Weapons and Treaties Sorted Out

Article excerpt


The publication of this slim and easily read book is timely, to say the least. As Congress and the nation debate yet again the size of our nuclear stockpile and the various treaties surrounding nuclear weapons, Jerry Miller's work provides a history of how we amassed so many warheads - a ready reference to the plethora of treaties and agreements over the years.

Few authors come to such a task better qualified, having spent two tours of duty in nuclear planning in Omaha and having commanded two fleets with nuclear responsibilities. He earlier qualified as a nuclear-delivery pilot and, after retirement from active Navy service, participated at high national levels in organizations dealing with nuclear weapons and strategies.

As most of the world knows, the Atomic Age dawned in August 1945 with the detonation of two nuclear devices over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Almost simultaneously, it dawned on the leaders of the world that this was something that could not be allowed to get out of hand. President Truman offered to share nuclear technology with the Soviets. The offer was rejected out of hand, and the nuclear arms race was on.

In the United States, several schools of thought quickly developed regarding the use of atomic bombs. The new U.S. Air Force quickly saw atomic bombs as an extension of its long-held philosophy of strategic bombing. Scientists, philosophers and many politicians - especially the many non-elected politicians in think tanks - had their own views, not necessarily in alignment with the military. The military services themselves held differing outlooks.

The Air Force, fresh out of World War II and mass bombings in Europe, held that in total war, it was hitting countervalue targets, cities and industries that would pay off. The Navy tended to hold that counterforce targeting was the way to go - think submarine pens. The Army wanted more effective artillery in support of troops on the ground. The Air Force thought in terms of land-based forces. The Navy thought in terms of sea-based forces, and the Army wanted nuclear weapons forward in support of its ground operations.

All of these competing dynamics resulted in a program to build more and more weapons, with no obvious braking force extant. Thus, according to the author, there's more than enough blame to go around. As he writes, The military must share much of the responsibility for the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile, but the civilian authority has to assume some of the blame, as it usurped much of the authority of the military. Their bright ideas of how to ensure deterrence created some massive increases in stockpile numbers.

In the end, he writes, Nuclear strategy became almost completely political in nature - a method of sending political messages to the opposition, not a military strategy for actually winning a war.

On the military side, one might think the advent of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), in 1961 would put some science and math into the number of nuclear weapons needed, but such was not the case. There arose at frequent intervals cases for assuring a certain level of destruction of a target and other cases for assurances of reliability. …