INTERVIEW WITH RAYMOND GARTHOFF-29.8.1996
INTERVIEWER: First of all, can I ask you the hardest question of all, can we have your name and your title for the transcripts?
RAYMOND GARTHOFF: Raymond R. Garthoff, Brookings Institution, Washington.
INT: Terrific, thank you. First of all Dr Garthoff, can I ask what was the principal change that occurred coming out of the Eisenhower Administration and into the Kennedy-MacNamara, in terms of nuclear strategy?
RG: With the transition from the Eisenhower administration to the Kennedy administration, of course there were the changes brought about by a new younger, dynamic President and administration which wanted to take a more active role. At the same time, there was in any case a change taking place in the world and in the strategic relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union that would have been occurring regardless of changes in the American political scene. So both of these circumstances played a role. The United States was beginning to lose the strategic superiority that it had had throughout the early period of the Cold War. This was something that was bound to happen, it was not due to any failure by either the Eisenhower or Kennedy administrations, it was just a fact of life. But it did mean that the United States had to think in terms of a situation in which the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons and would have inter-continental means of delivery and something eventually approaching an equality or a parity of strategic ability to strike the other side would be a fact of future life.
INT: So when MacNamara came... one of the first policies MacNamara started to discuss was something a more flexible response to what had previously been a threat of massive retaliation. Can you just explain to me a bit what was meant by that?
RG: The Eisenhower administration had articulated a policy called massive retaliation, meaning that the United States would be prepared to use its superior nuclear strategic striking power to respond to any kind of aggressive attack or threat that required such a response. and it meant that rather than simply meeting an attack in Europe or any place else on its own terms, we would be prepared to go beyond that and extend it into retaliatory nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union itself. This policy was possible only because the United States had initially a monopoly and later a great superiority in nuclear strategic striking power. Paradoxically, by the time that it was articulated in 1954, the United States was already beginning to recognise that this situation was one that would not continue indefinitely, that in due course, a parity in striking power, this doesn't necessarily mean equality in precise numbers of weapons, but simply that not only the United States, but also the Soviet Union, would have the ability to launch a devastating nuclear strike or counter-strike. Nonetheless, the Kennedy administration felt that it was necessary to meet this new emerging situation by enhancing the capabilities, military capabilities of the United States and of the NATO alliance to meet lesser threats with effective counter-action that wouldn't necessarily bring into play immediately, or hopefully not at all, the full nuclear striking power of the two sides. And so it was... this idea of being able to respond in accordance with the threat, that is a flexible response, rather than something that meant that any attack would met by massive retaliatory strike, with all of our forces. It was hoped that not only would this make more sense if a situation of hostilities arose, but also that the very ability to return a strike flexibly, would enhance deterrence of such actions and therefore contribute to a situation in which there would be no war.
INT: Excellent answer. Would it be right in terms of a metaphor to say that the original plan was to use, whatever happened, you would be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut? Would that be a way of looking at it?
RG: The original plans for... waging a nuclear war, if war should be forced upon us, had to rely upon whatever strengths we had, and to make up for areas in which we were relatively weak, such as deployed forces on the ground. Therefore, American war planning, contingency planning for the possible emergence of a war had placed an emphasis on air power and on the use of nuclear weapons, right from the beginning. Well, let me see... I'll pick up again at that point, however you want to splice it.... American plans relying upon superior strategic air power and nuclear weapons continued to be an element throughout the Cold War, of course, but from about the time that the Kennedy administration came into power, it was recognised that this alone was not sufficient and it was necessary or at least considered desirable and perhaps necessary to build up other military capabilities to deal with lesser threats, so that we would not be called upon to bring into play massive retaliation, in a period when the Soviet Union could in turn also respond with massive return strike of its own.
INT: Shortly after the MacNamara team, the whiz kids arrived, one of the first things that came out was something called counter-force, counter-force no cities. Could you explain to me what was meant by that?
RG: One of the new features of the broad response, the flexible response strategy of the Kennedy administration concerned the use of strategic forces themselves and in this respect a new emphasis was placed upon what was called counter-force, the use of such forces against the direct military capabilities, strategic and other of the other side. Now this was a change from the general philosophy of strategic air war that had been first developed and employed in World War Two, and at that time, emphasis had been placed on using strategic air power against the means of production of weapons and key transportation and command and control targets of the other side, and in practise, it involved of course massive air strikes against urban centres, where those kinds of facilities were located. This translated into, in the early phases of the nuclear age, into a intention to use nuclear weapons against similar targets, which in effect meant against major cities in the Soviet Union. Although there would be no way to completely separate and avoid attacks against targets of strategic significance located in cities, nonetheless, an effort could be made to concentrate on military forces in being, that did include strategic command centres, but it wouldn't necessarily include the kind of military production facilities, factories and so on, that had been a principal target in World War Two and the shift to counter-force meant that nuclear strikes would be made against military forces of the other side, rather than the enemy's capacity to wage war more broadly. This was also reflective of the thought that a nuclear war would, for all practical purposes, be relatively short, so that what counted was striking the forces in being, strategic forces in being of the other side, rather than production facilities and other matters that would be involved in preparing to wage an extended war.
INT: And did the West expect the Soviets to respond in the same way?
RG: The hope was that the Soviet Union would recognise that it would be in our common interests to keep any use of nuclear weapons as restricted as possible to the military forces of the other side. It was not however a strategy that was conditioned on reciprocity. It was something where it was felt it was both feasible and in our interests to concentrate on striking the deployed forces of the other side, rather than... production facilities or still less, population resources of the enemy. But of course there was no way to arrange any kind of agreements to this effect, it was something which would depend upon each side acting in its own interest.
INT: How did that evolve into the, what became known as the assured destruction philosophies?
RG: The next step in the development of thinking about the use of strategic nuclear forces was a recognition that as each side developed, that ithe United States already had, but as the Union also developed the capacity for extensive strategic nuclear strikes, that it was... more important to assure that ones own strategic forces could not be destroyed in a strike by the other side and that there would be the assurance of retaliation, that you would have assured capability for responding to an attack by the other side. The... assured destruction idea was not so much in terms of the degree of devastation that would be created, as much as it was the emphasis on the fact that there would be a retaliatory response of such power that it would negate any possibility of an attacker seeing advantages in launching an attack in the first place. Now as both sides would have this capability, it came to be called mutual assured destruction, or in the terms originally of its critics, MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction. The idea however was not of course to have Mutual Assured Destruction, but by the existence of the very capacity for such Mutual Assured Destruction, to enhance deterrents so that there would be no war and no destruction.