Massive Retaliation

  • Philip Bobbitt


For NSC-68, nuclear strategic policy was a continuation of the ideas of strategic bombing.1 Despite rather confident claims by the Air Force,2 however, this continuity caused concern in some observers. In 1949, the Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, commissioned the Harmon Committee to evaluate US plans for an atomic campaign against the Soviet Union. The Committee estimated that the projected attack on seventy Soviet cities would result in a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in Soviet industrial capacity and perhaps 2.7 million fatalities and 4 million casualties. Even such staggering industrial losses, however, ‘would not be permanent and could be alleviated by Soviet recuperative action depending on the weighted effectiveness of follow-up attacks.’ Furthermore, ‘the capability of Soviet armed forces to advance rapidly into selected areas of Western Europe, the Middle East and the Far East would not be seriously impaired’. The Committee concluded that planned air attacks alone would not ‘destroy the roots of Communism, or critically weaken the power of Soviet leadership to dominate the people’.3 A strategic air offensive against urban industrial targets could not promise ‘victory’ no matter how that crucial word might be defined.


Nuclear Weapon Atomic Bomb Soviet Leadership Nuclear Deterrence Nuclear Threat 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    R. F. Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force 1907–1964, 2 (Maxwell Air Force Base: Aerospace Studies Institute, June 1971), 551Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Aaron Friedberg, ‘A History of the U.S. Strategic “Doctrine” — 1945–1980,’ The Journal of Strategic Studies, 3 (December 1980), pp. 40–1.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lieutenant General H. R. Harmon, Evaluation of Effect on Soviet War Effort Resulting from the Strategic Air Offensive (Washington: GPO, 11 May 1949); Etzold and Gaddis, Containment: Documents p. 360.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Bernard Brodie, The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1946).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Jacob Viner, ‘The Implications of The Atomic Bomb for International Relations,’ Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 90 (January 1946), pp. 53–4.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    H. Baldwin, The Price of Power (New York: Harper & Bros, 1947). Continuing a series of articles in the New York Times after Bikini on the impact of the atomic bomb on American defense, Baldwin published on 16 August 1946. Baldwin, The Price of Power (New York: Harper & Bros, 1947). Continuing a series of articles in the New York Times after Bikini on the impact of the atomic bomb on American defense, Baldwin published on 16 August 1946, ‘The Atomic Bomb’s Scope’. Here he presented an analysis of how the atomic bomb might affect warfare in the immediate as well as the distant future, now that it was known to be a finite weapon. It is true therefore, that a large nation like the US or USSR, reasonably well prepared for atomic war -its industries and its military installations rather well dispersed and with atomic bombs of its own–cannot be conquered by a few atomic bombs unless its nerves fail. The atomic bombs of the present type… will certainly not destroy a large nation’s capacity to resist, and probably not its will to resist. New York Times (16 August 1946) p.6. See also US Naval Institute Proceedings, 72 (April 1946), pp. 489–503.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    B. Brodie, Strategy in the Missile Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), p. 153.Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    D. Ball, Politics and Force Levels: The Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration 1961–63 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1980), p. 180.Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    John Foster Dulles, ‘Policy for Security and Peace,’ Foreign Affairs 32 (April 1954), p. 353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 27.
    Cordesman, Deterrence in the 1980s, pp. 6–7; see also Desmond Ball, Targeting for Strategic Deterrence, Adelphi Paper no. 175 (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1983).Google Scholar
  11. 28.
    K. Ward, ‘Evolution of US Strategic Targeting Doctrine’ (Oxford University, M.Phil. thesis 1981).Google Scholar
  12. 29.
    Albert Wohlstetter, ‘Is There a Strategic Arms Race?’ Foreign Policy 15 (Summer 1974), p. 5; see also ‘Rivals But No Race,’ Foreign Policy 16 (Fall 1974), pp. 60–1, by the same author.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip Bobbitt 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip Bobbitt
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University of TexasUSA
  2. 2.OxfordUK

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