Week 3 :: Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War by Jeffrey P. Kimball and William Burr Chapter 2: The Madman Theory: Mr. Nixon, Dr. Kissinger, and Dr. Strangelove, 1945–1969

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war.”
  • “How do you bring a war to a conclusion? I’ll tell you how Korea was ended. We got in there and had this messy war on our hands. Eisenhower … let the word go out diplomatically to the Chinese and the North [Koreans] that we would not tolerate this continual ground war of attrition. And within a matter of months, they negotiated. Well, as far as negotiation [in Vietnam] is concerned that should be our position. We’ll be militarily strong and diplomatically strong.”
  • “In the fifties, I was a strong supporter of … brinkmanship … [or] massive retaliation.… It was a viable policy: that when the United States had enormous nuclear advantage … the United States could say to the world, if in any place in the world, one of our allies, or countries whose interest is similar to ours, is attacked, we will use, we will consider the use, and might very well use our nuclear superiority to deter the attack or to answer it.… Today the nuclear equation does not hold. “
  • “‘the most brilliant world leader I have ever met’… because he nurtured a reputation for rashness, bellicosity, and instability. ‘He scared the hell out of people.’” 
  • “They’ll believe any threat of force that Nixon makes because it’s Nixon.… I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, “for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button”… and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”
  • “Kissinger … briefed me on what I should and should not do in my meetings with Soviet officials [in Moscow in July 1969].… If the chance comes your way, Kissinger told me, convey the impression that Nixon is somewhat “crazy”—immensely intelligent, well organized, and experienced, to be sure, but at moments of stress or personal challenge unpredictable and capable of the bloodiest brutality. Today, anyone familiar with Nixon’s foreign policy knows about the “madman” strategy.”
  • “The increasing Soviet nuclear capability undermines our willingness to run the risk of a general war.… The destructiveness of strategic nuclear weapons has made them useless.… The Sino-Soviet bloc will consider it [that is, the threat of massive retaliation] a bluff and thus confront us again with the dilemma of Dienbienphu.” 
  • “consider the precedent-setting effects of initiating the use of nuclear weapons and … the impact upon allied and neutral nations of our having taken this fateful step.”
  • “homosexuality, dope, and immorality are the basic enemies of a strong society, and that’s why the Russians are pushing it here, in order to destroy us.” 
  • “Kissinger believed, nuclear war might be controllable because neither side would take the horrible risk of launching “everything.”” 

Thought Questions

  • Describe Nixon’s version and reasoning behind the “Madman Theory”
  • What conclusions did Nixon draw from the American experience in Korea?
  • How was Nixon’s ability to project strength different from Eisenhower’s? In what ways did this impact Nixon’s ability to effect the conclusions he took from Korea?
  • What conclusions did Nixon draw from the crises of the Kennedy years in general and from Khrushchev’s brinkmanship specifically?
  • How did the dilemma of Dien Bien Phu impact Nixon and Kissinger’s thinking about nuclear weapons and escalation?
  • How was Nixon’s ability to project strength different from Kennedy’s? In what ways did this impact Nixon’s ability to effect the conclusions he took from the Kennedy years?
  • What new constraints on the use of power did Nixon and Kissinger face in 1969? 
  • Describe the uncertainty effect / principle 
  • Who was H. R. Haldeman and how did he impact Nixon’s madman projection?
  • Explain and Expand: “Nixon’s faith in irrational unpredictability and excessive force”
  • What reaction did Nixon hope to evoke generally from the Soviet Union and from China and specifically over the issue of Vietnam?
  • What is the “McNamara syndrome”?
  • React and Respond: “Ironically and paradoxically, the practitioners of nuclear deterrence also invoked madness in reference to the system.”
  • React and Respond: “Reinforcing the meme of madness during the 1960s was “assured destruction” (AD), a strategic doctrine that Secretary McNamara formulated in late 1963 to describe “an actual and credible second-strike capability” (a retaliatory ability to destroy at least 50 percent of the Soviets’ industrial capacity, 30 percent of their population, and 150 of their cities).”
  • Who was Henry Kissinger and what roles did he fill in the Nixon administration? 
  • Explain and Expand: ““deliberate ambiguity,” which combined “political, psychological, and military pressures to induce the greatest degree of uncertainty and hesitation in the minds of the opponent.” … “an unfavorable calculus of risks” by having the United States conduct military operations that at each stage forced the adversary to assess “risks and possibilities for settlement”” 
  • What was “graduated deterrence” and compare and contrast it with the alternatives considered in the 1950-60s?
  • What are the themes and conclusions in Kissinger’s work “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy”?
  • What are the themes and conclusions in Kissinger’s work “The Necessity for Choice”?
  • How did Kissinger’s philosophy in his pre-1969 works influence his work in the Nixon administration? 
  • How did the experience of the Nixon administration impact Kissinger’s philosophy?
  • What is the “uncertain retaliation” principle?
  • Who is Daniel Ellsberg? 
  • Explain and Expand: “How can you conduct diplomacy without a threat of escalation? Without that there is no basis for negotiations.” 
  • How did Nixon see the culture wars of the 1960s as a part of the Cold War?
  • React and Respond: “He was also worried that US nuclear war plans did not serve useful political purposes.”
  • Why did Kissinger believe nuclear war would be “controllable”?
  • Describe Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove
  • Who was C. Wright Mills and who were the “crackpot realists.”?
  • Describe the role the social sciences assumed in the Post World War II western political world 
  • Compare and Contrast how social science effected international politics in post World War I Russia and international politics in the post World War II west
  • What was the indoctrination film “The Power of Decision” and what was its purpose?

Primary Sources

Articles and References

Further Reading

 

Prelude: Nuclear Diplomacy and Notions about Nuclear Use from Truman to Johnson :: Nixon’s Nuclear Specter by Jeffrey P. Kimball and William Burr

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “Of course we were brought to the verge of war.… If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.… We walked to the brink and we looked it in the face”
  • “Consistent with his role as commander in chief, the president “should be in a position to consider such issues and make his decisions as each case arises.”
  • “the art of bringing us to the edge of the nuclear abyss.” 
  • “In any combat where these things can be used on strictly military targets for strictly military purposes, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else.… I would say, yes, of course they would be used.… The great question about these things comes when you begin to get into those areas where you cannot make sure that you are operating merely against military targets. But with that one qualification, I would say, yes, of course they would be used.” 
  • “I do not fully share your conclusion that an end to nuclear war will come about because of realization on both sides that by using this weapon an unconscionable degree of death and destruction would result. I do think it might tend to reduce very materially the possibility of any war; but I think it would be unsafe to predict that, if the West and the East should ever become locked up in a life and death struggle, both sides would still have sense enough not to use this horrible instrument.”
  • How and why did “massive retaliation” evolve into “flexible response”? What were the negative consequences of “flexible response”?
  • “liberate the Soviet Union from inhibitions that world sentiment has imposed [and] upset the fragile balance of terror”
  • “An advanced and well-organized system for deploying powerful conventional forces, making nuclear threats, and waging nuclear war was about to come under the direction of two men who believed that force and the threat of force were legitimate and effective tools for successfully managing and resolving conflict with adversaries. As a student in the Eisenhower-Dulles seminar of statecraft, Richard Nixon would bring to his presidency specific ideas about how to end wars and manage crises that drew upon his experiences with brinkmanship. ” 

Thought Questions

  • How did the American monopoly on nuclear weapons provide military and diplomatic advantage over America’s adversaries?
  • Describe “nuclear threat diplomacy”. How was it part of a deterrent strategy and part of a Compliance strategy?
  • In what sense did nuclear weapons become militarily useless? What were the limitations of “Atomic Diplomacy”?
  • Describe how “Atomic Diplomacy” emerged and evolved in the Truman Administration
  • Describe how “Atomic Diplomacy” evolved in the Eisenhower Administration
  • Describe how “Atomic Diplomacy” evolved in the Kennedy Administration 
  • Describe how “Atomic Diplomacy” evolved in the Johnson Administration
  • In what ways did the wars in Korea and Vietnam impact “Atomic Diplomacy”?
  • How did the control of nuclear weapons evolve from 1945 to 1968?
  • In what ways did American domestic politics impact policy on nuclear weapons and Atomic Diplomacy?
  • What constraints did the United States face in atomic diplomacy that the Soviet Union or China did not? 
  • What considerations were most relevant to Mao Zedong’s decisions regarding Korea?
  • In what ways did the development of hydrogen, or thermonuclear, weapons have on international relations and the role nuclear weapons played in world affairs?
  • How did world opinion restrain the first use of nuclear weapons?
  • What was the “New Look” grand strategy? 
  • Explain and Expand on the significance of NSC 162/2 
  • Describe the Dien Bien Phu Crisis, how the United States was impacted and what role nuclear weapons had in the crisis
  • What role did nuclear testing play in “Atomic Diplomacy”?
  • Compare and Contrast the American and French goals in Indochina
  • Describe the system of SAC Alerts and SIOP 
  • Who was Gamal Abdel Nassar and what was the Suez War? 
  • Describe the events surrounding the first and second Taiwan Strait disputes
  • What impact did the development and deployment of the B-52 have on nuclear weapons policy? What distinct roles did the B-47 and B-52 play in nuclear war?
  • Describe the events of the U-2 shoot down over the Soviet Union on 1 May 1960 and its repercussions
  • Describe the North Korean attack on the USS Pueblo 1968
  • Describe the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty 1967
  • What was the Selective Employment of Air and Ground Alert (SEAGA).plan and how was it a reaction to changing global issues?
  • How did nuclear weapons and Vietnam impact the election of 1964?
  • How did the situation of the US Marine base at Khe Sanh impact decision making on nuclear first use?

Primary Sources

·       Articles and Resources

Further Reading

 

Introduction :: Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War by Jeffrey P. Kimball and William Burr

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “I think you will find that upon further reflection, Seymour Hersh will prove to be closer to Nixon’s real reason for the low-key nuclear alert exercise. The president talked to me personally about this decision before I passed the orders on to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.”
  • “Although their strategy evolved, their faith in coercive threat making remained to the end of the American war in Vietnam.”
  • “‘No one really knows … the secret stuff we’ve been doing.’ Henry Kissinger and H. R. Haldeman, in conversation with Richard Nixon” 

Thought Questions

  • What was Nixon’s “Madman Theory” and what was the relationship to the events around 13 and 30 October?
  • Describe the debate over the purpose of the nuclear alert of 13 and 30 October 
  • What were the underlying policy goals behind the events of 13 and 30 October and why were military leaders opposed to it?
  • In what ways were the Nixon administrations actions representative of a threat-based strategy and what were the consequences of this path?
  • Describe the author’s organization of the book

Primary Sources

Further Reading About Richard Nixon