Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam

By Lawrence Freedman | Go to book overview

11

Flexible Response

BERLIN OBLIGED KENNEDY to address the fundamental questions of war and peace in the nuclear age. He was torn between the need to appear unyielding in the defense of America's interests and his real fear of sudden lurches into crisis and then war.

The peculiar vulnerability of Berlin set an extremely demanding strategic challenge. Deep in East Germany, surrounded by Soviet and East German divisions, was not a good place to pick a fight. The West would soon face the famous choice between holocaust or humiliation, suicide or surrender. Existing contingency planning, based on National Security Council Report 5803 of February 1958, suggested that the United States would be prepared to go to general nuclear war after using only limited force to open access to Berlin. 1 This, as McNamara observed to Kennedy, was not consistent with the new thinking that stressed a much more substantial conventional phase before recourse to nuclear weapons. 2

The more force that could be brought to bear on the immediate problem, the less the pressure to expand the fight sideways or upward. In early thinking McNamara wanted to get sufficient forces in play to stand up to available East German divisions. The Soviet Union needed to understand that they could not leave the East Germans to do it by themselves in the hope that they would not be implicated. "I do not believe," McNamara observed, "that a great power such as the United States should select a course of action which could lead to defeat by a Soviet puppet regime." One possibility was to exploit West Germany's growing military potential. This was a sensitive issue. German rearmament had been viewed with misgivings throughout Europe, including in Germany itself. While the Americans may not have appreciated how much this prospect, including access to nuclear weapons, had colored Soviet thinking, they could see the problems of giving it an even greater prominence. In addition, strictly

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Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface: Kennedy's Wars ix
  • Dramatis Personae xiii
  • Introduction 3
  • I - The Cold War and How to Fight It 11
  • 1 - Liberal Anticommunism 13
  • 2 - Beyond Massive Retaliation 18
  • 3 - The Third World Alternative 27
  • 4 - Policies and People 32
  • II - Berlin and Nuclear Strategy 43
  • 5 - The New Strategy 45
  • 6 - To Vienna and Back 51
  • 7 - The Berlin Anomaly 58
  • 8 - A Contest of Resolve 66
  • 9 - The Wall 72
  • 10 - Tests and Tension 79
  • 11 - Flexible Response 92
  • 12 - Berlin to Cuba 112
  • III - Cuba 121
  • 13 - Removing Castro 123
  • 14 - A Deniable Plan 129
  • 15 - An Undeniable Fiasco 139
  • 16 - Still Castro 147
  • 17 - Mongoose 153
  • 18 - Searching for Missiles 161
  • 19 - The Options Debated 170
  • 20 - Blockade 182
  • 21 - Military Steps 193
  • 22 - Political Steps 203
  • 23 - The Denouement 208
  • 24 - A Crisis Managed 218
  • 25 - Aftermath 225
  • 26 - Back to Square One 238
  • IV - Alliances and Detente 247
  • 27 - The Sino-Soviet Split 249
  • 28 - Toward a Test Ban 261
  • 29 - The Test Ban Treaty 270
  • 30 - Alleasured Response 276
  • V - Vietnam 285
  • 31 - Counterinsurgency 287
  • 32 - Laos 293
  • 33 - Commitment without Combat 305
  • 34 - Deciding Not to Decide 313
  • 35 - The Taylor Report 322
  • 36 - Decisions 330
  • 37 - The Influence of Laos 340
  • 38 - In the Dark 356
  • 39 - Coercion and Clients 367
  • 40 - Diem's Assassination 382
  • 41 - Kennedy to Johnson 398
  • Conclusion 415
  • Acknowledgments 421
  • Notes 423
  • Bibliography 489
  • Index 507
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