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Move and Counter-move: The Development of a Nuclear Arsenal

  • Samuel R. WilliamsonJr.
  • Steven L. Rearden
Part of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute Series on Diplomatic and Economic History book series (WOOROO)

Abstract

By the beginning of 1949, an American defense strategy that relied increasingly on the retaliatory power of nuclear weapons had acquired clear and distinct outlines. What was also emerging was a closer, more dynamic competition with the Soviet Union that would, with time, sharply escalate tensions and give nuclear weapons an even more prominent role in East-West relations. The unexpected Soviet explosion of a nuclear device in late August 1949 dramatically altered the framework of the Soviet-American relationship. Not only did it end the American monopoly months, if not years, ahead of most predictions, giving the competition a new sense of urgency and reality; it also accelerated the US decision to develop a thermonuclear device, thereby further solidifying the American commitment to a nuclear strategy. Moreover, the Soviet surprise set in motion the bureaucratic process that would lead to the most thorough postwar examination of US objectives and policy—NSC 68—yet undertaken.

Keywords

Nuclear Weapon Special Committee Atomic Strategy Defense Budget National Security Council 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 5.
    Quoted from a 1971 interview with LeMay in Thomas M. Coffey, Iron Eagle: The Turbulent Life of General Curtis LeMay (New York: Crown, 1986), 280.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Richard H. Kohn and Joseph P. Harahan (eds.), Strategic Air Warfare (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1988), 95.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    USAF Briefing Paper for the President, Dec. 16 and 20, 1948, box 2, Forrestal Papers, Suitland; JCS 1952/1, Dec. 21, 1948, in Thomas H. Etzold and John Lewis Gaddis (eds.), Containment: Documents on American Policy and Strategy, 1945–1950 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 357–360.Google Scholar
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    See Robert Frank Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907–1984 (2 vols.; Maxwell AFB: Air University, 1989), I, 242–245.Google Scholar
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    See Robert H. Ferrell, The Eisenhower Diaries (New York: Norton, 1981), 159.Google Scholar
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    Hewlett and Duncan, Atomic Shield, chs. 11 and 14, covers the issue of AEC-Congressional relations especially well. Also see the “JCAE Chronology,” and Harold P. Green and Alan Rosenthal, Government of the Atom: the Integration of Powers (N.Y.: Atherton Press, 1963), 233–252. Truman’s remark about elections is in Lilienthal Journals, II, 564.Google Scholar
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    This prediction proved correct. In fact, the Soviets had been pursuing theoretical studies at least since 1947, and on or about November 1, 1949, Stalin approved a high-priority development program that resulted in the test of a boosted fission bomb with thermonuclear characteristics in August 1953 and demonstration of a weaponized model in 1955. See David Holloway, “Soviet Thermonuclear Development,” International Security 4 (Winter 1979–80): 192–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    JCS 1952/11, WSEG Rpt No. 1, Feb. 10, 1950, RG 218, CCS 373 (10–23–48) sec. 6, Bulky Package. Ponturo, WSEG Experience, 73–75; and Philip M. Morse, In at the Beginning: A Physicist’s Life (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1977), 258–259, summarize the briefing.Google Scholar
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    See for example Robert Chadwell Williams, Klaus Fuchs, Atom Spy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Alice Cole, et al., History of Strategic Arms Competition, 1945–1972, Chronology—U.S. (2 vols; Washington, D.C.: Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1974), I, 101.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Samuel R. Williamson, Jr. and Steven L. Rearden 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samuel R. WilliamsonJr.
    • 1
  • Steven L. Rearden
    • 2
  1. 1.SewaneeUSA
  2. 2.USA

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