THE EVOLUTION OF NUCLEAR STRATEGY by Lawrence Freedman
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THE EVOLUTION OF NUCLEAR STRATEGY

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In an accessible historical narrative: the essence of the nuclear-strategy debates, and the essence of the nuclear-arms-control problem. Development of atomic weapons, Freedman (King's College, London) points out, did not coincide with a new strategic concept. Instead, the atomic bomb was thought of as just another, bigger bomb and integrated into the theory of strategic bombing. That theory--which held that bombing raids on population and industrial centers would undermine the enemy's ability and will to fight--was eventually discredited. But before postwar studies showed Allied bombing of German cities to have had little effect on the war, the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. The immediate Japanese surrender (probably occasioned by Soviet entry, and other factors) was taken as proof that the theory worked and that the bomb's value lay in its use as an instrument of terror. The magnitude and indiscriminateness of nuclear weapons supported this view, while the idea of a small, powerful nuclear arsenal also suited the postwar distaste for large conventional forces. The direct descendents of that mindset have been the theory of ""massive retaliation,"" employed by the Eisenhower administration to deter Soviet millitary moves, and recent ideas of ""flexible response,"" which foresee decapitating the USSR by nuclear strikes against political targets (thus closing the circle begun by strategic bombing). There have been two major divergences from this line. On the basis that nuclear weapons were indeed different, British strategist B. Liddell Hart propounded the theory of limited nuclear warfare, and the technical refinement of delivery systems has given additional credence to the idea that nuclear weapons be used only against military targets. One early advocate of this strategy, Robert MacNamara, changed his mind and contributed to the second major deviation, dubbed Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). According to MAD, it is advantageous in the nuclear age for both sides to be able to sustain a first strike on their military targets and still muster the strength to wreak havoc on their opponent. Out of this theory came the original idea of arms control, which was not intended to eliminate conflict but to establish a condition of ""stable conflict."" The trouble with MAD is that it does not allow for an alternative to destruction if war does break out. This gives credence to the limited-warfare advocates. Freedman argues, however, that they have not come up with strategies that either depict the way people will really act in a nuclear war, or that would prevent escalation. We are thus at a stalemate that has been implicit all along. Essential background to the ongoing discussions.

Pub Date: Dec. 7th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's