Strategic Air Command
What is Deterrence?
    Geoffrey Perret's recent biography of President Eisenhower contains some interesting material on SAC's deterrent role.  The excerpts cited below deal with the subject.  In order to keep this article concise, material that was not directly related has been omitted.  It includes such things as the U.S. foreign policy regarding Asia and Ike's comments on the Cold War being a non-win situation.

by Geoffrey Perret
Random House, New York.  1999

Pages 449-450:

            … [President Eisenhower] believed that over time the Soviet Union would mellow.  It therefore made sense to negotiate with the Russians. Even so, American forces not only had to strong enough to deter Soviet aggression in Europe, or anywhere else of vital interest to the U.S.; if deterrence failed, the U.S. had to be ready to destroy the Soviet Union.
            He intended to do this not, after but before any attack on the United States could be launched.  This was the most important single element in Eisenhower’s Cold War strategy; he was not going to base American security on a strike from beyond the grave.
            Eisenhower explicitly ruled out a preventive war, but not a preemptive strike. He began to create a strategic force capable of detecting any Soviet move toward a nuclear attack. Once detected, it might only be possible to tell the Soviets to back down or else, but if a warning was tried and failed, or if there was not enough time to warn the Kremlin, he was going to beat the enemy to the punch.
            Any serious move toward launching a surprise attack would be interpreted as a casus belli.  The bombs didn’t have to explode first.  As the most obvious and banla, it was the dramatic device of a thousand westerns - at the climax, all the bad guy has to do is reach for his gun to justify the good guy drawing quicker and shooting him dead.
            “Our own chance of victory,” Eisenhower told the NSC [National Security Council] on December 3, 1953, “would be a paralyze the enemy at the outset of the war… If war comes, the other fellow must have started it.  Otherwise we would not be in a position to use the nuclear weapon and we have got to be in the position to use that weapon.
            Two days later, he told Winston Churchill,  “Anyone who holds up too long in the use of his assets in atomic weapons might suddenly find themselves subjected to such widespread and devastating attack that retaliation would be next to impossible," and when senior congressional figures protested that his strategy ignored the requirement for congress to declare war, he responsed that if faced with “a gigantic Pear Harbor, I will act to protect the United States.”
            In January 1954, [Secretary of State John Foster] Dulles gave a widely reported speech in which he spoke of America’s “massive retaliatory power.”  Eisenhower was repeatedly pressed to explain what “massive retaliation” mean, but he invariably took refuge in ambiguity, giving many people the impression that he hadn’t though clearly about how nuclear weapons would be used.  In truth, he knew exactly what he had in mind.  “When we talk about power and massive retaliation,” he told members of the NSC, “we mean retaliation against an act that to use means irrevocable war.  On another  occasion, he told his staff plainly, “SAC must not allow the enemy to strike the first blow.

Page 457-459:

            In retrospect, it isn’t surprising that his relationship with the Army he loved would turned out hat way.  Eisenhower had been an outstanding soldier not because he was interested in relighting the last war - a common criticism of military men - but because he was always think about winning the next one.  He national security strategy, based first and foremost on developing a preemptive strike capability, meant that the Air Force was going to have priority.  Second would come the Navy which could project American power in the most remote parts of the work and might one day supplement to SAC’s preemptive attack.   
            In the Army, however, it was agonizing to be relegated to third place under a soldier-President.  There was a lot of bitterness and muted grumbling in the O Clubs that Ike seemed to have forgotten where he came from.
             … Eisenhower and [Secretary of Defense Charles] Wilson intended to make [changes] in the defense budget.  The budget would go to Congress in January for fiscal year 1955. It proposed to reduce defense expenditures from the current level of  $43 billion down to $37.5 billion.  The Air Force would get roughly 45 percent of the defense budget, the Navy 30 percent and the Army only 25 percent.  [The amount was later increased].
            Eisenhower … was selling it hard, first in his State of the Union address in January 1954, and again a few days later in his budget message to Congress.  Dulles meanwhile, gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in which he talked about the new strategy, presenting it as one based entirely on deterrence, but deterrence with a  hair trigger.  “the way to deter aggression is for a free community to be willing able to respond vigorously and at place and with means of its own choosing.  The basic decision was made to depend primary on a great capacity to retaliate instantly by means and at places of our choosing.
            This speech gave the impression that the Unite State would strike back, hitting the Soviet Union, only after it had been attacked, which wasn’t true.  In fact, even as Dulles gave his speech, Curtis LeMay, the commander of the Strategic Air Command, was working - with what glow of satisfaction we can only guess - on a report that spelled out in detail SAC’s ability to fulfill its primary mission.  There were finally enough bombers, trained crews, forward bases and nuclear weapons for SAC to take out all six hundred Soviet military airfields and most of the command-and-control centers in a first strike. Every major urban industrial center , such as Moscow and Leningrad, plus important urban-military centers, such as Vladivostok and Murmansk, would be destroyed in the same attack.  The Soviets might have enough military power remaining in Eastern Europe to strike the cities of Western Europe in retaliation, but they would be incapable of posing any significant threat to the United States.  Eisenhower’s national security strategic now rested on the firmest possible foundation - American invulnerability to nuclear attack.

Page 460

            [Head of the State Dept. Policy Planning Staff, George] Kennan declared bluntly, "Massive retaliation is only another expression for the principal of first strike.”

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