The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) now reopening in Vienna may best be seen as the latest in a series of fumbling attempts by mankind to pick up the pieces in the wake of Hiroshima. A month after that first atomic bomb dropped, Einstein said what is still the last word of wisdom on the subject, though we are as far as ever from applying it. To a UPI reporter who tracked him down in a forest cabin near Lake Saranac, Einstein said “the only salvation for civilization and the human race” now lay in “the creation of a world government. As long as sovereign states continue to have separate armaments and armament secrets,” he warned, “new world wars will be inevitable.”1

This idea, like so much else in the repetitive and frustrating history of the struggle against the arms race in the last hundred years, was not new. It appeared at least as early as 1913, in a novel by H. G. Wells, The World Set Free. Wells predicted the splitting of the atom—by some stroke of luck or intuitive genius placing the event in 1933, when it actually occurred. He also forecast the use of nuclear energy in a world war so catastrophic it shook men and nations out of their accustomed habits and led them to form a world government as their only assurance henceforth of survival.2

For a fleeting moment since forgotten, the dropping of the first bomb did push the American government in the direction of world government. The horrors of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, the realization of what a third and nuclear world war would do to mankind, shocked American political leaders and scientists into a project whose novelty and magnitude began to be commensurate with the peril they foresaw. But the Baruch-Lilienthal-Acheson plan for the international control of atomic energy they then presented to the United Nations proved to be the first of four lost opportunities since the war to bring the nuclear monster under control; the SALT talks represent another chance, and I fear it too will be lost.

The Baruch plan, as put forward in 1946, would have set up a kind of world superstate for the nuclear age. Unfortunately the plan seems to have passed through three stages, in which the original idealistic impulse was successively revised to make it more “practical” politically. In the process it also grew less magnanimous. It ended up looking—from Moscow’s point of view—like a plan for domination of the world and the economy of the Soviet Union by the United States, as Acheson now admits in a section of his newly published memoirs which has escaped attention.3

Dean Acheson, then Under Secretary of State, was chairman of a committee appointed by President Truman after the war to draw up a plan for the international control of atomic energy. This committee in turn set up a consultative group of scientists and big business executives4 under David E. Lilienthal and including J. Robert Oppenheimer. The original sketch for a world authority to take over all sources of uranium and to control all nuclear production facilities came from the Lilienthal group.

This was at least twice revised before publication by the Acheson committee. The others on his committee were General Leslie R. Groves, who headed the Manhattan Project which built the bomb; Dr. Vannevar Bush, who organized science for war in World War II; Dr. James B. Conant, then president of Harvard; and John J. McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War under Henry L. Stimson. Stimson recognized very early that the secret of the bomb would soon vanish and had best be shared while it might still be used to build a more stable world.

The main drawback in the original Acheson-Lilienthal plan was that it asked the Soviet Union and all other countries to hand over control of their uranium deposits and open themselves to geological survey at once in return for a promise at some unspecified future date to cease our own production of bombs and hand over their secret to an international authority—if Congress did not change its mind when the time came.

The hedges not only became more onerous but began to seem deliberate pitfalls by the time the plan was revised again by Bernard Baruch, whom Truman named in March, 1946, as US representative on the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. The group Baruch chose to work with him in revising the Acheson-Lilienthal plan for presentation to the UN contained neither liberals, idealists, nor scientists. It was the earliest official postwar collection of cold warriors: John Hancock of Lehman Brothers; Ferdinand Eberstadt, another Wall Street banker with strong military ties; Fred Searls of Newmont Mining, a concern of imperial dimensions and world-wide cartel connections; and Herbert Bayard Swope, the journalist who had become Baruch’s personal public relations man.


The Baruch plan, as it became known when it was submitted to the UN, must have seemed to Moscow the blueprint for a world capitalist super-state in which the US would retain its atomic monopoly behind the façade of an international organization under US control. In Present at the Creation, Acheson discloses publicly for the first time that he felt the plan as transformed by Baruch contained provisions “almost certain to wreck any possibility of Russian acceptance” because Moscow would see them “as an attempt to turn the United Nations into an alliance to support a US threat of war against the USSR unless it ceased its efforts” to develop an atom bomb, too.5

Even the earlier pre-Baruch version would have been hard to sell a ruler of Stalin’s ferocious suspicions and primitive Marxist views. The Baruch plan was enough to have frightened off even a gentle Menshevik. It would have eliminated the veto in the UN Security Council to assure, in Baruch’s words, “swift and certain punishment” of any violator. It would have thrown the war-torn and terribly weakened Soviet Union open to Western inspection, and at the mercy of a US-led majority in the Security Council. Baruch was no fool and he knew the Russians well. His rhetoric in presenting the plan matched the occasion. The choice, he told the UN, is “world peace or world destruction.” But his draftsmanship ensured a Russian Nyet. So the first opportunity was lost.

In retrospect the failure transcends the personalities who took part. Mankind just was not ready. The US was not generous enough. The Soviet Union was not trusting enough. If the roles had been reversed, it is hard to believe that the Russian regime, self-righteously Communist and deeply nationalistic, would even have made the gesture. If the view from the Kremlin had been of a war-wrecked USA, their hard-liners would have dismissed such idealism as weakness and seized the opportunity (as our hard-liners did) for an attempt at world domination. Even if the US had been more generous, the Soviets would have been too mistrustful. Even if Russia had not been Communist, even if it had been a capitalist ally, the realities of domestic politics would still have kept the American government from being magnanimous enough to relinquish the atomic secret without attaching strings intended to maintain its control.

The proof of this lies in our nuclear relations with our closest ally, Britain. The production of the world’s first atomic weapons was a joint Anglo-American achievement. But by 1945 Britain found itself excluded from information and control despite specific Roosevelt-Churchill agreements for sharing them. Britain was forced to go it alone at Harwell and produce its nuclear weapons on its own. In April 1946 (two months before the Baruch plan was presented to the UN) Congress went a step further and in the McMahon Act forbade the sharing of atomic secrets with Britain or any other nation.6 Nations and men as the last war ended just had not reached the necessary stage of understanding. Wells, if he were still alive, might have said that the shock of atom bombs falling on two cities was not enough. In his novel, men came to their senses only after an all-out nuclear war had destroyed every city on earth.


After each lost opportunity for nuclear disarmament since the war, a new monster of destruction has been born. When the Baruch plan failed, there was only the A-bomb. It had been dwarfed by the H-bomb when the second lost opportunity arrived almost a decade later. This was what Philip Noel-Baker, the grand old man of the world disarmament movement, still active in his eighties, called “The Moment of Hope: May 10, 1955.”7 On that date Moscow made a dramatic about-face at the UN disarmament, subcommittee meeting in London and substantially accepted Western proposals for general and nuclear disarmament it had long derided. It offered to lift the Iron Curtain and permit international inspection on a wide scale as part of that scheme only to have the West suddenly lose interest.

The proposals of May 10, 1955, were part of a larger reversal in Russian policy which followed the accession of Khrushchev to power in February of that year and the confidence generated by successful detonation of a Soviet H-bomb. The Soviet disarmament proposals in London were the second of three dramatic about-faces in Soviet foreign policy in the space of little more than one month. The first was the announcement on April 15 that the Russians, after nine years of fruitless negotiation by the West, had agreed to withdraw their troops from Austria and to sign a four-power pact guaranteeing its independence. The third was the arrival of Khrushchev and Bulganin at Belgrade airport on May 26 where Tito impassively heard them declare that they “sincerely regret” Stalin’s efforts to overthrow him. This Canossa was the most dramatic manifestation of the new regime’s eagerness for a fresh start in foreign policy.


The May 10 disarmament statement was as big a surprise. For years the West had complained that the Soviet Union’s disarmament proposals would “ban the bomb” but deny inspection and maintain its superiority in conventional arms. The Western powers were for “total prohibition” of nuclear arms but insisted that it had to be accompanied (1) by reduction of the conventional armies of the US, the USSR, and China to a figure between 1 and 1 1/2 million men and those of Britain and France to about 650,000 and (2) by “the establishment of a control organ” with powers “adequate to guarantee the effective observance of the agreed prohibitions and reductions.”8

On May 10, 1955, the Russians tabled a draft treaty accepting the West’s ceilings on the size of conventional armies, its proposed cut-off by stages in the production and stocks of all “weapons of mass destruction,” and the establishment of an international control organ. This organ, in the Soviet draft treaty, would have had a staff of internationally recruited inspectors residing permanently in all signatory states. The inspectors would have had “within the bounds of the control functions they exercise, unimpeded access at all times to all objects of control.” They would also have had “unimpeded access to records relating to the budgetary appropriations of States for military needs,” and the “rights and powers to exercise control, including inspection on a continuing basis, to the extent necessary to ensure implementation of the above-mentioned Convention.”9 The Russians added a new proposal of their own: the establishment of “Control Posts” at large ports, at railway junctions, on main motor highways, and at air fields to guard against the danger of surprise attack.

The Western delegates in London were startled. M. Jules Moch for France said, “The whole thing looks too good to be true.” The US delegate to the disarmament talks declared himself “gratified to find that the concepts which we have put forward over a considerable length of time, and which we have repeated many times during the past two months, have been accepted in a large measure by the Soviet Union.” The British delegate said he was glad the Western “policy of patience” had “now achieved this welcome dividend” and that the Western proposals “have now been largely, and in some cases entirely, adopted by the Soviet Union.”10 Even John Robinson Beal’s official biography of John Foster Dulles, which is as slick and corkscrew as its subject was, admitted that “the new Soviet proposals actually were plagiarized from the French and British and were by no means acceptable, but for the first time there were signs of Russian movement!”11 The exclamation point and the italics are ours.

But Washington was curiously unmoved. The State Department, which knows how to orchestrate the press, played the news down, and so did the news media. The day after the news from London the President was asked about it at a press conference by Walter Kerr of the New York Herald-Tribune. The colloquy was less than jubilant:

Q: Mr. President, I wonder if you have had an opportunity to see a report on the latest Soviet disarmament plan.

The President: On what?

Q: On what has been described as the recent Soviet disarmament plan submitted to the summit.

The President: You mean the one submitted through the Disarmament Commission in London?

Q: Yes, sir.

The President: Well, I have just had a chance to glance at it.

Q: Do you care to comment on it, sir?

The President: No, not at the moment. The whole question is so confused. It has still some of the elements they have always had in it. They want to get rid of one kind; we would like to get rid of everything. It is something that has to be studied before you can really comment on it.12

Not until his press conference of July 6 did Eisenhower give any indication of his thinking and then both the question and answer indicated that the American government was cooling off on its own proposals now that they were in danger—that seems to be the only word for it—of being turned into reality by the unexpected Soviet acceptance of them. This was the implication when Edward P. Morgan asked the President that day if he could give the press the benefit of his “personal thoughts” on the subject of disarmament. “For instance,” Mr. Morgan prompted, “do you feel that we, the American people, are going to have to move away somewhat from the concept of total drastic disarmament toward a sort of standoff?” The question, I suspect, knowing how the State Department operates, reflected “backgrounders” downgrading the significance of the breakthrough in London.

Total “drastic” disarmament had been the declared goal of US policy since the “Essential Principles for a Disarmament Program” had been tabled by the US at the UN in April of 1952. Inspection, the US had then and since stressed, was the heart of the problem. But now Eisenhower wondered aloud whether we really wanted inspection. This was Eisenhower’s answer to Mr. Morgan in that rambling but revealing way Eisenhower had of talking to the press:

I wouldn’t want to have anything I now say taken as authoritative, for the simple reason that the more one studies intensively this problem of disarmament, the more he finds himself in a kind of squirrel’s cage…. Everything comes back, as I see it, to acceptable methods of enforcement. How do you enforce such things? This brings us instantly to the question of examinations, of inspections. Now, one way to approach this problem is what would we, in the United States, [sic] suppose took a vote of this body today or we started as a committee of the whole to study it, what kind of inspection are we ready to accept? Are we ready to open up every one of our factories, every place where something might be going on that could be inimical to the interests of somebody else?13

Eisenhower did not complain—as he could have—that the Soviet proposals on inspection did not go far enough, that they did not define “objects of control” or more fully spell out the powers of the inspectors, or that they left enforcement unclear since the control organ presumably would operate under the UN Security Council where the Soviet Union had a veto. Instead, now that a workable system of inspection seemed within reach of negotiation, he was worrying about how much inspection we would stand for. It was now we who were suspicious of intrusion, fearful for our secrets, hesitating to lift our own “curtain.”14

In London, where the Soviet delegation wanted to go on with the negotiations, the Western governments insisted on a recess. The debates were not resumed until August 29. After one week, the US delegate Harold Stassen made a surprising announcement. He wiped the slate clean of all past US proposals and freed his government from commitment to them:

The United States does now place a reservation upon all of its pre-Geneva substantive positions taken in this sub-committee on Disarmament or in the Disarmament Commission or in the UN on these questions in relationship to levels of armament.

In other words, as Noel-Baker points out, the manpower ceilings, the cut-off arrangements on nuclear stocks, “the detailed plan for inspection and control, all the other proposals urged with such vigor and persistence only three months before—all were withdrawn.”

In the meantime, at the summit conference in Geneva on July 21 Eisenhower had come up with a wholly new plan that Nelson Rockefeller, always a cold warrior and never a friend of disarmament, had helped to draw up, the so-called “open skies” proposal.15 Rockefeller was then Eisenhower’s Special Assistant for Cold War Strategy.16 “I have been searching my mind and heart,” Eisenhower said as he unveiled the new plan at Geneva with more than a touch of schmaltz, “for something that I could say here that could convince everyone of the great sincerity of the US in approaching this problem of disarmament.”17

It is indicative that he felt it necessary at that point to prove US sincerity. He then proposed to Bulganin and Khrushchev that the US and the USSR “give each other a complete blueprint of our military establishments, from beginning to end” and “provide within our countries facilities for aerial reconnaissance to the other country…where you can make all the pictures you choose.”

It is hard to believe that the same man who was so hesitant on July 6 about the lesser measures of inspection proposed by the Russians was now sincerely ready two weeks later to exchange “a complete blueprint” of all military establishments with them. The plan looked more like public relations razzle-dazzle to cover a US retreat on disarmament. It must have been put forward only because Washington was sure that Moscow would reject it. For years we had accused the Russians of proposing disarmament without inspection. Now it looked as if we were proposing inspection without disarmament. Though it was presented as a way to prevent surprise attack, it would obviously have provided the Strategic Air Command with exactly the maps its bombers needed. The response could not have been a surprise. In his memoirs Eisenhower writes that Khrushchev rejected the “open skies” plan as “nothing more than a bald espionage plot against the USSR.” 18

Though negotiations went on interminably, hope of an agreement had disappeared. The US line had so far reversed itself that by May 4 of the following year (1956) Stassen was telling the UN disarmament subcommittee, “It is the US view that low force levels and drastic reduction in armaments—even though carried out under an armaments agreement—would not, if they were not accompanied by progress in the settlement of the major political issues, be in the interest of any country represented at this sub-committee table. These reductions would increase the danger of the outbreak of war….”19 Arms reduction had become a menace to peace!

The major political issue which is one key to the 1955 failure was the future of Germany. Washington wanted a reunified and rearmed Germany free to join the Western camp. The May 10 disarmament proposals would have ended the hope of this by liquidating both the NATO and Warsaw pacts with their forward bases and paving the way for a Germany that would be reunited but neutral (“the Austrian solution”) and with limited military forces.

One crucial date must not be forgotten. Five days before the dramatic Soviet about-face on disarmament, West Germany had joined NATO. Today the Bonn Federal Republic has 460,000 men under arms, NATO’s largest European contingent. If the Western proposals for ceilings on conventional armies had been put into effect after their acceptance by the Soviet Union, West Germany would not have been allowed to mobilize anywhere near that number of men.

It was May 5 that explains May 10. Germany was to be our main military bulwark in Europe as we now hope to make Japan our main military bulwark in Asia. German rearmament was the stumbling block to general disarmament. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that even if there had been no German problem, some other excuse would have been found to keep the arms race going. Not until Kennedy took office was there another real chance to bring it under control and by that time a new monster had made its appearance, the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, able to carry an H-bomb warhead in thirty minutes in either direction between the US and the USSR.


The opportunity, at the beginning of the Kennedy Administration, for a fresh start in curbing the nuclear arms race was not so dramatic as the Baruch plan or the May 10, 1955, Soviet draft treaty but was nevertheless substantial. It was lost, and while it was lost two new monsters were secretly being gestated, the ABM and the MIRV, the latter a new ICBM with multiple heads like some terrifying Hindu god of destruction.

Basically the opportunity was missed because Kennedy as President, like Kennedy as Senator and as candidate tried to ride two horses at once in two opposite directions, rearmament and disarmament. In the Senate I can recall an occasion when in the short space of one week he made two speeches, one, idealistic and eloquent, on the need to end the arms race, the other, alarmist, on the need to fill that nonexistent “missile gap.” This might have been fallacious logic but it was—as they say—practical politics. It served to keep his lines open to two antagonistic constituencies, the powerful armament makers with their allies in the military bureaucracy, and a public increasingly anxious about the mounting cost and danger.

In justice to John F. Kennedy it must be said that the effort to please both at once was characteristic of all the great powers before World War I as it has been of every US Administration since World War II. This was the trap that private interest, the sheer inertial mass of the military bureaucracy, and the ancient instincts of mankind had set, and in which we are still caught. The result has been to make disarmament negotiations nothing more than an exercise to disarm the public, while the arms race spirals ever upward.

A lovely sample of the Pied Piper rationalizations supplied by intellectuals in every generation for this ultimately suicidal political strategy may be found in the little book which Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., wrote for the 1960 campaign, Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference?20 Schlesinger wrote that Kennedy promised “creative idealism,” but Schlesinger’s formulation of it in the sphere of disarmament only offered the same old glamorous but opportunistic rhetoric. “A new spirit arising within our nation,” he wrote—

will lead to a reconstruction of our approach to foreign affairs. Instead of responding interminably to the initiatives of others, we will begin to take the initiative ourselves in the fight for a decent peace. Disarmament, instead of being an occupation for clerks, will receive the top priority it deserves in the conduct of our foreign affairs.

But, Schlesinger goes on, as if the Kennedy of the two faces were looking over his shoulder as he wrote—

Pending the establishment of a reliable disarmament system, of course we have no choice but to remove the existing gaps in our own defenses; indeed, only by showing that we can stay in the arms race as long as they [italics added], can we convince the Russians of the imperative need for arms control. But we will arm in order to disarm.

This was the same old Kennedy tactic. What greater nonsense than this idea that the richest nation on earth had to prove to a contender with less than half its resources that we could stay in the arms race as long as the Russians could? Every sophisticated observer knew that the insiders in Washington had long rationalized the arms race as a form of economic warfare, which—in wondrous asymmetry—kept them poor while it kept us rich, or at least that portion of us who drew benefits from arms production and research. To this day it has been a cardinal axiom of US policy that by forcing the diversion of the Soviet’s more limited natural resources, productive capacity, and skilled manpower from its enormous backlog of consumer needs to armament we were imposing burdens so heavy we could exact a political price for lifting them in arms negotiations.

It is enlightening to test Schlesinger’s final proposition “we will arm to disarm”—the dialectic in the service of the arms race!—against his own account afterward in A Thousand Days of what happened behind the scenes in the new Administration. He writes 21 that “the Soviet Union watched the arrival of the new Administration with marked interest.” Khrushchev “had given up on Eisenhower after the U-2 incident and the collapse of the Paris summit” in 1960 and had “seized several opportunities to semaphore his hopes for Kennedy.” Khrushchev’s “messages to Harriman and others after the election were followed by a Pugwash meeting on disarmament in Moscow in December.” Walt Rostow and Jerome Wiesner were among the Americans who took part and they saw V. V. Kuznetsov of the Soviet Foreign Office to urge the release of two American RB-47 fliers shot down over the Arctic. “In the course of their talk,” Schlesinger’s account reveals—

Kuznetsov mentioned the campaign furor about a “missile gap” and suggested that, if the new Administration went in for massive rearmament, it could not expect the Russians to sit still.

Both sides knew by then that what Schlesinger calls “the campaign furor” about a missile gap was a fake; this is indeed implicit in the disparaging phrase he chooses for it. What follows shows what spurious rationalizations intellectuals will indulge in when they take service with political leaders—

Rostow replied that any Kennedy rearmament would be designed to improve the stability of the deterrent, and that the Soviet Union should recognize this as in the interests of peace…

Kuznetsov must have felt that he was being taken, that he was dealing with a con man. Now let us return to Schlesinger’s narrative—

…but Kuznetsov, innocent of the higher calculus of deterrence as recently developed in the United States, brusquely dismissed the explanation.

The italics are ours. They make the reader realize what a great humorist was lost when Schlesinger turned to history.

Here was the genesis of the stepped up arms race in the Sixties between the US and the USSR from which the SALT talks are now supposed to deliver us. Here was the test of the proposition that we were only arming in order to disarm. When Schlesinger 200 pages later in his narrative comes to explain why the new Administration embarked on a huge missile build-up even though it knew there was no missile gap, he forgets this slick poppy-cock about “the higher calculus of deterrence.” He gives us instead an intramural picture of decision-making which, despite its subtle court-historian apologetics, is immensely valuable. For it begins to uncover the real motivations and the real difficulties which have hampered every attempt to curb the arms race during the past century.

“There remained for a moment,” Schlesinger begins his account of how Kennedy formulated his first budget, “the question of the ‘missile gap.’ Though disowned by McNamara in February, the gap had persisted as a center of intra-service argument, with the Air Force continuing to claim that the Russians had 600 to 800 ballistic missiles while the CIA estimated 450 and the Navy 200.”22 Schlesinger does not say so but each service was, as usual, tailoring its intelligence estimates to support its own budgetary demands. The Air Force overestimated because it wanted more planes and missiles. The Navy set a low figure because it wanted more money for ships.

It is curious that Schlesinger does not give us the estimate Army intelligence put forward. General Maxwell Taylor, just retired as US Army Chief of Staff, had been recalled to active service by Kennedy in July 1961 as “Presidential Military Adviser for foreign and military policy and intelligence operations.”23 Taylor was an advocate of a “minimum deterrent” of from 100 to 200 ballistic missiles as a sufficient umbrella against general war while allowing the Army to carry on “limited” and brush-fire war. The point of his book The Uncertain Trumpet (Harper, 1960) was a plea to spend more money on the Army’s general purposes forces and less on strategic nuclear weapons. The Kennedy decision, to build 1,000 missiles, went directly contrary to the views of the man he had chosen as his military adviser. I wonder if Schlesinger would now explain why he left the Army point of view out.

Let us return to his narrative at the point where we broke off. “But on Thanksgiving week-end,” Schlesinger continues, “when the President convened his defense experts for a meeting at Hyannis Port, the weight of evidence was plainly against the Air Force, and the issue finally withered away.” Withered away? That is a strange phrase to use in view of what follows immediately after. “The budget nevertheless,” Schlesinger goes on, “contemplated a sizeable increase in missiles; and the White House staff, while favoring a larger Minuteman force than the original Eisenhower proposal, wondered whether the new budget was not providing for more missiles than national security required.” (Our italics.)

How did Kennedy react to that? “The President,” Schlesinger continues, “though intimating a certain sympathy with this view [perhaps a vestige of that creative idealism Schlesinger had promised?], was not prepared to overrule McNamara’s recommendation.” But was it just McNamara’s recommendation? I showed in an earlier article for the New York Review (November 7, 1968) that the White House slapped McNamara down when he, an innocent to armament politics, let slip the truth about the missile gap to the press as soon as he caught up with the facts in his new office as Secretary of Defense. The White House next day insisted that there was a gap. It would seem more reasonable to assume from this incident alone that it was Kennedy, not McNamara, who insisted on building more missiles.

To see how far Schlesinger distorts history in the service of Kennedy one need only check the contemporary public accounts. Unless Rostow and Wiesner were incredibly ill-informed, they must have known that US nuclear power was overwhelmingly superior to the Soviet Union’s. Five days before Kennedy’s Inaugural, the well-informed Pentagon correspondent of the conservative Washington Star reported (January 15), “New national intelligence estimates of Soviet missile production indicate the ‘missile gap’ may have disappeared.” Two years before, at the height of the missile gap scare, it was estimated that by 1961 the Soviet Union would have 50 to 100 missiles operational “but intelligence officers,” said the Star, reflecting what we later learned were actual counts by aerial reconnaissance, “cannot find nearly that number.”

A report reaching Washington, before Kennedy’s Inaugural, by the British Institute of Strategic Studies, which depends ultimately on US intelligence, credited the Soviets with about thirty-five operational ICBMs and about 200 long-range bombers. The Russians then as now did have more intercontinental land-based missiles than the US. But the imbalance of total power was stupefying. It turned out that we had ten times their total nuclear delivery capacity.

This was made public in the House of Representatives five days after the Inaugural by the Republicans. They were smarting under Kennedy’s implication that eight years of their rule had somehow left the US with inadequate defenses. The main presentation that day was made for the Republicans by—of all people—Rep. Melvin Laird, now Nixon’s Secretary of Defense. Two years later, he was himself to join the alarmists with his book America’s Strategy Gap. But here are the figures he gave that day without rebuttal from the Democrats or the new Administration. These declared that we had:

—about 16 Atlas ICBMs.

—two Polaris submarines with a total of 32 missiles capable of reaching Russia.

—“over 600 long-range B-52 jet bombers, each carrying more destructive, explosive power, than that used by all the combatants in World War II.”

—nearly 1,400 B-47 medium-range jet bombers based abroad and at home with a 4,500-mile range “and distances beyond with air-to-air refueling.”

—the first of SAC’s B-58 Hustlers, supersonic medium-range bombers.

—“14 aircraft carriers able to launch more aircraft than the entire Soviet heavy bomber force.”

—“18 wings of tactical aircraft, each wing with a substantial nuclear attack capability deployed globally.”

—64 IRBMs [intermediate-range ballistic missiles] in England, capable of reaching Russia and 30 Jupiter IRBMs being deployed in Italy “from which Russia can be hit.”

(or “well over 2,000 nuclear carrying vehicles capable of reaching Russia.”)

In addition the Republicans pointed out that under the final Eisenhower budgets, there would be 600 Minute-man missiles by the end of 1964; 129 Atlas and 126 Titan ICBMs by the end of 1962; 4 more Polarises in service by the end of 1961, with 64 more missiles; and that 15 Jupiter IRBMs were being erected in Turkey.24

Dr. Ralph Lapp, the outspoken atomic physicist, estimated on the basis of the figures disclosed in the House that we were in a position to dump more than 30,000 megatons on the Soviet Union. The USSR, he further computed, has about three million square miles of inhabited territory. It takes about one megaton, he said, to render 1,000 square miles uninhabitable. At that rate it would take 3,000 megatons, evenly spread, literally to wipe out the Soviet Union. We could deliver more than ten times that much!

In the light of those figures, the contrast of tone between Eisenhower’s farewell and Kennedy’s debut was hardly creative idealism. Eisenhower finished with a series of warnings against the forces making for a stepped-up arms race. His final State of the Union message, January 12, said the bomber gap “had always been a fiction, and the ‘missile gap’ shows every sign of being the same.” He said US power was sufficient to deter “and if need be to destroy predatory forces.” In his TV farewell of January 17 he sought to put the country on guard against the growing influence of “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” which he termed the military-industrial complex.

Kennedy, instead of joining in that warning, demonstrated the political power that the complex could exert. The Inaugural invoked Isaiah—as Johnson did, too, four years later, before taking us into a new war. Kennedy called on the Russians to negotiate disarmament since both nations were “overburdened by the cost of modern weapons and both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom.” But his first State of the Union message, January 30, stepped up the arms race immediately. He spoke of “an hour of national peril,” implied that the country was in danger because of inadequate defenses and, though he did not mention the missile gap, he said he was giving orders to accelerate the missile program, to step up the construction of Polaris submarines, and to increase our airlift capacity so our conventional forces would be better able “to respond with discrimination and speed to any problem at any spot on the globe at a moment’s notice.” These were the trumpets of Pax Americana and imperialism, premonitions—if the country had but known—of Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs.

How gullible does Schlesinger expect his readers to be? Against this background, his account of the discussion later that year about the first Kennedy budget is incredible: that Kennedy showed “a certain sympathy” for the White House staff view that we were building more missiles than we needed but that he was “not prepared to overrule McNamara’s recommendation.”

Implicit in Schlesinger’s opaque account is a damning revelation. This can be seen if one looks closely enough at his explanation of why McNamara recommended more missiles than he thought we needed. “As for the Secretary,” Schlesinger writes, “he did not believe that doubling or even tripling our striking power would enable us to destroy the hardened missile sites or missile-launching submarines of our adversary.” To any knowledgeable readers this means that Kennedy and his advisers were not discussing deterrent but first-strike capacity.

The targets of deterrence are Russian cities and industry; the purpose is to let the enemy know that if he hits us, we can destroy him. But the targets of first-strike are the missiles and the missile-carrying submarines of the enemy. A first strike, to be successful, must first destroy these lest they destroy our cities and industry in retaliation. Apparently the Air Force, in asking for more missiles, wanted a first-strike capability and McNamara was arguing that we couldn’t hope to achieve a first-strike capability even if we doubled or tripled our striking force. This is Schlesinger’s unwitting revelation.

Eisenhower, we have seen, had ordered a build-up of Minutemen to 600 missiles. The Air Force wanted 3,000, according to a recent revelation by Dr. Jerome Wiesner, who was a Kennedy science adviser.25 McNamara settled for 1,000 Minutemen and eventually for forty-one Polaris submarines with sixteen missiles each or a total of 256 sea-borne missiles, 160 more than Eisenhower had projected.

Schlesinger implies that McNamara and Kennedy upped the Minuteman program from 600 to 1,000 and the Polaris program from six to an eventual forty-one even though McNamara knew this increase was not needed for deterrence and was not—could never be—big enough for a first strike. Why? Schlesinger says McNamara “was already engaged in a bitter fight with the Air Force over his effort to disengage from the B-70, a costly high-altitude manned bomber rendered obsolescent by the improvement in Soviet ground-to-air missiles. After cutting down the original Air Force missile demands considerably, he perhaps felt that he could not do more without risking public conflict with the Joint Chiefs and the vociferous B-70 lobby in Congress. As a result,” Schlesinger concludes, “the President went along with the policy of multiplying Polaris and Minuteman missiles.”26

Schlesinger expects us to believe that Kennedy merely “went along with the policy of multiplying Polaris and Minutemen” in order to let McNamara appease an Air Force angry over the loss of the B-70! This, even if true, was not “the higher calculus of deterrence,” much less the dialectic of “arming to disarm.” But I find it impossible to believe decisions which cost so many billions—and were so profitable to the arms industry—were merely the result of intramural bureaucratic bargaining and appeasement.

There may be a better clue in a cryptic passage of Kennedy’s first State of the Union message. “We are moving into a period of uncertain risks and great commitment,” he said, “in which both the military and diplomatic possibilities [our italics] require a Free World force so powerful as to make any aggression clearly futile.” The bomber generals and their friends in Congress had long argued that the best card in military and diplomatic confrontations was the existence of a first-strike capability. This too was Laird’s theme in America’s Strategy Gap, two years after Kennedy’s Inaugural. Kennedy may well have agreed. He may indeed have felt, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, that fear of an American first strike was the card with which he had won.

The final touch of bitter irony is that 1961, the year Kennedy stepped up the arms race even though there was no missile gap, was also the year in which Kennedy joined Khrushchev in pledging general and complete disarmament. Their special representatives, McCloy and Zorin respectively, even submitted a signed joint agreement to the UN General Assembly on September 20 of that year in which the two superpowers agreed (as we mentioned in our previous article) to the total abolition of all weapons of mass destruction, the reduction of conventional forces to the minimum necessary for internal order, and the establishment of an international control agency under the UN but free of the veto, so that inspectors could have “unrestricted access” for “effective verification.” What more does one need than this gap—an abyss wide—between word and deed to see that disarmament negotiations had become a form of political theater, a theater of delusion?

This is the second in a series of articles on “A Century of Futility,” surveying the struggle against the arms race in the past hundred years down to and including the newly reopened SALT talks. Next: Why SALT Has Lost Its Savor.

This Issue

April 23, 1970