending the alleged lack of aggressiveness on the part of Lord Jellicoe in not searching out and destroying the Imperial German Navy, summed up the essence of the battleship’s rôle as Great Deterrent during those sixty-two years. “Lord Jellicoe,” Churchill said, “is the only man who can lose the war in an afternoon.” Try as the Germans might, they could not lure the Royal Navy out to total destruction so necessary if the British blockade of Germany was to be broken.

Admiral Sir William James, Royal Navy, explains in an “Essay on Sea Power,” the deterrent effects that battle-fleets exerted in World War I:

There were a great many people in high places who, because there was no battle, could not or would not understand that the whole of our war effort hinged on the Grand Fleet. Because the Germans did not venture to exploit the power of their high seas fleet, it did seem that the enormous battle power accumulated in that seven and one-half miles of capital ships was wasted. But if Jellicoe had mishandled the situation at Jutland, or if during certain periods when, owing to dockings and accidents, the British fleet was reduced, the Germans had seized the opportunity to put the issue to the final test, the war might have taken a very different course.

But the oceanic deterrent held, and the outcome was decided by massed infantry on the Western Front.

What Churchill understood fifty years ago is still little appreciated by military men, statesmen, or the general public. The Great Deterrent’s purpose, its sole raison d’etre, is not to fight but to deter the enemy or enemies from inflicting a direct attack or disaster on the homeland.


The Japanese admirals who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor were well aware of deterrent power and principles.

They launched a surprise attack on the backbone of the United States’ Great Deterrent: the battleships lined up at Ford Island, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. The battleships had been stationed there by American statesmen and military leaders for their deterrent effect. It was believed that the very presence of the American battlefleet two thousand miles out in the Pacific would deter Japan from making aggressive moves against the beleaguered Pacific empires of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States.

The sinking of Battleship Row at Ford Island and the destruction of H.M.S. Prince of Wales and Repulse off Malaya a few weeks later by Japanese aircraft ended the Era of the Battleship and ushered in a new queen of the fleet, the attack carrier.

When the battleship was replaced in 1942 by the heavy attack carrier, its usefulness as the Great Deterrent was over, but its military utility in situations other than total war continued unabated. In fact, the U.S.S. New Jersey was taken out of mothballs in 1966 and bombarded North Vietnam as a precise weapon of interdiction, hurling 2,700-pound shells at targets twenty-three miles away.

Largely obscured by the titanic land battles of World War II was the question of which weapon system would carry the Great Deterrent of the postwar world. It was clear that the battleship at Pearl Harbor had not deterred war between Japan and the United States, but the theory behind it was obviously correct. United States battleships exerted a deterrent function: Japan had to destroy them before she could carry out her Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere in Asia. With the battlefleet destroyed, there was no force in being left to stop her. Japan paid a price—bringing the United States into the war—but she gained an empire only to watch it erode away after losing command of the sea with the destruction of her main carrier deterrent force at the Battle of Midway.

This epic battle, midway to United States victory in the Pacific War, should have symbolized the coming of age of the carrier as the mobile, oceanic-based Great Deterrent and precursor of postwar deterrent systems. Indeed, as early as 1909 Commander William S. Sims, USN, in the presence of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lieutenant Ernest J. King, watching Wilbur Wright fly over American fleet units on the Hudson River, predicted that “the fast carrier is the capital ship of the future.” But ocean technology and strategic theory were not ready or able to overcome the fixed-based, long-range strategic bomber that had devastated Germany from 1942 to 1945 or the B-29 that had bombed Japan, first with high explosives, then with fire bombs, and finally with two atomic bombs. Simply, the 1945 A-bombs were too heavy to be delivered by planes launched from aircraft carriers, thus prematurely ending or delaying their rôle as carrier of the Great Deterrent.


The surrender of Japan shortly after Hiroshima and Nagasaki fired the public imagination. Two secret weapons, the B-29 and the atomic bomb, had ended the greatest war of all time. From this simplistic understanding of World War II, it was an easy step to believing that the atomic bomb could end war or, if the United States retained the bomber and bomb, no force on earth ever could challenge America again. The Great Deterrent was firmly implanted in the public mind as the atom bomb carried by the intercontinental bomber, based in the American heartland. The reign of the heavy bomber as the Great Deterrent lasted from 1945 to 1958, although the bomber, like the carrier and the battleship, found continuing military use as the deliverer of iron bombs against North Korea and South and North Vietnam in greater tonnages than were dropped on Japan and Germany in World War II.

Often overlooked in the bitter argument over the nature of the deterrent during the Era of the Bomber was the existence of two kinds of bombers: mobile carrier-based and fixed land-based. The concept of strategic bombing is of course closely associated with the B-17, B-29, and the Strategic Air Command. It is little appreciated that the propeller bomber (B-29 and B-36) served as the Great Deterrent from 1945 to 1952. For the most part, in World War II and Korea the long-range heavy bombers tried to fight and win the war through strategic bombing. They attempted to win the war according to the prevailing strategic theory worked out by General William A. Mitchell, Lord Hugh M. Trenchard, and Brigadier General Giulio Douhet in reaction to the World War I infantry-type slaughter by destroying the industrial heart of the enemy and wrecking his morale. The use of the heavy carrier in World War II more nearly approximated the Mahanian concept of the Great Deterrent and foreshadowed post-World War II nuclear deterrent theory. Once the Japanese carrier admirals had destroyed the American deterrent at Pearl Harbor and the British fleet off Singapore, they had clear sailing to pick off the Western European Asiatic Pacific empires one by one.

The United States, by the destruction of its great naval deterrent at Pearl Harbor, almost lost the war in a Sunday “afternoon.” Fortunately, the four existing American carriers were relatively invulnerable. Out to sea, they survived to destroy Japanese hopes of victory six months later at the Battle of Midway. Although historians have understood its significance as one of the decisive battles of history, the carrier’s Great Deterrent functions have been largely, overlooked in the post-World War II years because generals, statesmen, and strategists were blinded by the possibility of combining the new jet B-47’s with the miraculous atomic bombs. To many strategists this combination seemed like the “ultimate weapon,” and they predicted that the world’s armies and navies would quickly fade away and eternal peace would reign, thanks to the Great Deterrent created by the bomber-atomic bomb combination.

These predictions appeared unchallengeable when the B-52 and the newly developed H-bomb were joined together in the mid-1950’s. Even to this day, most big bomber advocates have never understood that the jet bomber and the H-bomb were nothing but a deterrent. For, in truth, they have had little utility for accomplishing anything but deterring a surprise attack or World War III. Like Lord Jellicoe’s battleships, the complete destruction of the bomber fleet would have cost our country the war in an afternoon, and they should not be regarded as wasted investment if they were not used in a war. Indeed, they shouldn’t fight a nuclear war, for that was not their function. Rather, their purpose was to deter World War III, which they obviously did. The Great Deterrent held. Unfortunately, few bomber advocates would admit that deterrence of war, not war-fighting, was the purpose of the nuclear-armed jet bomber. Why? Because few in the late 1940’s and 1950’s were willing to admit officially that thermonuclear wars could not be won and that if the bombers started dropping their nuclear weapons, their prime mission of deterring World War III would have failed.

The era of the long-range, land-based strategic bomber (and carrier bomber) as the Great Deterrent lasted from 1945 to 1958, and during that period Communism spread until one-third of mankind owed its allegiance to one or another variety of the Communist system. It had installed itself in Eurasia as a tough competitor to the Western capitalist system. Obviously, the bomber prevented, or deterred, World War III, but it has not done much more. It certainly did not prevent wars, for the period from 1945 to 1958 was one of the most bellicose in man’s history. At most, the bomber can be credited with keeping wars limited and deterring World War III, which is a great deal but not a fraction of what has been claimed for it. The strategic-military-political problems arise when the bomber partisans confuse deterring World War III with fighting World War III or limited wars, like Korea and Vietnam, i.e., the use of iron or nuclear bombs in strategic warfare to win a war primarily through air power alone.

As in World Wars I and II there were in the 1950’s still “a great many people in high places who … could not or would not understand” the vital difference between the new deterrent-defensive rôle of the Great Thermonuclear Deterrent (temporarily carried by bombers) and the old deterrent-offensive rôle of previous deterrents, like the standing armies, battlefleets, or bomber squadrons before the advent of the droppable H-bomb in 1953 and 1954.


The same confusion over the deterrent-defensive versus the deterrent-offensive rôle for instruments of the Great Deterrent was endemic in the Era of the Simple Ballistic Missile (one warhead per missile), which lasted from 1958 to 1965. The superpowers spent hundreds of billions of dollars and rubles in a vain attempt to gain a political-strategic advantage from massed megatonnage. In other words, neither superpower was satisfied with the simple deterrent effect of thermonuclear weapons; it wanted a spill-over or bonus effect. Strategists, politicians, and military men just could not believe that the billions of tons of TNT equivalent in their ballistic missiles and bombers had no other excuse for being except as a Great Deterrent to World War III or the mutual use of similar weapons. Each side tried its hand at what was called “ballistic blackmail,” “nuclear brinkmanship,” credible first-strike postures, or veiled hints of pre-emptive war, all to little or no effect on the real balance of power in the world.

The real changes in the balance of power during these years were caused by guerrillas, faceless men fired with a political idea, who directed their political warfare at the superpowers, interested meddlers, or international bystanders.

Beginning in the early 1950’s and throughout the mid-1960’s, the defensive concept of nuclear deterrence was slowly becoming unentangled from the offensive concept of military victory through fighting and winning a war with thermonuclear weapons. The advent of invulnerable secondstrike deterrent weapons systems, like the Polaris and Minuteman (armed with 1, 3, or more than 10 warheads), should be credited with this significant switch. By late 1969 it was apparent that the strategic balance was much more stable than at any time since the advent of the jet bomber and ICBM. Indeed, this current stability was responsible for much of the agitation over the ABM and MIRV. Proponents and opponents of the new weapons systems argued for or against their deployment using the same arguments: They would or would not destabilize the existing balance of terror to such a degree that a new arms race would be inevitable at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and rubles; this new arms race would make arms control impossible and devour so much money in the next decade that pressing American and Soviet social programs, domestic priorities, and space travel would have to be deferred for another decade; and the world beyond the superpowers would become so much poorer and more overpopulated that a great global crisis would be inevitable before the year 2,000.

We are presently witnessing a typical late twentieth-century phenomenon: man’s military technology outstripping his strategic theory, which is another way of saying that science and technology create the possibility of social change before institutions can react to the technological imperatives. Technology is in the saddle. And when this technology is symbolized by galloping weapons systems, some capable of absorbing hundreds of billions of finite dollars, it is essential to think through the uses of the weapons systems as they relate to the short- and long-range goals of one of the two superpowers, which has the following characteristics: a democratic-republican polity with a mixed economy, diverse continental nation of 202,000,000 enjoying one of the world’s highest standards of living, residing for the most part in five or six sprawling urban complexes in which 70 per cent of the people are crowded on one per cent of the land.

Before considering the impact of ABM and MIRV on deterrence and the balance of terror in the remainder of the twentieth century, it is useful to try to explain the roots and current status of both the dominant and alternative strategic theories. These two competing strategies are struggling for official acceptance especially as they are related to either one mobile deterrent system derivative of the MIRV and ABM or another completely contradictory fixed-based derivative of the MIRV and ABM.

Secretary McNamara’s “moment” when the United States had the strategic counterforce capability “to destroy virtually all of the ‘soft’ and ‘semi-hard’ military targets in the Soviet Union and a large number of their fully hardened missile sites” was in the early 1960’s, not the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Technical, international, and domestic realities have changed, and Secretary McNamara’s early 1963 predictions regarding the impending impossibility of building a true first-strike force have come true. One of the key aspects of the 1969 great debate is Secretary Laird’s assertion that there is no question but that the Soviets are going for a first-strike with their MIRVed long-range ballistic missiles (SS-9’s) taking out our hardened, dispersed Minutemen, their fractional orbiting bombs (FOB’s) destroying our B-52’s, and Soviet killer submarines sinking our Polaris submarines. The thrust of modern technology makes it inevitable that by the mid-1970’s there will be a new chapter in the age-old struggle between shell and armor, ever more powerful and more accurate warheads aimed against increased concrete and steel protection.


Today the strategic argument is in a state of flux, and the situation demands a complete re-examination of the strategic assumptions, theories, doctrines, and weapons systems to carry them out and a searching examination of their relationship to foreign policy commitments, American governmental institutions, the bureaucracy, industry, universities, and the American people. It is here at this crucial time that the alternative strategy must be considered.

During this transitional period, it is essential, as Rear Admiral George Miller, head of the United States Navy’s Strategic and Defensive Weapons System, testified before Congress earlier this year, “to bring the strategists back into the picture, and to think of the allocation of resources against the background of technological comparability. The strategist has to take his part in the picture along with the decisionmaker, the tactician, the weapons operator, the analyst, and the cost man.” In Admiral Miller’s opinion, what is needed is a “ruthless reappraisal” of our “past and present way of doing things.”

One way to make this needed “ruthless reappraisal” is to examine current United States deterrent strategy, targeting doctrine, and related weapons systems to see if the international realities and enemy technological advances have not already made them obsolete. The new alternative strategy was suggested ten years ago but rejected by Secretary Mc-Namara and his civilian strategists. This theoretical defense of a strategy based primarily on deterrence carried out by mobile oceanic-based deterrents has a direct bearing on the great strategic debate of 1969. This is especially true as it relates to the largely unperceived interrelationships between MIRV and ABM. It is therefore useful to summarize in detail the gist of two remarkable documents initially highly classified but declassified and sanitized in the frantic months after Sputnik so that the concepts could enter the marketplace of strategic ideas and influence the new types of weapons systems to be built to deter the Soviet ICBM. These two documents, “National Policy Implications of Atomic Parity” (1958) and “Résumé of Major Strategic Considerations” (1960) were largely the work of unknown strategists, such as T. E. Phipps, Thomas Milburn, John Craven, and other oceanic-oriented individuals associated with the Naval Warfare Analysis Group.

The NAVWAG paper began its analysis by trying to fit the new situation of the Soviet ICBM, symbolized by Sputnik, into military strategy. “The loss of the U. S. monopoly in high yield nuclear weapons, coupled with Russian advance in long-range delivery systems has created a new situation in which the classical goals and concepts of military power require modification. Military superiority in unlimited war no longer connotes ability to ‘win’—nobody wins a suicide pact. Thus all-out war is obsolete as an instrument of national policy.”

Given the Soviet hostility, the paper wondered1 how the United States could find a solution that “leads to a mutual deterrence of all-out war sufficiently stable to survive occasional periods of tension.” One solution would be to increase the “size of striking forces to offset their vulnerability.” But this might lead to an “arms race and also an invitation to the enemy for preventive war adventurism.”

But how do we make sure that “his calculation of our residual strength after his attack will agree with ours well enough to deter him?” The Navy document discussed two principal ways to guarantee the security of our strategic forces against surprise attack: the “fortress concept” and mobility and concealment.

In the opinion of these strategists, fixed land-based deterrent systems were highly deficient:

The “fortress concept” of invulnerability to presupposed level of attack involves “hardening” and active defense of fixed installations; that is to say, burying them in concrete deep under ground, and surrounding them with anti-missile batteries, both at tremendous expense. This concept merely promotes an arms race. It challenges the enemy in an area (endless mass-production of higher-yield, more-accurate missiles) where he is ready and able to respond impassively. Fortress-busting is always possible, since any fixed defenses, including all foreseeable anti-ICBM defenses, can be overwhelmed by numbers. Once embarked on this course, we will be committed to build installations and defenses faster than the enemy can build missiles to knock them out.

The solution to this classic race between shell and armor (ballistic missile and concrete) is to rely on sea-based mobility and concealment rather than fixed-based, hardened and protected missiles. The NAVWAG paper then made the case for mobility:

By contrast, security against surprise, when achieved through mobility and concealment, discourages an arms race. This concept challenges the enemy in an area (military intelligence) where he can clearly be frustrated, e.g., by submarine or mobile land-based missile systems. Numbers of missiles will avail the enemy nothing, if he does not know the location of his target.

The relation between specific deterrence systems, arms race, and arms control was then reviewed.

To the extent that we rely on the fortress concept to achieve security against surprise, we commit ourselves to an eternal, strength-sapping race in which the Soviets have a head start. We can decisively lessen the chance of all-out war through enemy miscalculation. We can do so by adopting for our next-generation retaliatory systems not merely the broad requirement of “invulnerability,” but more specifically the requirement of invulnerability through mobility and concealment.

To avoid needless and provocative over-inflation of our strategic forces, their size should be set by an objective of generous adequacy for deterrence alone (i.e., for an ability to destroy major urban areas), not by the false goal of adequacy for “winning.”

The Kennedy and Johnson Administrations did not follow this strategic advice, but rather built both mobile- and fixed-based deterrent systems, adopted an ambiguous strategic doctrine, and in 1967 gave the go-ahead for a thin ABM Sentinel to protect the soft cities. President Nixon, in March, 1969, modified the Sentinel and ordered the Safeguard ABM to protect the fixed-based Minutemen deterrents expected to be vulnerable in the mid-1970’s to the Soviet SS-9 ICBM armed with multiple warheads.

The strategic debate of 1969 was triggered in part by the approach of nuclear parity; the Soviets are now slightly greater in numbers of land-based ICBM’s (SS-9 and SS-11) to the United States’ fixed-based missiles (Minuteman I and II). This has made some Pentagon planners nervous because, given the technology of the MIRV and ABM, we are truly at an historic watershed. First, in 1949, the United States nuclear monopoly was broken. Then, in the 1950’s, the United States homeland became vulnerable to Russian long-range bombers and ICBM’s. Now Rv.i„ia has caught up with the United States in intercontinental missiles, and no one is quite sure what will happen with the new MIRV technology just around the corner.

Nine years ago, T. E. Phipps, in his classic paper, “Resume of Major Strategic Considerations,” worried about the implication of nuclear parity and concluded that it “could thus imply a strengthening of mutual deterrence of all-out war, particularly if both opponents had the assured ‘strike second capability.’ ” It was Phipps’ considered position that the United States could unilaterally put an end to the nuclear arms race if certain conditions were met:

(1) The concept must win broad public and governmental acceptance that in “all-out” nuclear warfare there is such as enough; i.e., that a finite number of nuclear weapons pre-determinable independently of enemy offensive capabilities, will (if successfully delivered) fully satisfy the requirement of retaliation.

(2) The futility and/or undesirability of attempting direct attack on enemy missile sites must be generally acknowledged.

(3) We must have a known “strike second” capability for all-out war, i.e., we must be sure that the desired number of nuclear weapons can obviously survive any surprise attack on us, as well as any at-target defenses the enemy may establish.

(4) We must provide ourselves with adequate military capability to fight limited wars, without gross over-reaction to the provocation that gives rise to them.

Now, nearly ten years after Phipps warned against unlimited strategic forces targeted against enemy missiles, the United States is in the midst of another great debate over strategic doctrine, specifically, whether to build the various types of MIRV, the ABM, the advanced manned strategic aircraft (AMSA), or other new strategic weapons now in the research and development phase.

The logic of these new American weapons and similar Soviet ones demands that we try to implement the strategic wisdom residing in the alternative strategy developed in the mid-1950’s to cope with the H-bomb and the ICBM, rather than to rework or patch-up strategic doctrine with its roots in World War I before Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The golden years of strategic theory were 1955-61; since then very little new, original work has been done. The strategists either became horrified by their creation and dropped out, were bored by nuclear strategy and left government for teaching and domestic pursuits, became sidetracked with Vietnam, or have come to the conclusion that nothing can be done. This is too bad because a new strategic theory is needed that will synthesize and rationalize the momentous international and technological realities that have taken place since the orthodox and alternative strategies were formulated in the mid- and late-1950’s. The following factors should be considered by any new strategist attempting to synthesize or formulate a new strategic doctrine: Chinese H-bomb and delivery system; Russian-Chinese border conflict; Vietnamese War and wars of national liberation; American-Russian strategic parity; the new strategic technology (ABM, MIRV); the new Europe (after de Gaulle); possibility of European deterrent; United States retrenchment after Vietnam; the continuing Mid-East crisis; the economic and political rise of Japan and Germany; the accelerating population explosion; the unequal consumption of the world’s natural resources; growth of Soviet naval power; new balance of power in United States government (Executive versus Legislative); the growing argument over national priorities; rising anti-militarism in the United States; increasing urbanization of the United States and the world; decline of Britain east of Suez; opening up of space.

Of all these new international realities, the greatest influence on strategic theory is summed up in the deadly acronym MIRV. A public that barely understands the difference between a blockbuster and the atomic bomb is being asked to comprehend the revolutionary implications of invulnerable second-strike deterrent systems, to say nothing of the consequences to the United States, U.S.S.R., and the world of the quantum jump in nuclear weaponry represented by the MIRV missiles, the equivalent of unmanned bombers full of H-bombs. The real facts and actual implications of the mating of these two concepts—invulnerable second-strike retaliatory weapons and thousands of multiple independently guided warheads—in a single new weapons system (Poseidon or Minuteman III) have been largely ignored. The following equation represents the revolutionary quantum jump in nuclear weaponry ushered in by MIRV:

the battleship jet-powered strategic bomber (B-47, B-52) and supercarrier solid-propelled “invulnerable” ICBM’s, Polaris, MM I, II

long-range strategic bomber (B-17, B-29) and fast heavy carrier first generation liquid-propelled ICBM’s (Atlas, Titans, Thor, Jupiter) MIRV missiles (Poseidon, MM III)

It is my thesis that a revolution of historic importance is about to take place and that neither the average man nor the decision-maker is prepared for the New Age that these weapons systems will bring in. As the Cold War can be regarded as a function of the simple deterrent systems represented by the long-range heavy bomber and the first generation ICBM’s, the New Age, with its new opportunities and new crises, will be a function of the MIRV strategic systems.


It is now clear that if the principles of the alternative strategy are to be adopted in the 1970’s and 1980’s as the new international realities and technology suggest, then the weapons system to carry out this new strategy should be the mobile, oceanic-based Polaris-Poseidon—ULMS armed with over 5,000 MRV and MIRV warheads of a Hiroshima size and targeted for deterrence purposes only against the soft urban complexes of the U.S.S.R. and China.

If an ABM must be built for foreign policy considerations (protection of non-nuclear allies or neutrals from nuclear ballistic blackmail), let it be oceanic-based, like the SABMIS. The overall aim of our military forces should be scaled down to deterring World War III and protecting our vital national interests. We should also encourage a United Europe and Russia to build their own oceanic-based deterrent and to discourage nations everywhere from protecting their cities or building counterforce first-strike weapons systems.

As a nation we must soon face the truth of President Kennedy’s remarks at Seattle in 1961 that

the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, that we are only 6 per cent of the world’s population, that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 per cent of mankind, that we cannot right every wrong, or reverse every adversity, and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.

In the final analysis, the American people should understand, in Raymond Aron’s meaningful analysis, that

diplomatic constellations will change, but the goal will remain the same: until the world is truly peaceful and disarmament a reality, nations must learn the art of using thermonuclear weapons on the diplomatic level in such a way that they will never have to use them on the military level.

No one can claim to know all the subtleties of that art, but everyone must learn the rudiments of it.

A thorough understanding of the technological, strategic, political, and economic imperatives of thermonuclear deterrents by men everywhere may be one of the best ways to insure that the Age of True Deterrence will save us from World War III so that mankind will have the time to devise the new solutions, institutions, social inventions, and, ultimately, the new world system foreshadowed by the ending of the Columbian Age on July 21, 1969.


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