U.S. Nuclear History: Nuclear Arms and Politics in the Missile Age, 1955-1968

Castle Air Force Base, California, 12 October 1955. 
A Boeing KC-97 'Stratotanker'  about to make contact with a Boeing B-52 'Stratofortress' heavy bomber during an aerial refueling mission. Both aircraft are attached to the 93rd Bombardment Wing, Castle Air Force Base. National Archives, U.S. Air Force col
lection, no. 154034A.C.
Nuclear Arms and Politics in the Missile Age,

Cape Canaveral, Florida, ca. fall 1962. In contrast to the placid patio scene in the foreground, a U.S. Air Force Minuteman ICBM launched from an underground silo at  Cape Canaveral leaves a glowing trail against the 
dark Florida sky as it streaks out over the Atlantic Missile Range. 
National Archives, U.S. Air Force collection, no. 167273. U.S. Nuclear History: Nuclear Arms and Politics in the Missile Age, 1955-1968 documents one of the most formidable military buildups of the nuclear era. It begins with 1955, when the U.S. Air Force acquired its first B-52 bomber, massively destructive thermonuclear weapons entered the weapons stockpile in large numbers, and President Eisenhower declared the production of operational intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) the highest national priority. During the following years, the United States produced and deployed a potentially devastating array of Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman ICBMs and Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), all poised for rapid retaliation or first-strike in a crisis. In addition to its own rapid nuclear expansion, the United States also deployed thousands of nuclear missiles in Western Europe during the 1960s to uphold alliance commitments with European powers. This collection concludes with 1968, when a new phase in nuclear history was approaching; with the Soviets reaching strategic parity, the White House began making arms control negotiations a priority, and the Air Force successfully tested multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) to enhance the destructive reach of ballistic missiles.

About the Collection:

Sample Document: Letter from H. Guyford Stever, chairman, U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, to General Curtis LeMay, chief of staff, U.S. Air Force, recommending development of multiple warheads for Minuteman missiles to strike separate "soft" counterforce targets, 8 July 1964.

Sample Document: State Department memorandum on "Use of Atomic Weapons" from Gerard C. Smith and Robert R. Bowie to Secretary of State Dulles recommending accepting plans for predelegating authority to commander-in-chief, Strategic Air Command to use nuclear weapons in the event that a nuclear attack prevents communication with the president, 15 May 1957.

Sample Document: "Air Force Presentation to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the Air Force Review of Atomic Annexes," asserting that plans for massive destruction of Soviet atomic targets will cause "perhaps unnecessary" destruction in the Sino-Soviet bloc and "some sickness, or even deaths, in friendly areas," 24 August 1957.

President John F. Kennedy at the Command Post during a tour of Strategic Air Command Headquarters, Offut Air Force Base, Nebraska, December 1962.

President John F. Kennedy at the Command Post during a tour of Strategic Air Command Headquarters, Offut Air Force Base, Nebraska, December 1962. Pictured in the front from the left are Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay, Secretary of the Air Force Eugene Zuckert, President Kennedy, SAC Commander-in-Chief General Thomas Power, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, White House Air Aide Colonel Godfrey McHugh, White House Naval Aide Captain Tazewell Shepard, and an unidentified person. Standing between Johnson and Power is Chief of Naval Operations George Anderson; behind Johnson to his right is White House Military Aide General Chester V. Clifton. Photograph courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Focus of the Collection

U.S. Nuclear History: Nuclear Arms and Politics in the Missile Age, 1955-1968, publishes together for the first time significant declassified U.S. government documents on the development of America's nuclear weapons posture during one of the most dangerous periods of the Cold War. Cross-indexed and organized topically for optimal use, this set reproduces on microfiche 1,446 documents, representing 20, 336 pages of material. With material originating from a variety of U.S. government organizations, ranging from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Strategic Air Command to the State Department, this set documents the complex transition from a bomber-based strategic force to one where long-range missiles became central to U.S. nuclear strategy. Documents in this set show how U.S. leaders devised a strategic posture geared toward a prompt and devastating attack following the nuclear strike plans set by the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). Newly declassified material also documents contingency planning for nuclear use in crises and cooperation with key NATO allies in preparing the alliance for nuclear missions.
The documents published in U.S. Nuclear History, 1955-1968 reflect a variety of sources. Many were made available through systematic Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the National Security Archive, which targeted key documents held by government agencies, including the National Archives. Agencies that declassified documents include the Pentagon, the U.S. Air Force and Navy, the U.S. Strategic Command, the CIA, and the National Security Council. Other sources were the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Presidential Libraries and manuscript collections of air force leaders held at the Library of Congress. The rich variety of material from diverse sources makes this document set perhaps the most comprehensive collection on nuclear history ever published.

U.S. Nuclear History, 1955-1968 provides a wealth of information and documentation on key issues in U.S. nuclear policy. Among the specific areas and issues documented are:

Significance of the Collection

During the Cold War, the United States' nuclear program constituted one of the U.S. government's most closely guarded secrets. Even the number of weapons in the stockpile remained highly classified. Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, however, much information that officials once considered unreleasable has become available. Combining recent releases from the National Archives with the results of its own extensive use of the Freedom of Information Act, the National Security Archive's nuclear history project staff has produced a unique collection that permits scholars and the general public direct access to some of the most valuable and significant materials from the previously secret history of U.S. nuclear policy.

One-Stop Access to Critical Material

The 1,446 carefully chosen documents in U.S. Nuclear History, 1955-1968 provide researchers with thousands of pages of declassified U.S. government material on key issues in U.S. nuclear weapons programs and policies during the volatile 1955-1968 period. Through this collection, researchers will gain access to a wide variety of documentation on the multi-dimensional character of nuclear weapons programs. This set will prove invaluable to political scientists and military/diplomatic historians, as well as to historians of science and technology. In addition to the documentation on nuclear strategy issues, researchers can find official histories of weapons systems as well as reports on missile tests and ICBM reliability programs. The catalog provides information on provenance for documents from archival sources, whether presidential libraries or the National Archives, helping researchers identify other important collections of material on nuclear weapons issues.

Among the collection's highlights are:

In-depth Indexing Makes Every Document Accessible

The National Security Archive prepares extensive printed finding aids for its collections. In-depth indexing offers users remarkable ease and precision of access to every document in the set. The printed Index provides document-level access to subjects, individuals, and organizations, and represents a major research contribution in itself. Important transactions within each document are indexed individually using a controlled subjects vocabulary.

The Guide includes an essay; events chronology; glossaries of key individuals, organizations, abbreviations, terms, and weapons and warnings systems; document catalog; and bibliography of secondary sources.

The collection is a necessity for:

Sample Document Titles

01/28/1954 General Curtis LeMay, Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command, The Strategic Air Command, Top Secret Lecture at the National War College

11/07/1956 C. Burke Elbrick, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, to Acting Secretary of State, Program to Increase NATO Nuclear Capability and Secure Certain Base Rights, Secret Memorandum

c. 01/15/1957 Naval Warfare Analysis Group, NAVWAG Study 1, Introduction of the Fleet Ballistic Missile Into Service, Secret Report
08/21/1959 General Nathan Twining, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Target Coordination and Associated Problems, Top Secret Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense

c. 12/00/1959 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Instructions for Expenditure of Nuclear Weapons in Emergency Conditions, Top Secret Memorandum for Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command

12/04/1960 Admiral Arleigh Burke, Special Edition Flag Officers Dope, National Strategic Target List and Single Integrated Operational Plan, Secret Memorandum

9/13/60 Harrison W. Burgess, Department of State Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs, U.S. Flights Over Canada Involving Nuclear Weapons, Top Secret Memorandum

11/06/1961 Department of Defense, Rationale of U.S. Policy in the Berlin Crisis from the NATO Standpoint, Top Secret Memorandum

04/00/1962 Robert F. Piper, U.S. Air Force Systems Command, Historical Office, The Development of the SM-80 Minuteman, Secret History

06/08/1962 John H. Pender, U.S. Department of State Legal Adviser for Special Functional Problems, Operation of NATO Stockpile Program: Survey of Security Arrangements for United States Atomic Weapons with NATO Units (April 1962), Secret Memorandum

03/05/1964 Major General John W. Carpenter, Director of Plans, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, The Air Force Concept of a U.S. Military Strategy, Top Secret Address to Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base

11/08/1966 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, Secretary McNamara's Five Year Force Structure Memorandum on Strategic Forces, Top Secret Report

4/22/1968 U.S. Ambassador to North Atlantic Treaty Organization Harlan Cleveland to Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford, The Nuclear Planning Group, Secret Cable

00/00/1975 L. Wainstein et al., Institute for Defense Analyses, The Evolution of U.S. Strategic Command and Control and Warning, 1945-1972, Top Secret History

02/00/1976 Daniel Ruchonnet, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, MIRV: A Brief History of Minuteman and Multiple Reentry Vehicles, Secret History


U.S. Nuclear History: Nuclear Arms and politics in the Missile Age, 1955-1968

Reproduces on microfiche 1,446 U.S. government records totaling 20,336 pages of documentation concerning the development of America's nuclear weapons posture during the period 1955-1968, one of the most perilous of the Cold War.
Materials were identified, obtained, assembled, and indexed by the National Security Archive.

The Special Collections

Microfiche are arranged chronologically. For ease of use, each document bears a unique accession number to which all indexing is keyed.

The documents are reproduced on 35mm silver halide archivally permanent positive microfiche conforming to NMA and BSI standards. Any microfiche found to be physically substandard in any way will be replaced free of charge.

A printed Guide and Index accompanies the microfiche collection. The Guide contains an events chronology, glossaries, chronological document catalog and a bibliography of secondary sources. The Index provides in-depth, document level access to subjects and individuals.

Date of Publication
January 1998

Orders and Inquiries
Contact Chadwyck-Healey, Inc. for orders and inquiries (click here).

Nuclear History Project Staff

Project Director

Dr. William Burr is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, where he directs the Archive's nuclear history documentation project. Previously, he produced and edited the Archive's critically praised Berlin Crisis collection. He received his Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University, was formerly a visiting assistant professor at Washington College, and has taught at The Catholic University of America, George Mason and American universities. His substantive expertise in national security issues pertains to the history of contemporary U.S.- European relations. His articles have appeared in Diplomatic History, The Cold War International History Project Bulletin, and other journals. He serves on the editorial board of Diplomatic History and as a consultant for Jeremy Issacs' 24-part television history of the Cold War. He is also a co-author with Stephen I. Schwartz et al., of Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution).

Nuclear History Project Advisory Board

Lynn Eden, Fellow, Center for International Security and Arms Control, Stanford University

Robert S. Norris, Senior Research Associate, Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, D.C.

David Rosenberg, Associate Professor, History Department, Temple University and Visiting Professor, Admiral Harry W. Hill Chair in Maritime Strategy, National War College

Praise for U.S. Nuclear History: 1955-1968

"This is a priceless collection of documents concerning a set of issues central for any study of--or teaching about--the Cold War. Once again, the National Security Archive gives us a map for terrain previously poorly marked, if marked at all."
Ernest R. May
Charles Warren Professor of History, John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University)

"The decade and a half from the mid-1950s through the late 1960s was the critical period in the nuclear relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. The National Security Archive’s special collection of recently declassified government files and studies, From the H-Bomb to the MIRV: U.S. Nuclear Weapons Strategy, Operations, and Systems, 1955-1968, thoroughly documents American decision-making on policies and preparation for nuclear conflict. It contains much new material that will change our understanding of this crucial era, and will become the starting point for scholars and students researching the nuclear arms competition during this time."
David A. Rosenberg
Professor of History, Temple University
Visiting Professor, Admiral Harry W. Hill Chair in Maritime Strategy, National War College

"The most wide-ranging collection of nuclear weapon strategy and policy documents ever assembled in one place, this is a "must" for the serious Cold War historian or history library. From the H-Bomb to the MIRV is a valuable shortcut through the interminable Freedom of Information process."
Chuck Hansen
Author, U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History
Editor, The Swords of Armageddon

"This collection permits researchers to have a major archive on nuclear weapons issues right at their finger tips. These declassified documents are essential for understanding the hidden history of the Cold War."
Scott D. Sagan
Co-director, Center for International Security and Arms Control, Stanford University

Special Support

Generous support for the National Security Archive's nuclear history documentation project was provided by the W. Alton Jones Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia.

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