U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project
was completed in August 1998 and resulted in the book
Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 edited by Stephen I. Schwartz. These project pages should be considered historical.
Stephen I. Schwartz
Why conduct an atomic audit? The cold war is over, the Soviet Union is but a fading memory, and both the United States and Russia are dismantling large parts of their nuclear arsenals. Why assess either the costs or the consequences of the U.S. nuclear weapons program? Are not these costs already well known and, in any event, largely irrelevant given the successful and peaceful outcome of the cold war? Such questions reflect today's conventional wisdom about the cold war, nuclear weapons and the federal government's budgetary accounting practices. They are, however, short-sighted and in several critical respects completely wrong.
We will document that the United States spent vast amounts on nuclear weapons without the kind of careful and sustained debate or oversight that are essential both to democratic practice and to sound public policy. In most cases, even rudimentary standards of government policy- making and accountability were lacking. Today, with an estimated $35 billion expended annually on nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs (in 1998 dollars), government officials remain by and large unaware of both the overall size of and rationale for such costs. Notwithstanding frequent debates about arms control treaties, the nature of deterrence, the size and mix of nuclear forces, or the threat these forces were intended to counter, the decision- making process did not allow for a rigorous examination of the costs associated with U.S. nuclear policy. This rendered it politically and fiscally unaccountable.
Although U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles are significantly smaller than at their peak levels, they remain quite formidable, with approximately 10,000 warheads apiece.1
Despite renewed calls from some quarters for the eventual worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons, neither the U.S. nor Russian governments have indicated an intention to pursue such a goal. The significant costs of maintaining these arsenals will thus continue for the foreseeable future. As large as they are, the U.S. Government has no clear idea of these overall costs, past or present, because it has never attempted to track them over time.
Many people attribute the containment and ultimate defeat of the Soviet Union and the peaceful conclusion of the cold war to the fact that the United States deployed and maintained a substantial nuclear arsenal.2
This view is open to question, however, and plausible arguments can be made for and against this proposition. What does seem clear is that the United States, in managing to end the cold war on its own terms, has created a very dangerous and costly post-cold war situation. The "losing side" has roughly equivalent amounts of nuclear materials and weapons as the "winning side." Meanwhile, the dangers of loss of control of nuclear weapons and by nuclear black markets are greater today than ever before; the risk of accidental nuclear war continues to be a significant problem. Under the circumstances, it has become all the more urgent to have full knowledge of the costs and consequences of U.S. nuclear weapons in order to accurately assess their apparent benefits, and to ascertain whether "a bigger bang for a buck" actually was realized.3
is the first comprehensive effort to tally the total costs of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, from developing and deploying nuclear weapons to managing and ultimately disposing of the wastes created in the process. Along the way, we examine how and why key decisions were made, what factors influenced those decisions, and whether alternatives were considered. Cost is a prism through which we are able to separate and analyze the various aspects of the overall endeavor. Our purpose is neither to praise all nuclear weapons programs undertaken during the decades of uncertainty nor to criticize all nuclear weapons expenditures as dangerous and wasteful. Rather, we seek to explain the process by which an arsenal of but two primitive weapons in 1945 was eventually expanded to more than 32,000, what this process cost, and how the costs and consequences of the program were viewed by policy makers at the time.
What Have U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost?
Since 1940, the United States has spent almost $5.5 trillion (in constant 1996 dollars) on nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs (see table 1). This figure?which is based on an unprecedented four-year analysis of historical budget data and, where necessary, conservative estimates of costs that either remain classified or are not clearly apportioned to the nuclear program?does not include $320 billion in estimated future-year costs for storing and disposing of more than five decades' worth of accumulated toxic and radioactive wastes and $20 billion for dismantling nuclear weapons systems and disposing of surplus nuclear materials. When these amounts (at least one of which is likely to exceed current official estimates) are factored in, the total incurred costs of the U.S. nuclear weapons program exceed $5.8 trillion (seefigure 1
The amount spent through 1996?$5.5 trillion?is 29 percent of all military spending from 1940 through 1996 ($18.7 trillion).4
This figure is significantly larger than any previous official or unofficial estimate of nuclear weapons expenditures, exceeding all other categories of government spending (seefigure 2
) except nonnuclear national defense ($13.2 trillion) and social security ($7.9 trillion). This amounts to almost 11 percent of all government expeditures from 1940 through 1996 ($51.6 trillion). During this period, the United States spent on average nearly $98 billion a year developing and maintaining its nuclear arsenal (see box 1).
Table 1. Breakdown of Total Actual and Estimated U.S. Expenditures for Nuclear Weapons, 1940-96
Billions of 1996 dollars
|Building the bomb
|Deploying the bomb
|Targeting and controlling the bomb
|Defending against the bomb
|Dismantling the bomb
|Nuclear waste management and environmental remediation
|Victims of the bomb
|Costs and consequences of nuclear energy
|Congressional oversight of the bomb
A Short History of Nuclear Weapons Cost Analysis
Given the significant sums expended on nuclear weapons and their central role in the cold war, it is striking that so few have expressed interest in either the cumulative or the annual costs. Ironically, the first effort to review the costs was undertaken in response to congressional complaints that too little was being spent on nuclear weapons. On September 18, 1951, Sen. Brien McMahon (Democrat of Connecticut), chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE), introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 46, which claimed in its preamble that: "The cost of military fire power based upon atomic bombs is hundreds of time cheaper, dollar for dollar, than conventional explosives...[S]ince 1945, only 3 cents out of each American dollar paid for military defense has been spent on atomic weapons...[P]resent expansion plans still assign 3 cents in the military dollar to these weapons."5
These findings were actually the result of a questionable accounting exercise undertaken by the JCAE staff the previous year; the "3 cents in the military dollar" referred only to a portion of the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) budget and completely excluded any research undertaken by the Department of Defense (DOD) as well as the costs of building and operating strategic bombers, the principal nuclear delivery vehicle at that time (see chapter 9). However, McMahon used them to argue that current nuclear expenditures were "unreasonably and imprudently small" and that the United States "must go all-out" to equip each military service with large numbers of nuclear weapons.6
Although this resolution was never brought to a vote (its sentiments were nevertheless realized in subsequent AEC budgets, see Chapter 1) it prompted immediate concern within the military. As an official air force history of the period records, "The McMahon Resolution focused attention on the fact that there existed no itemized record of the military expenditures, either direct or indirect, for the atomic energy program." Some maintained that the resolution caused was not necessarily aimed at the Air force, which therefore needed to make no response. Others were disturbed by it. In late November 1951 Wilfred J. McNeil, the assistant secretary of defense (controller), issued a request for estimates of the support of the atomic program in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Air Force, through its Directorate of the Budget, began compiling the information, including costs, for fiscal 1947-51: "At once it became apparent that it was difficult to draw sharp lines between those activities which pertained to the atomic energy program and those which were outside its limits. This lack of clarity was one of several factors which made it impossible to arrive at exact sums either spent or to be spent for atomic energy" (emphasis added).7
Following the exercise prompted by McMahon's resolution, the secretary of defense directed the Air force to prepare its fiscal 1954 budget with the costs for nuclear weapons broken out and itemized. An accurate accounting was still deemed "inherently impossible because of the overlap with other programs resulting from the broad scope of the atomic effort, and for the same reason the atomic program was not made a separate division of the budget."8
The 1954 budget was the last time the Air force attempted to estimate the direct and indirect costs of its nuclear weapons programs. Although Major General Howard G. Bunker, the Air Force's assistant for atomic energy, believed that a revamped method of data collection would provide a more valid measure of direct and indirect costs, the deputy chief of staff for the comptroller found the estimates sufficient "to demonstrate to the [JCAE], and other reviewing authority, that the Military Services are pursuing actively their use of modern atomic weapons and that the cost attributable thereto includes a great deal more than the production costs for atomic bombs and warheads." A detailed reporting system, he said, would be inapplicable and the compromise reached "was apparently to discontinue the effort entirely."9
The success of the overall effort may be judged from the opening chapter of the Air force history, published as a Top Secret document nine years after McMahon introduced his resolution
This chapter was originally intended to be a detailed account of the cost and funding of the Air force atomic energy program, 1943-1953. However, it was found to be impracticable to treat the subject in that manner. From 1943 through 1951,there was no current, systematic account of Air Force atomic costs, since with some few exceptions no effort was made to distinguish these from other budget categories of which they formed a part.
Consequently, this chapter, except for consideration of certain episodes and procedures, unavoidably became a study of the estimated costs of the Air Force atomic program.10
As unreliable as they are, by the Air Force's own admission, these costs are in all likelihood the only data currently available that document the costs borne what both the Air Force and DOD spent on the nuclear weapons program during its early years (see table 2).
Table 2. Estimated Air Force and Overall DOD Expenditures for Nuclear Weapons, 1944-54
Billions of 1996 dollars
||Total DOD nuclear
||Nuclear as percentage of total DOD
||Total AF nuclear
||AF as percentage of DOD nuclear
||AF nuclear as percentage of total AF|
: Bowen, Little, and others,Building an Atomic Air Force,
, pp. 487-89, 496. Column 4 was not in the original document but was derived from data therein. This report carefully qualified these figures, noting that it was impossible "within our present framework of operation to develop ground rules and assumptions on which to base irrefutable estimates of the portion of Air Force funds which contribute to the 'Atomic Effort....' For this reason, the use of these estimates should be qualified in every instance as only broad order of magnitude estimates" (p. 494).
Several things are interesting about these data. First, although the Air force maintained a monopoly on the delivery of nuclear weapons until the early 1950s, it did not begin to spend sizable amounts of money on its nuclear mission until 1949 (two years after achieving independence from the Army). The other services, especially the Navy, were clearly laying out more than the Air Force (the Army continued to manage the Manhattan Engineer District until January 1, 1947 and the Army and Navy together also helped to support the AEC's costly testing program in the Pacific; see Chapter 1). Second, the enormous increase in nuclear budgets in 1951 reflects efforts to respond to the first Soviet atomic test in August 1949, the coming to power of the Communist party in China later that year, and the start of the Korean War in June 1950, events which proved particularly unsettling to civilian policy makers and the military. Third, the Air force's?principally the Strategic Air Command's (SAC's)?growing control of DOD nuclear-related funding from 1947 through 1952 is clearly evident. This fiscal dominance, due both to SAC's attempts to control the nuclear weapons budget and the support of Congress in this endeavor, pushed the Army and Navy to create requirements for nuclear weapons, not only to protect their traditional missions from usurpation by the Air force but to gain control of some of the budgetary largess created by the decision to base national security on nuclear deterrence. This interservice rivalry was a major reason for the wide variety and sizable number of nuclear weapons ultimately deployed (see chapter 2). Fourth, it is apparent, from the rate of expenditures after 1950, that the United States spent its first $1 trillion on nuclear weapons within fifteen years of the end of World War II.
This early Air Force assessment stands out not just because it is the only known attempt to calculate annual nuclear weapons costs. It shows that, as a percentage of total U.S. military spending for a few years during the most intense period of the cold war, expenditures on nuclear weapons are about the same as the average we have calculated for the entire cold war. Strong pressures, it would appear, have tended to maintain nuclear weapons spending at an approximately constant fraction of overall military spending. Moreover, the Air force estimates omit AEC nuclear testing and weapons production costs. With the addition of these costs, the Air Force estimate is slightly greater than ours in terms of the percentage of overall military spending: about 33 percent on average between 1948 and 1952.
While most in Congress were relatively complacent about the high cost of nuclear weapons (not least because those costs were never fully presented to or understood by them), some occasionally voiced concern and frustration. On May 24, 1957, Rep. Errett P. Scrivner (Republican of Kansas), a leading member of the House Appropriations Committee, called for some explanation ?either by the Defense Department or "perhaps some outsiders"?of the current and long-term costs of nuclear weapons:
One plane today can carry more potential death and destruction by 1 drop in 1 bomb than all of the planes carried in all of the sorties during all of World War II in both the Pacific and the Atlantic....Somebody ought to tell us how much it is going to cost to deliver a megaton bomb, whether it is an atom bomb or a hydrogen bomb, by missile, by bomber, by carrier, by submarine. Somewhere, some place, there ought to be an answer as to which is the best and most economical method. You know and I know that all of our services cannot be kept perpetually at peak effort to fight an atomic war all the time, one which may never come....When you see some of these figures for a 10-year program I would expect your hair to sizzle.11
The situation had changed little by February 1960, when recently retired Army chief of staff, General Maxwell D. Taylor, testified before a Senate testified before a Senate subcommittee that the DOD made little effort to assess its overall needs, and that both its planning and budgeting were haphazard.
We never look at our forces; we never build our forces in a budget sense in terms of military functions such as atomic retaliation, limited war capability, antisubmarine warfare, continental air defense. We don't case our books in that form. So as a result, I never know, and I doubt personally that anyone knows, exactly what we are buying with our budget.... The Joint Chiefs of Staff were never in the budgetmaking business in this sense.12
At the start of the Kennedy administration in 1961, Secretary of Defens Robert S. McNamara moved to rectify this predicament. McNamara created the Five-Year (later "Future Years") Defense Program (FYDP) and assigned unique program element numbers to every major program in the department's budget.13
Supplementing the organizational system in place since World War II (if not before), with grouped programs by service, McNamara created eleven major force programs (MFPs) to organize everything by function. These included strategic forces, general purpose forces, intelligence and communications, airlift and sealift, research and development, central supply, and maintenance. For the first time, officials were able to make accurate, long-range forecasts of budgetary requirements and, no less important, assess historical expenditures.
Although the FYDP was a watershed development in DOD accounting, it did little to resolve the dilemma generated a decade earlier by McMahon's resolution: it made no provision to track spending for nuclear weapons in general. Except in the case of strategic forces, the most visible part of the nuclear arsenal, the costs of tactical nuclear weapons, most weapons-related research and development, command, control and communications, nuclear-related intelligence, training and other vital costs were intermingled among the MFPs. This situation made extraction and quanification difficult and posed continuing problems for policy makers.
On May 2, 1962, President John F. Kennedy called on the Bureau of the Budget, in cooperation with the Secretary of Defense, to develop a procedure for compiling "a statement of the costs of nuclear weapons provided for the national defense, including both the cost of delivery systems provided in the Defense budget and costs of weapons funded in the budget of the Atomic Energy Commission." Kennedy issued this directive in the context of the overall defense program he had initiated, which was increasing substantially the size of the nuclear stockpile (see Chapter 2). Kennedy "stressed the extreme importance of holding down expenditures and requests for additional appropriations," a task obviously complicated by the lack of the aforementioned data.14
Despite the president's pressing interest in the issue, no "procedure" was devised for ascertaining the full costs of nuclear weapons on an annual basis; certainly none exists today.15
In the 1970s the Brookings Institution undertook an annual analysis of the defense budget as part of its Setting National Priorities series of books. Although the Brookings analysts did create a methodology for assessing nearly all nuclear weapons costs (excluding those for anti-submarine warfare and the costs borne by the AEC for warheads), they focused entirely on present and future year costs. Their figures were therefore of limited utility in gauging historical trends.16
In 1973, Brookings published Strategic Forces: Issues for the Mid-Seventies. Building on the methodologies used in Setting National Priorities, authors Alton H. Quanbeck and Barry M. Blechman offered a careful assessment of the strategic nuclear triad (bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles or SLBMs) and the costs of alternative force structures. This important contribution to understanding the potential future costs associated with the strategic nuclear arsenal did not delve into past expeditures, however.17
In the early 1980s interest in the cost of nuclear weapons arose anew, following the announcement of the Reagan administration's ambitious strategic modernization program. Among the more detailed efforts to quantify the probable costs of this effort were two studies by the nongovernmental Center for Defense Information. Like the Brookings analyses a decade of a decade earlier, these reports also focused on future year costs, but went somewhat further and included, for instance, warhead productions costs borne by the Department of Defense.18
Attention soon turned to the "problems" of trying to estimate funding for strategic nuclear weapons. Without an accurate "funding aggregation" remarked a Congressional Research Service paper in 1984, "DOD estimates of strategic forces funding are often subject to misinterpretation."19
But it was not until October 1994 that the nongovernmental Defense Budget Project (now the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments) produced the first estimate of the historical costs incurred by the U.S. nuclear weapons program. According to its assessment (which was linked to this analysis but not intended to provide a comprehensive review of each aspect of the nuclear weapons program), the total costs incurred were $4.1 trillion, while actual expenditures through 1994 were $3.7 trillion (in constant 1995 dollars). The methodology developed for this assessment greatly informed the present study.20
Key Factors Affecting the Pace and Scale of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Program
Needless to say, the United States did not develop its nuclear arsenal in a vacuum. A variety of international and domestic factors profoundly influenced the scale and pace of the nuclear buildup. Among the most compelling of these, as discussed in chapter 1, was the fear of many scientists, especially those recently emigrated from Europe, that Adolf Hitler would try to acquire an atomic bomb. Though atomic research had been proceeding in earnest for many years, a major war in Europe spearheaded by a ruthless dictator was a powerful incentive to develop a bomb sooner rather than later.
Once the Allied victory in World War II had been secured, in part through the use of two atomic bombs against Japan, the nuclear weapons program began to grow. Unease about developments abroad?the Soviet Union's swift consolidation of control over Eastern Europe and the first Soviet atomic test on August 29, 1949?also spurred the pace of nuclear developments in the United States. Other worrisome international developments followed: the victory of the China's Communist party in October 1949, the Soviet-Chinese alliance the following February, the start of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, and China's entry into the war that October.21
When Senator Joseph McCarthy began charging that there were communist spies at home and Klaus Fuchs and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were brought to trial for atomic-related espionage activities, vigilance toward the threat increased, as did the role of nuclear weapons in the defense of U.S. interests.
Spurred on by the small (eighteen-member) but singularly powerful congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy and the Atomic Energy Commission, the United States responded to these various events by developing the more powerful hydrogen bomb, as well as smaller "tactical" nuclear weapons for battlefield combat. It also increased nuclear testing, opened a nuclear test site on the mainland (to permit more frequent and less costly tests), and created an extensive series of new production facilities. These developments were driven by the advice of scientists working on the nuclear program.22
Another domestic factor contributing to increased spending on nuclear weapons was, ironically, President Harry S. Truman's determination to control postwar government spending and inflation. His May 1948 decision to impose a $14.4 billion (then-year dollars) ceiling on military spending led to increased reliance on nuclear weapons, which were widely regarded as less costly than conventional weapons.23
With the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in April 1949 and the explicit commitment of the United States to defend its members against a Soviet attack, the argument that a defense against conventional attack should now be based on nuclear weapons became even more compelling, especially as it was believed that Soviet conventional forces in Europe where overwhelmingly superior to those of the United States.24
As historian David Alan Rosenberg notes, this decision "launched the United States on a one-sided strategic arms race before the Soviet atomic test of August 1949."25
The decision was made even more attractive by the fact that the AEC budget was considered separately from the defense budget and thus did not fall under Truman's spending ceiling. In addition, because the military services incurred few costs for the development of nuclear weapons, there was no financial disincentive not to seek their development in large numbers.26
Truman's policy was continued and broadened under President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "New Look," which led to the production and deployment of thousands of nuclear weapons. Although, as explained shortly, the belief that nuclear weapons delivered "a bigger bang for a buck" came into serious question immediately, it continued to hold sway in government circles.
The unsettling international events of 1949 and 1950 prompted Truman to order a comprehensive statement of national security policy. That statement, known as NSC 68 and delivered to Truman in April 1950, argued the Soviet Union was economically and technologically competitive with the United States and sought to dominate the world.27
Absent changes in U.S. or Soviet policies, the report concluded that the Soviet Union stood a good chance of winning. To thwart Soviet intentions, NSC 68 suggested significant increases defense spending. This idead was strongly resisted by Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson, a fiscal conservative, but it nevertheless set the stage for an arms race with the Soviet Union.28
Another important reason that the U.S. nuclear program proceeded as it did was the government's refusal, through the mid-1950s, to engage the Soviet Union in discussions on arms control or disarmament.29
For the next decade, after Soviet authorities rejected the 1946 Baruch plan calling for all other countries to forgo developing nuclear weapons as a precondition for eventual U.S. disarmament, the U.S. government dismissed all Soviet arms control proposals as mere propaganda. In July 1949 Truman told his senior policy advisers: "I am of the opinion we'll never obtain international control. Since we can't obtain international control we must be strongest in atomic weapons."30
When in May 1955 the Soviet Union presented a plan for verifying arms reductions?a plan that matched Western proposals?the United States, after initially praising the offer, withdrew from the Geneva disarmament conference and nearly two years later explicitly renounced the goal of disarmament altogether.31
In October 1957, the Soviet Union stunned Americans by launching a missile carrying the earth's first artificial satellite. If Soviet scientists could launch Sputnik, U.S. analysts reasoned, they would soon be able to loft nuclear warheads at the United States.32
The implications were profound: warning times decreased from hours to minutes and, more important, there was no known means of defending against a ballistic missile attack. Congressional Democrats blamed the Eisenhower administration for the "missile gap," and Senator John F. Kennedy used the issue to help defeat Vice President Richard Nixon in November 1960. Though Kennedy discovered, upon assuming office, that the missile gap was not only illusory but favored the United States by a margin of nearly 6 to 1 (for ICBMs, or 2 to 1 when SLBMs were included), he was unwilling to rescind his charges and thus authorized a sizable increase in U.S. strategic nuclear forces. In so doing, the administration failed "to recognize that the large American deployment under way, and specifically endorsed by [a top secret interdepartmental review of a recent national intelligence estimate] as being necessary, would contribute to decisions by the Soviet Union to increase its own capabilities: in the near run by the Cuban deployment, in the longer run by pushing ahead with the SS-9 and SS-11 ICBMs and Y-class submarine program. This was perhaps the most important error of all."33
Spending on U.S. nuclear weapons was also greatly affected by two factors that arose somewhat later. In December 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, only weeks after the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by Iranian militants. At that point, U.S.-Soviet relations took an abrupt turn for the worse, as many in the United States became concerned about military weakness and resurgent Soviet hegemonic aspirations. In response, President Jimmy Carter requested a sizable increase in defense spending and signed Presidential Directive 59, calling on the United States to maintain the capability to wage a protracted nuclear war.
After defeating Carter in the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan entered office determined to undertake an unprecedented peacetime military buildup as a means to increase economic pressure on the Soviet Union and force an end to the cold war.34
Though the Soviet Union did indeed collapse in 1991?the cause, said Reagan supporters, was the president's actions, whereas opponents credited the reforms of Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev?there is no evidence, as discussed in chapter 4, that the Soviet Union increased its military spending to match the Reagan administration's program. This is not to say that the military burden on the Soviet economy was not substantial; it was. However, if the Soviet Union's expenditures?as estimated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)?were substantially unaltered during this period and the state collapsed anyway, then it was the United States which ended up racing against itself.35
In fiscal terms, this modernization program contributed to the $2 trillion added to the U.S. national debt during Reagan's two terms.36
Moreover, a June 1993 report from the General Accounting Office following a three-year analysis of the administration's strategic modernization program (the first governmental analysis of strategic nuclear forces in more than thirty years) indicated that the DOD had misled Congress about the necessity, cost, and effectiveness of many of the weapons, as well as the vulnerability of bombers and ICBMs to Soviet attack.37
Equally important, the strength of the U.S. economy made it relatively easy and less controversial to maintain and expand the nuclear weapons program throughout the cold war. Propagating such a large and diverse program over so many years would have been more problematic had the economy been smaller or less robust. In addition, plentiful supplies of natural uranium precluded any significant resource constraints on the ultimate size of the program.
A "Bigger Bang for a Buck?"
As just mentioned, both Truman's and Eisenhower's defense policies were predicated on the assumption that nuclear weapons were a cost-effective means of addressing the Soviet military threat. The genesis and validity of this belief merit a closer examination. The general notion that nuclear weapons are less expensive than conventional ones can be traced to the fact that a given amount of fissile material (plutonium or highly enriched uranium, HEU), when fissioned in a nuclear bomb, can produce more explosive power than an equivalent amount of conventional high explosives. Therefore, the reasoning went, while 10 pounds of high explosives might kill or injure 100 people, 10 pounds of plutonium could kill or injure 100,000 people.38
The phrase used to promote this idea was "a bigger bang for a buck," which may well have been coined long before the advent of the atomic bomb. The press seems to have first used it in a 1954Newsweek
article profiling Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson. The article criticized the administration's "leading spokesmen" for describing the defense program with "catchy, all embracing phrases like ?the new look.' They have talked of getting more for less, of ?a bigger bang for a buck.'"39
Although the exact origins of the phrase are uncertain, the thinking leading to it is readily apparent in a speech delivered by Senator McMahon on September 18, 1951. In it, McMahon made the case for his concurrent resolution calling for an "all out" nuclear weapons program. After remarking on the steadily climbing defense budgets, he asked, with rhetorical flourish: "Can we forever scale these giddy heights without crashing downward? May not history some day come upon the bones of a broken economy and a bankrupt people?"40
The answer, for the time being at least, was that it was "better to scrape the bottom of the tax barrel than to scrape atomic rubble from the streets of New York, London, and Moscow. Better to balance the armed power of the Kremlin than to balance the national budget"; but such a policy, if continued for very much longer, could have only two "ultimate destinations: military safety at the price of economic disaster or economic safety at the price of military disaster."41
This outcome, McMahon proposed, might be prevented by increasing reliance on the atomic bomb. Although a "hideous weapon," it could, if deployed by the thousands, deter Stalin until "his enslaved millions break their chains and join hands with us in peace and brotherhood."42
The "startling fact," he continued, was that atomic deterring power was "actually hundreds of times cheaper than TNT."
Money spent upon the atomic bomb could pulverize a dozen enemy war plants at no more expense than destroying a single plant with TNT, to say nothing of the fact that one plane can deliver one A-bomb as against the huge armadas needed to deliver an equivalent cargo of block-busters.... If we mass-produce this weapon, as we can, I solemnly say to the Senate that the cost of a single atomic bomb will become less than the cost of a single tank.43
By making nuclear weapons the "real backbone" of its peace power, the United States would be able to hit the enemy anywhere and everywhere so that "if he dares attack he will have no place to hide."44
This would save the country from economic ruin because
In all logic and common sense, an atomic army and an atomic navy and an atomic air force ought to mean fewer men under arms. They ought to mean a major reduction in the tens of billions of dollars we would otherwise spend upon stacks and stacks of conventional armaments. They ought to mean a sloughing off of outmoded operations and outdated expenses.45
Others, too, believed that more energy could be released for a dollar expended. At a January 16, 1952 meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) (attended by President Truman) to discuss the pending decision to proceed with work on the hydrogen bomb and the multibillion- dollar expansion program linked to this effort, Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett took the argument a step further. He pointed out how expensive high explosive was compared with fissionable material "from the standpoint of energy release for dollar expended....something on the order of twenty to one in favor of nuclear detonations.... Even if this material is not exploded, it can be useful for our peacetime economy." To this, Gordon Dean, AEC chairman, responded.
While none of the material processed into plutonium or U-235 is wasted, in the sense that you could use it eventually in one form or another for power reactors, one would not spend any money on additional gaseous diffusion plants or production reactors themselves if our goal was commercial power.... [W]e must not kid ourselves into thinking that this program could be justified as a purely peacetime measure.... [T]he gaseous diffusion plants and production piles themselves would be wasted if we did not have a tense international situation.46
But what of the belief that nuclear weapons would save money by replacing conventional forces? Army chief of staff Gen. J. Lawton Collins announced at a press conference on September 6, 1952 that nonstrategic nuclear weapons would not reduce "the number of divisions required initially for the defense of Europe," but they would "result ultimately in the ability to do the job with a smaller number of divisions."47
After studying the issue in two-sided war games during the winter of 1952-1953, Lieutenant General James M. Gavin, commander of the Seventh Army Corps, observed: "More rather than less manpower would be required to fight a nuclear war successfully." These findings were confirmed in subsequent war games in 1955 and 1958.48
In 1953, Gen. Mathew P. Ridgway, the supreme Allied commander Europe (SACEUR), "held that the new tactical nuclear weapons would not only demand more manpower but would also increase the cost of defense to the taxpayer." His successor, General Alfred B. Gruenther, cautioned that "new weapons frequently have the effect of adding new problems and new tasks without eliminating those that previously confronted us."49
Notwithstanding such warnings, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in a widely noted speech before the Council on Foreign Relations on January 12, 1954 (in which he explained the Eisenhower administration's new policy, which would become known as "massive retaliation"), insisted that the administration's plan "to depend primarily upon a great capacity to retaliate, instantly, by means and at places of our choosing" meant that "it is now possible to get, and share, more basic security at less cost."50
However, as late as June 1973, then SACEUR Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster told a subcommittee of the JCAE, in discussing the cost of the current generation of atomic artillery, then SACEUR General Andrew J. Goodpaster told a subcommittee of the JCAE that the "?more bang for a buck' type of analysis...is open to serious question."51
The Indeterminate Nature of Deterrence
The final and most significant factor affecting the scale and pace of the U.S. nuclear buildup is perhaps the least understood by those not intimately familiar with the arcana of nuclear policy. There is clear historical evidence, going back to the Manhattan Project and as recently as the 1994 U.S.?North Korean?South Korean nonproliferation agreement and the ongoing India?Pakistan nuclear standoff, that even the possession of nuclear weapons usable materials and actual or presumed nuclear expertise can, in some circumstances, serve as a deterrent. Similarly, there is also evidence that a state with a relatively small proven arsenal, such as China or France, can deter nuclear attacks by states with larger arsenals. Furthermore, there is no evidence that a huge nuclear arsenal is more effective than a small one in deterring a conventional attack, although military and civilian strategists tended to think along these lines, reasoning that if a few nuclear weapons were good for deterrence, more would be better.
The unconstrained U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race that actually occurred (until the advent of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, SALT, in November 1969) with its escalating target requirements and tit-for-tat responses to qualitative and quantitative changes pm both sides, did not derive from any analysis of the size of an arsenal needed for deterrence. Instead, a variety of other factors drove the process, including a lack of reliable information on the strength and disposition of an opponent's forces, interservice rivalry, and pork-barrel pressures for military spending. In fact, there has never been a consensus on the number of weapons needed for deterrence, although the estimates of many senior policymakers tended to be significantly lower than the number of weapons actually deployed at any given time (seefigure 3
Official statements about deterrence during the nuclear era tended to reflect this action-reaction view of deterrence, rather than a view that derived from any historical analysis of what had deterred various states. General Thomas S. Power, commander in chief of SAC, stated in February 1960, "The closest to one man who would know what the minimum deterrent is would be Mr. Khrushchev, and frankly I don't think he knows from one week to another. He might be willing to absorb more punishment next week than he wants to absorb today. Therefore, deterrence is not a concrete or finite amount."52
This gets to the crux of the problem, namely that deterrence is predicated on ascertaining as accurately as possible what will prevent an opponent from initiating a conflict or otherwise threatening one's security. As the Scowcroft Commission put it in 1983:
Deterrence is not an abstract notion amenable to simple quantification. Still less it is a mirror image of what would deter ourselves.Deterrence is the set of beliefs in the minds of the Soviet leaders, given their own values and attitudes, about our capabilities and our will.
It requires us to determine, as best we can, what would deter them from considering aggression, even in a crisis?not to determine what would deter us.53
Such definitions, when coupled with the prevalent view that the Soviet Union was an expansionist power bent on ruling the world, naturally led military leaders to base their plans on worst-case scenarios. The belief that Soviet leaders did not value human life as much as Americans also led to increased "requirements," just in case a threat that would stop any Western leader cold was insufficiently destructive to deter a Communist.54
Shortly after World War II, when production capabilities were limited and the means of delivery of nuclear weapons restricted to bombers (owing to the large size of early weapons), the vagueness and uncertainty of deterrence did not appear to present much of a problem. But as the production of fissile material increased and more efficient and smaller designs were introduced into the stockpile, there was no effective check on the ability to field larger numbers of different types of weapons which were, in any event, treated largely as free goods by the military. Indeed, the Air force, Navy and Army each assessed their nuclear requirements largely in isolation, without considering the forces of their sister services. This led to duplicative targeting, which threatened both the safety and effectiveness of U.S. attacking forces. It also raised the problem of overkill (see Chapter 3).
For instance, by the summer of 1959 the Navy, under the direction of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Arleigh Burke, proposed a finite deterrent force of submarine-based missiles aboard forty-five Polaris submarines with twenty-nine deployed at all times. This force could destroy 232 targets in the Soviet Union and hence was considered "sufficient to destroy all of Russia." The cost for this program was projected to be $7 to $8 billion (in then-year dollars) with annual operating costs of $350 million. When this plan was presented to the Bureau of the Budget (BOB), Budget Director Maurice Stans inquired why the United States needed "other IRBMs (intermediate-range ballistic missiles), or ICBMs, SAC aircraft, and overseas bases." Navy officials, who had for years chafed at SAC's dominance of the nuclear arsenal, appreciated Stans's perspective but demurred, saying the issue "was somebody else's problem."55
An even larger problem surfaced when the Soviet Union began deploying its own offensive nuclear weapons. Destroying these weapons to blunt any damage to the United States?whether in a pre-emptive or a retaliatory attack?became one of SAC's principal missions. But the fragmentary intelligence data available before the start of U-2 flights and, later, satellite reconnaissance, led to large overestimates of Soviet forces, which in turn boosted U.S. requirements for nuclear weapons, creating a spiraling cycle of weapons requirements to attack an essentially infinite target base.
From time to time, members of Congress became aware of the economic ramifications of the forces driving the creation of excessive numbers of weapons. For example, in February 1960, in the midst of the sizable increase in IRBMs and ICBMs prompted by Sputnik (see Chapter 2), Senator John Stennis (Democrat of Mississippi) engaged in a discussion with recently retired Army chief of staff General Taylor over the size and cost of the still developing ballistic missile program:
?Senator Stennis: I notice that the cost of the [Jupiter] missile alone?and we expect to have quite a few of them operational?is astronomical, even for only 1 year.
?General Taylor: That is why it is so important to know now how much is enough. What is our goal? Why do we need 10 or 100, or 150, or whatever the number happens to be?
?Senator Stennis: Yes. Well, I can visualize one group of missiles for one type? ICBMs?costing anywhere from 4 to 8 billion dollars per year just to keep the supply line going and keep up the numbers. That is just for one single type of missile. Something must be done now.... Otherwise, this cost is going to mushroom and become so astronomical that it could well undermine the soundness of the free enterprise system.
?General Taylor: The only encouraging factor from a fiscal point of view, I would say, is the fact that we really don't need many of these, if they are really good, if they are accurate, and we are sure of getting them on target....
?Senator Stennis: Well, I think that is certainly a good comment. But, if we continue building all these different types and kinds of ICBMs and IRBMs as well as battlefield and tactical, air-to-ground, ground-to-air, air-to-air, and other missiles, it is going to run into the many, many billions of dollars a year. Just to supply the missiles alone, without the launching pads or the operation and maintenance costs, could soon run from 5 to 8 or 9 billion dollars for 1 year, alone. Do you know what we should do now to try to impress someone with the idea of making plans to reduce the number of different type missiles and thereby reduce the cost?
?General Taylor: I am afraid I can only repeat myself, Senator, and say my only solution is to make the military come up with an engineering kind of estimate of how much we need. We are building the structure of our defense without knowing what the factors of safety are. If you were running an engineering company, you would go bankrupt on that basis.56
In fact, some critical decisions on weapons force size were arrived at through less than rigorous means (see Chapter 2). In determining how many Minuteman ICBMs to build, for example, Secretary of Defense McNamara was presented with requests from the Air force for as many as 10,000 missiles as well as studies by the BOB indicating that anything above 450 would contribute essentially nothing to U.S. military effectiveness. Faced with competing and powerful bureaucratic interests, McNamara delayed making a final decision. Then, at a December 22, 1964 meeting at President Lyndon Johnson's ranch in Texas, McNamara and General Curtis LeMay began debating whether 1,000 or 1,200 Minuteman missiles should be procured: "President Johnson asked BOB Director Kermit Gordon to enter the argument, knowing from an earlier meeting with Gordon in early November that he favored only 900. Gordon's entry...had the desired effect?he was ?jumped on' by both McNamara and LeMay, and Johnson was able to get 1,000 accepted as a compromise."57
Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric later admitted that, "1,000 was really just a horse trade."58
But why did McNamara choose the figure 1,000?
According to [General Taylor] 1,000 was simply the result of a ?visceral feeling' on the part of McNamara and his aides that that figure was a satisfactory and viable compromise. And the choice of exactly 1,000 (rather than, say 983 or 1,039, or any other prime number) can be explained in terms of the simple salience of that figure, rather than in terms of precise calculation.59
Such instinctual analysis remains in use today. In late March 1997, C. Paul Robinson, director of Sandia National Laboratories, told reporters: "My gut feeling [with regard to the future size of the arsenal] is we wouldn't want to go below 2,000."60
For all these reasons and more, the United States came to associate deterrence with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. Logic and fiscal accountability were subordinated to uncertainty, fear, interservice rivalries, pork-barrel politics and an ultimately futile attempt to maintain the upper hand in the face of unimaginable destruction.61
Nuclear Insurance: A Sound Policy?
Over the years, a number of observers have compared nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence to an insurance policy, one that you purchase but hope you will never need. For example, when SAC established its airborne alert program with B-52 bombers in the early 1960s, several members of Congress remarked that it was a very inexpensive insurance policy against a surprise Soviet attack, even though it was estimated to cost some $6 billion a year (see Chapter 2). In 1974, columnist Joseph Alsop argued:
If you are able to pay for an adequate insurance policy, what kind of chance of national destruction is it proper to take?.... The real chance that your house or my house will burn to the ground is far, far less than the chance that everyone in the CIA will be dead wrong about any given matter. Yet I spend a lot on fire insurance, and so do you if you are prudent. The same rules that apply to fire insurance for our houses ought to apply to insurance against the destruction of the United States.62
In 1988, former undersecretary of the navy R. James Woolsey wrote, "In strategic modernization, we are dealing, in a sense, with a major insurance policy against an admittedly unlikely eventuality. But it is insurance against the most catastrophic of imaginable losses, and it is a curious kind of policy?one where paying the premiums can make the catastrophe less likely."63
In 1994, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John M. Shalikashvili told officers at the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM, the successor to SAC), "It is the ultimate insurance policy for the United States, what SAC did and now what Strategic Command is doing. It will always remain our ultimate insurance policy."64
This is clearly a popular characterization, one that resonates with nuclear policymakers. Yet it is also flawed in two critical respects. First, as has already been demonstrated, the actual fiscal costs of this "policy" have never been apparent, either to military and government officials or to the general public. Insurance policies can indeed be a prudent investment, but few would purchase one without knowing the premiums up front. Second, to view nuclear weapons as insurance and then conclude that the absence of nuclear war means that the policy worked is to ignore the consequences had the policy failed. After all, nuclear weapons were not designed merely to sit in silos, submarines, or depots; they were and are routinely tested and operated and maintained to be used. As the Scowcroft Commission explained in 1983: "Deterrence is not, and cannot be, a bluff. In order for deterrence to be effective we must not merely have weapons, we must be perceived to be able, and prepared, if necessary, to use them effectively against the key elements of Soviet power."65
Paradoxically, nuclear insurance heightened the risks of war even as it sought to reduce them. While nuclear war did not occur, this cannot be ascribed to the large arsenals that were built, given that deterrence of nuclear attack has historically been achieved with a variety of arsenal sizes. But amassing huge arsenals did exacerbate the potential for inadvertent or accidental nuclear war as well as accidents associated with keeping nuclear forces on high levels of alert.
U.S. nuclear weapons did not exist in a vacuum. They interacted in complex ways with Soviet forces (and still do). Accidents were routine (between 1950 and 1968, eleven nuclear weapons fell out of or crashed with U.S. aircraft and were never recovered).66
False alarms were not uncommon. As detailed in chapter 3, the vulnerable command, control, and communications networks and the hair-trigger launch policies adopted by both countries interacted and presented an extreme and unnecessary risk of accidental or unintentional nuclear war.67
That is the downside of the nuclear insurance policy. Woolsey's observation that "paying the premiums can make the catastrophe less likely" misses the point that both the premiums and the policy itself are expressly designed to unleash the catastrophe they are also supposed to deter. Here again the insurance analogy fails, for who would purchase a life insurance policy that may actually increase one's risk of death? What homeowners, to follow Alsop's analogy, would buy fire insurance knowing that by doing so they increased?even slightly?the possibility of not only burning down his home but ensuring that the fire would be uncontainable?
In his insightful history of the early years of the Soviet nuclear weapons program, David Holloway concludes that little evidence is available to suggest that through at least 1953 U.S. nuclear weapons forced the Soviet Union "to do things it did not want to do." Even the case for the deterrent effect of the atomic bomb, especially during the Berlin crisin, is inconclusive:
The United States did not have enough atomic bombs in the early postwar years to be able to prevent the Soviet Union from occupying Western Europe; and the Soviet leaders were aware of this. There is no evidence to show that Stalin intended to invade Western Europe, except in the event of a major war; and his overall policy suggests that he was anxious to avoid such a war, and not merely because the United States possessed the atomic bomb.... Stalin had concluded after Hiroshima that atomic diplomacy rather than war was the immediate danger, and this assumption underpinned his policy until 1949.... Stalin did not want war with the West; he did not believe that the Soviet Union was ready for war.... [T]he bomb had a dual effect. It probably made the Soviet Union more restrained in its use of force, for fear of precipitating war. It also made the Soviet Union less cooperative and less willing to compromise, for fear of seeming weak.68
Implications for The Future
Today the United States nuclear weapons program faces an uncertain future. Although production of nuclear explosives, fissile materials and nuclear weapons testing have all ceased, an ambitious and expensive "stockpile stewardship" program, directed by the Department of Energy, is gearing up to allow for the support and limited production of weapons components into the indefinite future, at a higher annual?$4.5 billion (in 1998 dollars)?than the costs incurred, on average, for similar activities between 1948 and 1991?$3.6 billion?when large-scale production and testing were underway. No new nuclear delivery systems are in production at present and the debate over the next phase of arms reductions has shifted dramatically since late 1996, with future stockpiles of only hundreds of weapons being discussed as potentially viable options.69
Although many of the production-related aspects of the nuclear arsenal are moribund, at an operational level forces still remain on levels of alert equaling or exceeding those of the cold war era.70
Here, too, serious discussions are underway to consider "de-alerting" large numbers of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and to consider removing warheads from ballistic missiles to substantially reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorized launch while retaining, for now, the warheads themselves and their associated delivery vehicles.
U.S. nuclear weapons currently consume some $35 billion a year, with about $25 billion going toward operating and maintaining the arsenal and the remainder allocated to environmental remediation and waste management, arms reduction measures, and the storage and disposition of excess fissile materials (these figures are in 1998 dollars). This equals about 14 percent of all defense spending. Although these overall costs are substantially lower than cold war levels, they are likely to remain in this range barring substantial changes in either the operational posture or the total number of deployed weapons. It is therefore important to understand how and why the arsenal of today was developed, not least because of the numerous factors beyond genuine security requirements which shaped it. Once policymakers understand the actual costs of nuclear weapons and the often bureaucratic and arbitrary forces influencing the size and composition of U.S. nuclear forces, they may plan for the future in realistic fashion, free of cold war biases and myths.
The preceding analysis has demonstrated that for all the reasons behind the buildup of U.S. nuclear forces, military and civilian policymakers paid too little attention to the short- and long-term costs of the policies they sought to enact. While the domestic and international pressures of the Cold War made the financial aspects of the arms race of secondary importance to ensuring U.S. security, there is no justification today for continued inattention. Indeed, tighter federal budgets and the shrinking size of the arsenal make it imperative to understand the future costs and consequences of the program and ensure an adequate level of accountability. The discussion now turns to the costs and consequences of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, beginning with the production of the weapons themselves.
Robert S. Norris and Thomas B. Cochran,US-USSR/Russian Strategic Offensive Nuclear Forces, 1945-1996
, NWD-97-1 (Natural Resources Defense Council, January 1997), tables 9 and 10; author's telephone conversation with Robert S. Norris, January 13, 1998.[Back]
Proponents of the belief that nuclear weapons kept the cold war cold frequently ignore or discount the impact of much larger U.S. expenditures on conventional forces (seefigure 2
) and the fact that these forces, in contrast to nuclear weapons, were used in actual combat (for example, in Korea and Vietnam).[Back]
Although it can be argued that the benefits ascribed to nuclear deterrence remain constant regardless of their costs, the objective in any endeavor?including the maintenance of national security?is for the benefits to outweigh the costs. If the benefits of deterrence remain constant (as they must, given that deterrence is an either/or proposition) and costs increase (as they did throughout much of the cold war) then one would be forced to conclude that higher costs cannot be justified because the benefits can be obtained at a lower cost. In fact, the impetus to manufacture and deploy large numbers of nuclear weapons gathered strength because nuclear weapons were considered less expensive than conventional ones. Even after this assumption was disproved, the buildup continued, despite rising costs. Had these costs been more transparent and widely known, there almost certainly would have been a debate about the wisdom of this approach. That there was not is the subject of this book.[Back]
This figure is for what the government terms "national defense." Additional defense-related costs are categorized separately under "veterans benefits and services" ($1.8 trillion). Neither of these items includes the $1.2 trillion spent on "international affairs," which includes foreign aid and encompasses the broader aspects of U.S. foreign policy.[Back]
S. Conc. Res. 46, 82 Cong. 1 sess., introduced September 18, 1951 and referred to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.[Back]
S. Conc. Res. 46, 82 Cong. 1 sess., Septemeber 18, 1951.[Back]
Lee Bowen, Robert D. Little,A History of the Air Force Atomic Energy Program, 1943-1953,
vol. 3:Building an Atomic Air Force, 1949-1953
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Air Force Historical Division, 1959), pp. 471-72 (formerly Top Secret; declassified in 1980).[Back]
Bowen, Little and others,Building an Atomic Air Force,
Bowen, Little, and others,Building an Atomic Air Force,
Bowen, Little, and others,Building an Atomic Air Force,
11 Congressional Record,
85 Cong. 1 sess., vol. 103, pt. 6 (May 24, 1957), pp. H7619-20.[Back]
12 Missiles, Space, and Other Major Defense Matters,
Hearings before the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services in Conjunction with the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, 86 Cong. 2 sess., (Government Printing Office, 1960), p. 199. The AEC, meanwhile, had its own problems. In presenting the commission's first budget to Congress in 1947, Chairman David Lilienthal had no obvious means of justifying his request because "we didn't have a set of books showing costs, since the Army's Manhattan District didn't have or keep any." (see chapter 1 in this volume) This situation had not significantly improved by 1950, when Representative Francis Case (Republican of South Dakota) admonished the AEC: "No other agency of the Government, so far as I know, has been able to come up and cloak itself with the aura of a scientific subject and get by with such general justifications." Quoted in Harold P. Green and Alan Rosenthal,Government of the Atom: The Integration of Powers
(New York: Atherton Press, 1963), p. 225. In 1952, Commissioner T. Keith Glennan sent his colleagues a memorandum warning that the agency was then spending more than $100 million each month ($715 million in 1996 dollars), yet, "I am continuously at sea as to the status of our budgets, of our expenditures and particularly of any real basis for judging the quality of the financial performance of our various offices." Memorandum, T. Keith Glennan to Chairman Gordon Dean and others, May 9, 1952, Record Group 324, Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, Office of Secretary, General Correspondence, Box 73, File: Organization and Management 8, Progress Reports by Division, vol. 1, National Archives.[Back]
The FYDP was renamed the Future Years Defense Program in 1988 when a six-year planning horizon was instituted.[Back]
Memorandum, Charles E. Johnson for the record, "President's Decisions at the Meeting on Nuclear Weapons Requirements on May 3, 1962," (draft), May 4, 1962 (formerly top secret/restricted data), National Security Archive, p. 1. Officials present at this meeting included national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, military representative General Maxwell D. Taylor, Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell L. Gilpatric, and AEC chairman Glenn T. Seaborg.[Back]
In September 1994, the DOD released the results of a year-long "Nuclear Posture Review" (NPR). Included in the briefing materials was a chart purporting to show the "Annual Budget?All Nuclear" for the years 1964, 1989, 1994 and 2003. Yet Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, referring to these data, asserted, "During the peak of our spending [1964 on the chart] we were spending about $50 billion a year on ourstrategic
nuclear programs." (emphasis added). In subsequent congressional testimony on the NPR, Deputy Secretary John M. Deutch stated, "We are spending 70 percent less dollars on our nuclear programs than in 1988 and have 70 percent fewer individuals involved in these programs." DOD officials were asked by the author to supply the underlying data used to prepare this chart, and to describe what weapons systems and programs were included along with the methodology used to arrive at a total figure. An official eventually responded eight months later that the DOD was unable to comply with this request because neither the data nor the methodology were available. In its 1995, 1996 and 1997Annual Reports,
the DOD produced charts showing historical and anticipated future-year costs (in then-year dollars) for just strategic offensive nuclear forces, but many have misinterpreted these data to mean that they representtotal
nuclear weapons expenditures (see Chapter 11 in this volume). See Department of Defense, "Press Conference with Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, General Shalikashvili, Chairman, JCS, Deputy Secretary of Defense John M. Deutch, Mr. Kenneth Bacon, ATSD-PA," News Release 546-95, September 22, 1994;U.S. Nuclear Policy,
Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, 103 Cong. 2 sess. (GPO, 1994), pp. 3, 51; author's telephone conversation with Laura Holgate, special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, June 20, 1995; Department of Defense,Report of the Secretary of Defense to the President and the Congress
(GPO, February 1995), pp. 166-68; Department of Defense,Report of the Secretary of Defense to the President and the Congress
(GPO, February 1996), pp. 215-17; Department of Defense,Report of the Secretary of Defense to the President and the Congress
(GPO, April 1997), p. 209-11.[Back]
Charles L. Schultze with Edward K. Hamilton and Allen Schick,Setting National Priorities: The 1971 Budget
(Brookings, 1970), pp. 17-23; Charles L. Schultze and others,Setting National Priorities: The 1972 Budget
(Brookings, 1971), pp. 39-50, 94-102, 107-17; Charles L. Schultze and others,Setting National Priorities: The 1973 Budget
(Brookings, 1972), pp. 46-57, 93-109; Edward R. Fried and others.,Setting National Priorities: The 1974 Budget
(Brookings, 1973), pp. 307-15.[Back]
Alton H. Quanbeck and Barry M. Blechman,Strategic Forces: Issues for the Mid-Seventies
Center for Defense Information, "Preparing for Nuclear War: President Reagan's Program,"Defense Monitor,
vol.10, no. 8 (1982); Center for Defense Information, "More Bang, More Bucks: $450 Billion for Nuclear War,"Defense Monitor,
vol. 12, no. 7 (1983). In 1990, the center revisited the issue in Center for Defense Information, "Preparations for Nuclear War: Still More Than $1 Billion a Week,"Defense Monitor,
vol. 19, no. 7 (1990). More recent of the center's analyses of nuclear weapon costs are in Center for Defense Information, "Nuclear Weapons After the Cold War: Too Many, Too Costly, Too Dangerous,"Defense Monitor,
vol. 22, no. 1 (1993) and Center for Defense Information, "The Nuclear Nineties: Broken Promises, Misplaced Priorities," Defense Monitor, vol. 24, no. 8 (1995).[Back]
Alice C. Maroni, "Estimating Funding for Strategic Forces: A Review of the Problems," Congressional Research Service Report 84-652F, May 31, 1984, p. 2.[Back]
Steven Kosiak, "The Lifecycle Costs of Nuclear Forces: A Preliminary Assessment," Defense Budget Project, Washington, D.C., October 1994. This report also estimated probable future-year costs for the U.S. nuclear arsenal under the START I and START II treaties.[Back]
Before the Korean War, U.S. policy makers had become concerned that it might be only a matter of time before the Soviet Union believed it was strong enough to attack the United States. Military conquest in order to impose communism around the world was presumed to be the Soviet Union's prime objective. U.S. military planning was pegged to a year of "maximum danger," when the balance of forces would be most unfavorable to the United States. To head off this threat, plans were put forward to rearm the nation. The North Korean attack appeared to confirm the predictions about Soviet aspirations and many analysts considered the possibility that it was but the opening phase of a general war, with further aggression possible in Europe, the Middle East, or elsewhere.[Back]
Despite their expertise, there has been for decades a serious but largely unacknowledged conflict of interest in permitting scientists?whose personal and professional livelihood depends on the continued production of nuclear weapons?to appear before congressional committees or other government entities as supposedly dispassionate experts to make recommendations on which weapons or policies to pursue.[Back]
This is equivalent to $142.6 billion in 1996 dollars. "During the next eight months, despite military protests, [Truman] refused to raise the limit he had imposed. The [Joint Chiefs of Staff] estimated that a budget of $21-23 billion [$213 billion to $233 billion in 1996 dollars], or even a compromise of $16.9 billion [$171.4 billion], would allow the United States to maintain adequate conventional forces to retain some foothold in Europe as well as to carry out naval operations in all or part of the Mediterranean in the event of war. They feared that the $14.4 billion budget would result in the total loss of Western Europe; conventional forces would have to be cut back so far, the JCS argued, that the only offensive operation the United States could undertake to meet an emergency would be an atomic air offensive from the British Isles and the Cairo-Suez area. David Alan Rosenberg, "American Atomic Strategy and the Hydrogen Bomb Decision,"Journal of American History,
vol. 66, no. 1 (June 1979), p. 69. In fact, Truman had a plan?known as universal military training?to provide sufficient manpower for a robust conventional military. But the Republican-controlled Congress defeated this proposal, siding with the Air Force (which had pointedly broken ranks with the other services to promote its own interests) in favoring the development of a seventy-group air force (capable of dropping atomic bombs on the Soviet Union) over increasing personnel strength and easing reliance on nuclear firepower. See Lynn Eden, "Capitalist Coflict and the State: The Making of United States Military Policy in 1948," in Charles Bright and Susan Harding, eds,Statemaking and Social Movements: Essays in History and Theory
(University of Michigan Press, 1984), pp. 233-61.[Back]
This belief, which only became widely accepted following the start of the Korean War, was subsequently shown to be, if not false, at least greatly exaggerated. See Alain C. Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith,How Much Is Enough?: Shaping the Defense Program, 1961-1969
(New York: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 136; John Lewis Gaddis and Paul Nitze, "NSC 68 and the Soviet Threat Reconsidered,"International Security,
vol 4, no. 4 (1980), pp. 170-76; Matthew A. Evangelista, "Stalin's Postwar Army Reappraised,"International Security,
vol. 7, no. 3 (1982/83), p. 121. For a fuller treatment of the perceptions and realities of the Soviet military threat in general, see Andrew Cockburn,The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine
(New York: Vintage Books, 1984).[Back]
Rosenberg, "American Atomic Strategy," p. 86. Emphasis added.[Back]
The services were responsible, however, for the cost of all nuclear delivery vehicles (such as aircraft, missiles, and submarines) except for gravity bombs. According to comments made in July 1965 by "a former high government official who had had full access to relevant classified information...?[T]here would have been many fewer weapons designed and many fewer weapons produced if the money had come out of the relatively fixed ceiling on DOD funds. The result is, there is no incentive for DOD to be sparing on its nuclear weapons demands...[T]he greatest beneficial restraint on the proliferation of nuclear weapons would come from making the Department of Defense budget for these weapons.'" Quoted in Harold Orlans,Contracting for Atoms: A Study of Public Policy Issues Posed by the Atomic Energy Commission's Contracting for Research, Development, and Managerial Services
(Brookings, 1967), p. 179.[Back]
In assessing the Soviet Union's economic capabilities, the report concluded that "as the Soviet attainment of an atomic capability has demonstrated, the totalitarian state, at least in time of peace, can focus its efforts on any given project far more readily than the democratic state." Yet the Soviet atomic bomb effort had actually takenlonger
than the Manhattan Project. Even discounting that Soviet atomic research was initiated prior to World War II (as was also the case in the United States)?a fact not then known by U.S. officials?the Manhattan Project required just 35 monthsduring wartime
(August 13, 1942 to July 16, 1945) to design, manufacture and test an atomic bomb, as well as construct all the facilities necessary to produce the materials needed for the program. By comparison, the Soviet Union, after the war and with the crucial knowledge unavailable to the United States that such weapons could indeed be manufactured, needed more than forty-eight months (August 20, 1945 to August 29, 1949) to accomplish the same task, even though it had essentially copied the Trinity device and had access to important details of the U.S. program both from its spies and from open U.S. publications about the Manhattan Project (see Chapter 8). August 20, 1945 is the date the State Defense Committee "adopted a decree setting up a special committee to ?direct all work on the utilization of the intra-atomic energy of uranium.'" The creation of this committee prompted the immediate acceleration of work on an atomic bomb. See David Holloway,Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956
(Yale University Press, 1994), p. 129.[Back]
The full text of NSC 68 (United States Objectives and Programs for National Security) can be found in Thomas H. Etzold and John Lewis Gaddis,Containment: Documents on American Policy and Strategy, 1945-1950
(Columbia University Press, 1978), pp. 385-442.[Back]
Significantly, NSC 68 argued that because a growing Soviet atomic stockpile would threaten U.S. military installations and because a jockeying for nuclear superiority (coupled with fears of inferiority) when both countries had attained large stockpiles "might well act, therefore, not as a deterrent, but as an incitement to war...it appears it would be to the long-term advantage of the United States if atomic weapons were to be effectively eliminated from national peacetime armaments." Quoted in Etzold and Gaddis,Containment,
Quoted in David Alan Rosenberg, "The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960," in Steven E. Miller, ed.,Strategy and Nuclear Deterrence
(Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 131-32. Roger M. Anders, editor of AEC chairman Gordon Dean's office diary, writes: "Like the president and Senator McMahon, Dean judged the immediate Soviet threat a greater danger than the potential long-range costs of a nuclear arms race. He found a transitory military superiority more congenial than attempts to negotiate long-range security.Dean never seems to have considered whether an unrestrained arms race posed far more danger to America than negotiating with Stalin.
" (emphasis added) Roger M. Anders, ed.,Forging the Atomic Shield: Excerpts from the Office Diary of Gordon E. Dean
(University of North Carolina Press, 1987), p. 19.[Back]
In the words of Harold Stassen, Eisenhower's special assistant on disarmament, "It is our view that if an effort is made to reduce armaments, armed forces, and military expenditures to a level that is too low...it would not be conducive to stability in the world.... It is our view that if armaments...are brought down to too low a level, then...the danger of war is increased." Quoted in David Goldfischer,The Best Defense: Policy Alternatives for U.S. Nuclear Security from the 1950s to the 1990s
(Cornell University Press, 1993),p. 109. For more on this issue, see pp. 107-116.[Back]
Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Quarles tried to put the threat in perspective on November 18, 1957 by pointing out that, "it takes us years to produce a new weapon system like the B-52 bomber. The ballistic missile problem is even more difficult and takes even longer because of the many tough technical problems that have to be solved. The very size of the equipment and test facilities adds to the difficulty. In our experience, there is a long time period between the first test firings and the final operational weapons. We have no reason to believe it is significantly different with them." Quoted in Charles H. Donnelly,The United States Guided Missile Program,
prepared for the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, 86 Cong. 1 sess. (GPO, 1959), p. 17.[Back]
Norris and Cochran,US-USSR/Russian Strategic Offensive Nuclear Forces
, tables 1 and 2. Raymond L. Garthoff,Intelligence Assessment and Policymaking: A Decision Point in the Kennedy Administration
(Brookings, 1984), p. 13.[Back]
For more on this policy, see Lou Cannon, "Arms Boost Seen as Strain on Soviets,"The Washington Post,
June 19, 1980, p. A3; Richard Halloran, Leslie H. Gelb and Howell Raines, "Weinberger Said to Offer Reagan Plan to Regain Atomic Superiority,"The New York Times,
August 14, 1981, p. A1; Richard Halloran, "Pentagon Draws Up First Strategy For Fighting a Long Nuclear War,"The New York Times,
May 30, 1982, p. 12.[Back]
In fact, some argue that the U.S. buildup may have postponed the reforms?including reductions in military spending?that Gorbachev sought to implement, thereby prolonging the cold war and the costs to the United States. From 1985 to 1994 disinformation supplied by known or suspected Soviet double agents (emplaced with the assistance of confessed spy Aldrich Ames) was provided by the CIA to Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, and other top officials. The result, according to an unnamed former top intelligence official, was that "the U.S. released publicly wrong information and may have wasted millions of dollars retooling military equipment to meet fabricated changes in Soviet capabilities." An internal review of the affair by CIA Director John M. Deutch determined that while not much money was expended on the basis of the tainted data, it "had a substantial role in framing the debate" on U.S. military strategy and "in some cases our military posture was altered slightly." Deutch added that the disinformation effort was designed "to affect R&D and procurement decisions of the Department of Defense" by misleading officials into believing "that the Soviets remained a superpower and that their military R&D program was robust." Consequently, "we overestimated their capability." Walter Pincus, "CIA Passed Bogus News to Presidents; Ames Aided KGB Effort to Deceive, Reports Show,"The Washington Post,
October 31, 1995, p. A1; Tim Weiner, "C.I.A. Tells Panels It Failed to Sift Tainted Spy Data,"The New York Times,
November 1, 1995, p. A1; Walter Pincus, "Tainted Moscow Data Swayed U.S., CIA Says; Information Concealed Soviet Decline,"The Washington Post,
December 9, 1995, p. A1.[Back]
"The Numbers Behind the Budget: Federal Debt,"The Washington Post,
August 30, 1990, p. A21. By way of comparison, it took from 1776 to 1981?205 years?to amass the first $1 trillion of the national debt.[Back]
The capabilities of many existing weapons were downplayed and their vulnerabilities exaggerated in order to make the weapons proposed under the modernization program appear both necessary and cost-effective. In the words of Eleanor Chelminsky, assistant comptroller general for program evaluation and methodology in the General Accounting Office (GAO), "A general conclusion from our study is that there exist systematic disparities between what the data showed and DOD's claims and estimates for (1) the Soviet threat, (2) the performance of mature systems, and (3) the expected performance and costs of proposed upgrades. I say systematic disparities, because they seem to follow a particular pattern, tending to overstate threats to our weapon systems, to understate the performance of mature systems, to overstate the expected performance of upgrades, and to understate the expected costs of those upgrades." SeeEvaluation of the U.S. Strategic Nuclear Triad,
Hearing before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 103 Cong. 1 sess., S. Hrg. 103-457 (GPO, 1994), p. 8; See also Tim Weiner, "Military Accused of Lies Over Arms,"The New York Times,
June 28, 1993, p. A10. During this period the Soviet Union became increasingly dependent on the policy of launch on warning to ensure that its forces would not be destroyed by a surprise U.S. attack. Yet government intelligence analysts wrongly suggested that the Soviet Union was actually planning for a first strike and the entire U.S. strategic modernization program instituted by the Reagan administration was justified and implemented on this basis. "Unfortunately, during the professional and public debate over the programs, the intelligence community did not weigh in with its abundant evidence that the Soviet nuclear planning system was almost totally preoccupied with scenarios in which the West strikes first. The intelligence community in effect repressed a competing view of Soviet strategic motivations and activities, and as a result of this bias, the United States pursued what could be considered a dangerously misguided nuclear policy." Bruce G. Blair,Global Zero Alert for Nuclear Forces
(Brookings, 1995), pp. 44-45.[Back]
As early as 1949, Vannevar Bush, head of the National Defense Research Committee during World War II, warned against making such comparisons. "The cost of trinitrotoluol, the TNT that is the most common high explosive, is less than a dollar a pound when it is manufactured in quantity. Built into bombs, delivered on a target hundreds of miles distant by an intricate aircraft manned by a highly trained crew subject to the attrition of war, its cost may well mount to hundreds of dollars a pound. Behind this ratio lies the opportunity for gross fallacies in reasoning....Moreover, it is not to ignore the important element that the cost of atomic bombs is largely a peacetime cost, for they cannot be manufactured in a hurry during war, as can high explosive. Costs, that is, effort in terms of labor and materials, are necessarily spread over a long interval to produce atomic bombs, and this fact greatly affects our reasoning concerning them. Bush,Modern Arms and Free Men: A Discussion of the Role of Science in Preserving Democracy
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1949), pp. 94, 106.[Back]
"Defense and Politics...Battle of the Potomac,"Newsweek,
March 22, 1954, pp. 28. Interestingly, this article goes on to report that, "atomic weapons do come into the new look, but in a totally different way?to build up the fire power of the Army, not to provide the same fire power with fewer men. The U.S. can do that because it's now producing atomic weapons in quantity."(p. 30)[Back]
40 Congressional Record,
82 Cong. 1 sess., vol. 97, pt. 9 (September 18, 1951), pp. S11496-97.[Back]
41 Congressional Record,
vol. 97, pt. 9 (September 18, 1951), pp. S11496-97.[Back]
42 Congressional Record,
vol. 97, pt. 9 (September 18, 1951), p. S11497.[Back]
43 Congressional Record,
vol. 97, pt. 9 (September 18, 1951), p. S11497. This did not, in fact, occur, because the economies of scale associated with conventional weapons were largely absent in the nuclear realm, as evidenced by the large size and resulting high cost of the weapons production complex necessary to produce even a small number of weapons.[Back]
44 Congressional Record,
vol. 97, pt. 9 (September 18, 1951), p. S11498.[Back]
45 Congressional Record,
vol. 97, pt. 9 (September 18, 1951), pp. S11496-509. McMahon also told his colleagues that once this goal had been attained, the fissile materials in these many weapons could be put to peacetime uses. "That selfsame material will not be barren and wasted; it will not become obsolete and useless; and money spent creating it will not be lost" (p. S11498). For the reality of how these materials are treated today, see chapter 6 in this volume. Two days after this speech, J. Robert Oppenheimer called AEC chairman Dean and, among other things, stated that "he thought the Senator's suggestions...will not save that much money." Quoted in Anders,Forging the Atomic Shield,
p. 164. The following month, Representative Henry M. Jackson (Democrat of Washington), McMahon's colleague on the JCAE, delivered an even more forceful speech and called for an even larger expansion program than McMahon's. SeeCongressional Record,
82 Cong. 1 sess., vol. 97, pt 10 (October 9, 1951), pp. H12866-73.[Back]
Anders,Forging the Atomic Shield,
Quoted in Robert Endicott Osgood,NATO: The Entangling Alliance
(University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 105.[Back]
James M. Gavin,War and Peace in the Space Age
(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), p. 139; Osgood, NATO, p. 118-19. Interestingly, this conclusion did nothing to shake Gavin's faith in nuclear weapons. In 1956 and 1957, he told the JCAE that the Army required 151,000 nuclear weapons for battlefield use (see Chapter 2 in this volume). In his 1958 book, he continued to maintain that cost savings were just around the corner. "Nuclear weapons will become conventional for several reasons, among them cost, effectiveness against enemy weapons, and ease of handling. By 1965, the cost of nuclear weapons will be far less than present high-explosive weapons of equivalent yield and effectiveness. Many millions of dollars spent in the manufacture, shipping, storage and handling of high-explosive projectiles and bombs will be saved through the use of nuclear weapons moved by air to combat areas." (p. 265)[Back]
Quoted in Osgood,NATO,
p. 107. This was true not least because the weapons deployed to Europe were quite complicated and required a large number of highly-trained technicians to operate and maintain them. In addition, the greater explosive power of nuclear weapons would yield a larger number of casualties. To compensate for these anticipated losses and minimize their impact on the outcome of the battle, larger numbers of reserve troops would be required, as well as an expanded medical corps to treat the wounded.[Back]
Quoted in David N. Schwartz,NATO's Nuclear Dilemmas
(Brookings, 1983), pp. 24-25. Conversely, some Army officers believed that by 1958 the high cost of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and the corresponding cuts in conventional military capability had "dangerously restricted the development and production of conventional weapons without producing sufficient nuclear weapons." (Osgood,NATO,
p. 119). Army Chief of Staff Maxwell D. Taylor testified before a Senate subcommittee in January 1958 (in the wake of Sputnik), "We have found our missile programs have lived up to their technological expectations, but unfortunately they have come very high in dollar costs. So within the comparatively limited budgets we have had to work with, to a large extent we have had to pay for the missile program out of what you might call conventional equipment. I am always disturbed by that, and each year we try to strike a reasonable balance so we can be sure of replacing our equipment, which is not in the missile category, at a reasonable rate." Astonishingly, the subcommittee's special counsel, Edwin L. Weisl, who was conducting the questioning of Taylor, did not pursue this critical issue, turning instead to the issue of deploying mobile versions of the Jupiter and Redstone missiles.Inquiry Into Satellite and Missile Programs,
Hearings before the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on U.S. Armed Services, 85 Cong., 1 and 2 sess. (GPO, 1958), pt. 1, p. 477. Concerns such as these encouraged the development of the policy of flexible response during the Kennedy administration and led to increased funding for conventional military capabilities.[Back]
51 Military Applications of Nuclear Technology,
Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Military Applications of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, 93 Cong. 1 sess. (GPO, 1973), pt. 2, p. 101.[Back]
52 Missiles, Space, and Other Major Defense Matters,
Hearings, p. 15.[Back]
53 Report of the President's Commission on Strategic Forces,
April 6, 1983, inS. Con. Res. 26, A Resolution to Approve Funding for the MX Missile,
Hearings before the Senate Committee on Appropriations, 98 Cong. 1 sess. (GPO, 1983), p. 67.[Back]
For example, during a May 24, 1956 meeting between Army Chief of Staff General Taylor and President Eisenhower, Taylor argued against current administration policy (which envisioned the use of nuclear weapons across a spectrum of conflict scenarios) on the grounds that within a few years each side would have enough thermonuclear weapons so that both would be deterred from hostile action. If hostilities did occur on even a small scale, however, the administration's plan was designed to lead to full-scale war. For these reasons, Taylor also argued against the use of tactical nuclear weapons in local conflicts. Eisenhower was unmoved, convinced that tactical weapons were as likely to trigger a larger conflict as much as conventional "twenty ton blockbusters." His overriding interest was in eliminating the possibility of another war such as Korea. Eisenhower told Taylor that his (Taylor's) approach rested "on an assumption that we are opposed by people who would think as we do with regard to the value of human life." The Soviet Union would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons "in full force" in a "life and death" struggle with the United States. Massive retaliation, insisted the president, was the only acceptable alternative in the face of such a threat; indeed it was the "key to survival." Quoted in Rosenberg, "The Origins of Overkill," p. 152.[Back]
Quoted in Rosenberg, "The Original Overkill," p. 167. SAC, and in particular General Curtis LeMay, viewed Polaris as a serious threat to its control of the strategic nuclear arsenal and alternatively tried to eliminate it or bring it under SAC control. Around this time, LeMay was reported to have "adorned his office with a model of the sub painted with SAC's insignia just to irk Navy visitors." See Michael R. Beschloss,Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U-2 Affair
(New York: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 106. Ironically, Burke's exercise was essentially repeated more than two decades later, when early in the Reagan administration Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James D. Watkins attempted to ascertain, on the basis of strict targeting criteria, how many Trident submarines the Navy should purchase. However, "he quickly realized that this was impossible without knowing how many B-2 bombers and MX missiles would be operating at the same time. But the Air force calculated its ?needs' separately. Watkins started to agitate on behalf of joint criteria for strategic requirements but became discouraged when it grew apparent that this would serve only to fulfill the Air Force's long-standing hegemonic ambitions. Given the disproportionate influence of Air Force officers in SAC planning, a joint process would essentially give them control of the Navy's strategic assets. The effort was quickly abandoned." Janne Nolan,Guardians of the Arsenal: The Politics of Nuclear Strategy
(New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1989), p. 273.[Back]
56 Missiles, Space, and Other Major Defense Matters,
Hearings, pp. 222-223.[Back]
Desmond Ball,Politics and Force Levels: The Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration
(University of California Press, 1980), p. 251.[Back]
Ball,Politics and Force Levels,
Ball,Politics and Force Levels,
"Military Can Meet Threat With 2,000 Nukes, But Not Less, Official Says,"Inside the Air Force,
March 28, 1997, p. 12; Paul Richter, "U.S. Nuclear Cuts Could Increase Risk to Civilians, Expert Warns,"Los Angeles Times
(Washington edition), March 28, 1997, p. A9. These sorts of decisions and justifications are not unique to the United States. When senior British military officers first recommended developing nuclear weapons, they wrote to Prime Minister Clement Attlee on January 1, 1946, "It is not possible to assess the precise number which we might require but we are convinced we should aim to have as soon as possible a stock in the order of hundreds rather than scores." A subsequent report in July 1947 by the Defense Research Policy Committee (DRPC) contended that 1,000 bombs were required. This figure "was based on conclusions of the Home Defense Committee which had reported that 25 atomic bombs would be sufficient to knock Britain out of a war. The DRPC concluded that because the Soviet Union was roughly forty times the size of the United Kingdom, a deterrent force could be worked out on the basis of 25 bombs times 40, making a figure of 1,000! As historian Margaret Gowing has concluded, however, this ?methodology was so ridiculous' that its conclusions were worthless." In 1961, a paper by the British Nuclear Deterrent Study Group called for a review of assumptions behind the level of damage necessary to deter the Soviet Union. Discussions focused on a choice of 40 cities (the current planning level), ten cities and five cities. "In the end, the compromise figure of fifteen cities was agreed by the Defense Committee as the basis for strategic planning." Apart from being arbitrary, this figure was also criticized because it did not take into account NATO or U.S. forces. As one official noted, the group "was operating on the completely false assumption that government policy was based on the need for ?a strategic nuclear force sufficient to deter Russiaon its own
'.... [when] the key question was what size of force would make the United States believe that Britain was making a major contribution to the western deterrent." John Baylis,Ambiguity and Deterrence: British Nuclear Strategy, 1945-1964
(Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 50, 52, 368-69.[Back]
For example, during a September 12, 1963 meeting of the NSC to consider a study on the projected results of a general war between 1963 and 1968, Secretary McNamara stated: "Defense Department studies showed that even if we spend $80 billion more than we are now spending [$470 billion in 1996 dollars], we would still have 30 million fatalities in the U.S. in the 1968 time period,even if we made the first strike against the USSR
" (emphasis added) Nevertheless, General Leon W. Johnson, head of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, argued that the number of casualties could be diminished "by undertaking additional weapons programs" to destroy Soviet weapons. (A memorandum prepared in advance of this meeting declared that the study found that U.S. "offensive and defensive weapons currently programmed will not reduce damage from a full nuclear exchange to an acceptable level. Consequently, there is a need for development of new offensive and defensive weapons.") When President Kennedy inquired "if this doesn't get us into the overkill business," Johnson said no and reiterated that deploying more and more accurate U.S. missiles would reduce damage to the United States. Secretary of State Dean Rusk characterized the "present nuclear situation" as one of "deep schizophrenia." See "Summary Record of the 517th Meeting of the National Security Council," in David W. Mabon, ed.,Foreign Relations of the United States,
1961-1963, vol. 8,National Security Policy
(GPO, 1996), pp. 499-507.[Back]
Joseph Alsop, letter responding to article by Albert Wohlstetter,Foreign Policy,
no. 16 (Fall 1974), pp. 87-88.[Back]
Quoted in Nolan,Guardians of the Arsenal,
Master Sergeant Dave Bryan, "Chairman Characterizes STRATCOM As Nation's ?Ultimate Insurance Policy,'"STRATUS,
vol. 2, no. 8 (1994), p. 1. In January 1997, Vice Admiral Dennis A. Jones, STRATCOM's deputy commander, toldThe New York Times
, "We think of ourselves as an insurance policy." That comment was echoed two months later by Major General Donald G. Cook, commander of F.E. Warren Air Force Base, who said of the Minuteman ICBMs he oversees, "It's a mighty cheap insurance policy." See James Brooke, "Former Cold Warrior Has a New Mission: Nuclear Cuts,"The New York Times,
January 8, 1997, p. A12; James Brooke, "Counting the Missiles, Dreaming of Disarmament,"The New York Times,
March 19, 1997, p. A16.[Back]
65 Report of the President's Commission on Strategic Forces,
April 6, 1983, p. 67.[Back]
"U.S.Nuclear Weapons Accidents: Danger in Our Midst,"Defense Monitor,
vol. 10, no. 5 (1981); Chuck Hansen,The Sounds of Armageddon
(Sunnyvale, Calif.; Chuckelea Publications, 1995), vol. 8, pp. 98-146; "Lost Bombs," Atwood Keeney Production, Inc., 1997.[Back]
For a particularly disturbing manifestation of this danger, see Robert M. Gates,From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp. 113-15.[Back]
Holloway,Stalin and the Bomb,
pp. 271-272. However, there is ample evidence that U.S. nuclear policy in the period after Stalin's death, especially the provocative deployment of Jupiter missiles in Turkey, drove Nikita Krushchev to adopt high-risk policies in relation to the United States and led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis. A document discovered in the archives of the former Soviet Union following the publication of Holloway's book reveals that although Stalin did not seek a war with the United States, he was willing to risk one by urging the Chinese to intervene in the Korean War. In an October 1950 letter to North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, Stalin recounts a letter he sent to Mao Tse Tung explaining why he believed the United States was not ready for a "big war" and therefore why such an intervention would be beneficial both to China and the Soviet Union. Even if Chinese intervention in the Korean War led to a wider conflict involving the United States, wrote Stalin, China and the Soviet Union "together will be stronger than the USA and England, while the other European capitalist states (with the exception of Germany which is unable to provide any assistance to the United States now) do not present serious military forces. If a war is inevitable, then let it be waged now, and not in a few years when Japanese militarism will be restored as an ally of the USA and when the USA and Japan will have a ready-made bridgehead on the continent in the form of the entire Korea run by Syngman Rhee." See "Letter, Fyn Si [Stalin] to Kim Il Sung (via Shtykov) 8  October 1950," Document 13, translated inCold War International History Project Bulletin,
Issues 6-7 (Winter 1995/1996), pp. 116-17.[Back]
See for example, Committee on International Security and Arms Control,The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy
(Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997).[Back]
For an example of the current risks posed by such alert postures, see David Hoffman, "Cold-War Doctrines Refuse to Die,"Washington Post,
March 15, 1998, p. A1.[Back]
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