Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States, 1940-1980

By Gerard H. Clarfield; William M. Wiecek | Go to book overview

11
"Strategic Sufficiency"
TECHNOLOGICAL LEAPFROG AND THE FIRST SALT AGREEMENT

THE COALITION OF BUSINESS and governmental leaders who engineered the development of the nuclear power industry during the 1960s moved resolutely toward the achievement of a clearly defined purpose. During these same years, however, on the military side of the nuclear question, all was in flux. The Kennedy administration explored virtually every avenue open to it, except nuclear disarmament, in a vain attempt to resolve its nuclear dilemma. Rejecting what they regarded as the "surrender or suicide" policy of the Eisenhower administration, Kennedy and his associates first tried counterforce strategy in an attempt to use nuclear weapons in "discreet" ways, only to find that the new approach almost produced the war that nuclear weapons were supposed to deter. Following the Cuban missile crisis, the administration regrouped, began a diplomatic offensive designed to reduce Cold War tensions, and adopted an assured destruction strategy that emphasized deterrence rather than nuclear-war fighting capabilities, positing that neither side could win a nuclear war. But placing the emphasis on deterrence did not guarantee that a catastrophic war would not take place. So Kennedy settled for a policy that was intended to reduce to an absolute minimum the incentive either side might have for using nuclear weapons, by making it clear that retaliation would be swift and devastating.

A stable nuclear balance in which each of the superpowers has complete confidence in its retaliatory capability is fundamental to

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