In a workshop in Islamabad today, one of the Pakistani presenters quoted from Henry Kissinger’s Big Splash on nuclear issues, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. This book was first published in 1957. It carried the imprimatur of the Council on Foreign Relations, which convened a study group on these matters. The study group, chaired by Gordon Dean, included such luminaries as McGeorge Bundy, James Gavin, and Paul Nitze. Kissinger drew from these deliberations. He took aim at an easy target: an all-or-nothing nuclear doctrine that the Eisenhower administration seemed to embrace. Here are some excerpts:
In the nuclear age, by the time a threat has become unambiguous it may be too late to resist it.
We cannot base all our plans on the assumption that war, if it comes, will be inevitably all-out. We must strive for a strategic doctrine which gives our diplomacy the greatest freedom of action and which addresses itself to the question of whether the nuclear age presents only risks or whether it does not also offer opportunities.
Deterrence is greatest when military strength is coupled with the willingness to employ it. It is achieved when one side’s readiness to run risks in relation to the other is high; it is least effective when the willingness to run risks is low, however powerful the military capability.
The key to a successful policy of limited war is to keep the challenge to the opponent, whether diplomatic or military, below the threshold which would unleash an all-out war. The greater the risk in relation to the challenge, the less total the response is likely to be. The more the challenge approximates the risks posed by all-out war, the more difficult it will be to limit the conflict.
If [U.S. & Soviet] military staffs could become clear about a doctrine of limited war, we could then use the disarmament negotiations to seek a measure of acceptance of it by the other side.
In a preface to the abridged version of the book published in 1969, Arthur Dean called Kissinger’s work “the most profound and constructive study that has yet been made of one of the toughest problems facing our country.” William W. Kaufmann’s book review in World Politics, The Crisis in Military Affairs [Vol. 10, No. 4 (Jul., 1958), pp. 579-603] was less generous:
Nowhere does he take stock of domestic and foreign attitudes toward these [nuclear] weapons in order to determine to what extent they are politically manageable. We are left to suppose that the controversies over fallout, weapons testing, and the use of nuclear bombs in warfare do not reflect the existence of important political forces at work, and that by the simple expedient of a firm stand in favor of nuclear armaments, the United States can overcome the doubts and fears that have become associated with them. Nowhere is this failure to take the political environment into account more disturbing than in Kissinger’s discussion of limited nuclear war.