For a while after the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949, the United States relied for defense against nuclear attack on a combination of interceptor aircraft, antiaircraft missiles, and civil defense measures such as shelters. Once the Soviets acquired an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), however, these measures no longer seemed sufficient. Beginning in the late 1950s, therefore, the Army repeatedly sought authorization to begin producing and deploying on a nationwide basis a nuclear-tipped antiballistic missile (ABM) system called Nike-Zeus. Although the Army won substantial support in Congress, both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations resisted on three grounds: first, Nike-Zeus, which had a relatively slow rocket booster, was considered technically inadequate to deal with the growing number of Soviet ICBMs and their accompanying decoys and other penetration aids; second, the proposed nationwide deployment of Nike-Zeus was inordinately expensive— analysis indicated that the Soviets could multiply offensive missiles at far less cost than we could provide defensive missiles to counter them; and third, there was growing concern that an ABM deployment by the United States would provoke a Soviet reaction, leading to further U.S. actions, and that the action-reaction sequence thus initiated would greatly accelerate the arms race.
KeywordsTidal Wave Atomic Energy Commission Bald Eagle Public Reaction Reentry Vehicle
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