ant Party in Balance of PowerThe emergence of the United States as a dominant party in balance ofpower equations is a relatively new phenomenon in world history. New militarytechnology coupled with increased global integration has allowed the UnitedStates to reinvent the fundamental assumptions of international diplomacy whilepropelling itself to the top of the hegemonic stepladder. This positioning wasachieved piecemeal during the course of the first two world wars, but it wasn’tuntil the deployment of the atomic bomb that the U. S. . assumed its position as atrue superpower.
The years that followed this unparalleled ascension are themost fascinating times in the history of U. S. international relations. Hopefully,an investigation into this atomic diplomacy, along with a balanced analysis ofthe problems of conceptualizing and implementing containment, will provideinsight for our current efforts to devise a workable post-war national securitypolicy. There is no way to tell the story of post-war national security withoutalso telling the story of George Kennen. Kennen, the foremost expert of SovietAffairs in early post-war America, is almost wholly responsible for the policyof containment.Order now
What we must remember under Kennen’s containment is that nucleardiplomacy is not separate from other national security measures as it is oftentoday. Nuclear weapons were part of an integrated system of containment anddeterrence. Truman told Kennen in early 1947 that “our weapons of massdestruction are not fail-safe devices, but instead the fundamental bedrock ofAmerican security” (Gaddis 56). They were never intended as first strike weaponsand had no real tactical value. The bomb is purely strategic, and its valuecomes not from its destructive capabilities, but from its political andpsychological ramifications. Kennen was never naive enough to view the bomb asan offensive weapon.
In his long memorandum “The International Control of AtomicEnergy,” Kennen noted that “there could be no way in which weapons of massdestruction could be made to serve rational ends beyond simply deterring theoutbreak of hostilities” (Kennen 39). Even at this early point, Kennen began toalso recognize the potential of the bomb to completely wreck balance of powerarrangements. Simply achieving higher potentials of destruction would notnecessarily lead to a better negotiating position with the Soviets. Truman hadnever considered not creating the hydrogen bomb, despite Kennen’s objections. Truman’s justified his adamant support of the super bomb for bargainingpurposes with the Russians. Kennen’s point, of course, had been that the verydecision to build the hydrogen bomb would inhibit bargaining with the Russianson international control, since the Kremlin was unlikely to negotiate from aposition of weakness.
Most of the American national security structure viewedthis as fallacious. Truman’s perception was that the United States, as atechnology rich but man power short nation, was operating from a position ofweakness, since of necessity is relied more heavily than did the Soviet Union onweapons of mass destruction to maintain the balance of power. The Soviet atomictest in 1949 had upset that balance. Only by building the super bomb, it wasthought, could equilibrium be regained. It would not be until the Kennedyadministration that Kennen would be vindicated and an awareness would develop”of the basic unsoundness of a defense posture based primarily on weaponsindiscriminately destructive and suicidal in their implications” (Kennen 365).
The late mistakes of the Truman administration would be carried overinto the Eisenhower years. Nuclear deployment became the primary Americansecurity measure, naturally leading the Soviets to do the same. The problems ofthe Eisenhower years stemmed directly from the overconfidence in the U. S. nuclear program to achieve tangible military objectives in the face of increasedhostilities.
John Foster Dulles, the symbol of bipartisan cooperation on foreignpolicy, began to advocate the nuclear response. The impotence of our standingarmy compared to the Soviet’s military behemoth was clear to all U. S. policyadvisors.
There was no way in which we could match Russia gun for gun, tank fortank, at anytime, in any place. John’s brother Allen Dulles, CIA director underEisenhower, said “to do so would mean real strength nowhere and bankruptcyeverywhere” (Gaddis 121). Instead, the U. S. response to Soviet aggressions wouldbe made on our terms.
J. F. Dulles’ solution was typical strategic asymmetry, butof a particular kind. His recommendations prompted a world in which “we couldand would strike back where it hurts, by means of out own choosing. This couldbe done most effectively by relying on atomic weapons, and on the strategic airand naval power necessary to deliver them” (Dulles 147). This unbalancedstrategic equation between the two superpowers was not even the most dangerousflaw of the 1950s.
In retrospect, the most startling deficiency of the Eisenhoweradministration’s strategy was its bland self-confidence that it could usenuclear weapons without starting an all out nuclear war. Limited nuclearconflict was possible, as Kissenger argued in Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy,”but only if those participating in it had agreed beforehand on the boundariesbeyond which it would not extend” (Kissenger 124). This was clearly impossiblewith the Soviets, making Eisenhower’s policy foolhardy and naive. Given the highamount of activity by the U. S.
intelligence apparatus during the time,especially in Russia and South Asia, it is sunrising that an internationalincident of cataclysmic proportions did not take place. Strategic asymmetry,supplemented by nuclear superiority, would not last long after Eisenhower. Instead, it was replaced with Kennedy’s “flexible response. ” The critics of “TheNew Look” and past nuclear diplomacy pointed out that only newfound symmetryallows us enough political flexibility to respond to Russian aggression inwhatever way suits U. S.
interests at the time. Kennedy, possessing an economicrationale for disregarding costs, placed his emphasis on minimizing risks bygiving the U. S. sufficient flexibility to respond to Russia with neitherescalation or humiliation. This required a capacity to act on all levels,ranging from diplomacy through covert action, guerilla operations, conventionaland nuclear war.
Equally important, though, it would require careful control. Walt W. Rostow, Kennen’s replacement as Chairman of The Policy Planning Council,was chosen as usual on behalf of the Kennedy administration to spell out theproblems the new flexible response policy would solve: It should be noted thatwe have generally been at a disadvantage in crisis, since the Communists commanda more flexible set of tools for imposing strain on the free world than wenormally command. We are often caught in circumstances where our only availableriposte is so disproportionate to the immediate provocation that its use risksunwanted escalation or serious political costs to the free community. Thisasymmetry makes it attractive for Communists to apply limited debilitatingpressures upon us in situations where we find it difficult to impose on them anequivalent price for their intrusions (Rostow 173).
The administration’s desire to reduce it’s dependence on nuclear weaponsdid not, however, imply any corresponding determination to cut back on eithertheir number or variety. “Nuclear and non-nuclear power complement each other,”Robert McNamara insisted in 1962, “just as together they complement the non-military instruments of policy” (Gaddis 218). McNamara is only partially correct. Widespread nuclear deployment as a means to complement peacetime diplomaticgoals often backfires. For example, the presence of Jupiter misses in Turkeybecame a public issue in 1962 when Khrushchev made their withdrawal a conditionfor removing Soviet IRBMs from Cuba. Although somewhat over-dramatized in mosthistorical accounts, the Cuban Missile Crisis proves the award relation betweennuclear security and political reality.
But whatever the frustrations of dealingwith Cuba after the missile crisis, the administration regarded the handling ofthat affair as a textbook demonstration of “the flexible response” in action,and therefore a model to be followed elsewhere. A draft of National SecurityAction Memorandum of February 1963 emphasized the need in the future to employthis “controlled and graduated application of integrated political, military,and diplomatic power” (Gaddis 231). The peaceful end to the crisis had shownthat none of these concerns lay beyond the capacity of a “flexible response”strategy now validated by the test of practical experience. Once Kennedy was killed, there was an era of make-believe in thePentagon.
Vietnam was starting for real, and the constant deployment of U. S. troops against Communist forces added a new element to our national securityequation. Vietnam stands testament that the atomic bomb is a tactically uselessweapon that aids an attacking nation in no way tangible way.
Perhaps simplypossessing the bomb is a psychological outvoting over the enemy, but the effectsof this in Vietnam will nil. Later, Henry Kissenger would point out that in nocrisis since 1962 had the strategic balance determined the outcome. There is noeasy answer that best explains the Johnson administration’s inability to come upwith alternatives in Vietnam. Whatever the answer, we can say with relativeconfidence that it had nothing to do with nuclear weapons. Kissenger haspinpointed the reason early in the war: “Nuclear weapons, given the constraintson their use in an approaching era of parity, were of decreasing practicalutility” (Kissenger 29).
Around this time, we can conclude that the world hasentered an age in which there is a strong and binding nuclear taboo. A nationthat employs nuclear weapons to attack its enemies is considered evil. Therefore,all the hegemonic power gained from atomic weapons was absolutely worthless inVietnam. While limited success was achieved in some international arenas duringthe Kennedy and Johnson years, Vietnam seals the coffin on the flexible response.
Gaddis agrees, saying Vietnam “was the unexpected legacy of the flexibleresponse: not fine tuning, but clumsy overreaction, not coordination butdisproportion, not strategic precision, but in the end, a strategic vacuum”(Gaddis 273). The 1968 campaign was unusual in that, unlike 1952 and 1960, itprovided little indication of the direction in which the new administrationwould move into office. In addition, the world facing the new administration of1968 was one ripe with possibilities of new approaches. To usher in these newstrategies, Nixon choose Dr. Henry Kissenger as his national security advisor.
Kissenger’s conceptual approach to the making of national security policyeliminated the crisis based flexible response system. “Crises,” he said, “weresymptoms of deeper problems that if allowed to fester would prove increasinglyunmanageable” (Kissenger 275). Kissenger was one of the first to recognize theshift from a bipolar to multipolar world. This was a natural resultmodernization, and therefore, traditional bipolar nuclear strategy began to loseimportance, like Kissenger had predicted five years earlier. Before this point,United States interests were effectively met by its Pax Americana enforced onthe world by U.
S. weapons of war. By 1968, however, Nixon knew he had to dealwith the world in a much less dynamic fashion. What Nixon and Kissenger did with their concept of a multipolar worldorder was to arrive at a conception of interests independent of threats.
Gaddispoints out that “since those interests required equilibrium but not ideologicalconsistency, it followed that the United States could feasibly work with statesof differing and even antithetic social systems as long as they shared theAmerican interest in countering challenges to global stability” (Gaddis 285). This has become the primary guiding doctrine in American foreign policy sincethat time. Once this official policy shift was made, nuclear weapons becameexactly what they originally were: symbols for deterrence. The only continuingreason any nations of the nuclear club still deploy nuclear weapons is to deterhostility from other nations. The depth and complexity of American securitypolicy reaches far beyond the scope of this investigation, but hopefully therole of the atomic bomb in U. S.
foreign affairs is somewhat more clear. Today,nuclear diplomacy is dead. The world has somehow adapted to weapons of massdestruction, and the diplomatic and military strategy of nuclear weapons is farfrom the minds of U. S. officials in the State Department. The world has moved onto a new age in international relations.
Kissenger said in 1968 that “there wasnow no single decisive index by which the influence of states can be measured”(Kissenger 277). As much as we might like to indict the policies of nucleardiplomacy for all its self-indulgent insanity, we must bear in mind that it wassomehow successful. Not one atomic bomb fell onto a nation from Kennen toKissenger, and that should show the altruistic commitment by men of power tokeep the unthinkable thinkable. Category: History