The Technological Arms Race

  • Lawrence Freedman
Part of the Studies in International Security book series (SIS)


Not everyone previously convinced of the inevitability of nuclear stalemate was ready, because of Sputnik, to adopt the opposite view. Many of those who had warned throughout the mid-1950s of the dangerous illusion of perpetual Western nuclear superiority saw the evident growth of Soviet nuclear capabilities as doing no more than confirming expectations. The folly of a strategy of massive retaliation was even more evident. Proponents of limited war felt their case to be strengthened. ‘[T]he first effect of the Sputnik on American policy has been to emphasize the thermo-nuclear stalemate and to strengthen the case for supplementing or replacing massive retaliation by limited atom war — and for giving tactical atomic weapons to America’s allies’, wrote British MP Denis Healey.1


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  1. 1.
    Denis Healey,, ‘The Sputnik and western defence’, International Affairs, XXXIV :2 (April 1954), p. 147.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    John FOSTER Dulles, ‘Challenge and response in US policy’. Foreign Affairs, xxxvI:l (October 1957).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Cited in Samuel P. Huntington, The Common Defense: Strategic Programs in National Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), p. 101.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Herbert York wrote in 1970: ‘Surprising as it may seem, the wild outbursts of ideas inspired by Sputnik and the missile–gap psychology has produced nothing of direct value to our current strategic posture more than twelve years later’. Race to Oblivion, p. 144.Google Scholar
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    Security Resources Panel of the Scientific Advisory Committee, Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age, Washington DC: November 1957 (declassified January 1973). Though the President was not happy with the report, in a speech he made a week after its presentation to the National Security Council he showed signs of having been influenced by this forecast of the shape of things to come: I assure you . . . that for the conditions existing today they [the US military forces] are both efficient and adequate. But if they are to remain so for the future, their design and power must keep pace with the increasing capabilities that science gives both to the aggressor and the defender. Quoted in Morton Halperin, The Gaither Committee and the Policy Process’, World Politics, XIII:3 (April 1961), p. 370.Google Scholar
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    Henry Kissinger, ‘Arms control, inspection and surprise attack’. Foreign Affairs, XXXVIII:3 (April 1960), p. 557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See J. David Singer, Deterrence, Arms Control and Disarmament: Towards a Synthesis in National Security Policy (Ohio State University Press; 1962).Google Scholar
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    Brodie, The Reporter (18 November 1954); Kahn, On Thermonuclear War, p. 192. Senator John Kennedy wrote (in the middle of his Presidential Campaign), reviewing Basil Liddell Hart’s book. Deterrence or Defence? for the Saturday Review on 3 September 1960: ‘We have no right to tempt Soviet planners and political leaders with the possibility of catching our aircraft and unprotected missiles on the ground, in a gigantic Pearl Harbor’.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960).Google Scholar
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    Kahn, On Thermonuclear War, p. 495. (He considered this a possibility for 1969).Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    Bernard Brodie, The Development of Nuclear Strategy’, International Security, II:4 (Spring 1978), p. 68. Brodie, though sympathetic to Wohl–stetter’s motives, adds that he ‘could never accept ... that the balance of terror . . . ever has been or ever could be delicate’.Google Scholar
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    Te quotations are from an unclassified summary of National Policy Implications of Atomic Parity (Naval Warfare Group Study, Number 5, 1958) and a speech by Admiral Burke to the Press Club on 17 January 1958. They are taken from George Lowe, The Age of Deterrence, a rendition of the arguments against the Air Force view from the viewpoint of a Navy partisan. For similar arguments see George Fielding Eliot, Victory without War: 1958–61 (Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute, 1958).Google Scholar
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    Snyder, Deterrence and Defense, p. 88 (pp. 85–95 provides a thorough discussion of the issues discussed in this section). See also George Rathjens Jr, ‘NATO strategy: total war’, in Klaus Knorr (ed.), NATO and American Security (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959).Google Scholar
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    Kahn, op. cit., p. 13.Google Scholar
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    J. King, ‘Air Power in the Missile Gap’, op. cit., p. 635.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    Oskar Morgenstern, The Question of National Defense (New York: Random House, 1959), p. 74.Google Scholar

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© The International Institute for Strategic Studies 1983

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  • Lawrence Freedman

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