Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy since 1945

By John Lewis Gaddis; Philip H. Gordon et al. | Go to book overview

4
John Foster Dulles' Nuclear Schizophrenia

NEAL ROSENDORF

RECENT studies of John Foster Dulles have made much of his 'complex amalgam' of seemingly contradictory characteristics 1; he was at his most inconsistent over the issue of nuclear weapons. Dulles registered strong disapproval, on moral grounds, of the atomic bombing of Japan and warned at the time of the dangerous precedent the USA was setting in using nuclear weapons. He expressed on many occasions his profound anxiety about this weapon which could literally destroy humanity. Several times he suggested international controls of one sort or another on nuclear energy. Indeed, late in 1945 one of Dulles' colleagues at the Council on Foreign Relations asserted disapprovingly to then-Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson that Dulles held a 'pacifist ivory tower bias'. 2

Yet, for some years Dulles was an ardent proponent of massive retaliation, which threatened a possible thermonuclear strike in response to conventional aggression. Dulles strove to break down the 'false distinction' between the Abomb and conventional weapons which was working, he believed, to the Soviets' military and propaganda advantage. He counselled the use of nuclear weapons more than once. Dulles eventually moved away from massive retaliation toward a flexible response approach, partly because he recognized that huge thermonuclear bombs would always be perceived as terror weapons and thus serve the USSR's purposes, partly because they did not offer a credible deterrent against anything other than an all-out Soviet strike that was becoming ever less likely, partly because these bombs truly could destroy the human race. However, integral to his proposed flexible arsenal were small, 'clean' nuclear weapons as a cost-effective, usable deterrent against low-level provocation that would keep down the risk of escalation if employed.

This examination will incidentally address political scientist John Mueller's counterfactually-based assertion that 'while nuclear weapons may have substantially influenced political rhetoric, public discourse, and defense budgets and planning, it is not at all clear that they have had a significant impact on the history of world affairs since World War II.' 3 However, rather than explic

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