Henry Kissinger in the 1950s backed the use of tactiical nukesHistorians in the News
tags: Henry Kissinger
In the summer of 1957, Henry A. Kissinger, a Harvard faculty member, was featured in a front-page Timesstory that examined the idea that, with a new generation of smaller, more transportable atomic weapons, a “limited” or “little” nuclear war was not as outlandish as it sounded. Kissinger had just published a book called “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy,” which he then adapted, in the form of an article, for the quarterly Foreign Affairs; a year later, the young Kissinger—he was thirty-four years old then—appeared on “The Mike Wallace Interview,” and his long march to fame and influence had begun.
The notion of a small nuclear war was offered as an alternative to the policy of “massive retaliation” identified with John Foster Dulles, President Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, which held that an aggressor state risked an atomic barrage, language that in the thermonuclear age carried with it a suggestion of total annihilation. Kissinger was too clever to let himself be trapped by any thesis, even his own, and he couched his “strategic doctrine” in qualified, antiseptic language. “The tactics for limited nuclear war should be based on small, highly mobile, self-contained units, relying largely on air transport even within the combat zone,” he wrote. The right model for a limited nuclear war was, he said, naval strategy, “in which self-contained units with great firepower gradually gain the upper hand,” with the effect of keeping “the enemy constantly off balance.” In a triumph of understatement, he added that this “will require a radical break with our traditional notions of warfare and military organizations.”
That kind of thinking, framed with terms like “tactical” and “battlefield,” has never gone away. Sixty years later, in a sort of déjà vu, or perhaps déjà boom, the world’s major nuclear powers are developing what are being called “smaller, less destructive” nuclear arms. ...
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