Book Review

To Win a Nuclear War
by Michio Kaku and Dan Axelrod


Reviewed by Roger Dittmann, Ph.D.
Professor of Physics Emeritus
California State University, Fullerton, CA92634-6866

(714) 278-3421 or -5810 (fax); RDittmann@Fullerton.edu

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and anonymous whistle-blowers, and to the efforts of two physics professors, the most systematic and complete chronology of plans to destroy the USSR with a nuclear attack available to date has now been assembled.

Their analysis provides better answers to long standing questions and arguments than have previously been available: 1) Was the failure of the U.S. government to attack the USSR immediately after World War II, when the U.S. held a nuclear monopoly, an indication that it would not destroy the USR if given a chance? 2) Has the U.S. government increased its nuclear arsenal and developed its nuclear policies, strategies, and weaponry for defensive rather than aggressive intentions?

The book treats the nuclear age in three areas: Massive Pre-emption (1945-1960); MAD (1960-1974); and Counterforce (1974-present).

(They pass over selection of nuclear targets in USSR immediately after World War II - Ref.)

(At Groves Jan 46 secret article advocating nuclear attack against any imminent nuclear power "with which we are not firmly allied", but omit Manhattan project statement - Ref.)

The first nuclear war plan against the USSR,JIC329/1 "Strategic Vulnerability of the USSR to a Limited Air Attack", of December 1945, recommended a 20-30 nuclear bomb first strike against 20 designated USSR cities either a) in retaliation for a (conventional) USSR attack (in Europe) or b) if the USSR appeared to be gaining the ability of attacking the U.S. or of defending itself against attack by the U.S. government. The plan to launch a nuclear attack against the USSR if it appeared that it eventually would develop the ability to rebuff a U.S. attack was known by the endearing euphemism "preventive war".

The nostalgia of Reagan for the "good old days" when the U.S. "stood tall" are understandable when the days when Truman was flexing his nuclear muscle are recalled. Possession of the nuclear weapon reduced enthusiasm for abiding by the agreement to share Iranian oil concessions with the USSR and the UK. When a churlish USSR responded by refusing to evacuate its occupation troops, which were supporting a workers' government in Azerbaijan, Truman threatened nuclear attack within 48 hours, and bragged that the evacuation was accomplished in 24. Flaunting the power of the monopoly on nuclear weapons he later ordered the violation of Yugoslav airspace by six B-29s.

A succession of other plans followed. Operation Pincher (June 1946) had a fatal flaw. The number of weapons was considered to be so sensitive that it was kept secret even from nuclear war planners! Pincher called for an attack with 50 bombs when there were only 9 in the arsenal! The deterrent to the implementation of the plan was the expected consequences: The Red Army would occupy Europe to the English Channel. Conventional military force (and political consequences) deterred nuclear force.

By 1948 the arsenal had increased to 50 (with problematic delivery). Ambition waned accordingly. Operation Bushwacker envisioned the occupation of the USSR and the establishment of a puppet government.

The process of quashing the "admiral's revolt" (when it was the Navy which was being slighted in nuclear interservice rivalry) and providing effective delivery means (with B-36s replacing B-29s) was interrupted by the first USSR nuclear test. Nuclear monopoly ended, but massive superiority continued through the "missile gap" (in reverse). Spy satellites in 1961 discovered that in contrast to the 72 ICBMs (40 Titans and 32 Polaris missiles in the U.S.government's arsenal), the USSR had only 4 vulnerable ICBMs. Bombers were not on airborne alert, most subs could be captured or destroyed in port. U.S. fatalities in a retaliatory second strike from the USSR might be limited to10-15 million, a cost perhaps militarily acceptable in an anti communist crusade, but with prospectively appalling political repercussions. Rand Corporations "splendid first strike capability" proved inadequate. Kennedy escalated his unilateral overkill (1000 Minutemen plus more Polaris submarines were ordered) and McNamara announced a shift to nuclear war fighting capability and to "counterforce"

In the interim, SIOP-62 (Dec 1960) and SIOP-63 (1962) nuclear attack plans were formulated, but never again was it possible to hope to reduce U.S. fatalities to as low as 10-15 million. The policy attempting to develop 1st strike capability was transformed into the condition of MAD, largely vitiating the military effectiveness of nuclear weapons. The USSR could not now be threatened with nuclear attack without threatening suicide, but what about non-nuclear countries, like Viet Nam? The first nuclear ultimatum was delivered by Kissinger 4 August 69. the U.S. military went to the highest stage of alert DEF CON 1. It lasted 29 days, with 1 November as the headline, overworking the B 52s. On 15 October a quarter of a million Americans protested in Washington. Nixon commented on the irony that a peace demonstration deterred him from bringing (a nuclear) peace to Viet Nam. (The same humanitarian argument was used by scientists who participated in Project JASON. They hoped to save lives by hastening a victory for the U.S. government.) To this point the book is a monumental contribution to understanding the dynamics of nuclear escalation. The authors, however, feel compelled to broaden the content, but only briefly, and inadequately.

Hope for restoring the military utility of nuclear weapons was not abandoned. MIRVs were authorized in 1964, USSR proposals to ban them were rejected. A series of 1st strike and counterforce weapons were introduced by the U.S. government, culminating in the forward-deployed strategic 1st strike weapons par excellence, Pershing IIs, followed by Star Wars. Teller expressed the hope that Star Wars could again reduce U.S. fatalities in a retaliatory strike from the USSR to 10 million.

The focus of attention is on nuclear war plans of the U.S. government, but one chapter is entitled "What about the Russians?", in which US/NATO military superiority is emphasized. USSR military inferiority is noted in the Third World as well, but canards like the "invasion of Afghanistan" are thoughtlessly perpetuated as part of conventional wisdom. The interpretation of USSR intentions ranges from right (Kennan, "father of containment policy") to far right (Pipes, still attached to obsolete statements by Sokolovsky published in1960 when nuclear arsenals were, by current standards, extremely modest). "Tide of History" and "class conflict" arguments, with the U.S. government hegemonically defending capitalists, and the USSR supporting the aspirations of workers and of the poor, are not mentioned. Although differences in policy and behavior are noted, the threat of nuclear war is treated as a consequence of superpower contention. Nonetheless, the volume is a dramatic contribution to understanding as it stands. There is always a larger content to consider. Had the authors devoted as much attention to the content as they did their history of U.S. government nuclear war plans, their critical faculties probably would have served them well.


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