Closing Pandora's Box: Arms Races, Arms Control, and the History of the Cold War

By Patrick Glynn | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 4
Debating the Absolute Weapon

To the degree that the history of arms control has been written at all, it has generally been told as a series of missed opportunities or "lost chances." Roosevelt's failure to take Bohr's advice and reveal the Bomb's existence to Stalin, Truman's initial hesitancy when faced with Stimson's suggestion to approach the Soviets immediately on "international control," Truman's decision over the objections of Oppenheimer and others to proceed with the H-bomb, the failure of the United States to press harder for a multiple-warhead or "MIRV" ban in the SALT I negotiations in the early 1970s--each of these has been taken as a critical turning point in the arms competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. In each case, as various writers have it, a more enlightened policy on the part of the United States--in particular, a well-timed gesture of unilateral restraint--might well have broken the "action-reaction" cycle and in this way circumvented or at least alleviated the arms race that followed.

The prototypical "missed opportunity"---indeed, perhaps the most widely studied and historically debated weapons decision of the nuclear age--was President Truman's 1950 decision to proceed with the hydrogen bomb. It is this tale of "missed opportunity" that has provided the basic model for many of the others, in part because it was understood very much in these terms at the time. The tale in brief: The General Advisory Committee (GAC), the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and a group of scientists including Oppenheimer, recommended in the fall of 1949 that the United States not go forward with the hydrogen, or

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