Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965

By Timothy J. Botti | Go to book overview

18
HIGH NOON

We're either a first class power or we're not!

-- Richard B. Russell, Jr., October 22, 19621

It is generally believed that the U.S. and the Soviet Union came closer to nuclear war over missiles in Cuba than at any time during the Cold War. Given the fact that the October 1962 crisis could easily have sparked confrontations over Berlin, Turkey, and other places on the periphery of the Soviet empire, this perception is probably true, though the on-again, off-again Berlin standoff was at times just as dangerous. For Cuba as well as Berlin, the fundamental reality of the first twenty years of the Cold War remained the same. Unless Kremlin leaders wanted to commit national suicide, they would not provoke war with the United States.

By fall 1962, the balance of strategic nuclear forces favored the U.S. more than when Kennedy had taken office. The Soviets had approximately 44 ICBMs (low estimate less than 25), 97 sea-launched ballistic missiles, 155 heavy bombers, and many hundreds of medium bombers that must be launched from forward bases on the Arctic Circle to reach the continental U.S. on one-way missions. The ICBMs were first generation SS-6 rockets with non-storable liquid fuel, highly unreliable and inaccurate; the missile submarines diesel- powered boats that had to surface to fire short-range missiles. By contrast, the U.S. possessed 156 Atlas and Titan ICBMS, 144 Polaris SLBMS, and 1,300 strategic bombers armed with megaton bombs and Hound Dog air-to-surface missiles (ASMs). Many hundreds more medium bombers with in-flight refueling capacity could strike at targets in the Soviet Union from overseas bases. Second generation Titan II and Minuteman missiles were about to be deployed, moreover, in an expansion that would create by 1967 a Triad force of over 1,000 ICBMs, 41 Polaris submarines (657 SLBMs), and several hundred B-52 bombers.2

The overwhelming superiority of the American strategic arsenal was known

-185-

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Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Military Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • 1 - Sayonara Sanity? 1
  • 2 - War Scare 7
  • 3 - The Soviets Draw an Ace 17
  • 4 - Strategic Error 23
  • 5 - First Forbearance 31
  • 6 - The Cart Before the Horse 44
  • 7 - French Chestnuts in the Fire 55
  • 8 - The President Vacillates 66
  • 9 - Muscling Up 78
  • 10 - Sword of Damocles 95
  • 11 - The Last Sideshow 102
  • 12 - The Autobahn to Armageddon 109
  • 13 - Cocked Gun 121
  • 14 - Amateur Hour 138
  • 15 - Harebrained Schemes 151
  • 16 - Muddling Through 163
  • 17 - Multilateral Folly 171
  • 18 - High Noon 185
  • 19 - Two Bluffs 201
  • 20 - Best-Laid Plans 216
  • 21 - Strategic Incompetence 230
  • 22 - Unplayable Card? 243
  • Notes 253
  • Index 301
  • About the Author 313
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