McNamara, Year One: Forging a New American Nuclear Strategy at the Dawn of the Missile Age Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
For analysts of American strategic nuclear policy, the first years of Robert McNamara's tenure at the Department of Defense should hold a place of special importance. This period saw changes of immense scope and rapidity to the bedrock concepts of American national security policy, the most visible of which was the pursuit of an effective, secure and credible nuclear deterrent.In order to achieve an adequate depth of exploration and analysis of the momentous decisions affecting nuclear strategy made under McNamara, this paper has consciously restricted its temporal scope to roughly the first year of his term. In doing so, it will drill down upon the formation of certain key concepts of American nuclear doctrine that endure to this day—Counterforce versus Countervalue posture, Assured Destruction/Invulnerable Second Strike versus Full First Strike capability.This paper draws heavily on the declassified record of correspondence and policy documents of McNamara, his colleagues in the DoD, staffers of the National Security Council and the individual armed services—especially the Air Force. It is in this choice of evidence that this paper endeavors to provide new material and insight: while the works of authors like Ball and Freedman are expertly written and painstakingly researched, the fact they were written in the early-to-mid 1980s means they are based almost entirely on open-source records and personal interviews. Although these sources have been combined to produce several seminal works in the field of nuclear strategy, they are never the less subject to the limitations of partial or incomplete public records, and the vagaries of faded memories or self-interest in the case of interviewees. My decisions to focus narrowly on the first year of McNamara's term, and draw extensively on formerly-classified documents is an attempt to provide a more raw, unfiltered look into the evolution of nuclear strategy during this period.