Page 32 - Foreign Service Journal - February 2013

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assigned to the mainly military team that wrote the report. Tis is
what we said:
“Te United States must always be prepared for the worst
case; namely, that of a Soviet-initiated nation-killing attack: Vital
to such a situation would be a high assurance of being able to
destroy the USSR, no matter what degree of surprise the Soviets
might achieve. …
“In the event of a nation-killing attack, the implementation of
a sophisticated response capability, attempts at war management
in order to limit the total efects of war, or attempts to negotiate
the termination of the war, would have little chance of success.
Any implementation of these concepts under such circumstances
therefore must not be permitted to risk the degradation of our
capability to destroy the Soviet Union.”
Tere is a good deal of cognitive dissonance in those chilling
sentences, but such was the logic of mutual assured destruc-
tion. Tat’s precisely what a “full retaliatory response” implied.
Te escape clause for Kennedy would have been whether a few
nuclear explosions constituted “a nation-killing attack.”Te use of
nuclear weapons in Cuba by Soviet troops based there might not
have been seen as such—perhaps.
Te NSC issued its assessment in 1963, long before each side
began building and stockpiling tens of thousands of thermonu-
clear weapons, and the doctrine of “protracted nuclear war” was
enshrined in President Jimmy Carter’s war plans. Te rationale for
the study was based, in large part, on the hope that nuclear war
could be managed and that the perceived ability to do that would
reinforce nuclear deterrence.
Tankfully, that thesis was never tested. Yet although our com-
mand and control systems today are light-years ahead of what
they could do in the 1960s, the question stands. Should a two-
sided (or more) nuclear war begin, would reason prevail before it
was too late?
Two decades after the Cuban episode, President Ronald
Reagan said that a nuclear war could not be won and must never
be fought. For that reason, he favored eliminating all nuclear
weapons—and was roundly criticized by the experts for daring to
say this. But he was strongly supported by his Secretary of State,
George Shultz.
Tree decades after that, Reagan’s legacy continues in four
Americans leaders from Adlai Stevenson
to Barack Obama have embraced the conviction
that humans can shape their destiny.
James E. Goodby, currently a research fellow at the Hoover Institution
at Stanford University, retired from the Foreign Service in 1989 with
the rank of career minister. His diplomatic career included assign-
ments as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political-Military
Afairs (1974-1977) and Bureau of European Afairs (1977-1980);
ambassador to Finland (1980-1981); vice chair of the U.S. delega-
tion to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty talks (1981-1983); and
head of the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Confdence-Building
Measures in Europe (1983-1985).
In 1993 Ambassador Goodby was recalled to serve as chief negotia-
tor for nuclear threat reduction agreements (1993-1994); special
representative of the president for the security and dismantlement of
nuclear weapons (1995-1996); and deputy to the special adviser to
the president and Secretary of State for the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty (2000-2001).
Amb. Goodby has taught at Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown and
Syracuse, and is the author of
At the Borderline of Armageddon: How
American Presidents Managed the Atomic Bomb
(Rowman & Little-
feld, 2006) and
Europe Undivided
(U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1998).
knew the answer. Moscow had already successfully concealed one
shipment of nuclear warheads to Cuba, and another shipment,
also undetected, would arrive there the very next morning.
Had JFK heeded the advice he received to respond by invading
Cuba, some of those weapons almost certainly would have been
used, with terrible consequences.
Managing Nuclear War
Soon after that near-catastrophe, a Harvard professor named
Tomas Schelling (later a Nobel Prize laureate) persuaded Walt
Rostow, chairman of the State Department’s Policy Planning
Council, and McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy’s national security
adviser, to undertake a study of how, once begun, a nuclear war
could be ended. It was the frst project of its kind.
And thus, in 1963, the Net Evaluation Subcommittee of the
National Security Council was directed by the highest authorities
in the U.S. government to examine the concept of management
and termination of war with the Soviet Union.
Tat study produced a top-secret, limited-distribution report
that is now declassifed. As a member of Rostow’s staf, I was