January 8, 2012
Excerpt on the analysis and design of strategic policy from the Wohlstetter book's introduction
This week's excerpt from "Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter on Nuclear-Age Strategy," Robert Zarate's introductory essay to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009), looks at Albert's approach to the analysis and design of strategic policy. For more, see the earlier Wohlstetter book excerpts on:
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EXCERPT: ALBERT WOHLSTETTER'S APPROACH TO THE ANALYSIS AND DESIGN OF STRATEGIC POLICY
By Robert Zarate
Albert Wohlstetter first entered the world of strategy in 1951, when at the age of thirty he began working at the RAND Corporation, a defense-oriented research organization based in Santa Monica, California. So new and so singular a place was RAND that the U.S. press would have to coin new terms--neologisms like think factory and the more familiar think tank--just to describe more succinctly, if not accurately, what this organization was.
RAND--the name is a contraction of the phrase research and development--was very much a product of the political, economic, military, and technological "cold war" competition between the West and the Soviet Union that began as World War II was ending. Recognizing the crucial roles that science and technology had played in the Allied victory over the Axis, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) in October 1945 formed Project RAND, the think tank's institutional predecessor, as an experimental organization to retain wartime scientific and technological expertise. Written at a time when the American military services were struggling to comprehend how the atomic bomb might affect the future character of war and peace, Project RAND's mandate was framed to encompass "study and research on the broad subject of intercontinental warfare, other than surface, with the objective of recommending to the Army Air Forces preferred techniques and instrumentalities for this purpose." This broad mandate enabled a well-funded, cutting-edge, and extremely flexible research agenda that helped to attract some of America's brightest minds in economics, physics, engineering, mathematics, and the social sciences. Although RAND would gain institutional independence from the USAAF's successor, the U.S. Air Force (USAF), after incorporating itself as a private not-for-profit entity in 1948, the USAF would remain RAND's main client for many years to come.
During the 1950s, Albert's research on America's nuclear forces would help to establish the RAND Corporation's reputation as the center of U.S. strategic thought. His own journey to RAND would be a circuitous one, however. Given his undergraduate and graduate education in mathematical logic, and his later work in manufacturing as well as prefabricated housing, it may seem perhaps incongruous--even surprising--that he would spend his remaining forty-six years immersed in questions of nuclear-age strategy and morality. Yet Wohlstetter would import lessons and insights from earlier disparate experiences into his defense-oriented research at RAND, and thereby shape his own unique approach to the analysis and design of strategic policy.
Road to RAND.
Born in New York City on December 19, 1913, Albert was the youngest of Philip and Nellie Friedman Wohlstetter's four children. Although Philip would die when Albert was four-years-old, a close-knit and cultured extended family--and the efforts of Albert's eldest brother, who forsook university studies to work full-time--would help widowed Nellie to care for her children.
Raised in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood, Wohlstetter attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he showed an early and strong interest in mathematics, Latin, and modern dance. In 1930, as the Great Depression was descending upon America, 16-year-old Albert entered the City College of New York. As an undergraduate, he concentrated his studies on mathematical logic, and was particularly stimulated by the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), a philosopher of science whom he would describe in later years as "probably the greatest American philosopher" and "a major influence" on his own work in nuclear-age strategy. On the side, Albert would participate in campus activities like the college's R.O.T.C.
After graduating from City College, Wohlstetter earned a fellowship to Columbia Law School. There, he met a master's degree student in psychology (whom he would marry in 1939) named Roberta Mary Morgan, the daughter of Edmund Morris Morgan, Jr., a distinguished Harvard Law School professor who would later help to modernize the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Although Albert would leave law school after only a year, he would remain at Columbia to pursue a Ph.D., studying mathematical logic and the philosophy of science, and working with some of the era's great logicians, such as Columbia's Ernest Nagel and Harvard's Willard Van Orman Quine. While in graduate school, Wohlstetter would take on odd jobs to help support himself, and would even work for a time as art historian Meyer Shapiro's assistant.
After earning his M.A. in 1937, Albert received several fellowships to finish his doctorate--including one from the Social Science Research Council to introduce modern mathematical methods into economics, a prestigious fellowship that in turn enabled him to intern for a time at the National Bureau for Economic Research. However, when the United States entered World War II, he halted his studies to work initially for the War Production Board's planning committee as an economic consultant, and later for the Atlas Aircraft Products Company as a factory and quality control manager at a plant manufacturing power-generating equipment for Allied forces.
After the war, Wohlstetter declined to complete his doctorate and instead moved with his wife, Roberta, to southern California. Except for a year spent in Washington, D.C., where he served as the National Housing Administration's Director of Programs (his one and only official government position), Albert would spend the rest of the decade managing research and development at the General Panel Corporation of California. General Panel would attempt--but in the end fail--to help meet the postwar housing shortage by mass-producing the "Packaged House," a modular prefabricated housing system designed by émigré architects Walter Gropius and Konrad Wachsmann.
In February 1951, as General Panel was folding, Albert was already contemplating a change in career, and even considering a return not only to more academically-oriented research, but also to the East Coast. However, Roberta--who had been working part-time in the RAND Corporation's social sciences division since late 1948 while at the same time raising her and Albert's daughter, Joan--was intent on remaining on the West Coast. Toward that end, she set up a meeting for Albert with Charles Hitch, the head of the think tank's economic division. A Missouri-born Rhodes Scholar, Hitch had served in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II before coming to RAND. Upon meeting, the two immediately clicked, and Hitch hired Wohlstetter on at RAND as a part-time consultant.
Wohlstetter's Approach: Key Features.
During the 1950s, Albert would lead a series of highly classified studies at the RAND Corporation that revolutionized how the United States based and operated its strategic nuclear forces. These studies (which the next section of this essay examines in some detail) would also stand out as exemplary applications of his unique methodology, a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to the analysis and design of strategic policy. (Although Albert would write only a handful essays on methodology, his most accessible work on this subject is probably "Theory and Opposed-Systems Design" (1968), a version of which is included in this edited volume.)
First, Albert's approach sought to identify, frame, and answer questions directly relevant to the decisions facing government policymakers. Such decisions encompassed not only choices among "means to accomplish ends that stand a good chance of being opposed by other governments," but also choices among the ends themselves.
In Wohlstetter's view, the ends of government policy could run into opposition in a number of ways. Such opposition, of course, could take the form of a conflict of aims between or among several governments. "The ends of any government," he observed, "are multiple and only partially incompatible with those of other governments--even very hostile ones--and of course such conflicts may be resolved without fighting." However, he added: "A peaceful resolution may depend in part on the risks involved in combat."
Such opposition could also take the form of a partial conflict of aims within one government. He elaborated:
While we may talk about national purpose in the singular, the first thing to observe about our aims is that we have many of them. They are connected; some depend on others; many conflict. Obviously two aims may conflict when each represents the interests of a different group. But even ends which the nation as a whole can be said to share oppose other accepted national ends.Albert thus highlighted the crucial importance of including "a careful critique of constraints and objectives" in any analysis of strategic policy, with particular attention to the cost-effectiveness of available choices to meet these objectives. He explained,
A government's ends cannot be accepted as the final deliverances of authority or intuition. They are subject to revision as the result of an analysis that frequently displays incompatibilities with other ends of that government, or that indicates means so costly that the game is not worth the candle.
Second, Wohlstetter's analytical approach used theoretical models, empirically-driven research, and interdisciplinary collaboration to wade through the complexity and uncertainty surrounding these problems of policy, and arrive systematically at some partial order among preferences and choices of means and ends.
Lessons from his pre-RAND experiences profoundly shaped this approach. On the one hand, Albert's education in mathematical logic and the philosophy of science had given him an appreciation of the uses--and the limits--of quantitative and qualitative theoretical models in capturing and explaining real-world interactions and phenomena. On the other hand, his professional experiences in wartime and peacetime manufacturing had taught him the importance of moving away from the abstract and grappling with the concrete. Indeed, he repeatedly stressed the critical importance in his analyses of "grubby, highly specific empirical work on technologies, operations, costs, and potential interactions among states, factors that are plainly relevant for decisions of the governments of these states--or for citizens evaluating these decisions." Drawing inspiration from the work of the philosopher of science Charles Sanders Peirce, Albert thus sought to use theoretical models and empirically-driven research in a heuristic manner: deductive theoretical models spurred further empirically-driven research, the findings of which helped inductively to refine and improve the deductive theoretical models, and so on, in a method of successive analytical approximation.
In addition, Wohlstetter's professional experiences impressed upon him the need to collaborate with and draw upon the insights and creativity of experts in other relevant fields. Indeed, he expressed pride in how his approach "required the cooperation of several disciplines and, in particular, a kind of close working together of natural science and social science disciplines which remains very unusual, if it exists at all, in universities."
Third, Albert's approach aimed not only to weigh and consider the received range of possible choices, but also to invent and design new alternatives. He explained:
A central part of the inquiry must look at the current and impending state of the art and at feasible and useful changes. In the past two decades in which such inquiries have grown up, nuclear, electronic, propulsion, and transport technology have changed massively. The problem is not just to predict such changes, however. Since this is a work of design, it must explore how--in the light of interdependencies with military, political, and economic events--the changes may usefully be bent.Indeed, he would remark in later years that invention and design figured heavily in his most successful analyses of strategic policy.
Fourth, Wohlstetter stressed the importance of being explicit about the limits of one's analytical approach, including the uncertainties surrounding the study. Yet he also noted that certain kinds of uncertainty could be leveraged to make the inquiry, inferences, and conclusions of the analysis more robust and persuasive. He elaborated:
In comparing alternative systems with one programmed,one cannot eliminate uncertainty, but one can assume that they will be resolved favorably from the standpoint of a dubious programmed system. One cannot avoid theoretical simplification, but one can design a model to favor the programmed or other losing systems and to give them the benefit of the doubt. Then if the comparison shows that, even with all the favors bestowed by the model's assumption, the system programmed or otherwise likely to be chosen is vastly inferior to an alternative, this offers substantial ground for choice. Moreover, it should not be surprising that bureaucrats exhibit enough inertia to make such a fortiori analyses possible and very useful, as some opposed-systems analyses have been.In sum, Wohlstetter saw his approach as applying, in an essentially Peircean manner, the method of scientific investigation to the analysis and design of strategic policy. Moreover, he would argue that his approach stood in stark contrast to the practices of certain distinguished scientists, who would premise their arguments regarding the proper direction of nuclear-age strategy and policy less on the method of scientific investigation and much more on appeals to their own scientific authority. That said, Wohlstetter emphasized that his particular approach to analysis and design neither exhausted the possibilities, nor could substitute for a capacity for fruitful inquiry. "There are no methods certain of result in a complex field of research," he cautioned. "None is proof against a dim awareness of interesting problems or incompetence in formulating manageable and significant questions."
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To read more of Robert Zarate's introduction to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009):info-at-robertzarate-dot-com.
January 4, 2012
Excerpt on limiting and managing new risks in the post-Cold War world and beyond from Wohlstetter book's introduction
This week's excerpt from "Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter on Nuclear-Age Strategy," Robert Zarate's introductory essay to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009), looks at Albert and Roberta's efforts to limit and manage new risks in the post-Cold War world and beyond. For more, see the earlier Wohlstetter book excerpts on:
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EXCERPT: THE WOHLSTETTERS ON LIMITING AND MANAGING NEW RISKS.
By Robert Zarate
In the late 1980s, especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dramatic Soviet decline was leading some to foresee a pacific post-Cold War world. However, Albert Wohlstetter, now a Medal of Freedom-winning strategist in his mid-70s, was already thinking about the next set of strategic challenges. "Does [the Cold War's potential end] mean there are no latent long term dangers demanding prudence?" he wrote in the conclusion of a June 1989 outline for his memoir. "[T]he political and economic futures of the heavily armed Communist states and of the increasingly lethally armed Third World countries are, to say the least, rather cloudy," he observed apprehensively, adding:
Even if, implausibly, the Second and Third Worlds change rapidly to the market economies of the First World, nice though this would be, we are likely to discover once again that, contrary to Cobden and the Manchester School, trade and investment--good things though they are--are not all that pacifying. Trading partners have found a good many reasons to go to war. We haven't seen the end of fanaticism, mortal national and racial rivalries, and expansionist ambitions. It is conceivable that all the variously sized lions and lambs will lie down together, that there will be the kind of moral revolution that many hoped for at the end of World War II when they thought it, in any case, the only alternative to nuclear destruction. But, as Jacob Viner [a University of Chicago economist] wrote at the time, "It is a long, long time between moral revolutions." We should not count on it.In the years following, Wohlstetter's apprehensions would prove well-founded as the end of the Cold War--a global competitive order that his work in strategy had helped in some ways to sustain and in other ways to end--gave way to growing international disorder.
Seventeen months before the U.S.S.R.'s December 1991 dissolution ended the Cold War, Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist Iraqi military invaded Kuwait--producing a Persian Gulf conflict contingency that Wohlstetter and his colleagues had presciently warned of as early as 1980. In the early 1990s, Slobodan Milosevic's pan-Serbian ambitions ignited long-suppressed ethnic rivalries, and then genocide, in the Balkans. In the mid-1990s, deep racial rivalries would also lead to genocide in Rwanda. And in the late 1990s, after Osama bin Laden had issued a fatwa urging attacks on American citizens, his Al Qaeda organization carried out deadly bombings against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania--in retrospect, harbingers of the violent extremism and suicidal fanaticism that were yet to come.
Moreover, the United States would discover just how lethally armed the former Third World and the Communist holdouts were becoming. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the American-led coalition uncovered a Ba'athist Iraqi nuclear program far closer to producing a nuclear weapon than either the Western intelligence services or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had ever anticipated. And at mid-decade, after North Korea had refused to grant the IAEA access to suspected nuclear weapons-relevant facilities, Washington began long negotiations with Pyongyang for an "Agreed Framework," a "grand bargain" that sought to prevent the North Koreans from acquiring fissile material for a nuclear explosive device.
Wohlstetter remained intellectually active during the post-Cold War period until his death in 1997. As a member of the Defense Policy Board, he supported U.S. efforts to liberate Kuwait from Ba'athist Iraq during the Gulf War. After the war, he lambasted Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton for what he saw as their failures to respond meaningfully to Ba'athist aggression against Iraqi Shi'a and Kurdish populations, as well as to Saddam's other violations of the United Nations Security Council resolutions that had established the stringent conditions for the Gulf War's cessation.
In the mid-1990s, Albert, now an octogenarian, focused much of his attention on the Balkans, publishing numerous op-eds (especially on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal, edited by his long-time friend and colleague, Robert Bartley) and articles that sharply rebuked Western leaders for their indifference and indecisiveness towards Slobodan Milosevic's pan-Serbian expansionism, and agitated for greater Western involvement on behalf of Bosnian Muslims and other victims of Milosevic's aggression. Of note, he and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher co-authored "What the West Must Do in Bosnia," an open letter to President Clinton published in the Wall Street Journal in September 1993, and signed by more than 100 people from across the globe and the political spectrum--people like Morton Abramowitz, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Osama El Baz, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Zuhair Humadi, Marshal Freeman Harris, Pierre Hassner, Zalmay Khalilzad, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Teddy Kollek, Laith Kubba, Czeslaw Milosz, Paul Nitze, Richard Perle, Sir Karl Popper, Eugene Rostow, Henry Rowen, George Shultz, George Soros, Susan Sontag, Elie Wiesel, Leon Wieseltier, and Paul Wolfowitz. (The text of this letter is reprinted in this volume.)
And in response to what he considered to be the shortcomings of the Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea, Wohlstetter called on Washington to admit that the global spread of nuclear fuel-making is significantly driving the problem of proliferation and to face "squarely the challenge of persuading our major allies, not to say our potential adversaries [such as Pyongyang], to abandon the sale or use of plutonium fuel" and other weapons-usable nuclear materials.
Although Albert Wohlstetter died in Los Angeles on January 13, 1997, and Roberta, in New York City on January 6, 2007, their work in strategy remains all too relevant and timely. In the early years of the 21st century, the United States and its allies are now struggling with many of the problems of nuclear-age policy that the Wohlstetters themselves had anticipated and grappled with throughout their long careers in strategy--problems like the dangers posed by the spread of nuclear bombs, fuel-making technologies, and fissile materials to new states and non-state actors; the difficulties of enforcing ambiguously interpreted international law and nuclear nonproliferation rules; the uncertain economics surrounding energy security and alternatives for power production; and the proper role of deterrence and military force in an increasingly lethally-armed and disorderly world. Their writings on nuclear-age strategy and policy thus can help decision-makers and policy analysts (as well as those who aspire to these positions) to clarify their thinking on these most urgent matters.
When Albert spoke of his approach to the analysis and design of strategic policy, he often liked to describe it as "coming down at right angles to an orthodoxy." Indeed, Wohlstetter's approach did not fit well the conventional dichotomy of hawk and dove. He was a strategist who had originally established his reputation for his path-breaking work on nuclear deterrence, a traditionally hawkish concept; yet he had added to that reputation not only by supporting nuclear nonproliferation, an often dovish concern, but also by consistently urging the U.S. Government to block the spread of nuclear weapons, weapons-relevant nuclear technologies, and weapons-usable nuclear material to America's allies and adversaries alike. He was a strategist who, like the doves, was horrified by the brute destructiveness of nuclear weapons and nuclear war, yet hawkishly saw U.S. innovation in military technologies of precision, control, and information as a way of markedly limiting the potential of weapons for indiscriminate killing, thereby strengthening deterrence and making nuclear war less likely in the first place.
Indeed, when President Ronald Reagan awarded Medals of Freedom to the Wohlstetters in November 1985, he summarized their work in the following way:
Albert has always argued that in the nuclear age technological advances can, if properly understood and applied, make things better; but his point, and Roberta's, has been a deeper one than that. He has shown us that we have to create choices and, then, exercise them. The Wohlstetters have created choices for our society where others saw none. They've taught us that there is an escape from fatalism.In the 21st century, the writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter on strategy can challenge today's and tomorrow's decision-makers to "escape from fatalism," and come "down at right angles" to stagnant orthodoxies; to move beyond the sort of partisan dichotomies that have come to dominate and even cloud thinking on limiting and managing nuclear risks and to search for, discover, and even invent new policy choices that help America to avoid the nuclear age's worst dangers, and in Albert's own words, "slowly and piecemeal, [to] build a more orderly and safer world."
To these ends, this edited volume provides readers not only with the present essay on the Wohlstetters' key historical contributions, but also with many of Albert and Roberta's most enduring and relevant writings, some of which have never before been published. This volume's six chapters correlate directly with the six themes set forth in the present introductory essay--namely, (1) Analysis and Design of Strategic Policy, (2) Nuclear Deterrence, (3) Nuclear Proliferation, (4) Arms Race Myths vs. Strategic Competition's Reality, (5) Towards Discriminate Deterrence, and (6) Limiting and Managing New Risks. (However, the editors of this volume have remained mindful of James Digby and J. J. Martin's wise caveat that, given Albert and Roberta's "continuity of concepts across many diverse types of military problems," it therefore "may be inconsistent with the nature of [the Wohlstetters'] work to summarize their contributions in terms of discrete categories.") Moreover, each chapter begins with a short commentary by a former colleague or student of Albert and Roberta--Henry S. Rowen, Alain Enthoven, Henry Sokolski, Richard Perle, Stephen J. Lukasik, and Andrew W. Marshall, respectively--before offering the selected Wohlstetter writings themselves.
To conclude, at least two larger themes emerge from a close reading and careful appreciation of the Wohlstetters' work in strategy. First, as a palliative to the fatalism that sometimes besets the nuclear age and gives rise to the extreme responses of the Utopian or the Dystopian, we must learn to tolerate the fact of uncertainty. Indeed, in the conclusion to her magisterial 1962 study of one of America's worst military disasters, Roberta soberly observed, "If the study of Pearl Harbor has anything to offer for the future, it is this: We have to accept the fact of uncertainty and learn to live with it. No magic, in code or otherwise, will provide certainty. Our plans must work without it."
Second, as the United States struggles not only to limit and manage the nuclear risks and changing dangers it faces in this new century, but also to "slowly and piecemeal, build a more orderly and safer world," we should weigh and consider carefully Albert's sober words on the need for facing up to hard choices and sustaining intelligent effort as expressed in No Highway to High Purpose (1960):
The great issues of war and peace deserve to be treated candidly and objectively, without wishfulness or hysteria.... [They] are tall orders. They cannot be filled quickly, or finally, or by means of some semiautomatic gadget, or in one heroic burst of energy. Nor will the answer come to us in a dream.... Our problem is more like staying thin after thirty--and training for some long steep, rocky climbs. If, as we are told, America is no longer a youth, we may yet hope to exploit the advantages of maturity: strength, endurance, judgment, responsibility, freedom from the extremes of optimism and pessimism--and steadiness of purpose.
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To read more of Robert Zarate's introduction to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009):info-at-robertzarate-dot-com.
February 26, 2010
Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009)
Re-upping this content. -- ed.
Robert Zarate and Henry Sokolski, eds, Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (Strategic Studies Institute, 2009). | Book review in Foreign Affairs magazine.
ABOUT THE BOOK
(Jump down to the Table of Contents)
Pioneers of nuclear-age policy analysis, Albert Wohlstetter (1913-1997) and Roberta Wohlstetter (1912-2007) emerged as two of America's most controversial, innovative and consequential strategists. Through the clarity of their thinking, the rigor of their research, and the persistence of their personalities, they were able to shape the views and aid the decisions of Democratic and Republican policy makers both during and after the Cold War. Although the Wohlstetters' strategic concepts and analytical methods continue to be highly influential, no book has brought together their most important essays--until now.
Edited by Robert Zarate, former Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) research fellow (2006-2009), and NPEC executive director Henry Sokolski, Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009) demonstrates not only the historical importance, but also the continuing relevance of the Wohlstetters' work in national security strategy and nuclear policy. It is the first book to make widely available over twenty of Albert and Roberta's most influential published--and unpublished--writings on:
- methods of policy analysis and design;
- nuclear deterrence through survivable, controllable and therefore credible strategic forces;
- nuclear proliferation and the military potential of civil nuclear energy;
- spiraling arms-race myths versus the real, observable dynamics of strategic competition;
- the revolutionary potential of non-nuclear technologies of precision, control, and information; and
- the continuing need for prudence and pragmatism in the face of changing dangers.
Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter is a must-read and an indispensable resource for policy makers, military planners, and strategic analysts, as well as for students who aspire to these positions.
NUCLEAR HEURISTICS: TABLE OF CONTENTS
Preface (2009) by Henry Sokolski
I. Analysis and Design of Strategic Policy
Commentary: How He Worked (2009) by Henry S. Rowen
Theory and Opposed-Systems Design (1968) by Albert Wohlstetter
II. Nuclear Deterrence
Commentary: On Nuclear Deterrence (2009) by Alain C. Enthoven
The Delicate Balance of Terror (1958) by Albert Wohlstetter
On the Genesis of Nuclear Strategy: Letter to Michael Howard (1968) by Albert Wohlstetter
III. Nuclear Proliferation
Commentary: Timely Warnings Still--The Wohlstetters and Nuclear Proliferation (2009) by Henry Sokolski
Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N + 1 Country (1961) by Albert Wohlstetter
Spreading the Bomb without Quite Breaking the Rules (1976) by Albert Wohlstetter
The Buddha Smiles: U.S. Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb (1978) by Roberta Wohlstetter
Signals, Noise and Article IV (1979) by Albert Wohlstetter, Gregory S. Jones and Roberta Wohlstetter
Nuclear Triggers and Safety Catches, the "FSU" and the "FSRs" (1992) by Albert Wohlstetter
IV. Arms Race Myths vs. Strategic Competition's Reality
Commentary: Arms Race Myths vs. Strategic Competition's Reality (2009) by Richard Perle
The Case for Strategic Force Defense (1969) by Albert Wohlstetter
Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back? (1976) by Albert Wohlstetter
On Arms Control: What We Should Look for in an Arms Agreement (1985) by Albert & Roberta Wohlstetter
Arms Control that Could Work (1985) by Albert Wohlstetter and Brian G. Chow
V. Towards Discriminate Deterrence
Commentary: Towards Discriminate Deterrence (2009) by Stephen J. Lukasik
Strength, Interest and New Technologies (1968) by Albert Wohlstetter
How Much is Enough? How Mad is MAD? (1974) by Albert Wohlstetter
Bishops, Statesmen, and Other Strategists on the Bombing of Innocents (1983) by Albert Wohlstetter
Connecting the Elements of the Strategy: Excerpt from Discriminate Deterrence (1988) by the Commission on Integrated Long Term Strategy
RPM, or Revolutions by the Minute (1992) by Albert Wohlstetter
VI. Limiting and Managing New Risks
Commentary: Strategy as a Profession in the Future Security Environment (2009) by Andrew W. Marshall
The Fax Shall Make You Free (1990) by Albert Wohlstetter
The Bitter End: The Case for Re-Intervention in Iraq (1991) by Albert Wohlstetter and Fred S. Hoffman
What the West Must Do in Bosnia: An Open Letter to President Clinton (1993) by Albert Wohlstetter and Margaret Thatcher
Boris Yeltsin as Abraham Lincoln? (1995) by Albert Wohlstetter
For updates, bookmark Albert Wohlstetter Dot Com.
February 21, 2010
More Iklé-Wohlstetter Commission Working Group Reports (1988)
Albert Wohlstetter Dot Com is making available PDFs for three additional working group reports that were completed in 1988 as part of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, also known as the Iklé-Wohlstetter Commission.
- The Future of Containment, report of the Offense-Defense Working Group, submitted to the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, October1988).
- Recommended Changes in U.S. Military Space Policies and Programs, report of the Working Group on Technology, submitted to the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, October 1988).
- Technology for National Security, report of the Working Group on Technology, submitted to the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, October 1988).
February 15, 2010
The Future Security Environment (1988)
Albert Wohlstetter Dot Com is making available a PDF version of The Future Security Environment, an October 1988 report by the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy's eponymous working group.
The Commission was chaired by Reagan's former Undersecretary of Defense Fred C. Iklé and strategist Albert Wohlstetter. Known also as the Iklé-Wohlstetter Commission, it included a number of military and foreign policy luminaries: Ambassador Anne Armstrong, Counselor to Nixon and Ford; Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security adviser; Judge William P. Clark, Reagan's former national security adviser; W. Graham Claytor, Jr., Carter's deputy secretary of defense; Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster (ret.), former Commander-in-Chief of USEUCOM and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces; Adm. James L. Holloway, III (ret.), former Chief of Naval Operations; Dr. Samuel P. Huntington, prominent Harvard political scientist; Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Nixon and Ford's Secretary of State; Dr. Joshua Lederberg, Nobel-winning biologist; Gen. Bernard A. Schriever (ret.), U.S. Air Force proponent of ballistic missile and space programs; and Gen. John W. Vessey (ret.), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Commission completed its final report, Discriminate Deterrence, in January 1988.
The Future Security Environment Working Group (FSEWG) was one of several working groups that provided analyses to the Iklé-Wohlstetter Commission. Co-chaired by the Defense Department's Office of Net Assessment director Andrew W. Marshall and RAND Corporation economist Charles Wolf, Jr., the working group's members included: Eliot A. Cohen; David F. Epstein; Fritz Ermarth; Lawrence Gershwin; James McCrery; Jeffrey Milstein; James Roche; Thomas Rona; Stephen P. Rosen; Dennis Ross; Notra Trulock; Dov Zakheim; and rapporteur Barbara Bicksler.
Here's the full citation for the FSEWG's 184-page report:
The Future Security Environment, report of the Future Security Environment Working Group, submitted to the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, October 1988).The PDF for the report is over 13.0 megabytes, so give it a little time to load in your browser.
January 13, 2010
NYT's Richard Bernstein, Roberta Wohlstetter, and intelligence failuresRichard Bernstein recalls Roberta Wohlstetter and her work on understanding intelligence failures in "Intelligence Has Its Limitations" in The New York Times today.
December 24, 2009
Wohlstetter photos on LIFE magazine archive
A few of the photos were taken for a 1959 profile of the RAND Corporation in LIFE Magazine:
"Valuable Batch of Brains: An Odd Little Company Called RAND Plays a Role in U.S. Defense," LIFE, Vol. 46, No. 19 (May 11, 1959), pp. 101-107.Most, though, were taken during a photo shoot for Wohlstetter's contribution to LIFE Magazine's 1960 series on America's national purpose:
Albert Wohlstetter, "A Purpose Hammered Out of Reflection and Choice," Life, Vol. 48, No. 24 (June 20, 1960), pp. 115, 126-134.A version of that article is available on the RAND Corporation's website as:
Albert Wohlstetter, No Highway to High Purpose, P-2084-RC (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, June 1960.
December 20, 2009
Wohlstetter and Rowen's 1959 RAND memo: Objectives of the United States Military Posture
With a document courtesy of Jonathan Pett Miller, Albert Wohlstetter Dot Com now makes available a PDF of the following unclassified RAND Corporation research memorandum:
Albert Wohlstetter and Henry S. Rowen, Objectives of the United States Military Posture, RM-2373 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, May 1, 1959).Previously only a raw text HTML version of Wohlstetter and Rowen's 1959 research memo had been available online on RAND's website. But now folks will be able to read a PDF of the actual memo.
December 7, 2009
Roberta Wohlstetter on Pearl Harbor and "slow Pearl Harbors"
A few years ago James Johnson and Robert Zarate published in The Weekly Standard an article on Roberta Wohlstetter's analysis of Pearl Harbor and concept of "slow Pearl Harbors" -- an article that's worth revisiting:
James Johnson and Robert Zarate, "A Slow Pearl Harbor: Some Disasters are a Long Time in the Making," The Weekly Standard, Vol. 11, No. 14 (December 19, 2005).
SIXTY-FOUR YEARS AGO, Japan stunned our nation with a daring raid on Pearl Harbor, killing 2,400 Americans and crippling the Pacific fleet. That same day, Japan also attacked U.S. forces in Manila, Midway and Wake Islands, and Guam, as well as British forces throughout East Asia. American leaders had anticipated attacks on the latter targets, but not on Pearl Harbor.
In the years following, fierce debates raged--in congressional hearings and among historians--over how the United States could have been so completely surprised. But it was not until the publication of Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, historian Roberta Morgan Wohlstetter's 1962 Bancroft Prize-winning study, that the dimensions of this national tragedy came to be fully understood....
Read the whole thing.
April 22, 2009
Nuclear Heuristics reviewed in Foreign Affairs
Sir Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies at King's College London and nuclear historian par excellence, reviews Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter in the May/June 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs.
March 16, 2009
For an overview of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter's historical contributions and continuing relevance to strategy in the nuclear age, check out:
PDF version of Robert Zarate's introductory essay to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writing of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (Strategic Studies Institute, 2009), edited by Robert Zarate and Henry Sokolski.Or check out the HTML excerpts from Zarate's introductory essay:
- Albert and Roberta's contributions to nuclear deterrence;
- The Wohlstetters on nuclear nonproliferation and civil nuclear energy's military potential;
- Albert and Roberta on arms race myths and strategic competition's reality; and
- Albert's contributions to discriminate deterrence.
- Download a free PDF version from the Strategic Studies Institute's website;
- Order a free second-printing of the book's softcover version from the Strategic Studies Institute's website (while supplies last); or
- Buy a softcover version of the book from Amazon.com.
March 14, 2009
C-SPAN2's Book TV to broadcast Wohlstetter book event this weekend
Book TV on C-SPAN2 is bringing a television program on the continuing relevance of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter's writings on nuclear-age strategy to you!
On Sunday, March 15, at 6:00 AM (ET), and Monday, March 16, at 1:00 AM (ET), Book TV is scheduled to broadcast its recording of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter's Writings and the Future of U.S. National Strategy.
Featuring Andrew W. Marshall (director of Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment), Richard Perle (former Assistant Secretary of Defense), Henry Sokolski (NPEC Executive Director), and me, Robert Zarate (NPEC Researcher Fellow), this panel was hosted by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) and Hudson Institute on February 23, 2009, to discuss the continuing relevance of the recently released book, Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009).
Book TV also posts its broadcasts online, so when this broadcast is available on the web, I'll be sure to post or link to it here.
Each weekend, C-SPAN2's Book TV features 48 hours of nonfiction books, beginning on Saturday at 8:00 AM ET, and ending on Monday at 8:00 AM ET.
In the meantime, Hudson Institute's raw video of the Wohlstetter book event is available here.
Excerpt on moving towards discriminate deterrence from Wohlstetter book's introduction
This week's excerpt from "Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter on Nuclear-Age Strategy," Robert Zarate's introductory essay to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009), looks at Albert's particular contributions from the 1950s onward to larger U.S. efforts to discover and design more discriminate -- and therefore more believable -- ways to deter a wide range of potential nuclear and non-nuclear provocations by adversaries. For more, see the earlier Wohlstetter book excerpts on:
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EXCERPT: MOVING TOWARDS DISCRIMINATE DETERRENCE -- ALBERT WOHLSTETTER'S CONTRIBUTIONS
By Robert Zarate
In 1962, Thomas Schelling and Morton Halperin first published (with research assistance from Donald Brennan) Strategy and Arms Control, a book that famously identified what they took to be the three core objectives of all arms control agreements: to reduce " the likelihood of war,  its scope and violence if it occurs, and  the political and economic costs of being prepared for it." Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter saw themselves as sharing these very same goals, but they diverged from the conventional wisdom of most arms controllers in that they believed the United States (and the USSR) could often achieve these objectives more reliably and effectively by means of independent technological innovation.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Albert would work to demonstrate the stabilizing potential of technological innovation. In particular, he would join a small circle of analysts who identified for U.S. decision-makers new alternatives for responding to -- and thus for deterring -- a wide spectrum of possible enemy aggression without resorting to the sort of massive nuclear retaliation against cities and civilian populations prescribed by mutual assured destruction (MAD) and other doctrines of automatic and minimum deterrence. By promoting the development of technologies and systems that stressed precision, control, and information, Wohlstetter would help the United States to reject MAD-inspired threats against noncombatants -- and instead to field a new generation of more discriminate and less destructive non-nuclear capabilities that, in turn, would substantially reduce America's reliance on nuclear weapons.
Birth of MAD: A New Doctrine of Deterrence by Massive Retaliation.
The doctrine of mutual assured destruction first emerged in the late 1960s. Like earlier doctrines of automatic and minimum deterrence, MAD held that a government could deter stably and reliably a wide range of nuclear and non-nuclear aggression simply by threatening to escalate any conflict with massive retaliatory attacks targeting the aggressor's cities and populations. Because MAD required a government to field only a "minimum deterrent" -- that is, a second-strike capability consisting of technologically crude and indiscriminately destructive nuclear weapons aimed at civilians -- the doctrine counseled against technological innovation. The reason was that when two governments adopted "minimum deterrent" nuclear postures, MAD doctrine held that the necessary outcome will be a stable, mutual deterrence. Arms controllers -- especially arms race theorists who sought to limit qualitative technological improvements to America's strategic nuclear forces -- thus gravitated toward MAD.
In a curious twist, however, it was Donald Brennan, an arms controller at Herman Kahn's Hudson Institute, who first coined the phrase "mutual assured destruction" in the mid-to-late 1960s. Brennan meant MAD as a tongue-in-cheek way of mocking arms controllers who had advocated escalatory threats of massive nuclear retaliation as a means not only of deterring a wide range of nuclear and non-nuclear aggression, but also of achieving deep cuts in nuclear arms. Nonetheless, many such arms controllers ended up embracing the phrase.
MAD alludes to a concept that was birthed during Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's tenure. Upon arriving at the Pentagon, Secretary McNamara and his team of analysts -- a group which included Charles Hitch, William W. Kaufmann, Alain Enthoven and other alumni of the RAND Corporation -- set out to rein in what they saw as the budgetary excesses of the military services. To constrain military spending on nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, they had introduced by late 1963 the metric of assured destruction capability. (Although assured destruction capability is traditionally referred to by the acronym AD, this essay shall refer to it as ADCAP.) Enthoven, a protégé of Albert Wohlstetter who had served initially as McNamara's Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis, explained the concept behind ADCAP in a 1977 essay:
[T]he size and composition of our strategic retaliatory forces would be determined by the "assured destruction mission." Under this policy, we would buy amounts and kinds of forces sufficient to be sure, even under very pessimistic assumptions, that they could survive a deliberate Soviet attack [aimed directly against them] well enough to strike back and destroy 20 to 25 percent of their population.With the ADCAP metric, the McNamara Pentagon had sought to provide an argument for limiting the procurement of second-strike nuclear forces among the military services. However, ADCAP was not meant to imply that, in time of war, the United States would actually target the Soviet civilian population with massive nuclear retaliation. In How Much is Enough? Shaping the Defense Program 1961-1969 (1971, 2005), Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith underscored this point:
The assured destruction test did not, of course, indicate how these forces would actually be used in a nuclear war. United States strategic offensive forces have been designed with the additional system characteristics -- accuracy, endurance, and good command and control -- needed to perform missions other than assured destruction, such as limited and controlled retaliation.Indeed, when President John F. Kennedy entered into office in 1961, his Administration sought to break away from the Eisenhower Administration's "New Look," a declaratory nuclear policy that sought to deter a broad range of Soviet aggression (including even minor provocations in Western Europe) through threats to escalate any conflict to higher levels of violence with massive nuclear retaliation. Instead, the Kennedy Administration decided to stress a more proportional "flexible response" approach to defense, to that end renouncing "countervalue" or "countercity" targeting of civilians with nuclear weapons. During his 1962 State of the Union address, for instance, President Kennedy declared:
. . . our strength may be tested at many levels. We intend to have at all times the capacity to resist non-nuclear or limited attacks -- as a complement to our nuclear capacity, not as a substitute. We have rejected any all-or-nothing posture which would leave no choice but inglorious retreat or unlimited retaliation.Moreover, at a commencement speech before the University of Michigan on July 9, 1962, Secretary McNamara delivered the famous "Ann Arbor speech" in which he made public the U.S. Government's explicit renunciation of countervalue targeting:
The U.S. has come to the conclusion that to the extent feasible, basic military strategy in a possible general nuclear war should be approached in much the same way that more conventional military operations have been regarded in the past. That is to say, principal military objectives, in the event of a nuclear war stemming from a major attack on the Alliance, should be the destruction of military forces, not of his civilian population.In the mid-to-late 1960s, however, McNamara began issuing statements that consciously but less-than-accurately conflated assured destruction capability with U.S. targeting policy. Such conflation encouraged advocates of automatic/minimum deterrence to construe ADCAP to be not merely a metric to cap the size and composition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, but also to constitute actual declaratory policy regarding whom -- namely, civilian noncombatants -- the United States would target nuclear forces. Arms controller Donald Brennan referred to holders of such views as "MADvocates," and Wohlstetter would join him in denouncing their preferred MAD-inspired threats of massive nuclear retaliation as disproportionate, out of control, and not credible. Moreover, Albert's own work on promoting technologies of precision, control, and information would later help to create non-MAD response options to a broad range of potential nuclear and non-nuclear military provocations.
The Long Range Research and Development Planning Program.
In the early-to-mid 1970s, Wohlstetter participated in a highly classified DoD study that would help to clarify the potentially revolutionary implications that new technologies could have for war and peace in the nuclear age. This study would not only help the United States over time to reject doctrines of automatic and minimum deterrence and MAD-inspired threats of massive nuclear retaliation, but also lay the seeds for America's own "revolution in military affairs."
Initiated by Stephen J. Lukasik, director of the Pentagon's Advanced Research and Projects Agency (ARPA), and Fred Wikner, an informal representative of the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA), this study was known as the Long Range Research and Development Planning Program or LRRDPP. Because Lukasik and Wikner had intended to keep the study initially low-key, they consciously chose a name for the study that would be clunky, and the acronym for which would not be easy to pronounce.
The LRRDPP sought to examine military applications for emerging technologies: for example, new methods of autonomous-terminal homing to deliver munitions more precisely, planned global positioning system satellites, and anticipated improvements in micro-computing and information-processing. The goal was to lay out how America's military services could leverage these technologies to provide U.S. decision-makers with new alternatives -- that is, choices that would not rely on indiscriminate massive nuclear retaliation -- for responding to limited-nuclear and less-than-nuclear aggression.
To work on the study, Lukasik and Wikner brought together technologically innovative industrial contractors with Albert Wohlstetter, Joseph Braddock, Don Hicks, Dom Paolucci, Jack Rosengren, and other analysts who had strong knowledge of the subject of nuclear-age strategy and intimate familiarity with the military services. Lukasik -- in the commentary that he contributes to Nuclear Heuristics (2009) -- summarizes how the LRRDPP worked and some of Wohlstetter's contributions:
The program was organized into three panels supported by four industrial contractors to contribute expertise and advanced concepts in ground, air, and naval warfare, conventional and nuclear munitions, reconnaissance, command and control, and system integration. Albert chaired the strategic alternatives panel, Don Hicks the advanced technology panel, and Jack Rosengren the munitions panel. Senior-level executives from OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] and the Services participated in panel sessions. The team members were selected for their in-depth knowledge as well as their skill in working as a multidisciplinary group, combining history, strategy, technology, military operations, and systems. In addition to Albert's broad skills, his ability to synthesize the essence of a problem and its solution and to communicate it to senior executives and political leaders was invaluable.A number of factors motivated the LRRDPP. For one, both Wikner (who had served as General Creighton Abrams's scientific advisor at Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and helped to push into the field very early forms of precision-guided munitions) and Lukasik believed that future technological innovations could change the nature of strategy and warfare -- just as the advent of nuclear weapons had. For another, contemporaneous Soviet writings on the concept of revolutions in military affairs (RMAs) -- in particular, Colonel General Nikolaĭ Andreevich Lomov's 1972 edited volume Scientific-Technical Progress and the Revolution in Military Affairs (A Soviet View) -- had encouraged high-level strategic thinkers within the U.S. Government to challenge conventional thinking on the transformative potential of military innovation.
In addition, the LRRDPP's draft summary report of February 1975 would cite two additional crucial developments. The strategic nuclear forces of both the United States and the USSR had apparently acquired survivable, controllable, and therefore credible second-strike capability; and in part because of this, the Executive Branch had called for a reassessment of the World War II-era "strategic bombing" metrics that were still being used to measure the effectiveness of nuclear and conventional strategic attacks -- namely, "the number of targets destroyed" and "the percentage of the targets at risk that have been destroyed by the attack."
Citing the potential feasibility of "weapons with near zero miss distance," the LRRDPP strategists proposed what Wohlstetter had termed the dual-criterion (or, alternatively, the dual-criteria) to replace the persisting World War II-era targeting metrics. Under the dual-criterion, the U.S. military would aim: "(1) to achieve the desired damage expectancy on an intended target or target system with high confidence, while simultaneously (2) not damaging particular regions or population areas, again with high confidence." To meet the dual-criterion's much more stringent targeting requirements, the strategists identified promising weapon-system concepts which, by capitalizing on foreseeable improvements in the accuracy of warhead delivery and other technologies, could accomplish their missions using extremely low-yield nuclear and even non-nuclear explosives. Such weapon-system concepts included remotely-piloted vehicles, precision-delivered ballistic missiles, deep-earth penetrators, shallow-earth penetrators, and advanced precision-guided munitions.
Thus, a key insight from the LRRDPP's work was that improvements in a warhead's delivery accuracy could make greater reliance on non-nuclear explosives possible. For when it comes to increasing the probability of destroying a hardened point target (e.g., a missile silo), a ten-fold improvement in the accuracy of a warhead's delivery vehicle is roughly equivalent to a thousandfold increase in the warhead's indiscriminate explosive yield. This, in part, is why Wohlstetter himself saw revolutions in precision, control and information as potentially trumping the so-called nuclear revolution.
The LRRDPP strategists then used a number of possible conflict scenarios -- contingencies like less-than-nuclear Soviet aggression against non-NATO nations peripheral to the USSR, and Soviet attacks against individual NATO member states -- to think through the sort of strategic contexts and operations in which the United States might use these technologically-driven military capabilities to deter and, if necessary, halt such aggression. In particular, they identified two strategies for employing these capabilities:
- Coercive response. A "declaratory or implied policy which threatened attack against limited numbers of selected targets in the USSR," the objective of which "would be to help initiate negotiations or to support ongoing negotiations involved with halting the war"; and
- Stemming the aggression. A deterrent response policy which would use the military forces of "the threatened country, along with prompt assistance by U.S. forces, [for] actually halting the aggression."
Yet the LRRDPP strategists also saw the opportunities that military capabilities using non-nuclear technologies of discrimination, control, and information could afford by enabling America to rely substantially less on threats of massive nuclear retaliation, to respond decisively to provocations short of all-out nuclear war, and, by so doing, to deter such aggression all the more credibly.
Revolutions in Technologies of Precision, Control, and Information.
The LRRDPP study profoundly influenced Wohlstetter's thinking. Long opposed to automatic deterrence, minimum deterrence, and other doctrines of massive nuclear retaliation, he had sought as early as the late 1950s to identify for decision-makers new alternatives to meet limited-nuclear and less-than-nuclear forms of aggression. Indeed, in a conference speech titled Strength, Interest, and New Technologies delivered in September 1967 and sponsored by the Institute for Strategic Studies (now the International Institute for Strategic Studies), he had displayed remarkable prescience regarding the transformative potential of emerging technologies, suggesting that revolutions in precision, control, and information could very well trump the nuclear revolution and the fatalism that had flowed from it. America's technological means had not yet caught up with Wohlstetter's strategic ends, however. The Long Range Research and Development Planning Program would help to change that.
The education and expertise gained from Lukasik and Wikner's LRRDPP study would considerably inform Wohlstetter's own heated criticisms of MAD-inspired nuclear deterrence and targeting doctrines. The LRRDPP experience would also shape the later work of President Ronald Reagan's Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, a high-level panel that outgoing Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Fred C. Iklé and Wohlstetter chaired in the mid-to-late 1980s. (The other members of the Commission were Anne L. Armstrong, Zbigniew Brzezinski, William P. Clark, W. Graham Claytor, Jr., Andrew J. Goodpaster, James L. Holloway, III, Samuel P. Huntington, Henry A. Kissinger, Joshua Lederberg, Bernard A. Schriever, and John W. Vessey.) With its January 1988 final report, the Commission offered a new doctrine of discriminate deterrence to help meet the future security environment's changing dangers, with the aim of increasing American and allied ability "to bring force to bear effectively, with discrimination and in time, to thwart any of a wide range of plausible aggressions against their major common interest -- and in that way to deter such aggression."
In the decades following the LRRDPP, the United States developed and acquired, though in stops and starts, many of the technologically-driven military capabilities that the study's strategists had identified. In turn, these non-nuclear technologies of precision, control, and information -- the development of which many arms controllers had fiercely opposed in the 1970s and 1980s on the grounds that they would spark spiraling arms races -- would substantially reduce America's reliance on indiscriminately destructive nuclear weapons, and thereby help to make all-out nuclear war less likely.
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To read more of Robert Zarate's introduction to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009):info-at-robertzarate-dot-com.
March 7, 2009
The Multilateral Force (MLF): Tom Lehrer's and Albert Wohlstetter's respective critiques
When I brought up Albert Wohlstetter's sharp criticisms of the Multilateral Force (MLF) nuclear weapons-sharing proposal during a dinner with colleagues last week (yes, I know, I'm an absolutely delightful dinner conversationalist...), my friend James urged me to look up "MLF Lullaby," a 1964 song by the singer, songwriter and satirist, Tom Lehrer. I'm happy to write that I found online a video of Lehrer performing the very ditty:
For those interested in more context . . .
The Multilateral Force was a proposed nuclear weapons-sharing arrangement in which not just the United States, but all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), would have jointly commanded and directly controlled naval vessels manned by multinational crews, and armed with U.S.-supplied nuclear-armed Polaris sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Research leads me to believe the MLF proposal was first conceived by Robert A. Bowie, director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff under President Dwight Eisenhower from 1953 to 1957, in a 1960 report known as the "Bowie Study":
The North Atlantic Nations: Tasks for the 1960s, a report to the Secretary of State, August 1, 1960, SECRET, declassified on January 9, 1986, DDRS No. CK3100227683.MLF came in the wake of Gerboise Bleue, France's February 1960 test detonation of a plutonium-fueled, fission nuclear explosive device in the Algerian desert. (YouTube.com apparently has a silent film of France's test nuclear bomb detonation.) Worried that ever-more NATO members would follow Britain and France to build and test nuclear bombs of their own, some in the State Department pushed the MLF as way not just to dampen nuclear proliferation within the Alliance, but also to draw the Western European nations closer together politically. In fact, so-called "European Integrationists" in the State Department of the 1960s had hoped the MLF might someday make it easier for a sort of "United States of Europe" to emerge, and for this European superstate eventually to absorb Britain and France's nuclear arsenals as its own.
In early 1961, both Bowie and Wohlstetter jointed the Committee on U.S. Political, Economic, and Military Policy in Europe, an advisory body chaired by former Secretary of State Dean Acheson and charged by the Kennedy Administration to re-examine transatlantic relations between the United States and Western Europe. Wohlstetter -- who, as a consultant to the RAND Corporation in the 1950s, had emerged as one of America's most inventive and provocative thinkers of nuclear-age strategy -- served as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's informal representative to what came to be known as the "Acheson Committee."
During the Committee's deliberations, Bowie pushed hard the MLF proposal. Wohlstetter pushed back, but not just on the grounds that the MLF would make the spread of nuclear weapons more likely among allies, as well as potential adversaries. He also believed that the MLF would tend to weaken -- not strengthen -- the sinews of Alliance.
Wohlstetter countered that the MLF would make it difficult for the Allies to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the face of potentially severe yet deeply uncertain nuclear dangers, with indecisiveness or disagreement dissolving Western cohesion in times of crisis. The proposed MLF, he argued, would multiply and dangerously complicate the allied decision-making process. In the event of a nuclear attack against one or more NATO members, which governments would have the power to decide when to use the MLF's jointly-controlled nuclear weapons? Which governments, if any, would have the right to veto such use? Only the United States? Or, all participating NATO members? Or, just some? And what would the process for making decisions actually be? Simple majority? Consensus? The answers to these critical questions were far from clear.
Wohlstetter instead argued to the Acheson Committee that the United States should retain direct control of America's strategic nuclear forces (SNFs). That the final decision of whether or not to use SNFs in a crisis should belong to the U.S. President. And that the United States and its NATO allies should establish better non-nuclear, conventional military options to defend Western Europe, not just to deter more credibly less-than-nuclear aggression on the Continent, but also to assure America's closest partners and make less likely knee-jerk calls for recourse to nuclear weapons. The sort of arguments he privately made to the Acheson Committee found public expression in the following, difficult-to-find 1961 Foreign Affairs article that Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writing of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009) has made available again:
Albert Wohlstetter, "Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N+1 Country," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 39, No. 3 (April 1961), pp. 355-387.
The Acheson Committee's final report would not recommend Bowie's concept of a Multilateral Force:
A Review of North Atlantic Problems for the Future, the Committee on U.S. Political, Economic and Military Policy in Europe's Policy Guidance to the National Security Council, March 1961, SECRET, declassified on December 30, 1996, DNSA No. NH01131, esp. pp. 7-11.The Kennedy Administration's National Security Action Memorandum No. 40 adopted the recommendations of the Acheson Committee, with the effect of killing -- for a time -- the MLF:
Policy Directive Regarding NATO and the Atlantic Nations, National Security [Action] Memorandum No. 40, April 24, 1961, CONFIDENTIAL, declassified on May 4, 1977, DNSA No. BC02034.The MLF concept, however, would die a slow death. Indeed, it would rise -- zombie-like -- throughout the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, and bog down relations between the United States and USSR during the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) talks that would lead (eventually) to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968, known more commonly as the Nuclear Nonproliferation or NPT.
Speaking of the NPT, I thought I'd end this post with "What's Next?" Tom Lehrer's satirical ode to the sort of proliferation that people worried might follow the October 1964 test detonation of a nuclear explosive device by the People's Repubic of China at Lop Nur:
In turn, China's detonation of a nuclear explosive device led the Johnson Administration to assemble an interagency Task Force on Nuclear Proliferation, chaired by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric. The Gilpatric Committee's final report -- which is available as item 64 here -- played an important role in convincing President Lyndon Johnson to suspend America's attempts to negotiate in the ENDC for a treaty on complete and total disarmament, and instead to focus exclusively on getting the ENDC to conclude a much more modest nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
March 3, 2009
Video: Wohlstetter book event at Hudson Institute
Now available: Raw video of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter's Writings and the Future of U.S. National Strategy, a panel hosted by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) and Hudson Institute to discuss the continuing relevance of the recently released book, Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009).
The Wohlstetter book panel included Andrew Marshall (director of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment), Richard Perle (AEI resident fellow and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense), and Nuclear Heuristics co-editors Henry Sokolski (NPEC executive director) and me.
On a personal note, it was a treat that day to see many colleagues and critics in the crowd, and make some new friends. It was an especial honor to have Albert and Roberta's daughter Joan, Nobel economics laureate Thomas Schelling, and several former Wohlstetter students in the audience.
For more, visit Hudson Institute's webpage for the event, where you can download the event's video (.mp4) or just its audio (.mp3).
March 1, 2009
Excerpt on arms race myths vs. strategic competition's reality from Wohlstetter book's introduction
This week's excerpt from "Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter on Nuclear-Age Strategy," Robert Zarate's introductory essay to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009), looks at the Wohlstetters' work to understand more precisely how the United States and the USSR competed in strategic nuclear arms, and clarify the extent to which the U.S.-USSR strategic nuclear competition resembled a "spiraling" arms race -- or something altogether different. For more, see the earlier Wohlstetter book excerpts on:
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EXCERPT: THE WOHLSTETTERS ON ARMS RACE MYTHS VS. STRATEGIC COMPETITION'S REALITY
By Robert Zarate
In the late 1960s, as Albert Wohlstetter expanded the scope of his nonproliferation research, he also became increasingly involved in heated policy debates over whether the United States should qualitatively improve the capabilities of its strategic nuclear forces.
Many proponents of arms control opposed qualitative improvements. They premised their arguments on automatic deterrence and minimum deterrence -- doctrines holding that a government could easily and reliably deter a wide range of aggression merely by possessing a few technologically crude nuclear weapons which, in the event of an attack, would be used against an aggressor's cities and civilian populations. Moreover, arms controllers typically believed that worst-case analyses were compelling the United States to pursue qualitative nuclear improvements that would go far beyond a mere "minimum deterrent" nuclear posture. In their view, such innovations were activating an action-reaction dynamic that was forcing the USSR -- which many arms controllers believed wanted only a "minimum deterrent" -- to engage in a nuclear "arms race" with the United States, a race that was spiraling out of control, exacerbating bilateral tensions, and increasing the likelihood of war.
In contrast, Wohlstetter (along with other like-minded strategists) supported military-technological innovation. A longtime skeptic of automatic and minimum deterrence, he held that a government's mere possession of nuclear weapons did not guarantee a survivable, controllable, and credible deterrent against a nuclear first strike; rather, the requirements for a system of nuclear forces capable of providing such a deterrent were far more stringent. Moreover, he countered that an action-reaction dynamic was not inexorably governing strategic competition in general, nor Soviet nuclear-weapons development and procurement decisions in particular; and that qualitative improvements would not invariably lead to spiraling arms races and increased tension, let alone to a greater likelihood of war. Indeed, Albert believed that some technological innovations would tend to encourage stability.
These largely opposing views would clash publicly in 1969, when the Senate deliberated over whether to approve the initial deployment of the Safeguard anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense system. In the the mid-1970s, the aftermath of the ABM debate would inspire Wohlstetter to study systematically the history of the U.S. and USSR's strategic competition in nuclear arms. That study's conclusions would lead him to criticize the arm controllers' claims of inevitable worst-casing, of immutable action-reaction dynamics, and of consequent spiraling arms races as muddled myths that were driving a Luddite approach to arms control. The Wohlstetters and their colleagues would articulate, as a better alternative, an approach to arms control derived from what they saw as a more nuanced understanding of strategic competition.
The 1969 ABM Debate.
A revised version of the Johnson Administration's Sentinel ABM program, the Nixon Administration's Safeguard program envisioned using nuclear-tipped missile interceptors to defend U.S. land-based strategic forces, as well as the nation's political and military leaders, against attacks by Soviet nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It also sought to protect population centers against either the accidental or unauthorized launch of an adversary's ICBM or SLBM, or a deliberate but numerically small missile attack by nascent nuclear-armed governments like the People's Republic of China. Safeguard was therefore called a "thin" ABM system because it was intended to defend mainly military and leadership targets and provide only limited protection to civilians -- a sharp contrast to the more ambitious "thick" ABM systems that would try to defend most or all of America's civilian population from very large missile attacks. In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union had already begun developing the so-called A-35, a comparable "thin" ABM system using nuclear-tipped Galosh missile interceptors, with the aim of protecting political-military leaders in Moscow from attack.
In the Senate, prominent Safeguard opponents included Stuart Symington (D-MO) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), as well as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair J. William Fulbright (D-AR). Outside anti-ABM experts included Jerome Wiesner and George Rathjens, both of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; former State Department legal adviser Abram Chayes of Harvard Law School; and Wolfgang Panofsky of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Some of these experts would form advocacy groups to assist the anti-ABM senators.
Prominent Safeguard supporters included Senate Armed Services Committee chair John Stennis (D-MS) and Senate Subcommittee on National Security and International Operations chair Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA), as well as the Pentagon's Director of Defense Research and Engineering, John Foster. Outside pro-ABM experts included Albert Wohlstetter (now a professor at the University of Chicago), former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze. These three would join together to form the Committee to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy, a group that sought to provide pro-ABM senators with analytic support. (Paul Wolfowitz and Peter Wilson, both of whom were at the time doctoral candidates at the University of Chicago, and Richard Perle, then a graduate student at Princeton, would help to staff this committee.)
During Senate hearings on the ABM, opponents raised three main objections. First, they asserted that anticipated Soviet strategic nuclear forces would not be capable of knocking out America's land-based second-strike capability, therefore obviating one of Safeguard's stated purposes. In particular, Rathjens submitted to the Congress an analysis calculating that any attempts at a preclusive nuclear first-strike by the Soviets would destroy, at the most, three-quarters of America's land-based Minuteman ICBMs. Moreover, Wiesner charged that ABM proponents were using worst-case scenarios to strengthen their argument. "We always underestimate our own capabilities and overestimate those of the other fellow," Wiesner claimed in an essay on the ABM.
Second, they argued that qualitative improvements -- efforts to develop not only active defense systems like the ABM, but also multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) systems, and to improve the delivery accuracy of ICBMs and other nuclear-armed delivery vehicles -- would spark spiraling and therefore destabilizing arms races. To halt what they saw as the action-reaction dynamic governing the strategic competition between the United States and USSR, they called for arms control agreements that would quantitatively cap American and Soviet strategic nuclear forces, and prohibit qualitative improvements to military nuclear technologies.
Third, anti-ABM experts claimed that the United States, at any rate, had cheaper and more effective ways than the ABM to protect its second-strike capability. For example, Rathjens held that a brute increase in the numbers of American ICBMs would be a better alternative than Safeguard. Senator Fulbright even suggested that a "launch-on-warning" nuclear posture would render the ABM unnecessary and provide what he described as "the greatest deterrence." The Senator explained:
It would seem to me that assurance, the knowledge that these ICBMs, even part of them, would be released immediately without any fiddling around about it, even without asking the computer what to do, it would be the greatest deterrence in the world.ABM opponent Ralph Lapp would reiterate this point in The New York Times: "As Senator Fulbright pointed out, empty holes [of the ICBMs that would be launched on warning of an attack] may be our most powerful deterrent weapon."
At an April 1969 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Wohlstetter issued a forceful rejoinder to these Safeguard opponents. First, he challenged claims that anticipated Soviet strategic nuclear forces would be wholly incapable of launching a nuclear first-strike to preclude substantially an American second-strike by U.S. land-based ICBMs. In particular, Albert criticized Rathjens' analysis, charging that he had found significant methodological errors and distortions of intelligence estimates when he had tried to replicate Rathjens' calculations.
(After the hearing, Wohlstetter and Rathjens' increasingly acerbic exchanges would spill onto the opinion pages of The New York Times and other forums. In July 1971, a special committee appointed by the Operations Research Society of America's president would release a detailed peer review of the Wohlstetter-Rathjens debate. This peer review -- the idea for which was adamantly opposed by Rathjens, Wiesner et al. -- would come out in favor of Wohlstetter's analysis and criticisms of the anti-ABM opponents. In particular, the peer review would conclude that the analyses of the anti-ABM experts "were often inappropriate, misleading, or factually in error." The Society's findings would do little to quell Wohlstetter and Rathjens' increasingly bitter dispute, however.)
Second, Wohlstetter countered claims that Safeguard would necessarily start a spiraling race in nuclear arms or arms spending. "Indeed, despite the stereotype," he said of the U.S. spending on nuclear arms during the 1960s, "there has been no quantitative arms race in the strategic offense and defense budget, no 'ever accelerating increase,' nor, in fact, any long-term increase at all." (As this essay details below, the Wohlstetters and their colleagues would conduct a study in the 1970s detailing this point.)
Third, Albert argued that Safeguard would be a cheaper and less destabilizing way than brute numerical increases of America's nuclear arsenal to protect land-based U.S. second-strike capability against Soviet strategic nuclear forces -- forces which were likely to add more accurate ICBMs with modest MIRVed warhead capability. He elaborated:
There is an important difference between making qualitative adjustments to technical change and expanding the number of vehicles or megatons or dollars spent. The difference has been ignored in a debate on ABM that seems at the same time impassioned and very abstract, quite removed from the concrete political, economic, and military realities of nuclear offense and defense and their actual history.He continued:
For example, one alternative to protecting Minuteman [land-based ICBMs] is to buy more Minutemen without protection. But adding new vehicles is costly and more destabilizing than an active defense of these hard points, since it increases the capacity to strike first. A one-sided self-denial of new technology can lead simply to multiplying our missiles and budgets, or to a decrease in safety, or to both.Indeed, in the Base Study and follow-on Vulnerability Study that Wohlstetter had led at the RAND Corporation during the 1950s, qualitative technological improvements had figured heavily in efforts to protect U.S. second-strike capability without having to resort to destabilizing quantitative increases in the nuclear arsenal. In particular, his research team had leveraged the breakthrough designs of a brilliant engineer named Paul Weidlinger to show that it was indeed possible to shelter and passively defend ICBMs and command-and-control facilities by building complex underground structures that were orders of magnitude more resistant to the blast effects of nuclear explosions than most engineers had ever thought possible. In Albert's view, active defense programs like the ABM fell into a long line of useful and stabilizing qualitative improvements to the capabilities of U.S. strategic nuclear forces.
In light of this, Wohlstetter was deeply critical of statements by Senator Fulbright and others promoting "launch-on-warning" as an actual operational policy. Albert found "launch-on-warning" to be deeply dangerous and politically irresponsible:
The revival today, by several distinguished senators and some able physicists opposing ABM, of the suggestion that, rather than defend ICBM's, we should launch them at Russian cities simply on the basis of radar represents a long step backward. If we were willing to do this, we would dispense with silos or Poseidon submarines or any other mode of protecting our missiles. And we would increase the nightmare possibility of nuclear war by mistake.The fierce debate between the pro- and anti-ABM crowds would continue into the summer of '69. In August, the Senate would end up approving the initial deployment of Safeguard, with Vice President Spiro Agnew casting the deciding vote to break the Senate's 50-to-50 split. However, three years later, at the end of the first round of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), the Nixon Administration would conclude with the Soviets an agreement to severely limit deployments of ballistic missile defense. The ABM Treaty of May 1972 initially allowed the United States and USSR each to field two ABM sites, but was later modified in July 1974 to allow each country only one site.
The United States worked to finish its Safeguard site in North Dakota, but the Congress voted to shut it down in late 1975. In contrast, the Soviets would continue to field the A-35 ABM system near Moscow that they had first begun installing in the early 1960s. (Today, the Russian Federation now fields the A-135, an updated version of the A-35 that relies on missile interceptors tipped with non-nuclear explosives, while at the same time opposing U.S. and European Union efforts to build a "thin" ABM system to defend against ballistic missile threats from Iran and other rogue states.)
Strategic Nuclear Competition: Rivalry, But No Race.
As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, controversies over the wisdom of incorporating technological innovations in U.S. strategic nuclear forces intensified. One key issue was whether the United States should try to improve the accuracy with which nuclear-armed delivery vehicles could be delivered to their intended military targets, even if the purpose was to decrease the possibility of harm to civilian noncombatants.
Echoing their earlier arguments against the ABM, advocates of arms control charged that such technological innovations would inevitably spark new arms races. They held that the United States -- leaders of which were wrongly alarmed by worst-case analyses -- was pursuing technological military innovations that were activating the action-reaction dynamic, a dynamic that governs military competition, and inexorably leads to spiraling arms races characterized by increased defense spending, larger and more destructive nuclear arsenals, and a greater likelihood of war. Again, arms controllers called for new treaties that would limit qualitative technological improvements to strategic nuclear forces.
It was in this context that Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, along with colleagues at their Pan Heuristics consulting company, set out to study the history of how the United States and USSR had competed in strategic nuclear arms. Their research aimed to determine the extent to which the American-Soviet strategic nuclear rivalry actually had conformed to the concept of a spiraling arms race.
The Wohlstetters and their colleagues began by observing that arms control advocates often had not carefully and precisely defined what they meant by the concept, arms race. They found that while arms race resonated with powerful emotional and pejorative connotations, the term -- as typically used -- had only vague, and sometimes confusing, denotations. In "Is There a Strategic Arms Race?" part one of his controversial two-part essay in Foreign Policy (1974), Albert expanded on this point:
When we talk of "arms" are we referring to the total budget spent on strategic forces? The number of strategic vehicles or launchers? The number of weapons? The total explosive energy that could be released by all the strategic weapons? The aggregate destructive area of these weapons? Or are we concerned with qualitative change -- that is, alterations in unit performance characteristics -- the speed of an aircraft or missile, its accuracy, the blast resistance of its silo, the concealability of its launch point, the scale and sharpness of optical photos or other sensing devices, the controllability of a weapon and its resistance to accidental or unauthorized use? When we talk of a "race" what do we imply about the rate at which the race is run, about the ostensible goal of the contest, about how the "race" is generated, about the nature of the interaction among strategic adversaries?With the concept of arms races, arms controllers had sought to lay bare the action-reaction dynamic that underlay the strategic nuclear competition between the United States and USSR. Albert, however, was deeply skeptical of the notion behind this dynamic. He wrote:
The very phrase "action-reaction" has an aura of mechanical inevitability. Like Newton's Third Law: For Every Action There Is An Equal and Opposite Reaction. Only here, since the mechanism is explosive, it seems the law is supposed to read: For Every Action There Is An Opposing Greater-Than-Equal Reaction.Wohlstetter and company acknowledged the concept of spiraling arms races had correctly demonstrated that one government's military decisions may have a partial impact on the decisions of another. However, they held that spiraling arms races grossly overstated the extent to which an action-reaction dynamic singly and inexorably drove how governments competed militarily. He explained:
To build a national defense is to recognize serious differences, potentially incompatible goals of possible adversaries. Military forces then are at least partially competitive: What one side does, whether to defend itself or to initiate attack or to threaten attack or response, may be at the partial expense of another side. (Weapons are not by nature altogether friendly.) This means in turn that some connection is only to be expected between what one side does and the kind and probable size of a potential opponent's force.Having attempted to state more clearly the thesis of spiraling arms racing, Wohlstetter and colleagues sought to see whether the history of the U.S.-USSR strategic nuclear competition up to that point in time actually had resembled such an arms race. Their study proceeded in three main parts.
Arms race doctrines plainly want to say much more than these simple truths. They suggest that the competition results from exaggerated fears and estimates of opposing threats, and therefore is not merely, or even mainly, instrumental to the partially opposed objectives of each side. The competition takes on an explosive life of its own that may frustrate the objectives of both. Explosive in two senses: (a) it leads to "accelerating" (or "exponential" or "spiraling" or "uncontrolled" or "unlimited" or "unbridled" or "infinite") increases in budgets and force sizes; (b) it leads inevitably to war, or at any rate makes war much more likely.
First, they reviewed available American intelligence forecasts to evaluate the extent to which, in fact, the United States had regularly overestimated Soviet strategic nuclear deployments with "worst-case" analyses, as arms race proponents had frequently charged. To begin with, they noted that while U.S. intelligence had overestimated the rapidity with which the USSR would deploy long-range ICBMs in the late 1950s, it had underestimated, at the same time, the number of deployed Soviet intermediate range and medium range ballistic missile (IR/MRBMs) launchers. Moreover, after carefully examining annual intelligence predictions and estimates submitted by the Secretary of Defense to the Congress between 1962 to 1972, Wohlstetter and company arrived at surprising and counterintuitive findings. Within this population of before-the-fact intelligence predictions and after-the-fact observed estimates of Soviet nuclear deployments, the United States had underestimated repeatedly and systematically over a ten-year period how much the USSR would annually add to its strategic nuclear forces.
Second, the Wohlstetter team looked carefully at the history of budgets for U.S. strategic nuclear forces to determine the rate at which spending on these forces had increased. Again, they arrived at startling and counterintuitive findings. U.S. annual spending on strategic offensive forces, in fact, had decreased from the mid-1950s until the early 1970s. In particular, spending in the 1950s was more than four times spending in 1976 in terms of constant dollars, and the budget for U.S. strategic nuclear forces had declined in an almost exponential manner since 1961.
Third, Wohlstetter and colleagues examined whether qualitative improvements had actually led to more indiscriminate and destabilizing forces. They found that, even though both the United States and Soviets had pursued technological innovations during the 1960s, American trends pointed decidedly downward, not only for spending on U.S. strategic nuclear forces, but also for key qualitative indicators -- for example, the stockpile's total explosive energy yield, the number of strategic offense and defense warheads, and the arsenal's equivalent megatonnage.
Taken together, these findings sharply contradicted the sort of invariable enemy overestimation and worst-casing, unchecked growth in strategic nuclear arms and spending, and ever-increasing arsenal destructiveness that arms race theorists had claimed was occurring on the U.S. side. This led the Wohlstetter team to caution that arms racing did not provide an insightful model of how the U.S. and USSR actually had competed strategically in the nuclear age. Arms racing was, at best, an emotionally-charged but muddled and inaccurate metaphor.
What disturbed the Wohlstetters perhaps most of all, however, was how many arms control proponents had used -- and were still using -- the concept of arms racing to advocate for a U.S. nuclear posture based on doctrines of automatic deterrence, minimum deterrence, or the then-emerging doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD): that is, for a nuclear posture which would assure, in the event of any attack by nuclear-armed adversaries, that the United States would escalate to massive nuclear retaliation against cities and civilian populations. The underlying hope of many such arms control proponents was that if the United States and USSR kept numerically small, technologically crude, and explosively indiscriminate nuclear arsenals aimed only at civilian noncombatants, the sheer horror of this posture would not only make all forms of nuclear war less probable, but also make movement toward total nuclear disarmament -- if not also toward the dissolution of national sovereignty, world government, and perpetual peace -- more likely.
In contrast, Albert and Roberta fiercely opposed such "countervalue" doctrines of nuclear deterrence that targeted cities and civilian noncombatants instead of military forces. Although they deeply doubted the likelihood and verifiability of total nuclear disarmament, they saw themselves as sharing the arms controllers' goal of making nuclear war less likely. But they maintained that the arms control establishment's preferred nuclear posture -- a "minimum deterrent" posture which privileged a sort of indiscriminate destructiveness against civilians that U.S. decisionmakers might not be willing to carry out, even in the most extreme of circumstances -- was unstable, immoral, and unlikely to deter plausible forms of aggression. In his article, "Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back?" (1976), Albert elaborated on this point:
Perverse current dogmas center most of all on an attempt to stop or slow technologies of discrimination and control. However, the remarkable improvements in accuracy and control in prospect will permit non-nuclear weapons to replace nuclear ones in a wide range of contingencies. Moreover, such improvements will permit new forms of mobility for strategic forces, making it easier for deterrent forces to survive. More important, they will also increase the range of choice to include more discriminate, less brutal, less suicidal responses to attack--responses that are more believable. And only a politically believable response will deter.In other words, the Wohlstetters held that credible deterrence need not rely on a choice between indiscriminate, massively destructive, and therefore implausible forms of nuclear retaliation -- or no response at all. Rather, a principal aim of responsible nuclear-age strategic competition should be to increase the range of credible (and especially non-nuclear) responses available to decisionmakers, especially against limited-nuclear and less-than-nuclear aggression, and by so doing to strengthen U.S. deterrence. Albert explained:
Some technologies reduce the range of political choice; some increase it. If our concern about technology getting beyond political control is genuine rather than rhetorical, then we should actively encourage the development of techniques that increase the possibilities of political control. There will be a continuing need for the exercise of thought to make strategic forces secure and discriminatingly responsive to our aims, and to do this as economically as we can.Although the Wohlstetters were skeptical of many of the arms controllers' canonical dogmas, this did not mean that they saw arms control agreements as having no utility. Rather, they viewed such agreements as being useful within clear limits. "Agreements with adversaries can play a useful role, but they cannot replace national choice," Albert pointed out in "Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back?" But he added: "Neither the agreements nor the national choices are aided by the sort of hysteria implicit in theories of a strategic race always on the point of exploding."
In the early 1980s, Albert and Roberta would draft an essay titled On Arms Control: What We Should Look for in an Arms Agreement, which provides insight into what they viewed to be -- and not to be -- viable approaches for arms control agreements. And in the mid-1980s, Albert and his Pan Heuristics colleague, Brian Chow, would co-author a detailed technical proposal for an arms control agreement to establish self-defense zones in space. (Nuclear Heuristics includes a condensed summary of this proposed agreement as published in the Wall Street Journal.)
The Study's Aftermath.
The Wohlstetters' study on the nature of the U.S.-USSR strategic competition exerted influence and elicited controversy in the mid-to-late 1970s. Most notably, their study would form part of the larger context for the so-called "Team B" experiment in competitive intelligence analysis. First suggested by members of the Ford Administration's Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) in August 1975, this experiment was officially begun by Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George H. W. Bush and President Ford's National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, in June 1976.
A now-declassified December 1976 memorandum provides a summary of the "Team B" exercise from the White House's point of view. The experiment would begin with two groups, an "A" team composed of members of the Intelligence Community that would prepare "the 1976 estimate of Soviet forces for intercontinental attack . . . in accordance with established Community practices," and a "B" team composed of "experts inside or outside of government" that would prepare an alternate assessment. Both teams would be provided with the same body of intelligence information, and each would work to arrive at independent conclusions about three specific topics: namely, " Soviet ICBM accuracy,  Soviet low altitude air defense capability, and  Soviet strategic policy objectives." Both teams would have access to each other's final products and be allowed to write comments on each other's assessments. Finally, the National Security Advisor, in consultation with the DCI and PFIAB, would review and critique the highly classified results.
In December 1976, Team B completed its Top Secret final report, Intelligence Community Experiment in Competitive Analysis: Soviet Strategic Objectives: An Alternative View. Two months earlier, however, information about the exercise had already been leaked to the Boston Globe and Washington Star. The resulting news stories had set off a politicized firestorm within Washington that prevented dispassionate public discussion of the intelligence experiment's pluses and minuses. Although the highest levels of the Ford Administration had authorized the Team B exercise, critics insistently viewed this experiment in competitive intelligence analysis as nothing more than a direct assault on the Nixon and Ford Administrations' policy of détente with the Soviet Union.
Wohlstetter had declined an invitation to join Team B. Nonetheless, a number of journalists and opinion-makers would mistakenly assert that he had worked on the intelligence experiment. In response to a January 4, 1977, op-ed by Joseph Kraft in the Washington Post, Albert wrote a letter to the editor to correct the public record: "I had no part in the team that recently took an independent look at past and present national intelligence estimates. Nor have I seen their report."
These controversies notwithstanding, Albert and Roberta's study on arms racing helped to reframe Washington's understanding of the U.S.-USSR strategic competition. Indeed, key government decisionmakers would publicly refute the "mirror-imaging" assessments of Soviet nuclear spending and procurement that had led some arms controllers to claim that while the USSR wanted only to field a "minimum deterrent," U.S. actions were activating an action-reaction dynamic that was forcing the Soviets to build more weapons and sparking an unnecessary nuclear arms race. On that point, President Carter's Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, would famously observe before a joint meeting of the Senate and House budget committees in 1979: "Soviet spending has shown no response to U.S. restraint -- when we build, they build; when we cut, they build."
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- Albert Wohlstetter, "Is There a Strategic Arms Race?", Foreign Policy, No. 15 (Summer 1974), pp. 3-20.
- Albert Wohlstetter, "Rivals, But No 'Race'," Foreign Policy, No. 16 (Fall 1974), pp. 48-81.
- Albert Wohlstetter, Legends of the Strategic Arms Race, USSI Report 75-1 (Washington, DC: United States Strategic Institute, September 1974).
- Albert Wohlstetter, "Clocking the Strategic Arms Race," opinion, Wall Street Journal, September 24, 1974, p. 24.
- Albert Wohlstetter, Thomas Brown, Gregory Jones, David McGarvey, Robert Raab, Arthur Steiner, Roberta Wohlstetter and Zivia Wurtele, The Strategic Competition: Perceptions and Response, final report for the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (Net Technical Assessment), DAHC 15-73-C-0137 (Los Angeles, CA: PAN Heuristics, January 14, 1975). PDF version available online at Albert Wohlstetter Dot Com.
- Albert Wohlstetter, Thomas Brown, Gregory Jones, David McGarvey, Robert Raab, Arthur Steiner, Roberta Wohlstetter and Zivia Wurtele, Methods That Obscure and Methods That Clarify the Strategic Competition, final report for the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (Net Technical Assessment), DAHC 15-73-C-0074 (Los Angeles, CA: PAN Heuristics, June 30, 1975). PDF version available online at Albert Wohlstetter Dot Com.
- Albert Wohlstetter, "Optimal Ways to Confuse Ourselves," Foreign Policy, No. 20 (Fall 1975), pp. 170-198.
- Albert Wohlstetter, "Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back?," Survey, Vol. 22. Nos. 3/4 (Summer 1976), pp. 161-217. Updated 1977 version reprinted in Robert Zarate and Henry Sokolski, eds., Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (Strategic Studies Institute, 2009).
- Albert Wohlstetter, "Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back?," in Robert Conquest, Defending America (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1977). Reprinted in Robert Zarate and Henry Sokolski, eds., Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (Strategic Studies Institute, 2009).
February 26, 2009
Quick update: Wohlstetter book event & second printing
First off, I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who made it to Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter's Writings and the Future of U.S. National Strategy, a book event for Nuclear Heuristics that the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) and Hudson Institute co-hosted last Monday. It was a treat to see familiar colleagues and critics, as well as to make new friends.
For those of you that wanted to attend, but could not make it, my understanding is that this event may be broadcasted on television and also made available online. I'll follow up when I get concrete details.
On a related note, I'm happy to announce that the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) will release a second printing of the Wohlstetter book's hard copy. More to follow on this soon.
February 17, 2009
Upcoming NPEC/Hudson Institute panel on the Wohlstetters' writings and U.S. national security strategy's future
The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and Hudson Institute present a special panel, Albert & Roberta Wohlstetter's Writings and the Future of U.S. National Security Strategy.
Monday, February 23, 2009, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.Location:
Betsy and Walter Stern Conference Center, Hudson Institute, 1015 15th Street, N.W. 6th Floor, Washington, DC 20005 (click here for map).Description:
What role, if any, might nuclear weapons play in bolstering existing and future U.S. security alliances? Is the current set of U.S. nuclear policies more likely to compound rather then further restrain the spread of nuclear weapons technologies? Is it useful--or even still possible--for the United States to develop a comprehensive national security strategy to meet the various dangers that it faces in the 21st century? How should the United States prepare against future nuclear crises?To RSVP, kindly e-mail your name and affiliation to email@example.com.
Albert Wohlstetter (1913-1997) and Roberta Morgan Wohlstetter (1912-2007) were two of America's most innovative and influential thinkers of strategy in the nuclear age. Their works, perhaps more than those of any other Cold War strategic analyst, helped to shape the strategic policy decisions of both Democratic and Republican both during and after the Cold War.
Join us as Andrew Marshall (Director of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment), Henry S. Rowen (2005 WMD Commissioner & former JFK/LBJ Defense official), Richard Perle (AEI resident fellow & former Reagan Pentagon official), and Stephen J. Lukasik (former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency director) assess the continuing relevance of the Wohlstetters' strategic insights. Each panelist contributed commentaries to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009), a new book edited by NPEC research fellow Robert Zarate and NPEC executive director Henry Sokolski (2008 WMD Commissioner) that contains timely and enduring Wohlstetter works. Free copies of this volume will be made available at the event.
To download a free PDF version of Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, visit www.AlbertWohlstetter.com/book. For more on the Wohlstetters, visit www.AlbertWohlstetter.com.
February 13, 2009
Excerpt on nuclear nonproliferation from Wohlstetter book's introduction
Here's another excerpt from "Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter on Nuclear-Age Strategy," Robert Zarate's introductory essay to Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter (2009). This excerpt looks at the Wohlstetters' impact on nuclear nonproliferation issues. For more, see the earlier Wohlstetter book excerpt on: download the book and read the introduction in its entirety.
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EXCERPT ON THE WOHLSTETTERS AND NUCLEAR NONPROLIFERATION
By Robert Zarate
Albert Wohlstetter's pioneering research on nuclear deterrence in the 1950s helped to establish his reputation as one of America's premier and most controversial strategists. In the following decades, his efforts to stem nuclear proliferation -- efforts which drew insights directly from his RAND Corporation studies on the requirements for a survivable, controllable, and credible U.S. nuclear deterrent -- would serve to enhance that reputation. During the early 1960s, he would work to debunk an American proposal for a so-called "nuclear sharing" arrangement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and to promote instead nonproliferation within NATO by convincing the United States to make stronger, clearer, and more believable its promise to protect Western European allies from any potential Soviet nuclear and non-nuclear military aggression. Moreover, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he, his wife Roberta Wohlstetter and their colleagues would conduct a sustained examination of civil nuclear energy's military potential, and the extent to which national and international approaches to nonproliferation were effectively constraining such potential. The Wohlstetters' analyses would help not only to reframe nuclear nonproliferation debates going forward, but also to change U.S. nuclear energy and export policy.
After France's February 1960 test of an atomic bomb, U.S. policymakers faced again the same sorts of worries that Britain's October 1952 test had raised: How would the addition of a new nuclear-armed government affect relations within NATO, especially the cohesion among allies? Would other Western European governments move to acquire their independent nuclear arsenals? Such worries led some in the outgoing Eisenhower Administration to propose that Washington establish with Western Europe a nuclear-armed Multilateral Force (MLF), an expansive "nuclear sharing" arrangement in which not just the United States, but all NATO members themselves would multilaterally command and control naval vessels manned by multinational crews and armed with American-supplied nuclear Polaris sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The belief was that the proposed MLF would satisfy NATO members who were agitating for greater roles in Western Europe's nuclear defense, and thereby arrest the impulse for more governments to get nuclear weapons. The proposed MLF, it was hoped, would also strengthen the sinews of the alliance.
Wohlstetter, however, opposed not only the acquisition of new nuclear arsenals by individual NATO governments, but also the Multilateral Force nuclear-sharing proposal itself. As an outside adviser to the Kennedy Administration, he would help to persuade key decisionmakers to reject both. In particular, he would serve as the Department of Defense's informal representative to the Committee on U.S. Political, Economic, and Military Policy in Europe, an advisory body chaired by former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and charged by the Kennedy Administration to re-examine transatlantic relations between America and Western Europe. Albert would play a key role in helping Acheson to author draft policy guidance for the White House's National Security Council (NSC) that would aim to promote nuclear nonproliferation in Western Europe through increased political, economic, and military interdependence among the United States and its allies, as well as through improvements in NATO's conventional defense capabilities for resisting less-than-nuclear aggression. This draft guidance would form the basis for the Kennedy NSC's National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 40 [link updated on 03/10/2009]. Wohlstetter's article "Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N+1 Problem" -- published in the April 1961 issue of Foreign Affairs (at roughly the same time NSAM 40 was approved) -- provides insights into the sort of arguments he made to the Acheson Committee.
To justify the French force de frappe, proponents had made use of doctrines of automatic and minimum deterrence. For example, General Pierre Gallois, an adviser to French President Charles de Gaulle, had asserted in Stratégie de l'âge nucléaire (1960) that the destructiveness of nuclear weapons created uncertainty for potential aggressors that necessarily "increases the risk, counsels discretion, and consequently strengthens the strategy of dissuasion." At the time, Gallois believed that the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states would have a pacifying effect: "As atomic armament grows more widespread and other nations besides America and Great Britain gain possession of it, either in their own right or under a 'double check,' the notion of dissuasion will also become more common, each nation practicing it according to its means." Gallois added: "It will not be long before we may have to give up war altogether."
In "Nuclear Sharing," however, Wohlstetter countered, first, that the independent nuclear arsenals of France -- and of other allies that might follow the French example -- would face, in times of acute crisis, severe difficulties in deterring safely and believably a Soviet preclusive nuclear first strike. Here, he was very much informed by his earlier RAND Corporation research on strategic nuclear forces, which had revealed how hard it could be for the United States to establish a survivable, controllable, and therefore credible second-strike capability in the face of changing dangers. In his view, the independent nuclear forces of American's allies would likely face an even harder time.
Moreover, Albert was deeply critical of how France's raw desire for greater prestige had played a decisive role in its acquisition of a nuclear-armed force de frappe. He believed that de Gaulle's decision would be a costly mistake with little real payoff. In The Delicate Balance of Terror, he had argued that "[m]ere membership in the nuclear club might carry with it prestige, as the applicants and nominees expect, but it will be rather expensive and in time it will be clear that it does not necessarily confer any of the expected privileges enjoyed by the two charter members." In "Nuclear Sharing," he elaborated this point:
The burden of deterring a general war as distinct from limited wars is still likely to be on the United States and therefore, so far as our allies are concerned, on the alliance. . . . The problem of deterring a major power requires a continuing effort because the requirements for deterrence will change with the counter-measures taken by the major power. Therefore, the costs can never be computed with certainty; one can be sure only that the initiation fee is merely a down payment on the expense of membership in the nuclear club.Second, Wohlstetter worried about the effects that the spread of independent nuclear arsenals or the Multilateral Force would have on the Western alliance's cohesion and decisiveness. On the one hand, independent arsenals not only were undermining the U.S. nuclear "umbrella" guarantee in behalf of Europe's security, but also were unraveling the interdependence between the United States and some of its allies. (France would leave NATO in the mid-1960s.) On the other hand, the proposed MLF would multiply and dangerously complicate the allied decisionmaking process: In the event of a nuclear attack against one or more NATO members, which governments would have the power to decide when to use the MLF's jointly-controlled nuclear weapons? Which governments, if any, would have the right to veto such use? Just the U.S.? All participating NATO members? What would the process for making decisions be? Simple majority? Consensus? The answers to these critical questions were far from clear.
Moreover, Albert was concerned that both independent nuclear arsenals and the MLF would erode from within America's promise to protect Western Europe from nuclear and non-nuclear Soviet military aggression. He wrote:
[O]ne of the most serious troubles with moves towards NATO or national nuclear strike forces is that they might weaken the American guarantee in the future. If either a national or a joint deterrent can really deter the Soviet Union, it is hard to justify an American commitment for this purpose. If European nuclear forces should present merely a façade of deterrence, they might convince the American Congress even if they do not convince the Russians.Third, and finally, Wohlstetter feared that the emergence of new independent nuclear arsenals or the Multilateral Force would set precedents encouraging ever more states, both allied and hostile, to acquire nuclear weapons. In his view, American policy needed to account not just for the "Nth" problem country -- that is, the immediate would-be nuclear proliferator. It needed also to account for what he termed the "N+1 problem" -- that is, the precedent for or against further proliferation which other governments would draw from U.S. policy toward the last prospective "Nth" nuclear power.
Thus Wohlstetter argued that if the United States strengthened its commitment to defend NATO allies from all forms of nuclear and non-nuclear military aggression, then this would serve to reassure allies of their security and interdependence with America, and promote nuclear nonproliferation within Western Europe. To that end, he urged Washington to retain sole launch authority over U.S. nuclear weapons; to emphasize an American "umbrella" strategy in behalf of Europe to deter Soviet preclusive nuclear attacks against both the United States and individual NATO allies; and to work with NATO members to develop more believable conventional military options to meet limited-nuclear and less-than-nuclear provocations. He explained:
The alliance is viable, because neither our allies nor the United States in the long run can survive without it. This is the reason for deliberately entangling our forces and their dependents in the lot of Europe. We identify our short-term fate with Europe's because we think our long-term fate cannot be extricated from theirs. . . . In fact, the principal implication of my argument is that the much used notion of interdependence has to be taken seriously.Following Wohlstetter's arguments, the United States would work to reassure non-nuclear-armed NATO allies through increased American security commitments to Europe, and to convince them not to build independent nuclear strike forces. Consequently, Albert's arguments against proliferation within the Western alliance would earn considerable fame (and infamy) in Europe. In a 1962 memorandum to the Department of State, Henry Kissinger (who at the time was serving as an outside adviser to the Kennedy Administration) would report the response of French generals in Paris when he had questioned why they believed their small and unprotected force would be capable of retaliating after a Soviet first strike: "The generals replied that I seemed infected by the pernicious Wohlstetter doctrine."
Although Albert also had helped to convince the Kennedy Administration to bury the Multilateral Force for a time, the proposal would die a slow death. Indeed, the proposal would resurface periodically during the Johnson Administration, and at times severely encumber negotiations between the United States and the USSR within the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee, the multilateral forum from which the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or NPT) would later emerge.
Civil Nuclear Energy's Military Potential.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Albert split time between his professorship at the University of Chicago (a position which political scientist Hans Morgenthau had encouraged and helped him to get) and his work as an outside adviser to government, he and Roberta embarked on research to understand better civil nuclear energy's military potential and economic viability. In late 1975, the Wohlstetters -- along with their colleagues at Pan Heuristics, a consulting company that Albert and Roberta had helped to form -- would complete the study Moving Toward Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd? for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA).
Styled as a "primer for policy," Moving Toward Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd? was written during a time when the U.S. nuclear industry and many within government were aggressively pushing for the domestic use and foreign export of spent-fuel reprocessing and other plutonium-related nuclear fuel-making technologies. Building on Albert's earlier work on nuclear deterrence and nuclear nonproliferation, their study argued that the prevailing interpretation of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons was dangerously permissive, enabling and even encouraging non-nuclear-weapon states to claim legitimacy as they acquired nuclear fuel-making technologies, accumulated fissile material (principally high enriched uranium and separated plutonium), and came within months -- or even days -- of building nuclear explosive devices. Moreover, although the NPT requires non-nuclear-weapon signatories to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to safeguard and inspect their nuclear materials involved in peaceful nuclear energy, the Wohlstetter team worried that IAEA safeguards would not be broad enough, intrusive enough, and transparent enough to provide timely warning of a military diversion -- that is, to sound a clear and unambiguous alarm in the case of a state's misuse of civil nuclear energy for nuclear weapons or unknown purposes sufficiently early so that other governments could respond effectively before that state acquired a nuclear weapon.
From this, Albert and company identified three main paths -- besides the outright purchase, theft, or gift of weapons-usable nuclear material -- by which would-be proliferators could obtain material for their first nuclear explosive device. First, nations outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty could pursue, covertly or overtly, military programs to get weapons-usable nuclear material. (As Roberta would detail in The Buddha Smiles: Absent-Minded Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb, India did this by taking advantage of unwitting Canadian and American nuclear assistance.) Second, NPT signatories could cheat the treaty by concealing from the IAEA weapons-related nuclear activities and then withdrawing from the treaty after illegitimately obtaining fissile material. Third, NPT signatories could declare all civil nuclear activities with military potential to the IAEA, accumulate weapons-usable nuclear material in plain sight and with an air of legitimacy, and then later withdraw from the NPT to build nuclear weapons.
This last path particularly disturbed the Wohlstetter team, for it raised the risks of what they dubbed a Damoclean overhang of non-nuclear-armed NPT states, for which:
the critical time required to make a nuclear explosive has been diminishing and will continue to diminish without any necessary violation of clear, agreed rules -- without any 'diversion' [of nuclear material declared for civil purposes] to secret military programs needed -- and therefore without any prospect of being curbed by safeguards which have been elaborated for the purpose of verifying whether the mutually agreed rules have or have not been broken.In their view, the growth of such latent or virtual nuclear-weapon states posed the fundamental challenge to nuclear nonproliferation. "The real problem of proliferation," they wrote,
is not that there are numerous countries "champing at the bit" to get nuclear weapons, but rather that all the non-nuclear countries, without making any conscious decision to build nuclear weapons, are drifting upwards to higher categories of competence. This means that any transient incentive, in the ebb and flow of world politics, which inclines a country to build nuclear weapons at some point in the future, will be just that much easier to act upon.That said, the Wohlstetters and their colleagues rejected fatalism regarding the spread of nuclear weapons. Such fatalism sometimes found expression in phrases like "nuclear proliferation is inevitable," a statement which mechanistically envisions the further spread of weapons-usable nuclear fuel-making and fissile materials, and appears to imply that little, if anything, can be done politically, economically, or otherwise even to slow, let alone reverse, the rate of this spread. "A fatalism which holds that nothing can be done today may be an unconscious cover for a desire to do nothing, to continue as before," they countered. "While it is very likely that there will be some further spread, how much and how rapidly is not a matter of fate, but a subject for policy."
Indeed, the Wohlstetter team stressed that the world's movement toward a nuclear-armed crowd is not inevitable. "Although there is a real chance that many countries will take the additional step and acquire nuclear weapons, it is not certain," they argued. "There exist contradictory forces which may substantially moderate the rate of acquisition of nuclear weapons." The steps by which nations decide to acquire nuclear weapons are "more complex than the exponential physical and biological steps which have suggested the standard metaphors of proliferation," they continued. "They are not automatic, but depend on a complex set of political, military, and economic conditions."
To balance better the aims of national security, nonproliferation, and energy security policies, they put forward a number of prudent alternatives for limiting nuclear proliferation and managing its risks when it did occur. In particular, their study urged the United States:
- to strengthen its security commitment to and interdependence with non-nuclear-armed allies, including those outside of the NATO alliance system, and assure them of their safety in the face of changing proliferation dangers so as to obviate any movement toward getting their own nuclear weapons;
- to interpret the NPT less permissively and more pragmatically, using the extent to which the IAEA can effectively safeguard a given type of nuclear material or civil nuclear activity as a key metric for determining whether or not Article IV of the Treaty's "inalienable right" to "nuclear energy for peaceful purposes . . . in conformity with Articles I and II" actually protects the material/activity in the first place;
- to evaluate transparently the economic viability and military dangers of nuclear energy and nuclear fuelmaking;
- to limit government energy subsidies and loan guarantees not only to the nuclear industry, but also to other energy industries, so as to enable all energy alternatives -- nuclear, fossil fuels, natural gas, cleaner coal, and renewables -- to compete on a neutral, market-driven playing field;
- to establish stringent domestic and international controls on the export and use of fissile material and fuel-making technologies; and
- to work both with the IAEA and with other governments to revise and adequately fund the Agency's safeguards system so that it could have a better chance of providing timely warning of a state's close approach to nuclear weapons capability.
Partial yet nontrivial changes to America's energy and export policies followed. In October 1976, President Gerald Ford decided to defer America's commercial use and export of plutonium-related fuel and fuel-making capabilities, and to call for an international moratorium on the export of plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment technologies. (Ford's deferral decision effectively killed earlier proposals to export nuclear fuel-making technologies to the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran.) In April 1977, President Jimmy Carter made Ford's deferral indefinite. And in 1978, the Congress passed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act (P.L. 95-242, 92 Stat. 120), which among other things established stricter guidelines for U.S nuclear cooperation with and nuclear exports to other governments. As Atomic Industrial Forum president Carl Walske -- who, as the nuclear industry's chief representative, had vehemently opposed such changes to U.S. policy -- would grudgingly concede:
The most significant single event [in the current call for change], in my view, was the appearance in December 1975 of Albert Wohlstetter's study for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency entitled, Moving Toward Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd?Significant revisions to international nonproliferation controls would not follow, however. Although nuclear proliferation would often take a backseat to the larger struggle between the West and the Soviet bloc, proliferation problems would come to dominate U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War's end, especially in the early years of the 21st century.
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February 10, 2009
Wohlstetter book republishes Albert's "Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N+1 Country" (1961)
FYI, Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, the new volume that I edited with NPEC executive director Henry Sokolski, has made available online the following, very-difficult-to-find essay:
Albert Wohlstetter, "Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N+1 Country," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 39, No. 3 (April 1961), pp. 355-387.In the time since I re-booted Albert Wohlstetter Dot Com in January 2008, many online visitors have come to the website looking for the text of "Nuclear Sharing." In this seminal 1961 Foreign Affairs article, Albert made the case against (a) the Multilateral Force (MLF), a controversial Kennedy Administration proposal (inherited from the Eisenhower State Department) to create a nuclear-armed force jointly controlled and operated by NATO member states, and against (b) calls to directly share nuclear weapons with Western European allies.
Wohlstetter's reasoning was that such forms of nuclear sharing would not only worsen the danger of worldwide diffusion of nuclear weapons, but also -- and this point struck many in the 1960s (and may strike some today) as counter-intuitive -- considerably weaken the bonds of the Western European-American alliance.
More to follow on the Wohlstetters' work on stemming nuclear proliferation. In the meantime, I'm glad that Nuclear Heuristics is able to give folks access to this and other key Wohlstetter works.