By the election of 1960 the Democrats in Congress, their supporters in the
Army and Navy, and academic specialists in defense policy had developed a rival
doctrine, that of "flexible response." The theory here was that the United States
should have balanced military forces consisting of land-based intercontinental
missiles, missile-carrying submarines, land-based bombers, carrier-based bombers, both nuclear and conventional ground forces, and both nuclear and conventional naval forces. In this way the United States could respond to threats of any
kind and at any level in precisely the same terms on which the threats were posed.
Pointing to the Korean War, the advocates of flexible response argued that the United States should be able to meet any level of threat without raising the level
of the fighting and that this would ensure that a limited war would remain limited. Only in this way could accidental or limited aggression be met while minimizing the risk that violence might escalate into a much larger war, a nuclear World War III.
The key to deterrence, again, was the credibility of the threatened retaliation.
Potential aggressors would be more effectively deterred if the United States had a
wide variety of forces from nuclear to conventional at its disposal and, consequently, a range of responses corresponding to the range of threats.
Zhou Enlai is here spelled in Pin Yin, rather than Wade-Giles, which would be
McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty
Years ( New York: Random House, 1988), 240-241.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Mandate for Change ( Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963), 453.
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-54, vol. 2 ( Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Government Printing Office), 532, 533, 593.
Foreign Relations of the United States, vol. 15 ( Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952- 1954), 1062 ff.
David Rosenberg, personal communication with author.
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, "A Look Through a Window at World
War III", Journal of the Royal United Services Institute ( November 1954), 508.
Bundy, Danger and Survival, 323. The quotes from Eisenhower also appear in Bundy, where their sources are given.
The views of General Twining and the reports of Dulles's offer to Bidault are as
cited in ibid., 266-267
This account draws on Melvin Gurtov, The First Vietnam Crisis ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1967).
White House Years, 477.
The concept of "credibility" was developed by William W. Kaufmann. See his "The Requirements of Deterrence" in
W. W. Kaufmann, ed., Military Policy and National Security ( Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1956).