Staying Out of Vietnam--The Logic of "Massive Retaliation"
Between the problem of deterring a war and the problem of ending one, there is a close analogy. In war, one seeks the enemy's defeat. In deterrence, one seeks to persuade the enemy, in effect, that he is defeated before he has begun. Deterrence may be expensive; but ending a war is vastly more so. That is because in war a nation is forced to begin proving over time what, with deterrence, it merely asserts in a moment-- namely, that the enemy cannot win. It must prove, moreover, the very thing that its adversary has come to doubt--that it has the will and power to avoid defeat. Time is at the heart of the problem. The longer a war goes on, the longer a war is likely to go on. The sooner one can persuade the enemy that defeat is inevitable, the sooner a war is likely to end. If one proves this early enough, war need not begin in the first place.1 In the end, the key to deterrence in its purest form is much the same as the key to victory itself: the ability to bring decisive force to bear upon the conflict at the decisive moment in time.
The use of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II showed these relationships with unusual clarity. Before the war, it probably would have been sufficient for preserving peace to maintain the American and British fleets at their post-World War I strength in the Pacific. Owing largely to naval arms control, this was not done. Once war was underway, peace could be restored only by the most extensive expenditure of blood and treasure. To marshal forces decisive enough to end the war required literally years of building and fighting, and hundreds of thousands of lives. Even then the result remained in doubt. As late as the summer of 1945,