RESEARCH DOCUMENT /// Kissinger Told Soviet Envoy during 1973 Arab-Israeli War : “My Nightmare is a Victory for Either Side” – The Soviet Agreed


Kissinger Told Soviet Envoy during 1973 Arab-Israeli War : “My Nightmare is a Victory for Either Side” – The Soviet Agreed

Only days after the outbreak of the October War and not long after his confirmation as Secretary of State, Kissinger at one of his first press conferences, on 12 October 1973. During this event, he declared that the Soviet Union airlift of supplies to the Arab countries had been “moderate,” a statement that Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) criticized. (National Archives, Still Picture Unit, Record Group 59-BP, box 35, envelope VS 1053-73 Secy’s Press Conf)

Published: Aug 9, 2019

Briefing Book #680

Edited by William Burr

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

New Kissinger Telcons Shed Light on U.S. Policy during the War as Well as Nixon’s Nomination of Gerald Ford for Vice President

Nixon Described Ford to HAK as a “Bright Truman”

Posting Comes on Anniversary of Nixon’s Resignation in 1974

Washington, D.C., August 9, 2019 – Several previously unknown Henry Kissinger memoranda of telephone conversations – or telcons – from October 1973, uncovered by the National Security Archive, provide blunt and fascinating vignettes from a significant moment during the Nixon presidency.

In one record about the Yom Kippur War, the secretary of state candidly tells Soviet envoy Anatoly Dobrynin it would be a “nightmare” if either side won. In another, the president comments that Gerald Ford, who would soon be named vice president, was a “safe” choice, reminding Nixon of a “bright Truman.” That telcon consisted of a somewhat disjointed conversation with the president that prompted Kissinger to confide in his deputy later that the “President was loaded.”

The telcons posted today, on the anniversary of Nixon’s resignation as president, were included in the National Archives’ response to a declassification request by the National Security Archive 19 years ago, in 2000. It is not clear why they were not part of the previously known major collections released since 2004 by the National Archives and the State Department largely in response to the threat of legal action.

Newly Discovered Kissinger Telcons from October 1973

By William Burr

During the Arab-Israeli War in October 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had frequent discussions with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. During a conversation on 18 October 1973, after he agreed that the military situation was stable, even stalemated, Kissinger declared that “my nightmare is a victory for either side.” Dobrynin observed: “it is not only your nightmare.” Kissinger would say different things to different interlocuters, but he may have worried that if either Egypt or Israel attained a decisive military advantage it would weaken U.S. influence over post-war peace talks. Dobrynin likely had the same concern for the Soviet position.

A conversation with President Richard Nixon sheds light on Nixon’s decision to choose Congressman Gerald Ford (R-MI) as vice president to replace Spiro Agnew who had just resigned owing to corruption charges. Nixon told Kissinger that the top candidates were Ford, former Secretary of State William Rogers, former Treasury Secretary John Connolly, and California Governor Ronald Reagan. Dismissing Reagan as a possibility, Kissinger suggested someone, unlike Connolly or New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who would not be a “presidential candidate” in 1976. Nixon and Kissinger agreed that Ford would not be “the candidate” in 1976, with Nixon characterizing him as “safe”, and a “bright Truman.”

Both of these recently declassified telephone conversation transcripts were previously unknown. Found in a collection of Kissinger material in State Department records at the National Archives, they were declassified in response to an October 2000 request by the National Security Archive. Other Kissinger telephone conversations in this release were with White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, and White House counsel Leonard Garment.

The discussions covered by these telcons occurred during the 1973 Middle East War and a major topic was U.S. policy to supply Israel with arms and ammunition. The coordinated Egyptian-Syrian attack on 6 October 1973 against Israeli forces in the Sinai and the Golan Heights had come as a shock to Washington. A State Department intelligence analyst had estimated the possibility of war months earlier and U.S. intelligence had picked up warning signs in the weeks before, but the Nixon administration was relatively complacent. Never considering the possibility that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat would launch war to force negotiations, Kissinger and his Israeli counterparts believed that they could control the pace of diplomacy over territory occupied during the 1967 war. At a staff meetiong on 23 October, State Department analyst Ray Cline captured some of the reasons for pre-war complacency when he observed that "we were brainwashed by the Israelis, who brainwashed themselves.”[1]

When the war broke out, Nixon and Kissinger wanted to make sure that Israel did not lose, but they favored a low profile for the U.S. role, so as not to anger Arab countries that were already suspicious of U.S. policy. Moreover, Kissinger wanted to calibrate supply availabilities to influence Israeli war aims. The telcons from 13 October 1973 are especially revealing because they illustrate Kissinger’s suspicion that the Pentagon was “sabotaging” supply operations, which could risk putting “the whole goddamn strategy out of whack.” After Nixon decided in favor of a large-scale U.S. airlift of supplies, Kissinger told Leonard Garment that “we are going to wind up with the Arabs mad.”

The National Archives released these telcons from a collection “The Records of Henry A. Kissinger,” found in State Department records at the Archives. It is essentially a collection of document copies, with (to the best of the editor’s recollection) no original typed copies. Some of the documents are marked with chapter numbers suggesting that the papers had something to do with the preparation of Henry Kissinger’s memoirs. The telcons found there are also copies, some of them poorly reproduced second or third generation versions of the originals.

Copies of these telcons cannot be found in the otherwise comprehensive Kissinger telcon collection at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum (a copy of the originals in Kissinger’s Library of Congress collection), which the National Archives secured from Kissinger’s papers as a result of legal action threatened by the National Security Archive. The absence of the telcons from the records at the Nixon Library (or even the Library of Congress) may have been a clerical oversight or a deliberate decision, but at least copies are available. This may not be the case for Kissinger’s records of his meetings with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin during 1973-1976, which to date are nowhere to be found, despite the efforts of State Department historians to locate them.

The Department of State made no objection to declassifying the new telcons, but the Department of Defense excised three of them, one of them extensively (the Nixon-Kissinger telcon). The Pentagon’s justification for the redactions is exemption 3.3 (b) (6) in Executive Order 13526: that disclosure would “reveal information, including foreign government information, that would cause serious harm to relations between the United States and a foreign government, or to ongoing diplomatic activities of the United States.”

It is not clear why the Defense Department leadership believes that its declassification reviewers have special skills compared to State Department professionals for determining which information could harm U.S. diplomacy; nevertheless, they have used exemption 6 frequently when reviewing State Department records at the National Archives, even from even the early 1960s. It is equally mysterious why Pentagon reviewers suppose that declassification of Nixon’s or Kissinger’s statements from 1973 could actually cause damage today , but the National Security Archive routinely challenges such claims in administrative appeals to the National Archives and the Department of Defense.

* The editor thanks Melissa Lew Heddon, an archivist at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, for her kind help in checking the documents in this posting against the Library’s collection of Henry Kissinger telcons. Alexander Chang, a student at George Washington University, helped with transcriptions.

Note: The archival source for these telcons is: National Archives (College Park), Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973-1977, box 25, 1974 Arab-Israeli War.

Documents

Document 01

TELCON Schlesinger/HAK October 9, 1973/5:35 p.m.

1973-10-09

Three days after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war, Kissinger spoke with Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to review priorities for providing Israel with military supplies. According to Kissinger, Nixon had made the following selections from an options paper[2]: option 1 (provide military “consumables,” e.g., ammunition and weapons, with Israeli responsibility for transportation), option 4 (“replacement equipment”, such as F-4 fighter jets that the Israelis “can haul away themselves”), and option 5: (“use of US delivery means, including C-5As for M-60 tank delivery”). Providing the F-4s was a problem because not only would they have to be accompanied by a tanker, they would have U.S. Air Force markings on them making the U.S. origin “obvious.” And they couldn’t fly over Western European airspace because the Europeans were “unsympathetic” to the Israelis.

At this stage, Nixon and Kissinger favored a low U.S. profile for the supply operation so as to minimize antagonizing the Arab states. According to Kissinger, Nixon wanted the Israelis to get tanks, but they should not be supplied until after the fighting had ended; the White House assumption was that “they don’t need them for the current fighting.” Nevertheless, Kissinger asked Schlesinger to make plans for sending them in case the need arose.

Schlesinger advised going for option 5, to use long-range C5As to ship tanks, but Kissinger was more interested in moving quickly on option 1 to minimize the direct U.S. role. Schlesinger spoke of the need for a “Flying Tigers” operation to move supplies. An hour later, however, Kissinger would learn from Ambassador Dinitz about major tank losses, on the order of 400 from the fighting with the Egyptians. It would be several days before Nixon approved a major airlift.

Document 02

Telecon, Nixon/Kissinger, October 11, 1973 6:35 p.m., excised copy

1973-10-11

Five days into the October War and a day after a disgraced Spiro Agnew had resigned from the vice presidency, a possibly inebriated President Richard Nixon called Henry Kissinger to ask for the latest news. Kissinger later told his deputy, General Brent Scowcroft, that the “President was loaded” when he spoke with him. A possible clue to Nixon’s lack of focus was that when Kissinger mentioned that Israeli forces had gone 20 kilometers into Syria, Nixon observed “That is about as far … as Egypt. You have been up there haven’t you. You can look across the desert.”

Kissinger tried to keep the conversation on track with a discussion of strategy, mainly his interest in stalling a ceasefire presumably so that Israel could cement additional territorial gains. The transcript is incomplete because the transcriber plainly had trouble catching some of Kissinger’s points about Soviet policy and the possibility of “MFN” (most-favored-nation) commercial status for the Soviet Union. Nixon later made clear his position that he wanted to “see that Israel doesn’t lose” and that there would be no foot dragging in providing supplies.

Part of the discussion concerned Agnew’s replacement. Nixon mentioned former Secretary of State William Rogers, former Treasury Secretary John Connolly, California Governor Ronald Reagan, and Representative Gerald R. Ford (R-MI). Kissinger dismissed Reagan as a possibility and suggested someone, unlike Connolly or New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who would not be a “presidential candidate” in 1976. Nixon and Kissinger agreed that Ford would not be “the candidate” in 1976, and Nixon characterized him approvingly as “safe”, and a “bright Truman.” Nixon nominated Ford the next day.[3]

The comment about a “smart Truman” reflected the bad blood with President Harry S. Truman that had developed during the late 1940s and early 1950s when Nixon, then in Congress, waged relentless partisan warfare against the Truman administration on all fronts.

Document 03

Telecon Secretary Kissinger/Gen. Haig 12:45 a.m., 10/13/1973, excised copy[4]

1973-10-13

This conversation with White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig took place after Kissinger met with Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz who told him that promised U.S. supplies for the war had not arrived and that Israeli forces were running out of ammunition. While meeting with Dinitz, Kissinger spoke with Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and accused the Pentagon of “sabotaging” the supply operation.

Supplies were not coming through because to keep a low U.S. official profile Kissinger had insisted on using private charter flights but the Defense Department had not convinced or compelled any contractor to move the equipment.[5] That was the “sabotage” Kissinger saw yet he strongly opposed to a direct U.S. role, e.g. by Military Airlift Command, in providing the Israeli support. “That would be a disaster, Al,” Kissinger said.

What aggravated Kissinger was that the failure to provide supplies could cause a diplomatic failure. Once supplies became available, “the whole goddamn strategy [will be] out of whack because …the stuff will arrive just in time when we want to stop” the Israelis from expanding their military operations. Seeking to influence Israeli war aims, he explained that if the supplies had been available, “the Israelis would be rolling now, then we could stop them while they are rolling.” Tacitly he was referring to the cease fire then under discussion with the Soviets and the British that would stop the fighting before the Israelis had gained so much ground that Washington would lose influence with the Arabs. Now, because the Israelis had not met their objectives, “they will hoard the stuff we are getting in, drive out the negotiations, and then strike.”

To get the supply problem resolved and diplomacy on track, Kissinger rang up Schlesinger but it became less clear that the Israelis were actually running out of ammunition or if they were, why they had not said so earlier. That angered Kissinger, but he dropped his opposition to a direct U.S. role and agreed with Schlesinger on sending 10 C-130s loaded with supplies and on putting pressure on charter flight operators. As furious with the Israelis as he was, Kissinger nevertheless “wanted to have them going as a fierce force while [the war] is going on.”

Document 04

TELCON Henry Kissinger/Len Garment 10/13/73 12:55 p.m., excised copy

1973-10-13

The morning of 13 October, Nixon was in command and doubled the number of C-130s to be sent to Israel. At a meeting of the Washington Special Actions Group, Kissinger told senior officials that if there were “any further delays in carrying out orders, we want the resignation of the officials involved.” A few hours later, Counselor to the President Leonard Garment told Kissinger that “people in the [Jewish] community” saw Schlesinger as a “roadblock” t0 the supply operation and that they were “going after people,” such as Republican Party Chairman George H.W. Bush and others, who were apparently not sufficiently helpful.

Kissinger mollified Garment, telling him that he had “put the fear of God” in Schlesinger, but was resentful that the Jewish community was “coming after me” (Garment didn’t think they were) and was especially angry that Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) had made “threatening” phone calls about “mismanagement of the crisis.” After telling Garment that the “massive sabotage [had] been broken,” he exclaimed that “this Administration is a disaster.” There would be a cease-fire early in the coming week, Kissinger argued, if the “Defense Department Arabists” had not blocked needed supplies to Israel. Now, “they have to pour in high-profile stuff into Israel [and] now we are going to wind up with the Arabs mad.”

Document 05

TELCON Gen. Haig – Secretary Kissinger Oct. 13, 1973 2:45 p.m.

1973-10-13

With Haig, Kissinger spoke about cease-fire diplomacy and the supply operation. News that an Egyptian armored division was crossing over the Suez Canal produced an emotional response with Kissinger claiming that “the defense department may have inflicted a diplomatic and military defeat on us.”

The British had been playing a role in the cease-fire negotiations but were backing away because Anwar Sadat objected, thinking that Egyptian forces would gain more ground. Kissinger explained that London did not want to be “accused of collusion with the Russians to make Sadat swallow something he doesn’t want.” When Kissinger noted that the British didn’t want “to bear the onus alone” for the plan, Haig accused “perfidious Albion” but Kissinger remained interested in a cease-fire because if it “doesn’t work,” he saw a “massive airlift, massive confrontation with the United Arabs and the Soviets,” all because of the failure of the “goddamned Arabists” in the Pentagon.

Kissinger may have been of two minds on short-term diplomacy, however, because a minute or two later he told Haig that “we have to … have a massive airlift [and] stop consultation with the Arab world and with the Soviets.” Perhaps seeing confrontation ahead, Kissinger spoke about the need for higher defense spending, a “sharp turn right” (away from détente?), and greater competition with the Soviets over military assistance.

Document 06

TELCON October 13, 1973 Amb. Dobrynin – Secretary Kissinger [No time indicated]

1973-10-13

This garbled transcript begins by conveying Kissinger’s anger with Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) who was going to make a speech criticizing Kissinger for observing during a press conference that the Soviet airlift of supplies to Egypt and Syria had been “moderate.” The discussion turned to the cease-fire resolution that was complicated by Sadat’s opposition. Worried about the war’s impact on détente with Washington, the Soviets wanted a cease fire, but ran into Egyptian opposition that they were not willing to overrule.[6] Speaking with Kissinger, Dobrynin repeatedly asked “what could be done.” After noting that U.S. supplies were being kept to “rather small proportions” (that was about to change), Kissinger mentioned the possibility of including references to UN Security Resolution 242 to a cease-fire resolution. Dobrynin asked whether Kissinger preferred a “simple cease-fire,” but the transcriber did not catch all of the reply.

Document 07 (transcript attached)

TELCON Amb. Dobrynin- Secretary Kissinger October 13, 1973 [No time indicated]; best copy available.

1973-10-13

This conversation, which probably took place in the late afternoon, indicated that the cease-fire discussions were collapsing. The record is also garbled but Kissinger made it plain that the U.S. supported a cease-fire based on the “status quo ante” requiring Arab and Israeli forces to return to prewar lines.[7] According to Dobrynin, that was impossible for the Arabs: they were “doing what they feel necessary,” trying to seize territory occupied by Israel after the Six Day War. It “was very difficult for us to tell them, look here you shouldn’t do that.”

For Kissinger, Arab opposition to a cease-fire was a big mistake: they “are now going to be pushed back, possibly … annihilated.” They had “proved their point” that negotiations had to take place. Kissinger worried that if the war continued “the Israelis [will] have pushed the Arabs out of every territory.” “If we do nothing by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest, Arabs will have been defeated.” Such an outcome Kissinger opposed because it would leave the Israelis with too much leverage in peace talks.

A conversation between the two a few hours later demonstrated that the possibility of a cease-fire had collapsed. Kissinger stated that he had been trying to avoid a U.S.-Soviet “collision,” but “we cannot not supply our friends while you are supplying yours.”[8]

Document 08 (transcript attached)

TELECON Amb. Dobrynin- Secretary Kissinger October 18, 1973 7:14 p.m.

1973-10-18

U.S.-Soviet cease-fire discussions resumed on 18 October. During a conversation with Dobrynin (who jokingly referred to Kissinger’s recent Nobel Peace prize), Kissinger said he believed that the Israelis would accept a cease fire resolution that referred to U.N. Resolution 242 but it would depend on the military situation. (He soon found out that the Israelis objected to any such reference.) Kosygin was in Cairo where Dobrynin hoped there would be “straight talk” with Sadat, but Kissinger was not so sure: “I have told my associates the Arabs are [as] lying as Arabs [the Israelis?] and the Israelis are [as] lying as the Arabs and it is hard to tell what is going on.” Both agreed that the military situation was stable, perhaps stalemated, but Kissinger admitted that “my nightmare is a victory for either side.” Dobrynin observed “it is not only your nightmare.”

An hour or so later, Dobrynin called again with Brezhnev’s proposal for a cease-fire resolution. As these conversations were unfolding, the Israelis were beginning to make such significant gains on the ground in the Sinai, beginning a move to encircle Egypt’s Third Army, that Sadat became ready to accept a cease-fire and Kissinger traveled to Moscow and Tel Aviv to negotiate a cease-fire. Once that was arranged and a U.S.-Soviet crisis over the conflict had occurred, Kissinger would work to exclude Moscow from the Middle East peace process to reduce its influence in the region

Nixon, Dobrynin, and Kissinger at Camp David in 1973. Source: NPMP

Notes

[1]For helpful perspective on U.S. policy during the war, see Salim Yaqub, Imperfect Strangers: Americans, Arabs, and U.S.-Middle East Relations in the 1970s (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016).

[2]. Nixon chose from an options paper attached to the record of a Washington Special Actions Group meeting, 9 October 1973, at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library Web site.

[3]. On Nixon’s selection of Ford, see Melvin Small, The Presidency of Richard Nixon (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999), 288.

[4]. A copy of this telcon is probably in the papers of some former official because Walter Isaacson had access to it and quoted several sentences in Kissinger: A Biography (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1992), at page 521.

[5]. According to Isaacson, Kissinger’s decision to rely on charter flights was “the most bothersome mistake of the resupply effort.” See Isaacson, Kissinger, at 519.

[6]. “Remarks of Ambassador Victor Israelyan,” in Richard Parker, The October War: A Retrospective (Gainesville: University Press of Florida), 219-222. Israelyan recalled that he and his colleagues “favored putting strong pressure on Sadat,” but the Soviet leadership ignored the advice.

[7]. Kissinger later argued that it was necessary to get the Israelis to “sign on to [that] principle so we could use it against them if they turned the war around.” Isaacson, Kissinger, 515.

[8]. “TELCON Amb. Dobrynin- Secretary Kissinger, October 13, 1973, 7:55 p.m.,” copy available on Digital National Security Archive.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : “Atoms for Peace” Was Actually a “Threat to Peace” – AEC Official in 1955


"Atoms for Peace" Was Actually a “Threat to Peace” – AEC Official in 1955

Soviet diplomat Alexei Roshchin and Arms Control and Disarmament Agency director William C. Foster. Both played key roles in the negotiation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Undated photo, circa 1967-1968, in collection of William C. Foster; courtesy of the Foster family.

Published: Jul 16, 2019

Briefing Book #678

Edited by William Burr

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Major New Publication: U.S. Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy, 1954-1968: From Atoms for Peace to the NPT

Documents from Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ Presidencies Provide Crucial History on Indian, Chinese, Israeli, and Other States’ Nuclear Programs

Latest Collection in the Digital National Security Archive series published by ProQuest

Washington, D.C., July 16, 2019 – The latest addition to the award-winning publications series The Digital National Security Archive provides a trove of important historical documentation on global nuclear proliferation, including numerous new details and insights into the clandestine programs of India, China, Israel, and other would-be nuclear states.

U.S. Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy, 1954-1968: From Atoms for Peace to the NPT, compiled and edited by National Security Archive nuclear expert William Burr, explores a crucial period in the nuclear era when many of the problems and challenges facing today’s nonproliferation regime began to emerge.

The new collection, totaling over 2,300 documents and 12,645 pages and distributed by the academic publisher ProQuest, fills significant research gaps for historians and offers a variety of document-based cases to help inform public debate as well as government decision-making about curbing the spread of nuclear weapons.

* * * * *

During the early 1960s, U.S. intelligence experts expected that China would develop and test a nuclear device in the not-too-distant future. By mid-1964, U.S. intelligence had detected signs of technical preparations for a test and by late September 1964, State Department intelligence analyst Allen S. Whiting believed that recent “indications” suggested that one was imminent. He prepared a memo sent to Secretary of State Dean Rusk predicting a test on 1 October 1964, China’s National Day. Whiting was off by a few weeks – the test took place on 16 October – but his analysis informed Rusk’s decision to announce that a test was forthcoming.

Whiting’s estimate was declassified in 2018 and is included in the Digital National Security Archive’s latest collection the collection documents major developments in U.S. nonproliferation policy during the presidencies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Today’s E-book includes Whiting’s estimates and other interesting examples published in the collection, including:

  • A State Department memorandum from 1955 recounting a statement by an Atomic Energy Commision official that the U.S. Atoms for Peace program paradoxically would involve a “threat to peace” because of the “expanded knowledge of nuclear power reactors and plutonium separation.”
  • A memorandum of conversation from June 1963 during which Secretary of State Rusk objected to the idea of an independent Western European nuclear force because of the danger that it could trigger nuclear war: “The Secretary said that if a European nuclear deterrent means that 5 percent of the West’s total nuclear power can decide regarding the use of 95 percent of the West’s nuclear power (i.e., U.S. power), Europe should recognize that this was just not a possibility, The U.S. would not stand £or it.”
  • A closely held “No Distribution” telegram from September 1967 describing the drafting by U.S. and Soviet officials of the latest version of Nonproliferation Treaty Article III on safeguards. The draft was widely understood as a “Soviet draft,” but the chief U.S. negotiator, William C, Foster, explained: “obviously we helped.”

The Digital National Security Archive’s latest collection covers an especially significant period in the history of the nuclear age, when the spread of nuclear capabilities and the emergence of new nuclear powers produced concern in the U.S. government and elsewhere that nuclear proliferation could threaten international stability. Through the Atoms for Peace program and the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Washington had hoped to steer the development of nuclear power so that it would be used for such peaceful purposes as electric power generation. But the emergence of new nuclear powers showed how difficult it was to curb proliferation.

U.S. support for the creation of the IAEA’s safeguards system reflected the conviction that formal mechanisms were important to prevent the diversion of nuclear resources into weapons programs. The new digital collection documents the creation of the IAEA and the first iteration of the safeguards system that the NPT would make obligatory for signatories.

U.S. Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy, 1954-1968 documents developing U.S. knowledge and concern about emergent nuclear powers. Among the developments were India’s acquisition of a virtually unsafeguarded reactor from Canada and China’s efforts, with initial assistance from the Soviet Union, to develop technology for a weapons program. Also included in the set are documents concerning France’s drive toward a weapons capability and the discovery of French-Israeli cooperation to build a nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert. While West Germany was far from interested in a weapons capability, Washington’s concern that it eventually might develop an interest informed proposals for a multilateral force to give Germany a nuclear role without actually transferring weapons to its control.

Also documented is the U.S. reaction to China’s first nuclear test in October 1964, which deepened interest in an international nonproliferation agreement. Within a few years the U.S. and the Soviet Union were closely associated in negotiating a treaty because of shared interests in nonproliferation. Yet, agreement was delayed because Moscow argued that the proposed MLF was a form of nuclear proliferation; it was not until mid-1966 that the U.S. government broke the stalemate by jettisoning the MLF. Moscow and Washington agreed to treaty language that ruled out the “transfer” of nuclear weapons. tn non-nuclear weapons states. That represented a Soviet concession because the new language validated U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile arrangements with NATO countries, including West Germany, which Moscow had criticized in the past.

All of these developments are covered in the new DNSA collection, along with other significant topics such as the step-by-step negotiation of the NPT, including the treaty articles on safeguards and disarmament. The protracted negotiations over Article III on safeguards reflected disagreement over the relationship between the safeguards systems of the IAEA and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM), in particular whether “self-inspection” by the latter would be permissible under the NPT. The dogged efforts by U.S. negotiators to persuade the Soviets to accept EURATOM safeguards is a running theme in the documents on the NPT talks.

Among other topics covered in the collection are:

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower’s proposal for a fissile material production cut-off, seen as a method to prevent nuclear proliferation and supported by successive administrations.
  • John F. Kennedy’s initial search for a nuclear nonproliferation agreement, beginning during the 1961 Berlin Crisis and continuing into 1963.
  • U.S. policy toward the negotiation of the Latin American Nuclear Free Zone.
  • Efforts to control the dissemination of sensitive nuclear technology, including the gas centrifuge, beginning with U.S. government attempts to prevent Brazil from purchasing a gas centrifuge from West Germany in 1954 and later to establish secrecy for improved gas centrifuge technology during the 1960s.
  • Subsequent developments in gas centrifuge diplomacy, including initial policy toward Western European cooperative projects for the commercial use of the gas centrifuge to produce low-enriched reactor fuel.

Documents

Document 01

Memorandum for File by P[hilip] J. Farley, Office of Special Assistant to Secretary of State for Atomic Energy, “Control of Peacetime Uses of Nuclear Energy,” 7 October 1955, Secret

1955-10-07

During a discussion with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles on the peaceful uses of atomic energy, Philip Farley mentioned that the U.S., the Soviet Union, and other countries had been discussing the importance of controls over nuclear reactor operations and Washington and Moscow’s “common interest in seeing that other countries did not obtain nuclear weapons.” That same day, Farley met with Harold Knapp of the Atomic Energy Commission who, like Farley’s boss, Gerard C. Smith, had been working on a study of controls over the export of fissionable materials for overseas nuclear reactors.

The next day, Knapp read Smith’s paper and Farley read Knapp’s paper which made the point that the “principle threat to peace” was not so much from the export of fissionable materials but from an effect of the U.S. Atoms for Peace program: the “expanded knowledge of nuclear power reactors and plutonium separation.” That meant that any “reasonably advanced” industrial country could “learn from the open literature how to build a plutonium separation plant capable of separating 20 KG a year for about half-million dollars.” “Accordingly, the threat of weapons capability in other countries like the Netherlands, Israel, Argentina and many others is not remote.”

Document 02

Memorandum for [Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Atomic Energy] Gerard C. Smith from Max Issenberg, U.S. Embassy Paris, 20 December 1956, Secret

1986-12-20

Max Isenbergh, then serving as the Paris embassy’s special attaché for atomic energy, reported to Smith about the French government’s intent to produce nuclear weapons. Isenbergh had received a de-briefing from Ambassador C. Douglas Dillon of his conversation with the French Radical politician Maurice Bourgès-Manoury, then serving as defense minister. One part of the discussion was closely held and not fully discussed in the embassy’s telegraphic report. This was when Bourgès confided to Dillon that “a new unanimity [exists] among virtually all significant political elements on the issue of going ahead with production of nuclear weapons.” The observation, “made in a casual way, was intended as a notice of France’s arrival at a firm position on this most important issue.”

Document 03

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Intelligence Information Brief, “Disarmament Negotiations: The Fourth Country Problem: France,” No., 139, 13 May 1959, Secret

1959-05-13

Technical information from U.S. firms supplying the French with specialized equipment provided U.S. intelligence with an inkling of French atomic test plans. The French had given up plans to test a sixty-kiloton device and instead test one in the megaton range. The test was to be in the Sahara although a site in the Indian Ocean was under consideration. Moreover, the “French have ordered enough equipment to make complete diagnostic measurements in approximately a five-shot series,” whose explosive yields could be between 100 tons and a megaton. France “is expected to have sufficient plutonium to manufacture devices for two tests by July 1959.”

Although the intelligence report was “unevaluated,” INR must have seen it as reliable enough to make its contents worth disseminating. France’s first nuclear test was in January 1960.

Document 04

State Department telegram 441 to U.S. Embassies Tel Avis, Paris, and London, 9 December 1960, Secret, with memoranda and control sheet attached

1960-12-09

This “eyes only” message reported on a meeting with Israeli Ambassador Avraham Harman, at which Secretary of State Christian Herter said that the Department had “been very disturbed” by information about an Israeli nuclear reactor project. Initially, Herter told Harman, that the Department had learned from U.S. embassy Tel Aviv telegram 486 of plans to announce the construction of a research reactor south of Beersheba.[1] Yet, photographs of the site that Herter showed Harman indicated that the “over-all scope of installation, diameter containment building and capacity power lines [are] far in excess research reactor requirements and could serve reactor of 10 times size that mentioned [in telegram] 486.” According to Herter, the reactor could “produce· sufficient plutonium annually [to] make several atomic bombs.”

Herter said that he hoped that the account of Embtel 486 was accurate because if the Israelis did have a larger nuclear project in mind, “Knowledge of potential nuclear weapons capacity would have very disturbing impact on Middle East and US interests as well as those [of] Israeli themselves.” In reply, Ambassador Harman “disclaimed knowledge of facts and stated he would report US concern and questions to his Government.”

Document 05

U.S. Consul General Bombay Despatch 484 to Department of State, “Possible Indian Desire for Nuclear Weapons Development,” 20 February 1961, Confidential

1961-02-20

A conversation with Homi Nusserwanji Sethna, a senior official in India’s Atomic Energy Establishment (he later presided over India’s first nuclear test in May 1974) demonstrated the spreading knowledge of plutonium production. Sethna privately rebutted a statement by Homi Bhahba, the chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, that India could produce a bomb in two yearsSethha argued that India “was not interested in producing a nuclear weapon,” but wanted to use nuclear energy for electric power generation. As an example, the nuclear reactor at Tarapur would be operating at a high burnup rate ­– about 3,000 megawatt days (MWD) per ton – suitable for producing electric power, but not for weapons grade plutonium. If India wanted the latter, Sethna explained, “the average burnup of uranium fuel should not exceed 600-800 MWD/ton; this would triple the cost of producing energy from the power plant and is simply out of the question.”

According to the reporting officer, Sidney Sober, with the spread of technology enabling some non-nuclear countries to join the “nuclear club,” it is “reasonable to assume that responsible Indian officials have at least contemplated if not planned or possibly inaugurated some effort at nuclear weapons development.”

Document 06

The President’s European Trip, June 1963, Summary Record of Conversation, “Tour D’Horizon,” 28 June 1963, Top Secret

1963-06-28

During President Kennedy’s last European trip, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy and Secretary of State Dean Rusk met with top British officials, headed by Foreign Secretary Lord Home and Defense Minister Peter Thorneycroft, for discussion of alliance nuclear issues, mainly the proposed Multilateral Force. British parliamentary opposition to the MLF as a West German “stepping-stone” to a national nuclear capability indicated that the proposal would not get far, although Bundy worried that the Germans would “be dangerous if left out of the party.” According to Rusk, the “alternative was MRBMs [medium-range ballistic missiles] in Germany in German hands.”

The MLF would involve a yet-to-be-determined U.S. role in nuclear launch decisions. Rusk was plainly uncomfortable with proposals for a European combination, e.g., Anglo-French, that did not involve a U.S. role. “The Secretary said that if a European nuclear deterrent means that 5 percent of the West’s total nuclear power can decide regarding the use of 95 percent of the West’s nuclear power (i.e., U.S. power), Europe should recognize that this was just not a possibility, The. U.S. would not stand for it.” [2]

Document 07

Thomas Hughes-INR to Secretary of State, Intelligence Note, “Possible Early Chicom Nuclear Test,” 25 September 1964, Secret

1964-09-25

Drafted by INR China expert Allen S. Whiting (his initials are on the last page), this note on the PRC’s nuclear activities cited “indications … that increase the possibility of an early test.”[3] One such indication was that “Chinese officials recently told a Mali official that Peiping would announce its bomb on this October 1, their national day.” Moreover, the previous May Foreign Minister Chen Yi had taken an optimistic position about China’s nuclear capabilities, declaring that “China had reached the necessary industrial level and that it is not very difficult to perform nuclear experiments.”

According to the note, a test on National Day would “raise morale” by making U.S. escalation of conflict in Southeast Asia “less ominous,” make the 15th anniversary of the People’s Republic a “truly memorable event,” while giving “the forthcoming National People’s Congress (probably November) and a possibly forthcoming Party Congress (now three years overdue) some meat on which to chew.”

The actual test was a few weeks later than Whiting predicted, on 16 October, but he was so sure that one was imminent that he persuaded Secretary of State Rusk to approve an announcement that Beijing was about to stage a test.

Document 08

Note dictated by the Secretary on the President’s Views on Nonproliferation, as Set Forth in the Recent Camp David Meeting,” 3 October 1966, Secret

1966-10-03

Progress made by U.S. and Soviet negotiators in reaching agreement on the no-transfer language of Articles I and II of the NPT required high-level consultation with President Lyndon Johnson. During a meeting at Camp David, Secretary of State Rusk transcribed a Johnson statement that illuminated his thinking at that point. In keeping with the no-transfer concept, Johnson declared that “responsibility for firing U.S. nuclear weapons rests with the President of the U.S.” He further acknowledged that there was no great pressure for quick action on “alliance nuclear arrangements,” implying that the MLF had low priority. Suggesting continuing concern over West Germany, Johnson mentioned a future need for “treaty arrangements” to “restrain certain allies and preserve the alliance.”

Document 09

Memorandum of Conversation, “Italian Proposal for Modification of Withdrawal Provision in the NPT,” 5 July 1967, Secret

1967-07-05

A discussion with Italian diplomat Rinaldo Petrignani demonstrates the limits of the NPT in resolving the dilemmas raised by “Atoms for Peace” in the 1950s. In response to Italy’s proposal for more liberal procedures for withdrawal from the NPT, ACDA official Robert H. Kranich deemed it “premature” to consider terms of withdrawal until the negotiations had advanced further. Moreover, ACDA saw the proposal as “inadvisable” because “it would tend effectively to limit the duration of the treaty to five years,” thus removing the “stable basis” needed for commiting the signatories to nonproliferation. Further, a five year withdrawal option could enable signatories to initiate “preliminary preparations to develop or acquire nuclear weapons even while the treaty is still operative, and then withdraw at the earliest opportunity.”

Petrignani questioned the last point because he thought that the safeguards provisions worked against such preparations. Kranich explained that was not the case: the NPT would not “prohibit preparations for manufacture of nuclear weapons,” such as the stockpiling of plutonium. As for safeguards, they could only prevent the diversion of nuclear materials, but they “cannot detect or prevent preparations for manufacture of weapons unless and until there is such diversion.”

Petrignani “indicated that he had never before quite understood the ‘eight months pregnant’ argument, but that he now did.”

Document 10

U.S. Mission to Geneva telegram 782 to State Department, 11 September 1967, with memorandum to Secretary of State Rusk from Executive Secretary Benjamin Read, Secret

1967-09-11

In this Nodis (no distribution) “literally eyes only” message to Secretary Rusk that only a handful of people saw, ACDA Director William C. Foster provided the backstory of the negotiation of NPT Article III on safeguards, one of the treaty’s most controversial articles. The key problem was convincing the Soviets that it would be permissible for member states of the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) to negotiate collectively with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that the community’s own safeguards arrangements were compatible with NPT standards. While antagonistic to EURATOM, the Soviets agreed to accept U.S. ideas about principles designed to ensure IAEA oversight. When the U.S. and Soviet negotiators concurred on a draft of Article III in early September 1967, the U.S. consented to characterize it in Washington as a “Soviet draft”, while the Soviets agreed to describe it in Moscow as a “U.S. draft.” Foster informed Rusk that it was, in fact, a “Soviet delegation draft, but obviously we helped.” While the latest draft moved the process forward, it took months before Moscow and Washington, in consultation with EURATOM, agreed to final language for Article III.

Trombay, the site of India’s first reactor (Aspara) and a plutonium reprocessing facility, as photographed by a KH-7/GAMBIT satellite on February 19, 1966.

This was one of a number of photographs of construction work at the Israeli reactor site in the Negev Desert that U.S. and British military attachés took during the last months of 1960. Secretary of State Christian Herter used a photo like this during a tense meeting with Israeli Ambassador Avraham Harman in December 1960 (see Document 4).

Notes

[1]. Telegram 486 has been released in excised form, on the Digital National Security Archive. The relevant text is as follows: “Ben-Gurion’ s announcement will also mention new 10 to 20 megawatt natural uranium and heavy water nuclear reactor to go critical in about a year and a half. Reactor reportedly exclusively of Israeli design, with some French equipment; and to be used for research in desert plants, drought resistant seeds, short-life isotopes and radio biological research not now possible at present 1-5,000 kilowatt reactor.” See Digital National Security Archive, Nuclear Nonproliferation, NP00710.

[2]. Rusk was likely influenced by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s statement in his 1962 Ann Arbor speech that “we wold find it intolerable to contemplate having only part of the strategic force launched in isolation from our main striking power”. See Matthew Jones, “Prelude to the Skybold Crisis: The Kennedy Administration’s Approach to British and French Strtategic Nuclear Policies in 1962,” Journal of Cold War Studies 21 (2019), at 78.

[3]. Jonathan Pollack and David Shambaugh, “Allen Seuss Whiting, 1922-2018,” The China Quarterly, 236 (2018): 917-929.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : The “Launch on Warning” Nuclear Strategy and Its Insider Critics


The “Launch on Warning” Nuclear Strategy and Its Insider Critics

Published: Jun 11, 2019

Briefing Book #674

Edited by William Burr

Update for Briefing Book #43 originally posted in April 2001

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Policy Adopted in 1970s, Still in Effect Today Despite Danger of False Alerts

Top Defense Official in 1978 Called It “Dangerous, Wrong, and Ineffective”

Reagan Directive Called for Leaving Soviet Planners “with Strong Uncertainty” about U.S. Response to Warning

Washington, D.C., June 11, 2019 – “Launch-on-warning,” a feature of U.S. nuclear warfighting strategy since the late 1970s, has frequently faced intensive criticism because of the high risk of accidental launches and uncontrollable outcomes, including massive casualties, according to recently declassified records posted today by the nongovernmental National Security Archive.

Yet, successive presidential administrations have stood by a prompt-launch approach. The new documents, obtained through archival research and declassification requests, are combined here with an earlier National Security Archive e-book to further illuminate high-level thinking about a key aspect of nuclear war planning the public rarely hears about.

Two newly declassified highlights in the posting are White House adviser William Odom’s critique of launch-under-attack and President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 13, which provided criteria for nuclear war planning, including launch-on-warning as a way to keep Moscow "uncertain."

In the fall of 1979, as the Carter administration was revamping U.S. nuclear strategy, Lt. Colonel William Odom, an official on the White House national security staff, raised doubts about the recent inclusion of a launch-under-attack option in the nuclear war plan, the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). In a memorandum published today by the National Security Archive, Odom argued against rapid launching of Minuteman missiles in response to electronic warnings because warning systems were “just not good enough to let us know that our ICBMs are under attack.” Moreover, according to Odom, not enough thought had been given to the launch-under-attack targets: they would strike “empty Soviet silos.” Further, if the U.S. launched a follow-up nuclear attack, the nuclear explosions and radiation effects caused by a launch-under-attack strike could destroy incoming U.S. missiles through “fratricide.” Launch-under-attack as a SIOP option, Odom advised, should be cancelled.

Odom’s advice was disregarded but since then, presidents, presidential candidates, former officials, and defense policy experts have questioned the U.S.’s reliance on a high-alert, instant reaction posture for Minuteman missiles that provide a launch-on-warning capability. When he was a presidential candidate George W. Bush declared that “keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.” His successor, Barack Obama, highly aware of the danger of nuclear weapons, explicitly called for reducing the role of launch-under-attack in U.S. nuclear planning. Yet, neither president changed the quick-reaction/launch-on-warning posture, perhaps to avoid a conflict with the Pentagon.

Today’s publication updates a National Security Web posting from April 2001, “Launch on Warning: The Development of U.S. Capabilities, 1959-1979.” The original documents are included in addition to more recently declassified items, , not only the Odom memorandum cited above, but records on policy development during the Carter and Reagan administrations when launch-on-warning and launch-under-attack postures were incorporated into the SIOP and official “nuclear weapons employment policy.”

Among the new documents are:

  • Excerpts from a 1968 Strategic Air Command history suggesting that a “a fire on warning doctrine was the best military answer” to the possible threat of strikes by Soviet submarine-launched missiles on U.S. ICBM sites to prevent successful launches of the missiles.
  • A Project RAND report from 1975 that stated that once the President had made a launch decision, Minuteman ICBMs would reach high altitudes in “about seven minutes.”
  • A Carter administration critique of launch-under-attack included the observation that “the President could decide to retaliate in a few minutes [but] he shouldn’t, as a matter of policy, have to do so.”
  • The Carter administration Defense Department’s support for launch-under-attack as a measure “designed to strengthen deterrence.”
  • The Reagan administration’s National Security Decision Directive 13 that stipulated that it was U.S. policy not “to rely on” launch-on-warning in an “irrevocable manner.” With launch-on-warning not strictly prohibited, the U.S. “must leave Soviet planners with strong uncertainty as to how we might actually respond.”

During the Carter administration and the years that followed, defense officials along with journalists, political scientists, and policy analysts debated the risks of launch-under-attack/on warning. Science adviser Richard Garwin saw it as a method to strengthen deterrence, while future Reagan administration official Fred C. Iklé decried it in the Washington Post. During the early 1980s, deeply critical assessments emerged sporadically as a result of hints that launch-on-warning or launch-on-attack had become embedded in Pentagon policy. The pros and cons attracted less attention, however, as a new détente emerged during Reagan’s second term.[1]

The end of the Cold War brought many changes, but not in the hair trigger alert status of the Minuteman ICBM force. Bruce G. Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer who was at the Office of Technology Assessment and the Brookings Institution during the 1980s and 1990s, emerged as the most persistent and well-informed critic/analyst of launch-on-warning. Drawing on his personal experience and wealth of knowledge, Blair has written major studies of command-and-control vulnerabilities and accidental nuclear war, especially the danger of the U.S.’s hair-trigger alert posture for Minutemen ICBMs and the risk of an accidental launch because of a warning system failure. One of his studies for the Office of Technology Assessment, addressing command and control problems and launch-on-warning, was so highly classified by the Pentagon that it has proven impossible to locate, at least so far.[2]

The risks that Blair and others associated with launch-on-warning were the logical consequence of U.S. nuclear war plans. As soon as the Soviet Union and then China began to develop a nuclear weapons complex, U.S. military planners defined the most crucial installations slated for rapid destruction as "time urgent" high-value targets; they included air defense, nuclear command centers, and missile and air bases. A capability to strike those targets as rapidly as possible, once warning information became available, became an enduring high priority for war planners.

The potential threat posed by Soviet nuclear forces prompted U.S. military commanders and intelligence agencies to look for signs that the Soviet leadership might be readying them for use in a surprise attack. If Washington received "strategic warning" of an impending Soviet attack, top commanders wanted the option of a preemptive strike (sometimes called taking the “initiative”) against Soviet strategic and command and control targets. Consistent with this, the first SIOP, approved by President Dwight Eisenhower in the fall of 1960, included choices for preemptive and retaliatory nuclear strikes.[3]

When the U.S. Air Force began to deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles during the late 1950s, they envisaged a strategic force that could be launched within minutes to deliver enormously destructive nuclear weapons. The "Minuteman" ICBM embodied that idea. While the possibility of rapid launch ICBMs supported ideas of preemptive attacks, preemption assumed strategic warning, specifically, intelligence indicating an imminent attack by an adversary, such as dispersal of nuclear forces and other signs of alerting and readiness activities. Whether such warning signs would be detected or properly interpreted is another matter.

If information became available that an attack was on the way – tactical warning intelligence – White House science advisers and Pentagon planners were reluctant to accept a strategy based on launching a retaliatory blow after absorbing a Soviet first strike. According to White House science adviser and MIT professor Jerome Wiesner, once electronic sensors could detect the launch phase of a Soviet ICBM attack, they could provide the "[warning] time necessary to ready our missiles so that they can be fired before they are destroyed."[4] What Wiesner was pointing to was the possibility of a launch-on-warning capability, a prospect that other U.S. government officials were beginning to recognize during the early 1960s.

Not all defense planners accepted the logic of launch-on-warning and some were skeptical of preemption. Apparently, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had strong objections to launch-on-warning, which he held long after he had left the Pentagon.[5] For some top officials, the development of Soviet ICBMs raised doubts about preemption. During a grim briefing by the National Security Council’s Net Evaluation Subcommittee (NESC) President Kennedy made one of his last documented statements about nuclear strategy. Analyzing the consequences of U.S. and Soviet preemptive nuclear attacks on their respective societies, the NESC study introduced U.S. casualty figures—30 million–that were higher than Kennedy had heard before. With the devastating U.S. losses from Moscow’s response to a preemptive strike, Kennedy observed that preemption was "not possible for us."[6] Despite Kennedy’s misgivings, a preemptive strategic option remains embedded in the SIOP and nuclear war plans to this day.[7]

The deployment of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) in the early 1960s provided a rudimentary capability for launch-on-warning by giving command authorities fifteen minutes’ tactical warning of a missile attack. Also, in the works during the 1960s and deployed in the early 1970s was a satellite-based electronic warning system originally known as the Missile Defense Alert System (MIDAS) but later camouflaged behind the designation, Defense Support Program (DSP).[8]

With the deployment of DSP satellites, the possibility of launch-on-warning became increasingly imbedded in policy discussion, arms control negotiations, and in the training of Minuteman launch officers. Bruce Blair recalls that he “practiced LOW a hundred times during my Minuteman days 1972-74, which coincided with the U.S. DSP program becoming operational.” Although some officials looked favorably at the prospects of launch-on-warning, others saw great risk. One veteran official, Paul Nitze, warned that launch-on-warning would be "inexcusably dangerous" during a "time of intense crisis." What worried Nitze and others in particular was the danger of a false alarm, which was not a hypothetical problem. During the Cold War and after, both the United States and Russia received mistaken warnings of strategic attack, including the famous NORAD false warning incident on 9 November 1979.

When it was first published in 2001, this collection demonstrated the limits of the declassified record. Few documents from military organizations, such as the Defense Department and the Strategic Air Command, had been declassified, although both played critically important roles in making launch-on-warning a capability. Since then, however, significant defense-related records have become available that illuminate the development of the launch-on-warning posture and the technological developments that underlay it. Exactly when strategic planners believed that a capability was actually at hand remains classified and it is likely, as Bruce Blair has suggested, that it was an evolutionary process.[9]

In 1970, Caltech President and former Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown, and a member of the SALT I delegation, found launch-on-warning tactically useful: it could make a Soviet attack on U.S. Minuteman fields "a relatively risky and unattractive" proposition. Seeing launch-on-warning as a potential deterrent, when Brown became secretary of defense under President Jimmy Carter, he supported including a variant – launch-under-attack – in the SIOP. Initially, the option that Brown and others supported was an ICBM-only attack, but SAC later convinced him that achieving SIOP objectives required a larger-scale attack involving bombers and SLBMs – the entire triad.[10] Documents from the late 1970s and early 1980s that have recently become available shed light on the internal discussion of launch-on-warning and launch-under-attack and their significant role in the development of nuclear strategy.

Launch-under-attack is often used interchangeably with launch-on-warning. During the Cold War, the Joint Chiefs of Staff defined them identically: as a launch of forces between the detection of an attack and the arrival of the first warhead. According to Bruce Blair, pre-delegation instructions gave specific meaning to launch-under-attack because top military commanders with nuclear missions would have to delay action until confirmation of an attack was available, although they would not have waited for evidence of massive destruction. Under such circumstances, SAC defined the delayed reaction as a launch-under-attack.[11] In any event, the point of both launch-on-warning and launch-under-attack was to ensure that ICBMs would be launched rapidly enough to destroy time urgent targets specified in war plans.

Soviet nuclear strategy is largely undocumented and no definitive information is available on the role of launch-on-warning in Soviet policy. Available information, however, suggests that by the late 1960s and early 1970s, defense planners considered preemptive, retaliatory, and launch-on-warning options. Preemption had low feasibility because defense officials believed that U.S. nuclear forces were too widely dispersed to be destroyed by a first blow. Soviet defense officials saw launch after ride-out (“otvetnyy udar”) as an option by giving policymakers time for deciding on how to retaliate. Initially, top officials did not see launch-on-warning as a possibility because early warning systems were not effective enough to warrant a quick launch. By the early 1980s, however, launch-under-attack had greater plausibility because Moscow had acquired some capability, mainly by hardening some ICBMs, such as the SS-18. against the effects of nuclear detonations. With improvements in warning systems, Blair has argued, launch-on-warning became central to the Soviet and post-Soviet strategic posture. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s October 2018 statements at the Valdai Discussion Club strongly suggest that Russia has a “counter-strike on warning” posture.[12]

THE DOCUMENTS

Document 01

Memorandum, Robert A. Fearey, U.S. Department of State Office of European Regional Affairs (RA), to Lane Timmons, Office Chief, RA, "Macmillan Letter." 19 May 1958, Top Secret

1958-05-19

Source: National Archives, Department of State Records, Record Group 59 (hereinafter RG 59), Decimal Files, 1955-59, 611.61/5-1958 (also available on Digital National Security Archive, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1958-5-19

This brief memo unambiguously conveys the notion that in the missile age, even civilian officials would take it for granted that launch-on-warning of attack would be possible and necessary. In late April 1958, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan proposed that President Eisenhower agree to Anglo-American talks for a "fully agreed and understood procedure" for making decisions to launch nuclear retaliation against a Soviet attack. With the U.S.’s major nuclear deployments in the United Kingdom and the close nature of Anglo-American relations, Macmillan sought U.S. agreement on consultations before making the most fundamental military decision of them all. British leaders had been pressing Washington for agreements on consultation since the November 1950 Korean War crisis but U.S. leaders, anxious to preserve freedom of action, would agree to only the most general commitments.[13]

In commentary on the problem of consultation, State Department official Robert Fearey broke down the issue into "four possible cases": The first scenario amounted to "launch under attack": when nuclear bombs and missiles are raining on British and U.S. territory, consultations would not be necessary or possible because of the urgent necessity to launch a retaliatory strike. "Launch-on-warning" characterizes the second scenario: with electronic sensors detecting a Soviet bomber-missile attack "there might be time" for consultations on whether warning information was accurate and whether missiles or bombers should be launched in retaliation. Only if the Soviets launched a non-nuclear attack or if Western intelligence had advance warning of a Soviet nuclear strike would there be time for consultations on nuclear weapons use. Although the Eisenhower administration accepted the importance of consultations between president and prime minister, in the June 1958 Murphy-Dean agreement, it reaffirmed the initial understanding that decisions to launch bombers or missiles had to be made "in the light of the circumstances at the time." In other words, consultation might not always be possible.

Document 02

Report by Jerome Wiesner, President’s Science Advisory Committee, "Warning and Defense in the Missile Age," 3 June 1959, memorandum from Goodpaster attached dated 11 June 1959, Top Secret.

1959-06-11

Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Anne Whitman File, Dwight D. Eisenhower Diaries, box 42, Staff Notes June 1-15 1959 (2); also available on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68.

The possibility and desirability of a launch-on-warning capability for the United States was a premise of a briefing given on 3 June 59 to President Eisenhower by MIT professor Jerome Wiesner, then a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) (He became White House science adviser for President Kennedy in 1961). While doubtful of the value of anti-ballistic missile systems, Wiesner saw advantage in an infra-red warning capability that would permit missile launch after receipt of a warning but his presentation did not approve MIDAS. Skeptical that MIDAS could overcome technical obstacles, the science advisers were far more interested in using high-altitude U-2 aircraft as a platform for an infra-red detection system.[14]

Document 03

Memorandum, Gerard C. Smith, Director, U.S. Department of State Policy Planning Staff to Foy Kohler, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, 22 June 1960, with enclosure, Top Secret

1960-06-22

Source: National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records, Policy Planning Staff Records, 1957-61, box 20, file: Owen, H. Chron (also available in DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History, 1955-68.

While Wiesner endorsed a launch-on-warning capability, other civilians had their doubts. The reference to launch-on-warning in this document appears in the context of the late 1950s-early 60s debate over the creation of a medium-range missile force for NATO that would enable non-nuclear powers like West Germany to participate in decisions on nuclear weapons use. In this memorandum, Policy Planning Staff director Gerard C. Smith cited a briefing by Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Lauris Norstad where the latter argued that the NATO missile force had to be "ready to react two to five minutes after warning." Smith interpreted that statement as support for "fir[ing] after warning of impending attack and before Soviet missiles had landed." What troubled him was that it was inconsistent with Norstad’s emphasis on the importance of a survivable missile force. Perhaps worried about the possibility of inaccurate warning, Smith questioned the need for "instant reaction."

Document 04

U.S. National Security Council Planning Board, "U.S. Policy on Continental Defense," 14 July 1960

1960-07-14

Source: National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records, Records of Department of State Participation in the Operations Coordinating Board and the National Security Council, 1947-196, Box 94, "NSC 5802 Memoranda," also available on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68.

Reservations about launch-on-warning appear in this analysis of the problem of defense against bomber and missile attack. Written during the period of the "missile gap" controversy, when actual Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) capabilities were in doubt and worst-case analyses were routine, this study by the NSC Planning Board predicted that Soviet missiles would "constitute a great threat" to U.S. cities by the end of 1960. Question 3 (page 11) was especially apposite to the launch-on-warning problem: "should the United States revise … its doctrine on response to attack and on response to warning of attack, in the light of decreased reaction time and in view of the increasing U.S. emphasis on retaliatory ballistic missile forces?"

The analysts were confident that the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line would provide sufficient warning of a bomber attack and "adequate time" for decisions and action, such as putting Strategic Air Command bombers in the air. A new warning system–the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System [BMEWs]–was in the works that could give U.S. authorities fifteen minutes to respond to an incoming ICBM attack (although the proposed MIDAS system would be able to provide more time), hardly enough time for decisionmakers to assess the situation, make a decision, and transmit it to commanders. Until BMEWs was available, only the Bomb Alarm System, then being deployed, could give definitive information on nuclear detonations.

According to the authors note, an important advantage of strategic bombers was that they could be recalled. By contrast, an unrecallable ICBM nuclear force made launch-on-warning of doubtful value: it was "questionable whether U.S. response doctrine will permit the launch of `irrecallable’ ballistic missiles solely on the basis of information received from a warning system." The analysts doubted that BMEWs and any follow-on systems could provide "high confidence high early warning" and judged it "essential" to avoid launching unrecallable missiles based on a false warning (see paragraph 43).

Document 05

Letter from Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara to Senator John Stennis, Chairman, Preparedness Investing Subcommittee, Senate Armed Services Committee, enclosing study commenting on "requirements" for warning and detection systems, 3 November 1961, Secret

1961-11-03

Source: National Archives, Record Group 200, Papers of Robert S. McNamara, box 113, Reading File Nov. 1961 (also available in on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68

Interested in the status of U.S. warning and detection capabilities, Senator Stennis (D-Ms) sent McNamara a list of eight "requirements" to which McNamara responded with detailed information describing deployed and proposed systems. In the course of this assessment of various deployed and proposed systems–DEW Line, BMEWS, MIDAS, etc.–McNamara responded on page 17 to Stennis’s request for information on whether a fifteen-minute warning time "would be sufficient for the warning to be transmitted, the command to be given and communicated, and our weapons actually launched before enemy missiles or bombs impact in our territory" (see page 17). McNamara confidently observed that fifteen minutes would be enough to assess warning intelligence, convene an emergency conference of the president and other National Command Authorities, and transmit an execution order to commanders, as well as launch "all SAC alert aircraft and Atlas E ICBMs and one third of the Atlas D ICBMs.[15]

Document 06

Letter from General Bernard Schriever, Commander, U.S. Air Force Systems Command, to Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert, Subject: DOD Program Change (4.4.040) on MIDAS (239A), 13 August 1962, Secret

1962-08-13

Source: Library of Congress, Papers of General Curtis LeMay, Box 141, AFSC (AF Systems Command) 1962

McNamara may have been ambivalent about a launch-on-warning posture; according to one account, at one point during the Kennedy administration he stated that he strongly opposed it. Meeting with McNamara, General Bernard Schriever, then commander of Air Force Systems Command, cited a launch-on-warning capability to justify MIDAS. A witness to the meeting later recalled that McNamara was "furious" and told Schriever that "as long as he was secretary of Defense and Jack Kennedy was President, the United States would never launch on warning, even if that required a force of 10,000 Minuteman ICBMs [to assure the survivability of enough forces to retaliate]."[16]

To Schriever’s dismay, in early August 1962, McNamara ruled against Air Force plans to deploy MIDAS satellites; from McNamara’s perspective, MIDAS was too costly, it duplicated other warning systems, and the hardening of missile silos reduced the importance of early warning.[17] As this document shows, Schriever was firmly convinced that maximum warning information and he lobbied the Secretary of the Air Force to urge McNamara to reconsider. Despite Schriever’s efforts, however, it took several years before more senior officials were convinced that MIDAS could work and to approve a development plan.

Document 07

Letter from Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert to President Kennedy, 26 October 1962

1962-10-26

Source: Library of Congress, Papers of Curtis M. LeMay, box 153, 19-3 White House 1962 (also available on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68.

A capability for nearly instantaneous launch of strategic missiles, an important technical condition for launch-on-warning, came into play during the fall of 1962. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Strategic Air Command began to deploy nuclear-armed Minuteman I missiles in silos located near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. Secretary of the Air Force Zuckert reported to President Kennedy that the deployment was occurring under "unusual safety conditions" so that it would take hours to launch the missiles. Zuckert’s confidence in safety procedures on the ground was misplaced; the missiles could actually be launched immediately, foreshadowing their normal alert status.[18] He also informed Kennedy that once the Minutemen in the first complex had been deployed in their "normal alert status," all "twenty missiles will be able to be launched in thirty seconds."

Document 08

Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, "Air Force Proposed Changes to the Tentative Force Guidance," 29 August 1964, Top Secret [excerpts]

1964-08-29

Source: National Archives, Record Group 200, Robert S. McNamara Papers, box 42, Defense Projects and Operations (also available on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68.

This memorandum elucidated the counterforce, or "damage limiting", assignment of the Minuteman ICBM force. Its chief targets were the 600 "time-urgent" Soviet bomber bases and missile sites, among others, that had to be destroyed before they could endanger U.S. allies or U.S. territory. The problem of "known failure"–that some percentage of ICBMs would fail to reach their target–made it necessary to assign an average of 1.67 missiles to assure that one "on-launch reliable" Minuteman hit its target. With U.S. reconnaissance satellites expected to locate more "time-urgent targets," Secretary of the Air Force Zuckert sought Robert McNamara’s approval for a total force of 1200 Minutemen missiles to strike them. McNamara, however, had decided that 1000 Minutemen was "enough"; moreover, a new technology then still on the drawing-boards–multiple-independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs)–would make it possible to strike more targets with the same number of ICBMs.[19]

Document 09 NEW

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis [Alain Enthoven] to Secretary of Defense, "Recycle of’ DPM Strategic Offensive and Defensive Forces," 23 June 1967, Top Secret

1967-06-23

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, Alain Ethoven Papers, box 5, Summary Memos and Comments, 1967

A reference to "launch-on-warning" by McNamara aide Alain Enthoven suggests that the concept was certainly in the air and not even an unusual one during the Johnson administration (whatever McNamara thought about it). Enthoven’s paper was part of the Draft Presidential Memoranda (DPM) process that McNamara inaugurated to convey his policy views and budget recommendations to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Typically, the DPMs would produce comments and reclamas (requests for reconsideration) from the various armed services. In this one, Enthoven subjected Air Force and Joint Chiefs of Staff views on deterrence, "damage limiting," and other matters to detailed critical analysis. Noting that the Air Force believed that the U.S. had inadequate means to deter large-scale nuclear attack, Enthoven argued that U.S. nuclear forces gave the Soviet Union "a great deal to worry about", including "launch-on-warning tactics, … Soviet fatalities due to long-term fall-out, epidemics, or secondary effects (e.g., starvation) because of bottle-necks in their economy."

Document 10 NEW

History & Research Division, Headquarters, Strategic Air Command, History of Strategic Air Command January-June 1968 Historical Study No. 112, February 1969, Top Secret, Excerpt

1969-02-00

During 1968, SAC planners considered the possibility of "fire on warning" because they were wondering about the possibility and the impact of a Soviet "pindown" attack, whereby the Soviets would launch SLBMs at Minuteman sites and detonate the warheads in the air to stop the American missiles from launching. For the planners, "a fire on warning doctrine was the best military answer to the pindown threat," but it was "politically unacceptable," probably because it reduced presidential control over the decision-making process. Nevertheless, the planners anticipated that political objections might diminish and that the availability of new warning systems and more "streamlined national command authority procedures" might make fire on warning more generally acceptable. A "minimum reaction posture" for ICBMs would be also be necessary, presumably by reducing the time needed to launch them. Changes in safety rules and crew checklists would also be necessary to assure quick launch.

Document 11

Lawrence Lynn, U.S. National Security Council Staff, to Henry Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, "Talking Paper on ‘Firing on Warning’ Issue," 1 May 1969, Top Secret

1969-05-01

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Security Council Files (hereinafter Nixon NSF), box 840, Sentinel ABM System Vol. II, 4/1/69; also published in DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

Discussions of launch-on-warning also surfaced in Congress and the White House early in the Nixon administration. Lawrence Lynn, an NSC defense analyst, prepared a briefing paper for national security adviser Henry Kissinger’s use in discussion with "prominent news columnists." Apparently, leading opponents of Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABMs), including Sen. Albert Gore Sr. (D-TN) had suggested a "launch-on-warning" option as a method for preserving the ICBM force from attack. The White House, however, wanted to shoot down "firing on warning" as "dangerous and irresponsible" because early warning sensors had such a high rate of false reports. Thus, the "possibility of a disastrous mistakes" would be a "very real one." Drawing on classified information, Lynn reported that existing warning systems, BMEWs and Over-the-Horizon Radar (OTH)[20], had significant false reports rate; for example, 50 percent of initial OTH reports were false. Lynn demonstrated, however, why some would find launch-on-warning to be workable: the "new early warning satellite [647 project] may produce one false alarm per year."

Document 12

Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff, to Henry Kissinger, "Message’ to You From Arbatov," 22 September 1969, Secret

1969-09-22

Source: Nixon NSF, box 710, USSR Vol V. 10/69, also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

References to launch-on-warning emerged during a conversation at an Institute for Strategic Studies meeting, between Georgy Arbatov, a Soviet American specialist who headed the Institute of USA and Canada Studies, and Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a European and Soviet affairs specialist, who had joined Kissinger’s NSC Staff from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Reflecting the problems in U.S.-Soviet relations during the period, the conversation turned to strategic nuclear issues, including U.S. uncertainties about the SS-9, the Soviet ICBM that appeared to threaten U.S. Minuteman silos. To Sonnenfeldt’s surprise, Arbatov observed that there was little to "worry" over because "neither side would wait if it received warning of an attack but instead … would simply empty out its silos by launching a counter-strike at once." Sonnenfeldt objected, noting the danger to "strategic stability" of a launch-on-warning posture. Sonnenfeldt also questioned whether Arbatov’s statement reflected "existing doctrine."

Document 13

U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), Public Affairs Bureau, "The ‘Launch on Warning’ Question in the First Phase of SALT," 21 December 1973, Secret

1973-12-21

Source: ACDA FOIA release to National Security Archive; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

Some months after the Arbatov-Sonnenfeldt discussion, during the spring of 1970, the problem of launch-on-warning received more attention during the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), summarized in this ACDA report. During an April 1970 discussion of a possible ban on multiple reentry vehicles, chief Soviet negotiator Vladimir Semenov raised the problem of launch-on-warning when he noted that new warning systems would enable governments to launch missiles and to empty silos before "the enemy [strikes] a blow at them." A few weeks later, Gerard Smith, the head of the U.S. SALT delegation, showed his concern about launch-on-warning when he asked whether governments should plan to fire missiles "solely on the possibly fallible reading of signals from … early-warning systems." Such a posture would be "very dangerous and would increase the risks of unwanted war." The discussion did not go much further, although it became evident that General Ogarkov, the top military official on the Soviet SALT delegation, was resentful that Smith had taken the discussion further and told U.S. General Royal Allison that "as a military man, [he] should know the answer" to Smith’s question, suggesting later that U.S. military manuals assumed a launch-on-warning posture.

Smith wanted to influence the discussion further. While acknowledging that Soviet uncertainty about a U.S. launch-on-warning posture could have "some deterrent value" and even some provide some "bargaining leverage" in the SALT talks, on balance Smith believed there would be more "risk and danger" if the Soviets had a "mistaken view" of U.S. policy. Thus, on 19 May, he cited a slightly equivocal statement of "hope" by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird that "that kind of strategy would never be adopted by any Administration or by any Congress."

Document 14

Memorandum from Seymour Weiss, State Department Policy Planning Council, to Undersecretary of State John Irwin and Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. A. Johnson, "Luncheon Conversation October 2 with Paul Nitze on SALT," 7 October 1970, Top Secret/Nodis/Sensitive

1970-10-07

Source: RG 59, Policy Planning Council Miscellaneous Records, 1959-72, box 299, SALT 1970 October 1-13; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

The apparent growing vulnerability to a surprise attack of U.S. land-based ICBMs worried the hawkish Cold War veteran Paul H. Nitze, the author of NSC-68 and a former Deputy Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy and a member of the U.S. SALT delegation. During a conversation with a like-minded State Department official Seymour Weiss, Nitze worried that even with a SALT agreement, Moscow might be in a position to install multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on the SS-9 ICBMs, thus giving Moscow a "first strike capability against US land-based missiles." Nitze saw several alternatives to address this vulnerability: 1) developing a first strike capability, 2) a launch-on-warning doctrine, or 3) abandoning land-based missiles and "move entirely to sea" by relying on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Nitze argued that launch-on-warning was "always contrary to US strategic policy" and would be "inexcusably dangerous" during a "time of intense crisis." Nevertheless, he acknowledged that Washington could "be forced" into a launch-on-warning posture if Minuteman vulnerability "seems at least theoretically possible."

Document 15

Meeting of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament [GAC], Thursday, January 21, 1971, "ICBM Survivability," Top Secret, excised copy, excerpt

1971-01-21

Source: Donation from ACDA; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

While Paul Nitze and Gerard Smith were alert to the risks, a launch-on-warning posture was already embedded in U.S. nuclear planning. Bruce Blair, who was a Minuteman launch officer at the time, recalls that he "was postured for LOW [launch-on-warning] during the early 1970s, and the whole force and command system were geared to this timing", that is, to rapid response.[21]

This excerpt from a meeting of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament [GAC], a group of prominent civilian experts on arms control and nuclear forces, shows that military officials showed little doubt about the value of launch-on-warning. Focusing on the possible vulnerability of the U.S. Minuteman force to an attack by Soviet ICBMs, GAC heard testimony on, and discussed, Soviet ICBM forces, plans for hardening missile silos, and the possible role of anti-ballistic missile defenses. Toward the end of the session, one of the Committee members, Kermit Gordon, then president of the Brookings Institution, asked whether there was a "plausible scenario" for a simultaneous Soviet first strike against U.S. Minuteman and bomber forces.

The discussion that Gordon’s query prompted was less than straightforward but a launch-on-warning option flowed from the discussion of different scenario in which the Soviets targeted ICBMs and SLBMs on Minuteman silos and bomber bases respectively. According to Caltech President (and future Secretary of Defense) Harold Brown, once the Soviets launched their ICBMs, they would risk a [U.S.] "launch on warning." Commander James Martin then observed that "there’s about 20 minutes in there when the President might decide to launch on warning."

Document 16

Memorandum from Leonard Weiss, Deputy Director for Functional Research, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, to Leon Sloss, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, Office of International Security Policy and Planning, "Your Memorandum on `Launch-on-Warning," 29 January 1971, enclosing memorandum from Frank H. Perez, Office of Strategic and General Research, to Leonard Weiss, "Thoughts on Launch-on-Warning," 29 January 1971, Secret

1971-01-29

Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1970-1973, Def 12 USSR; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976

Prepared only a few days after the GAC discussion, this significant document shows that State Department intelligence officials recognized that a capability for launch-on-warning existed. They gave it relatively uncritical support, although one of the officials, Frank Perez, observed that he was "not advocating [its] adoption."

Both Perez and his superior officer, Leonard Weiss, constructed the discussion of launch-on-warning around the logic of deterrence: because the Soviets could detect a U.S. capability to get the Minutemen "off the ground in time," that could deter them from the "possibility of undertaking a first strike." Even if Moscow struck first, launch-on-warning would enable the United States to inflict "intolerable damage" on the Soviet Union.

According to Perez, a launch-on-warning capability would depend on the availability of "unambiguous warning," which could be provided by systems that were becoming available. The 440-L Over-the-Horizon system and the 647 early warning satellite, also known as the Defense Support Program, could detect mass missile launches.[22] Perimeter Acquisition Radars (PAR), a type of phased array radar, could provide "absolute certainty as to the size of the attack and … where [it] originated and to where it was directed," for example, whether Minuteman fields were a target.

While Perez was overoptimistic about the extent to which new warning systems like PAR could quickly provide actionable information, he believed that they would give a President a choice other than "rid[ing] out the attack and then respond[ing] with what residual [forces] remained." Instead, the president could "respond to a Soviet attack based on his assessment of the situation." For example, in response to a Soviet attack, Perez suggested that escalation and mass civilian casualties could be avoided with a controlled response of some 200-300 Minutemen against high-value Soviet military targets away from urban-industrial centers. Whether an attack by 250 Minuteman could actually limit escalation looks questionable in retrospect.

Document 17

Memorandum to the Secretary [William P. Rogers] Through S/S [Executive Secretary] From the Undersecretary [John Irwin], "DPRC Meeting of [sic] Survivability, March 17 – Information Memorandum," prepared by Leon Sloss, Office of Politico-Military Affairs, 18 March 1971, Secret.

1971-03-18

Source: RG 59, Records of Undersecretary of State John Irwin, 1969-73, box 5, SALT Jan-June 1971; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976

One of the problems that generated interest in a launch-on-warning capability was the alleged vulnerability of the U.S. Minuteman force to Soviet attack. This summary of a meeting of the National Security Council’s Defense Program Review Committee [DPRC], chaired by national security adviser Henry Kissinger, suggests interagency agreement that the Soviets had the wherewithal to destroy Minutemen but differences over when the threat would materialize. Taking the most cautious, "worst case" approach, the Defense Department estimated a threat by the mid-1970s. The "intelligence community", presumably the CIA, however, did not see a vulnerability problem at least until later in the decade depending on when the Soviets could deploy accurate MIRVs on the SS-9.

As some argued at the time, a "vulnerable" Minuteman force might not be a serious liability when more survivable U.S. SLBMs could threaten Soviet cities. Nevertheless, for some on the DPRC, the vulnerability problem posed important political questions, for example, "how would US political leadership react in a crisis if a significant portion of US force was considered vulnerable"? One possible implication was that if national authorities saw a danger of a Soviet preemptive move against U.S. missile silos, they might raise alert levels for possible recourse to launching Minutemen on warning. Raising alert levels, of course, could increase anxiety levels at the Kremlin heightening the risks of nuclear war. Only future declassification releases, however, may elucidate the DPRC’s later discussions of the broader implications of the survivability problem.

Document 18

K. Wayne Smith, National Security Council Staff, to Henry Kissinger, "Harold Brown on SALT," 10 May 1971, Top Secret, enclosing letter from Brown to Kissinger, 3 May 1971, Secret.

1971-05-10

Source: Nixon NSF, box 808, Brown, Harold; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976

As a member of the SALT delegation, Caltech President Harold Brown was a member of the SALT delegation would pass on his thinking to Henry Kissinger. For Brown, curbing the arms race by limiting ABMs was highly important, even more than limiting large Soviet ICBMs such as the SS-9. If the Soviets deployed MIRVs on the SS-9 they could pose a threat to U.S. Minuteman silos but, Brown believed, a launch on "unambiguous" warning capability, if not a doctrine, would make such an attack "a relatively risky and unattractive" proposition.

Attentive to the danger of false warning, Brown conceded that launch-on-warning was not a "sure tactic," but it could be "relatively easily … achieved during the mid-70s." Nevertheless, he did not necessarily support a launch-on-warning "doctrine," perhaps to give civilian authorities more flexibility in a crisis. Like Perez, Brown believed that Minutemen launched on warning could hit military targets, although he may have had Soviet bomber bases in mind.

In his comments, K. Wayne Smith, the NSC’s director for program analysis during the early 1970s, found value in Brown’s argument on the importance of controls over ABM radars, but questioned the merits of launch-on-warning. For Smith, it was a problematic deterrent, because of the danger that, during an international crisis, it could increase the risks of war by encouraging one side or the other to act precipitously.

Document 19 NEW

Aerospace Systems Analysis, McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company, Arms Control Implications of Strategic Offensive Weapons Systems, Volume IV, Technological Feasibility of Launch on Warning and Flyout Under Attack, Prepared for U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, ACDA ST/196, June 1971, Secret, Excised Copy

1971-06-00

Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 383, Records of U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Bureau of Intelligence, Verification, and Information Management, 1968-81: box 1 of 1.

This report assessed the technical practicality of launch-on-warning (LOW) as a means to assure Minuteman survivability in the face of an apparent Soviet strategic threat. With satellite-based warning systems providing nearly 30 minutes of warning of a Soviet ICBM attack, the National Command Authorities (NC) could order "the Minuteman [to] be launched within that 30-minute interval" and "the accuracy of the Soviet ICBMs will be unimportant because the Minuteman silos will be empty."

Whether the command-and-control system could function within the 30-minute time limit, whether the warning signals were accurate, and whether the Soviets might be able to defeat LOW by using submarine-launched ballistic missiles to "pin-down" Minuteman ICBMs were problems that the McDonnell Douglas analysts reviewed. For example, on false warning, the analysts maintained that the "probability of a false alarm by any one of the warning systems is negligible; the probability that two warning systems measuring entirely different phenomena would report correlated false alarms at the same time is infinitesimal." (Future analysts were not so certain.) On "pin-down," the analysts believed that the Soviets would not have the capability for several years and that it was possible to make "pin-down" impractical, e.g., by making Minutemen more resistant to radiation ("hardening").

In retrospect, one of the most problematic elements of the McDonnell Douglas analysis are the facts presented about the time required to make, transmit, and implement a decision to launch Minuteman missiles. According to the analysts, once the NCA made a launch decision, "significant delays" would occur, of which "the most important and the most surprising" was the "11 minutes required by the launch control crew to receive, decode, authenticate and execute the launch command." The analysts observed that "at one time," six minutes was the time required, bur 11 minutes was the "interval" established by "Air Force doctrine to insure that no crew attempts to launch before all crews have completed their prelaunch functions." Another four minutes was required to decode messages and transmit the launch command.

Bruce Blair, who was a Minuteman launch officer in the early 1970s, finds that the McConnell Douglas analysts were mistaken; it would take three minutes to launch the Minuteman at the most. The eleven-minute time line may have been the standard during the late 1960s but not in the years that followed.[23]

Document 20

L. Wainstein et al., The Evolution of U.S. Strategic Command and Control and Warning, 1945-1972 Study S-467, Institute for Defense Analyses, June 1975, Top Secret

1975-06-00

Source: FOIA request to Department of Defense; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976

A launch-on-warning capability depended on warning information, quick-reaction nuclear forces, but also a command-and-control apparatus that could assess strategic intelligence, make appropriate decisions, and rapidly convey them to military commanders. Pages 345-347 from chapter XXVI of this Institute for Defense Analyses history describe the Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites and their role in providing "usable warning time" as well as qualitatively better information so National Command Authorities would be better able to assess an attack and chose one of the SIOP options. Chapter XXX describes the central features of the National Military Command System as it stood during the early 1970s, including procedures for transmitting and implementing orders for the execution of the SIOP.

As important as the command-and control system was, confidence in its reliability was not high and reports on its failings were "continuous" during this period (and beyond). Thus, whether the NCA could properly assess warning information, much less make a decision to launch-on-warning and successfully transmit it to commanders in the field, would be problematic. For example, in 1970, even though the Defense System Program had already been successfully tested, the Blue Ribbon Defense Panel reported on the difficulty of providing warning information to the president: "it is possible that no President could be sure … that an attack was in progress or that retaliation was justified," unless confirmation of nuclear detonations was already available (p. 408).

Document 21 NEW

C.H. Builder, D. C. Kephart, A. Laupa, "The U.S. ICBM Force: Current Issues and Future Options," RAND Corporation, PR-1754-R, October 1975, Secret, excised copy

1975-10-00

Source: FOIA release by U.S. Air Force

This report shows how Carl H. Builder and his RAND colleagues looked at launch-on-warning when they considered future roles for ICBMs. Strongly interested in identifying the possibility for special roles for the Minuteman force, e.g., for limited strategic operations or counterforce missions, the RAND analysts assumed that the value of ICBMs as a deterrent depended on their survivability when under attack. While they believed that worries about a preemptive counterforce attack were exaggerated, they saw no good choices for assuring Minuteman survivability.

Builder and his co-authors considered whether a "launch-under-attack-assessment" would be useful for giving the Minuteman force enough time to be used in a crisis. Highlighting "attack assessment" instead of "warning," their definition of attack assessment demanded more authoritative reliance than warning from DSP satellites. Moreover, for the decision-making process to be credible, two problems had to be solved. One was "the attack assessment thresholds for considering launch commitment," for example, weighing the consequences of launching or not. The other was the "level of confidence in assessment information for launch decision." Was it necessary to have "confirmed reports" that Soviet warheads had detonated on U.S. soil? Also necessary for credible launch under attack assessment" were targets other than (empty) missile silos.

According to the report, once the President had made a decision, Minutemen could reach high altitudes "seven minutes" after a president’s launch decision. Although the report mentioned possible vulnerabilities of ICBM silos to SLBM strikes, during this period Soviet SLBMs were not accurate enough to pose such a threat.

To support a launch-under-attack assessment, the authors drew on a logic similar to that employed by INR’s Frank Perez: "we believe that the technical capabilities to launch ICBMs on attack assessment should be developed for their deterrence value–so that no adversary would dare assume that the U.S. could not launch the force out from any attempted disarming attack." Nevertheless, the authors argued against openly declaring the policy; the idea of launch-on-warning was so controversial that "it would be rigorously opposed as both dangerous and unstable (an accident could theoretically precipitate a nuclear war)." They also argued that the survivability of U.S. ICBMs was not important enough to require a decision to launch-under-attack. Implicitly, the danger of nuclear war was too terrible to allow the "assurance of ICBM retaliatory capabilities [to] rest upon such an awesome commitment."

Document 22

Minutes, National Security Council Meeting, "SALT (and Angola)", 22 December 1975, Top Secret, excised copy, published in edited form, without the launch on warning discussion, in U.S. State Department, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XXIII SALT 1972-1980

1975-12-22

Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, National Security Council Meetings Files, Box 2 1975-12-22; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

During a briefing by Director of Central Intelligence William Colby on Soviet forces, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, JCS Chairman George Brown, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (in his first incarnation in that role), and their colleagues discussed the possibility and problems of launch-on-warning (see pages 8-9). Looking at a worst-case scenario–a Soviet ICBM attack on U.S. Minuteman silos–Kissinger argued that it would be highly difficult for Soviet leaders to accomplish such an attack. Not only could the United States respond by launching SLBMs and bombers, it could also launch ICBMs on warning with the Minuteman force alone producing 80 million Soviet casualties. When ACDA Director Fred Ikle mentioned the dangers of a launch-on-warning posture–"accident prone" and "dangerous"-Kissinger suggested that it was already an available option by noting that command-and-control arrangements could be fixed to ensure that missiles were never launched without "presidential authority." Ikle remained a critic of launch-on-warning.[24]

Kissinger and top Pentagon officials were more interested in preserving the ambiguity of the U.S. posture so that the Soviets could not know with any certainty whether the United States had a "launch on warning policy." To complicate Soviet planning, US policymakers wanted to keep Moscow guessing. Further, as National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft suggested, it was "not to our disadvantage if we appear irrational to the Soviets in this regard." The implication was that U.S. ambiguity or even irrationality could encourage Soviet diplomatic caution.[25]

Document 23 NEW

Memorandum from Wallace D. Henderson, Director, Indications and Warning, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, to [Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert] Ellsworth, [Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Programs and Resources Thomas] Latimer, and [Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Warning Morton] Goulder, "Minuteman Launch on Warning Demonstration," 30 January 1976, with cover memorandum, Top Secret, Excised copy

1976-01-30

Source: MDR Request to Defense Department; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

Wallace Henderson’s memorandum gave general support to an Air Force program to demonstrate launch-on-warning by launching a Minuteman from Vandenberg Air Force Base in response to warning information from a Defense Support Program satellite. The point would be to "add credibility" to Defense Department statements that the U.S. had a "capability" for launch-on-warning while also mitigating concerns about "the low survivability of Minuteman in the face of mounting Soviet ICBM throw weight and accuracy." Henderson acknowledged a "negative" – that a demonstration "could revive emotional responses in Congress to discussion of "Launch on Warning."

According to the cover memorandum, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Ellsworth cancelled the plans, perhaps concluding that a demonstration was too controversial.

Document 24 NEW

William E. Odom to Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Soviet Launch-on-Warning Capability," 23 January 1978, with [State Department] Bureau of Intelligence and Research paper attached, "Soviet Launch-on-Warning Capability," 22 January 1978, Top Secret, excised copy

1978-01-23

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, National Security Files, NLC-6-79-4-20-3

Odom brought to Brzezinski’s attention an INR report on recent intelligence that the Soviets had acquired a "fast reaction" ICBM launch capability that made launch-on-warning feasible. According to the report, the quick-launch feature encouraged the Soviets to see their ICBMs as their "prime retaliatory force." Odom observed that the INR report represented an "upgrading" of an intelligence estimate that had been made a year earlier. "The least comforting implication is the [limited] readiness warning time we might have."

Document 25 NEW

Zbigniew Brzezinski to President Carter, "Information Items," 24 January 1978, Top Secret

1978-01-24

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, National Security Files, NLC-1-5-2-29-2

In this report to President Carter, the declassification reviewers released an important tidbit that was excised from the INR paper (see Document 22): "According to State, recently acquired evidence indicates that as much as 70 percent of the current Soviet ICBM force could be ready to launch in about three minutes, even from a normal readiness posture." Before, only a small portion of the ICBM force was at "the highest level of preparedness with gyroscopes continuously running." Brzezinski reported that the new information was "consistent with the USSR’s continuing efforts to improve its early warning capabilities."

U.S. intelligence information may well have been correct. According to Pavel Podvig, an expert on Soviet nuclear forces, ICBMs could be launched in 2.5 to 3 minutes after having withstood a nuclear strike, with 90 seconds needed for a pause, after the strike, and 60 seconds for the ‘launch cycle." However, the Soviets may not have deployed ICBMs with spinning gyroscopes until the early 1980s.[26]

Document 26 NEW

Memorandum from Russell Murray, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Program Analysts & Evaluation) to Secretary of Defense, “Interim Report on the PD-18 Study Modernization of the ICBM Force — ACTION MEMORANDUM,” 26 June 1978, with “Introduction and Summary,” “Paper # 2 Launch-Under-Attack,” and “Paper #3 “The Strategic Options Matrix,” attached, Top Secret, excised copy

1978-06-26

Source: (Program Analysts & Evaluation) to Secretary of Defense, "Interim Report on the PD-18 Study Modernization of the ICBM Force — ACTION MEMORANDUM," 26 June 1978, with "Introduction and Summary," "Paper # 2 Launch-Under-Attack," and "Paper #3 "The Strategic Options Matrix," attached, Top Secret, excised copy MDR request to Defense Department

During 1977-1978 the Carter administration launched a major review of nuclear strategy and forces, not only so the president would have alternatives to the massive strike options in the SIOP but also to strengthen deterrence and to mitigate the perceived vulnerability of the ICBM force. One of the studies of ICBM modernization reviewed the feasibility of a launch-under-attack option. Apparently finding that the U.S. had an "operational" launch-on-warning capability, the study found advantages and disadvantages in LUA. The key advantage was that a "credible LUA capability may enhance deterrence," by producing "great uncertainty" in the minds of Soviet leaders about the possibility of a first strike against the U.S.

If deterrence failed, the study questioned the value of "LUA as a tactic to maintain an effective ICBM force." The conclusion was that an "operational LUA capability is not a viable alternative for modernizing the ICBM force." The short amount of time was one consideration; another problem raised constitutional questions: "confidence in this tactic would require a system for transferring authority to a properly briefed and survivable figure quickly in the event communications with the President failed." The need for expert knowledge was another problem: "The President and his potential successors would have to be thoroughly familiar with the attack assessment systems and be prepared to make a decision in very little time." And such a requirement was wrong: "the President could decide to retaliate in a few minutes [but] he shouldn’t, as a matter of policy, have to do so." The Defense analysts did not want to see the president forced into a decision (or "jammed" in a crisis.) [27]

Document 27 NEW

Memorandum from [Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Stanley R.] Resor to [Deputy Secretary of Defense Charles] Duncan, enclosing memorandum by Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe, "Launch on Warning," 18 October 1978, Top Secret, excised copy

1978-10-18

Source: MDR request to Defense Department, under appeal at ISCAP

This massively excised critique of launch-on-warning as "dangerous, wrong, and ineffective" may have been influenced by the criticism of launch-under-attack found in Document 22. Some of the content can be gleaned by reading between the lines. For example, the second-to-last paragraph might address the problem of forcing the president to make a quick decision in a crisis.

Document 28 NEW

U.S. Department of Defense, "Nuclear Targeting Policy Review: Summary of Major Findings and Recommendations," circa November 1978, Top Secret, Excised copy

1978-11-00

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Zbigniew Brzezinski Collection, Subject File, box 35, Presidential Directive 59- 9/78-4/79

This synopsis of the Carter administration’s targeting study, directed by Defense Department official Leon Sloss, reiterated some objections to LUA, such as the risk of accidental war and the danger of forcing the president to "make a ‘use or lose’ choice if there are other options available." It also included a telling criticism of the role of ICBM deployments in targeting policy: "the set of targets for our ICBM force is not in itself planned to meet any specific objective." Moreover, then-current ICBM targeting would kill so many people that it would "likely invite retaliation against US urban/industrial assets." To reduce the escalatory risks, the study recommended a specialized launch-under-attack option using ICBMs only that would target a "broad set of nuclear and non-nuclear targets and command and control," while trying to "minimize collateral damage to population consistent with achievement of the attack objective." Whether attacking a "broad set" of targets would produce fewer fatalities looks doubtful in retrospect because many Soviet military-related targets were near population centers.

Document 29 NEW

Leon Sloss, Director, Nuclear Targeting Policy Review, to Director, Joint Staff et al., "Nuclear Targeting Policy Review," 13 December 1978, Top Secret, Excised copy

1978-12-13

Source: MDR release by Defense Department

Secretary of Defense Harold Brown had reviewed this targeting review study and directed officials to begin implementing some of the recommendations promptly. One of the recommendations, on page 9, concerned launch-under-attack. Along the lines of the targeting review study, the recommendation found that "LUA cannot be a substitute for measures to reduce ICBM vulnerability; rather it is an interim measure designed to strengthen deterrence." While an ICBM-only, launch-under-attack option was to be ready for implementation during 1981-1982, it was not to be incorporated into war plans "until it adequately supports the building blocks that are developed to support SIOP planning," (with each block representing a discrete option interrelated with others).

Document 30 NEW

William E. Odom, National Security Council Staff, to National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Launch from Under Attack," 8 October 1979, Top Secret

1979-10-08

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Brzezinski Collection, Subject File, box 42, Missile Warning Incidents 11/79-8/80

To Odom’s dismay, the latest version of the SIOP included what he termed an "unwise" launch-under-attack option. First, the U.S.’s tactical warning system was "just not good enough to let us know that our ICBMs are under attack" (although a few weeks later, the famous NORAD false alert incident demonstrated the importance of the DSP and other warning systems for disconfirming mistaken information about Soviet incoming missiles). Second, "little thought has been given to. the rationale of the target set." The SIOP launch-under-attack option "is targeted at empty Soviet silos and some conventional military targets," (in striking contrast to the "broad set" of targets recommended by the nuclear targeting review). That could provoke a "major Soviet response." Odom also argued that "if the LUA is executed and a few minutes later there is a decision to execute one of the MAOs [Major Attack Option] large numbers of our RVs would be destroyed through fratricide." That is, the blasts and radiation caused by the LUA strikes on Soviet targets would damage incoming U.S. reentry vehicles, "fratricide."

Odom recommended that Zbigniew Brzezinski ask Secretary of Defense Brown to revoke the LUA option from the SIOP, but it appears unlikely that the memo went any further than his boss’s desk.

Document 31

U.S. Strategic Air Command, "Current US Strategic Targeting Doctrine," prepared by Colonels Kearl and Locke, 3 December 1979, Top Secret

1979-12-03

Source: excised copy released on appeal by Air Combat Command

This study confirms that U.S. nuclear planners incorporated the Minuteman-only, launch-under-attack option into SIOP-5D, as of October 1 1979. In keeping with efforts during the 1970s to breakdown the SIOP into more discrete attack options, war planners initially conceived of LUA as a Selective Attack Option (SAO) because Minuteman missiles only would be committed to this option. During the 1980s, launch-under-attack was expanded to include bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, thus turning it into a Major Attack Option.[28]

As a sign that launch-on-warning was becoming routinized in operational planning but that a requirement for definitive information on detonations would not be integral to planning, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began to include "launch under attack" in their dictionary of military terms. The Chiefs explained it as "execution by National Command Authorities of Single Integrated Operational Plan Forces subsequent to tactical warning of strategic nuclear attack against the United States and prior to first impact."[29]

Document 32

William E. Odom, National Security Council Staff, to National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, "M-B-B Luncheon Item: Targeting," 5 August 1980, with Presidential Directive 59, "Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy," 25 July 1980, Top Secret, excised copy

1980-07-25

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Brzezinski Collection, box 23, Meetings-Muskie/Brown 7/80-9/81. Initially published in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book 390, Jimmy Carter’s Controversial Nuclear Targeting Directive PD-59 Declassified

Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Directive 59 on "Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy" sought a nuclear strategy that enhanced deterrence, but if deterrence should fail it sought to "terminate the war on acceptable terms that are as favorable as practical." While there was "no plausible definition" of victory in nuclear war, the U.S. had to be "capable of fighting successfully." PD 59 did not directly endorse launch-on warning – it was not U.S. "policy" – nor did it mention launch-under-attack Nevertheless, launch-on-warning was a capability that was to be available in the form of "pre-planned options" for attacks by "vulnerable" ICBMs. What senior officials had in mind was probably something like a Minuteman-only LUA option.

Document 33

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Secretariat, Historical Division, Joint Chiefs of Staff Special Historical Study, A Historical Study of Strategic Connectivity, 1950-1981. July 1982, Top Secret

1982-07-00

Source: FOIA appeal to the Department of Defense, Initially Published in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 403, Declassified Pentagon History Provides Hair-Raising Scenarios of U.S. Vulnerabilities to Nuclear Attack through 1970s, 19 November 2012

With launch-on-warning options available in PD 59, defense officials in the new Reagan administration analyzed the capabilities of U.S. command-control-communications systems for implementing various launch-under-attack scenarios. A mid-1981 report found that in light of C3 vulnerabilities the prospects for a successful launch-under-attack were poor, either during a surprise attack or if U.S. strategic forces were on high alert ("fully generated"). For example, in the second scenario, "no combination of systems and procedure was fast enough to complete the process of warning assessment, decision-making, and emergency action message dissemination in the time available (3.5 minutes) between the first submarine-launched ballistic missile breakwater and attacks on command, control, and communications systems." Thus, the probability was "extremely low" that command-control-and-communications systems would provide "assured execution" of a launch-under-attack option. Trying to solve this problem was an important motive behind the Reagan administration’s push for improvements in the C3 system during the years that followed,

Document 34 NEW

National Security Decision Directive 13, "Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy," 13 October 1981, Top Secret

1981-10-13

Source: Release by Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, 2018

Following the logic of PD 59, Reagan’s NSDD 13 sought to enhance deterrence partly through a military posture that "makes Soviet assessments of war outcomes, under any contingency, so uncertain and dangerous as to remove any incentive for initiating attack." If, however, deterrence should fail, Reagan mandated "pre-planned options" and "immediate options" for attack. Like PD 59, NSDD 13 supported a capability to "wage war successfully," but implied the possibility of winning nuclear war by seeking to "deny the Soviet Union a military victory at any level of conflict." Moreover, like PD 59, NSDD 13 assumed that command-control-communications-intelligence (C3I) systems had to be "sufficiently survivable and enduring to support" U.S. target plans, although that was a nearly Sisyphean task.

In some contrast to Carter policy, which authorized launch-on-warning options, NSDD 13 stipulated that it was U.S. policy not "to rely on" launch-on-warning in an "irrevocable manner." That appeared to proscribe ICBM launch-on-warning, if not bomber launch, but it did not rule out launch-under-attack as incorporated in the SIOP. In any event, the point was to "leave Soviet planners with strong uncertainty as to how we might actually respond to such warning." Moreover, upon receipt of warning information, the U.S. "must be prepared to launch our recallable bomber forces upon warning that a Soviet nuclear attack has been initiated."[30]

Cutaway drawing of the Minuteman III launch site and control post. Air Force photo, n.d. (Source: National Archives, Still Pictures Division, Records of U.S. Air Force Commands, Activities, and Organizations (RG 342B), box 669, LGM 30G)

Drawing of Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) sites in Alaska, Greenland, and the United Kingdom. Excerpt from Office of the Historian, Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Air Command, History of Strategic Air Command FY 1974, Historical Study 142, Volume I, Narrative, 28 January 1974, Top Secret, Published on Digital National Security Archive

Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. “Aerial View of radomes at BMEWS site III at Flyingdale’s Moore, England, 6 August 1963.” [Quotation from caption on archival copy] Source: RG 342B, box 1519, Flyingdale’s Moor.

Drawing of Defense Support Program Satellite, including the infra-red telescope used to detect heat from missile launch plumes. Excerpt from Office of the Historian, Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Air Command, History of Strategic Air Command FY 1974, Historical Study 142, Volume I, Narrative, 28 January 1974, Top Secret, Published on Digital National Security Archive

Drawing of Defense Support Program System satellites deployed for collecting and transmitting data on missile launches and nuclear explosions. Excerpt from Office of the Historian, Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Air Command, History of Strategic Air Command FY 1974, Historical Study 142, Volume I, Narrative, 28 January 1974, Top Secret, Published on Digital National Security Archive.

Grand Forks AFB, 15 August 1970. “Launch control officer, seated at launch control panel, turns switch to start launching sequence. Testing operational readiness of Minuteman crews using Modified Operational Missiles (MOM’s)." U.S. Air Force photo. [Quotation from caption]. Source: RG 342B, box 912, Operational Readiness

“Overall view of the antenna and its power plant at the Pave Paws [Precision Acquisition Vehicle Entry Phased Array Warning System] radar site,” Beale Air Force Base, CA, September 1979 [Quotation from caption]. Deployed on the East and West Coasts, Alaska, and overseas, Pave Paws radars were used to detect launches of submarine launched ballistic missiles. They were later replaced by the Solid State Phased Array Radar System (SSPARS). US Air Force photo. Source: RG 342B, box 923, Beale AFB, CA.

Notes

[1]. Richard Garwin, “Launch Under Attack to Redress Minuteman Vulnerability?,” International Security 4 (1979/80): 117-139; Fred C. Iklé, "The Growing Risk of War by Accident,” Washington Post, 24 June 1980; Charles Mohr, “A Scary Debate Over ‘Launch Under Attack,’” New York Times, 18 July 1982; Hendrick Smith, “Colonel Stirs Question On MX-Firing Doctrine,” The New York Times, 8 April 1983; William Broad, “Pershings Stir Accidental War Fears,” New York Times, 12 December 1983; John Steinbrunner, “Launch Under Attack,” The Scientific American, 250 (1984): 33-41.

[2]. For Bruce Blair’s writings see, in particular, The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 1993), and Global Zero Alert for Nuclear Forces (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 1995). For the Office of Technology Assessment study, see Tim Carrington, “The Ultimate Secret: A Pentagon Report Its Author Can’t See – ‘Nuclear Decapitation’ Study Warns of Communication Being Destroyed in Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, 18 February 1986. See also Bruce Blair, The End of Nuclear Warfighting: Moving to a Deterrence-Only Posture: An Alternative U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, with Jessica Sleight and Emma Claire Foley (Princeton, N.J. and Washington, D.C.: Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, and Global Zero, 2019).

[3]. For accounts of early U.S. nuclear planning and the first SIOP, see Henry S. Rowen, "Formulating Strategic Doctrine," U.S. Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy, Appendices, Vol. 4 (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1975), 217-34; David A. Rosenberg, "The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960," Steven E. Miller, editor, Strategy and Nuclear Deterrence: An International Security Reader (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984), 113-82; and Scott D. Sagan, "SIOP-62: the Nuclear War Plan Briefing to President Kennedy," International Security 12 (Summer 1987): 22-51.

[4]. Blair, The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 170; Jerome Wiesner, "Warning and Defense in the Missile Age," 3 June 1959 (see document 2, below).

[5]. Robert S. McNamara, “No Second Use -Until,” The New York Times, 2 February 1983. For McNamara, Blair, and others in the mid-1980s debate, see "Science and the Citizen," The Scientific American 255 (1986): 74-76.

[6]. U.S. State Department, FRUS 1961-1963, 8:499-502.

[7]. Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 170.

[8]. For a valuable and comprehensive account of the history of MIDAS and DSP, see Jeffrey Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels: DSP Satellites and National Security (Lawrence, KS, University of Kansas Press, 1999).

[9]. Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 168.

[10]. Ibid, 186-187.

[11]. Ibid, 187; information from Bruce Blair, 14 May 2019.

[12]. Pavel Podvig, “Does Russia Have a Launch-on-Warning Posture? The Soviet Union Didn’t,” Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 29 April 2019;

Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 195-216; William Burr and Svetlana Savranskaya, eds., “Previously Classified Interviews with Former Soviet Officials Reveal U.S. Strategic Intelligence Failure Over Decades,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book 285, 11 September 2009; “Putin Meets with Members of the Valdai Discussion Club, Full Transcript of the Plenary Session of the 15th Annual Meeting,” 18 October 2018.

See also Simon Saradzhyan, “Putin’s Remarks on Use of Nuclear Weapons Are Confusing, But Unlikely to Constitute a Shift in Nuclear Posture,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Russia Matters, 28 November 2018.

[13]. For background, see the major study by Stephen Twigge and Len Scott, Planning Armageddon: Britain, the United States, and the Command of Western Nuclear Forces, 1954-64 (Amsterdam, Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000), 36-37, 117-119.

[14]. For more details on PSAC thinking about MIDAS, see Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels, 12-13, 17

[15]. Jacob Neufeld, Ballistic Missiles in the United States Air Force, 1945-1960 (Washington, D.C., Office of Air Force History, 1990), 213-14

[16]. Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels, p. 256, n. 37, citing an interview with Jack Ruina. If Schriever ever made an explicit case for launch-on-warning in writing it remains classified or unknown to this researcher

[17]. For McNamara’s decision and later developments, see Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels, 28-48.

[18]. According to Scott Sagan, "SAC and Air Force contractor personnel appear to have improvised their own safety procedures in a manner that seriously compromised Minuteman nuclear safety." See Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992), 81-91.

[19]. For McNamara’s decisions on the Minuteman force, see Stephen I. Schwartz et al., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 1998),185-86, and Desmond Ball, Politics and Force Levels: The Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

[20]. Known also as Forward Scatter Radar, Over-the-Horizon (OTH) radar used high-frequency radio transmitters and receivers that were placed on either side of the Soviet Union and China. It would bounce continuous signals between the ionosphere and the earth until the signal reached the correct receiver. The system would detect a missile launch when it disrupted the stream of signals.

[21]. Bruce Blair communication with editor, 22 February 2001.

[22]. For the deployment of the DSP satellites during the late 1960s and early 1970s, see Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels, 44-69.

[23]. Bruce Blair communication with the editor, 18 June 2019.

[24] Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 342, note 40.

[25]. This resonates with a politico-military stratagem – the "Madman theory" – that has been associated with the Nixon administration: the notion that disproportionate threats and unpredictable irrationality could successfully coerce adversaries into compliance with U.S. goals. See William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball, Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998), 76-86.

[26]. E-mail from Pavel Podvig (editor of blog, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces), 22 May 2019, drawing on his notes from the Vitalii Kataev papers (Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford CA) and personal recollections.

[27]. For “jamming” the President in a crisis, see Bruce Blair, “Strengthening Checks on Presidential Nuclear Launch Authority,” Arms Control Today, January-February 2018, at 8.

[28]. For decisions on LUA, see Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear Warfare, 186.

[29]. Ibid., 168. For the downgrading of information confirming nuclear detonations in U.S. strategic planning during the 1980s, see ibid, 192.

[30]. For launch-on-warning policy as it developed during the Reagan administration, see Lee Butler, Uncommon Cause: A Life at Odds with Convention, Volume II: The Transformative Years (Denver, Outskirts Press, 2016), 10-12. For launch-on-warning not ruled out, see Michael Getler, “Joint Chiefs Back Plan for 100 MX,” Washington Post, 22 April 1982.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : The “Launch on Warning” Nuclear Strategy and Its Insider Critics


The “Launch on Warning” Nuclear Strategy and Its Insider Critics

Published: Jun 11, 2019

Briefing Book #674

Edited by William Burr

Update for Briefing Book #43 originally posted in April 2001

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Policy Adopted in 1970s, Still in Effect Today Despite Danger of False Alerts

Top Defense Official in 1978 Called It “Dangerous, Wrong, and Ineffective”

Reagan Directive Called for Leaving Soviet Planners “with Strong Uncertainty” about U.S. Response to Warning

Washington, D.C., June 11, 2019 – “Launch-on-warning,” a feature of U.S. nuclear warfighting strategy since the late 1970s, has frequently faced intensive criticism because of the high risk of accidental launches and uncontrollable outcomes, including massive casualties, according to recently declassified records posted today by the nongovernmental National Security Archive.

Yet, successive presidential administrations have stood by a prompt-launch approach. The new documents, obtained through archival research and declassification requests, are combined here with an earlier National Security Archive e-book to further illuminate high-level thinking about a key aspect of nuclear war planning the public rarely hears about.

Two newly declassified highlights in the posting are White House adviser William Odom’s critique of launch-under-attack and President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 13, which provided criteria for nuclear war planning, including launch-on-warning as a way to keep Moscow "uncertain."

In the fall of 1979, as the Carter administration was revamping U.S. nuclear strategy, Lt. Colonel William Odom, an official on the White House national security staff, raised doubts about the recent inclusion of a launch-under-attack option in the nuclear war plan, the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). In a memorandum published today by the National Security Archive, Odom argued against rapid launching of Minuteman missiles in response to electronic warnings because warning systems were “just not good enough to let us know that our ICBMs are under attack.” Moreover, according to Odom, not enough thought had been given to the launch-under-attack targets: they would strike “empty Soviet silos.” Further, if the U.S. launched a follow-up nuclear attack, the nuclear explosions and radiation effects caused by a launch-under-attack strike could destroy incoming U.S. missiles through “fratricide.” Launch-under-attack as a SIOP option, Odom advised, should be cancelled.

Odom’s advice was disregarded but since then, presidents, presidential candidates, former officials, and defense policy experts have questioned the U.S.’s reliance on a high-alert, instant reaction posture for Minuteman missiles that provide a launch-on-warning capability. When he was a presidential candidate George W. Bush declared that “keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.” His successor, Barack Obama, highly aware of the danger of nuclear weapons, explicitly called for reducing the role of launch-under-attack in U.S. nuclear planning. Yet, neither president changed the quick-reaction/launch-on-warning posture, perhaps to avoid a conflict with the Pentagon.

Today’s publication updates a National Security Web posting from April 2001, “Launch on Warning: The Development of U.S. Capabilities, 1959-1979.” The original documents are included in addition to more recently declassified items, , not only the Odom memorandum cited above, but records on policy development during the Carter and Reagan administrations when launch-on-warning and launch-under-attack postures were incorporated into the SIOP and official “nuclear weapons employment policy.”

Among the new documents are:

  • Excerpts from a 1968 Strategic Air Command history suggesting that a “a fire on warning doctrine was the best military answer” to the possible threat of strikes by Soviet submarine-launched missiles on U.S. ICBM sites to prevent successful launches of the missiles.
  • A Project RAND report from 1975 that stated that once the President had made a launch decision, Minuteman ICBMs would reach high altitudes in “about seven minutes.”
  • A Carter administration critique of launch-under-attack included the observation that “the President could decide to retaliate in a few minutes [but] he shouldn’t, as a matter of policy, have to do so.”
  • The Carter administration Defense Department’s support for launch-under-attack as a measure “designed to strengthen deterrence.”
  • The Reagan administration’s National Security Decision Directive 13 that stipulated that it was U.S. policy not “to rely on” launch-on-warning in an “irrevocable manner.” With launch-on-warning not strictly prohibited, the U.S. “must leave Soviet planners with strong uncertainty as to how we might actually respond.”

During the Carter administration and the years that followed, defense officials along with journalists, political scientists, and policy analysts debated the risks of launch-under-attack/on warning. Science adviser Richard Garwin saw it as a method to strengthen deterrence, while future Reagan administration official Fred C. Iklé decried it in the Washington Post. During the early 1980s, deeply critical assessments emerged sporadically as a result of hints that launch-on-warning or launch-on-attack had become embedded in Pentagon policy. The pros and cons attracted less attention, however, as a new détente emerged during Reagan’s second term.[1]

The end of the Cold War brought many changes, but not in the hair trigger alert status of the Minuteman ICBM force. Bruce G. Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer who was at the Office of Technology Assessment and the Brookings Institution during the 1980s and 1990s, emerged as the most persistent and well-informed critic/analyst of launch-on-warning. Drawing on his personal experience and wealth of knowledge, Blair has written major studies of command-and-control vulnerabilities and accidental nuclear war, especially the danger of the U.S.’s hair-trigger alert posture for Minutemen ICBMs and the risk of an accidental launch because of a warning system failure. One of his studies for the Office of Technology Assessment, addressing command and control problems and launch-on-warning, was so highly classified by the Pentagon that it has proven impossible to locate, at least so far.[2]

The risks that Blair and others associated with launch-on-warning were the logical consequence of U.S. nuclear war plans. As soon as the Soviet Union and then China began to develop a nuclear weapons complex, U.S. military planners defined the most crucial installations slated for rapid destruction as "time urgent" high-value targets; they included air defense, nuclear command centers, and missile and air bases. A capability to strike those targets as rapidly as possible, once warning information became available, became an enduring high priority for war planners.

The potential threat posed by Soviet nuclear forces prompted U.S. military commanders and intelligence agencies to look for signs that the Soviet leadership might be readying them for use in a surprise attack. If Washington received "strategic warning" of an impending Soviet attack, top commanders wanted the option of a preemptive strike (sometimes called taking the “initiative”) against Soviet strategic and command and control targets. Consistent with this, the first SIOP, approved by President Dwight Eisenhower in the fall of 1960, included choices for preemptive and retaliatory nuclear strikes.[3]

When the U.S. Air Force began to deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles during the late 1950s, they envisaged a strategic force that could be launched within minutes to deliver enormously destructive nuclear weapons. The "Minuteman" ICBM embodied that idea. While the possibility of rapid launch ICBMs supported ideas of preemptive attacks, preemption assumed strategic warning, specifically, intelligence indicating an imminent attack by an adversary, such as dispersal of nuclear forces and other signs of alerting and readiness activities. Whether such warning signs would be detected or properly interpreted is another matter.

If information became available that an attack was on the way – tactical warning intelligence – White House science advisers and Pentagon planners were reluctant to accept a strategy based on launching a retaliatory blow after absorbing a Soviet first strike. According to White House science adviser and MIT professor Jerome Wiesner, once electronic sensors could detect the launch phase of a Soviet ICBM attack, they could provide the "[warning] time necessary to ready our missiles so that they can be fired before they are destroyed."[4] What Wiesner was pointing to was the possibility of a launch-on-warning capability, a prospect that other U.S. government officials were beginning to recognize during the early 1960s.

Not all defense planners accepted the logic of launch-on-warning and some were skeptical of preemption. Apparently, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had strong objections to launch-on-warning, which he held long after he had left the Pentagon.[5] For some top officials, the development of Soviet ICBMs raised doubts about preemption. During a grim briefing by the National Security Council’s Net Evaluation Subcommittee (NESC) President Kennedy made one of his last documented statements about nuclear strategy. Analyzing the consequences of U.S. and Soviet preemptive nuclear attacks on their respective societies, the NESC study introduced U.S. casualty figures—30 million–that were higher than Kennedy had heard before. With the devastating U.S. losses from Moscow’s response to a preemptive strike, Kennedy observed that preemption was "not possible for us."[6] Despite Kennedy’s misgivings, a preemptive strategic option remains embedded in the SIOP and nuclear war plans to this day.[7]

The deployment of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) in the early 1960s provided a rudimentary capability for launch-on-warning by giving command authorities fifteen minutes’ tactical warning of a missile attack. Also, in the works during the 1960s and deployed in the early 1970s was a satellite-based electronic warning system originally known as the Missile Defense Alert System (MIDAS) but later camouflaged behind the designation, Defense Support Program (DSP).[8]

With the deployment of DSP satellites, the possibility of launch-on-warning became increasingly imbedded in policy discussion, arms control negotiations, and in the training of Minuteman launch officers. Bruce Blair recalls that he “practiced LOW a hundred times during my Minuteman days 1972-74, which coincided with the U.S. DSP program becoming operational.” Although some officials looked favorably at the prospects of launch-on-warning, others saw great risk. One veteran official, Paul Nitze, warned that launch-on-warning would be "inexcusably dangerous" during a "time of intense crisis." What worried Nitze and others in particular was the danger of a false alarm, which was not a hypothetical problem. During the Cold War and after, both the United States and Russia received mistaken warnings of strategic attack, including the famous NORAD false warning incident on 9 November 1979.

When it was first published in 2001, this collection demonstrated the limits of the declassified record. Few documents from military organizations, such as the Defense Department and the Strategic Air Command, had been declassified, although both played critically important roles in making launch-on-warning a capability. Since then, however, significant defense-related records have become available that illuminate the development of the launch-on-warning posture and the technological developments that underlay it. Exactly when strategic planners believed that a capability was actually at hand remains classified and it is likely, as Bruce Blair has suggested, that it was an evolutionary process.[9]

In 1970, Caltech President and former Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown, and a member of the SALT I delegation, found launch-on-warning tactically useful: it could make a Soviet attack on U.S. Minuteman fields "a relatively risky and unattractive" proposition. Seeing launch-on-warning as a potential deterrent, when Brown became secretary of defense under President Jimmy Carter, he supported including a variant – launch-under-attack – in the SIOP. Initially, the option that Brown and others supported was an ICBM-only attack, but SAC later convinced him that achieving SIOP objectives required a larger-scale attack involving bombers and SLBMs – the entire triad.[10] Documents from the late 1970s and early 1980s that have recently become available shed light on the internal discussion of launch-on-warning and launch-under-attack and their significant role in the development of nuclear strategy.

Launch-under-attack is often used interchangeably with launch-on-warning. During the Cold War, the Joint Chiefs of Staff defined them identically: as a launch of forces between the detection of an attack and the arrival of the first warhead. According to Bruce Blair, pre-delegation instructions gave specific meaning to launch-under-attack because top military commanders with nuclear missions would have to delay action until confirmation of an attack was available, although they would not have waited for evidence of massive destruction. Under such circumstances, SAC defined the delayed reaction as a launch-under-attack.[11] In any event, the point of both launch-on-warning and launch-under-attack was to ensure that ICBMs would be launched rapidly enough to destroy time urgent targets specified in war plans.

Soviet nuclear strategy is largely undocumented and no definitive information is available on the role of launch-on-warning in Soviet policy. Available information, however, suggests that by the late 1960s and early 1970s, defense planners considered preemptive, retaliatory, and launch-on-warning options. Preemption had low feasibility because defense officials believed that U.S. nuclear forces were too widely dispersed to be destroyed by a first blow. Soviet defense officials saw launch after ride-out (“otvetnyy udar”) as an option by giving policymakers time for deciding on how to retaliate. Initially, top officials did not see launch-on-warning as a possibility because early warning systems were not effective enough to warrant a quick launch. By the early 1980s, however, launch-under-attack had greater plausibility because Moscow had acquired some capability, mainly by hardening some ICBMs, such as the SS-18. against the effects of nuclear detonations. With improvements in warning systems, Blair has argued, launch-on-warning became central to the Soviet and post-Soviet strategic posture. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s October 2018 statements at the Valdai Discussion Club strongly suggest that Russia has a “counter-strike on warning” posture.[12]

THE DOCUMENTS

Document 01

Memorandum, Robert A. Fearey, U.S. Department of State Office of European Regional Affairs (RA), to Lane Timmons, Office Chief, RA, "Macmillan Letter." 19 May 1958, Top Secret

1958-05-19

Source: National Archives, Department of State Records, Record Group 59 (hereinafter RG 59), Decimal Files, 1955-59, 611.61/5-1958 (also available on Digital National Security Archive, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1958-5-19

This brief memo unambiguously conveys the notion that in the missile age, even civilian officials would take it for granted that launch-on-warning of attack would be possible and necessary. In late April 1958, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan proposed that President Eisenhower agree to Anglo-American talks for a "fully agreed and understood procedure" for making decisions to launch nuclear retaliation against a Soviet attack. With the U.S.’s major nuclear deployments in the United Kingdom and the close nature of Anglo-American relations, Macmillan sought U.S. agreement on consultations before making the most fundamental military decision of them all. British leaders had been pressing Washington for agreements on consultation since the November 1950 Korean War crisis but U.S. leaders, anxious to preserve freedom of action, would agree to only the most general commitments.[13]

In commentary on the problem of consultation, State Department official Robert Fearey broke down the issue into "four possible cases": The first scenario amounted to "launch under attack": when nuclear bombs and missiles are raining on British and U.S. territory, consultations would not be necessary or possible because of the urgent necessity to launch a retaliatory strike. "Launch-on-warning" characterizes the second scenario: with electronic sensors detecting a Soviet bomber-missile attack "there might be time" for consultations on whether warning information was accurate and whether missiles or bombers should be launched in retaliation. Only if the Soviets launched a non-nuclear attack or if Western intelligence had advance warning of a Soviet nuclear strike would there be time for consultations on nuclear weapons use. Although the Eisenhower administration accepted the importance of consultations between president and prime minister, in the June 1958 Murphy-Dean agreement, it reaffirmed the initial understanding that decisions to launch bombers or missiles had to be made "in the light of the circumstances at the time." In other words, consultation might not always be possible.

Document 02

Report by Jerome Wiesner, President’s Science Advisory Committee, "Warning and Defense in the Missile Age," 3 June 1959, memorandum from Goodpaster attached dated 11 June 1959, Top Secret.

1959-06-11

Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Anne Whitman File, Dwight D. Eisenhower Diaries, box 42, Staff Notes June 1-15 1959 (2); also available on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68.

The possibility and desirability of a launch-on-warning capability for the United States was a premise of a briefing given on 3 June 59 to President Eisenhower by MIT professor Jerome Wiesner, then a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) (He became White House science adviser for President Kennedy in 1961). While doubtful of the value of anti-ballistic missile systems, Wiesner saw advantage in an infra-red warning capability that would permit missile launch after receipt of a warning but his presentation did not approve MIDAS. Skeptical that MIDAS could overcome technical obstacles, the science advisers were far more interested in using high-altitude U-2 aircraft as a platform for an infra-red detection system.[14]

Document 03

Memorandum, Gerard C. Smith, Director, U.S. Department of State Policy Planning Staff to Foy Kohler, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, 22 June 1960, with enclosure, Top Secret

1960-06-22

Source: National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records, Policy Planning Staff Records, 1957-61, box 20, file: Owen, H. Chron (also available in DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History, 1955-68.

While Wiesner endorsed a launch-on-warning capability, other civilians had their doubts. The reference to launch-on-warning in this document appears in the context of the late 1950s-early 60s debate over the creation of a medium-range missile force for NATO that would enable non-nuclear powers like West Germany to participate in decisions on nuclear weapons use. In this memorandum, Policy Planning Staff director Gerard C. Smith cited a briefing by Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Lauris Norstad where the latter argued that the NATO missile force had to be "ready to react two to five minutes after warning." Smith interpreted that statement as support for "fir[ing] after warning of impending attack and before Soviet missiles had landed." What troubled him was that it was inconsistent with Norstad’s emphasis on the importance of a survivable missile force. Perhaps worried about the possibility of inaccurate warning, Smith questioned the need for "instant reaction."

Document 04

U.S. National Security Council Planning Board, "U.S. Policy on Continental Defense," 14 July 1960

1960-07-14

Source: National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records, Records of Department of State Participation in the Operations Coordinating Board and the National Security Council, 1947-196, Box 94, "NSC 5802 Memoranda," also available on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68.

Reservations about launch-on-warning appear in this analysis of the problem of defense against bomber and missile attack. Written during the period of the "missile gap" controversy, when actual Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) capabilities were in doubt and worst-case analyses were routine, this study by the NSC Planning Board predicted that Soviet missiles would "constitute a great threat" to U.S. cities by the end of 1960. Question 3 (page 11) was especially apposite to the launch-on-warning problem: "should the United States revise … its doctrine on response to attack and on response to warning of attack, in the light of decreased reaction time and in view of the increasing U.S. emphasis on retaliatory ballistic missile forces?"

The analysts were confident that the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line would provide sufficient warning of a bomber attack and "adequate time" for decisions and action, such as putting Strategic Air Command bombers in the air. A new warning system–the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System [BMEWs]–was in the works that could give U.S. authorities fifteen minutes to respond to an incoming ICBM attack (although the proposed MIDAS system would be able to provide more time), hardly enough time for decisionmakers to assess the situation, make a decision, and transmit it to commanders. Until BMEWs was available, only the Bomb Alarm System, then being deployed, could give definitive information on nuclear detonations.

According to the authors note, an important advantage of strategic bombers was that they could be recalled. By contrast, an unrecallable ICBM nuclear force made launch-on-warning of doubtful value: it was "questionable whether U.S. response doctrine will permit the launch of `irrecallable’ ballistic missiles solely on the basis of information received from a warning system." The analysts doubted that BMEWs and any follow-on systems could provide "high confidence high early warning" and judged it "essential" to avoid launching unrecallable missiles based on a false warning (see paragraph 43).

Document 05

Letter from Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara to Senator John Stennis, Chairman, Preparedness Investing Subcommittee, Senate Armed Services Committee, enclosing study commenting on "requirements" for warning and detection systems, 3 November 1961, Secret

1961-11-03

Source: National Archives, Record Group 200, Papers of Robert S. McNamara, box 113, Reading File Nov. 1961 (also available in on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68

Interested in the status of U.S. warning and detection capabilities, Senator Stennis (D-Ms) sent McNamara a list of eight "requirements" to which McNamara responded with detailed information describing deployed and proposed systems. In the course of this assessment of various deployed and proposed systems–DEW Line, BMEWS, MIDAS, etc.–McNamara responded on page 17 to Stennis’s request for information on whether a fifteen-minute warning time "would be sufficient for the warning to be transmitted, the command to be given and communicated, and our weapons actually launched before enemy missiles or bombs impact in our territory" (see page 17). McNamara confidently observed that fifteen minutes would be enough to assess warning intelligence, convene an emergency conference of the president and other National Command Authorities, and transmit an execution order to commanders, as well as launch "all SAC alert aircraft and Atlas E ICBMs and one third of the Atlas D ICBMs.[15]

Document 06

Letter from General Bernard Schriever, Commander, U.S. Air Force Systems Command, to Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert, Subject: DOD Program Change (4.4.040) on MIDAS (239A), 13 August 1962, Secret

1962-08-13

Source: Library of Congress, Papers of General Curtis LeMay, Box 141, AFSC (AF Systems Command) 1962

McNamara may have been ambivalent about a launch-on-warning posture; according to one account, at one point during the Kennedy administration he stated that he strongly opposed it. Meeting with McNamara, General Bernard Schriever, then commander of Air Force Systems Command, cited a launch-on-warning capability to justify MIDAS. A witness to the meeting later recalled that McNamara was "furious" and told Schriever that "as long as he was secretary of Defense and Jack Kennedy was President, the United States would never launch on warning, even if that required a force of 10,000 Minuteman ICBMs [to assure the survivability of enough forces to retaliate]."[16]

To Schriever’s dismay, in early August 1962, McNamara ruled against Air Force plans to deploy MIDAS satellites; from McNamara’s perspective, MIDAS was too costly, it duplicated other warning systems, and the hardening of missile silos reduced the importance of early warning.[17] As this document shows, Schriever was firmly convinced that maximum warning information and he lobbied the Secretary of the Air Force to urge McNamara to reconsider. Despite Schriever’s efforts, however, it took several years before more senior officials were convinced that MIDAS could work and to approve a development plan.

Document 07

Letter from Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert to President Kennedy, 26 October 1962

1962-10-26

Source: Library of Congress, Papers of Curtis M. LeMay, box 153, 19-3 White House 1962 (also available on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68.

A capability for nearly instantaneous launch of strategic missiles, an important technical condition for launch-on-warning, came into play during the fall of 1962. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Strategic Air Command began to deploy nuclear-armed Minuteman I missiles in silos located near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. Secretary of the Air Force Zuckert reported to President Kennedy that the deployment was occurring under "unusual safety conditions" so that it would take hours to launch the missiles. Zuckert’s confidence in safety procedures on the ground was misplaced; the missiles could actually be launched immediately, foreshadowing their normal alert status.[18] He also informed Kennedy that once the Minutemen in the first complex had been deployed in their "normal alert status," all "twenty missiles will be able to be launched in thirty seconds."

Document 08

Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, "Air Force Proposed Changes to the Tentative Force Guidance," 29 August 1964, Top Secret [excerpts]

1964-08-29

Source: National Archives, Record Group 200, Robert S. McNamara Papers, box 42, Defense Projects and Operations (also available on DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History I, 1955-68.

This memorandum elucidated the counterforce, or "damage limiting", assignment of the Minuteman ICBM force. Its chief targets were the 600 "time-urgent" Soviet bomber bases and missile sites, among others, that had to be destroyed before they could endanger U.S. allies or U.S. territory. The problem of "known failure"–that some percentage of ICBMs would fail to reach their target–made it necessary to assign an average of 1.67 missiles to assure that one "on-launch reliable" Minuteman hit its target. With U.S. reconnaissance satellites expected to locate more "time-urgent targets," Secretary of the Air Force Zuckert sought Robert McNamara’s approval for a total force of 1200 Minutemen missiles to strike them. McNamara, however, had decided that 1000 Minutemen was "enough"; moreover, a new technology then still on the drawing-boards–multiple-independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs)–would make it possible to strike more targets with the same number of ICBMs.[19]

Document 09 NEW

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis [Alain Enthoven] to Secretary of Defense, "Recycle of’ DPM Strategic Offensive and Defensive Forces," 23 June 1967, Top Secret

1967-06-23

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, Alain Ethoven Papers, box 5, Summary Memos and Comments, 1967

A reference to "launch-on-warning" by McNamara aide Alain Enthoven suggests that the concept was certainly in the air and not even an unusual one during the Johnson administration (whatever McNamara thought about it). Enthoven’s paper was part of the Draft Presidential Memoranda (DPM) process that McNamara inaugurated to convey his policy views and budget recommendations to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Typically, the DPMs would produce comments and reclamas (requests for reconsideration) from the various armed services. In this one, Enthoven subjected Air Force and Joint Chiefs of Staff views on deterrence, "damage limiting," and other matters to detailed critical analysis. Noting that the Air Force believed that the U.S. had inadequate means to deter large-scale nuclear attack, Enthoven argued that U.S. nuclear forces gave the Soviet Union "a great deal to worry about", including "launch-on-warning tactics, … Soviet fatalities due to long-term fall-out, epidemics, or secondary effects (e.g., starvation) because of bottle-necks in their economy."

Document 10 NEW

History & Research Division, Headquarters, Strategic Air Command, History of Strategic Air Command January-June 1968 Historical Study No. 112, February 1969, Top Secret, Excerpt

1969-02-00

During 1968, SAC planners considered the possibility of "fire on warning" because they were wondering about the possibility and the impact of a Soviet "pindown" attack, whereby the Soviets would launch SLBMs at Minuteman sites and detonate the warheads in the air to stop the American missiles from launching. For the planners, "a fire on warning doctrine was the best military answer to the pindown threat," but it was "politically unacceptable," probably because it reduced presidential control over the decision-making process. Nevertheless, the planners anticipated that political objections might diminish and that the availability of new warning systems and more "streamlined national command authority procedures" might make fire on warning more generally acceptable. A "minimum reaction posture" for ICBMs would be also be necessary, presumably by reducing the time needed to launch them. Changes in safety rules and crew checklists would also be necessary to assure quick launch.

Document 11

Lawrence Lynn, U.S. National Security Council Staff, to Henry Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, "Talking Paper on ‘Firing on Warning’ Issue," 1 May 1969, Top Secret

1969-05-01

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Security Council Files (hereinafter Nixon NSF), box 840, Sentinel ABM System Vol. II, 4/1/69; also published in DNSA, U.S. Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

Discussions of launch-on-warning also surfaced in Congress and the White House early in the Nixon administration. Lawrence Lynn, an NSC defense analyst, prepared a briefing paper for national security adviser Henry Kissinger’s use in discussion with "prominent news columnists." Apparently, leading opponents of Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABMs), including Sen. Albert Gore Sr. (D-TN) had suggested a "launch-on-warning" option as a method for preserving the ICBM force from attack. The White House, however, wanted to shoot down "firing on warning" as "dangerous and irresponsible" because early warning sensors had such a high rate of false reports. Thus, the "possibility of a disastrous mistakes" would be a "very real one." Drawing on classified information, Lynn reported that existing warning systems, BMEWs and Over-the-Horizon Radar (OTH)[20], had significant false reports rate; for example, 50 percent of initial OTH reports were false. Lynn demonstrated, however, why some would find launch-on-warning to be workable: the "new early warning satellite [647 project] may produce one false alarm per year."

Document 12

Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff, to Henry Kissinger, "Message’ to You From Arbatov," 22 September 1969, Secret

1969-09-22

Source: Nixon NSF, box 710, USSR Vol V. 10/69, also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

References to launch-on-warning emerged during a conversation at an Institute for Strategic Studies meeting, between Georgy Arbatov, a Soviet American specialist who headed the Institute of USA and Canada Studies, and Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a European and Soviet affairs specialist, who had joined Kissinger’s NSC Staff from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Reflecting the problems in U.S.-Soviet relations during the period, the conversation turned to strategic nuclear issues, including U.S. uncertainties about the SS-9, the Soviet ICBM that appeared to threaten U.S. Minuteman silos. To Sonnenfeldt’s surprise, Arbatov observed that there was little to "worry" over because "neither side would wait if it received warning of an attack but instead … would simply empty out its silos by launching a counter-strike at once." Sonnenfeldt objected, noting the danger to "strategic stability" of a launch-on-warning posture. Sonnenfeldt also questioned whether Arbatov’s statement reflected "existing doctrine."

Document 13

U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), Public Affairs Bureau, "The ‘Launch on Warning’ Question in the First Phase of SALT," 21 December 1973, Secret

1973-12-21

Source: ACDA FOIA release to National Security Archive; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

Some months after the Arbatov-Sonnenfeldt discussion, during the spring of 1970, the problem of launch-on-warning received more attention during the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), summarized in this ACDA report. During an April 1970 discussion of a possible ban on multiple reentry vehicles, chief Soviet negotiator Vladimir Semenov raised the problem of launch-on-warning when he noted that new warning systems would enable governments to launch missiles and to empty silos before "the enemy [strikes] a blow at them." A few weeks later, Gerard Smith, the head of the U.S. SALT delegation, showed his concern about launch-on-warning when he asked whether governments should plan to fire missiles "solely on the possibly fallible reading of signals from … early-warning systems." Such a posture would be "very dangerous and would increase the risks of unwanted war." The discussion did not go much further, although it became evident that General Ogarkov, the top military official on the Soviet SALT delegation, was resentful that Smith had taken the discussion further and told U.S. General Royal Allison that "as a military man, [he] should know the answer" to Smith’s question, suggesting later that U.S. military manuals assumed a launch-on-warning posture.

Smith wanted to influence the discussion further. While acknowledging that Soviet uncertainty about a U.S. launch-on-warning posture could have "some deterrent value" and even some provide some "bargaining leverage" in the SALT talks, on balance Smith believed there would be more "risk and danger" if the Soviets had a "mistaken view" of U.S. policy. Thus, on 19 May, he cited a slightly equivocal statement of "hope" by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird that "that kind of strategy would never be adopted by any Administration or by any Congress."

Document 14

Memorandum from Seymour Weiss, State Department Policy Planning Council, to Undersecretary of State John Irwin and Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. A. Johnson, "Luncheon Conversation October 2 with Paul Nitze on SALT," 7 October 1970, Top Secret/Nodis/Sensitive

1970-10-07

Source: RG 59, Policy Planning Council Miscellaneous Records, 1959-72, box 299, SALT 1970 October 1-13; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

The apparent growing vulnerability to a surprise attack of U.S. land-based ICBMs worried the hawkish Cold War veteran Paul H. Nitze, the author of NSC-68 and a former Deputy Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy and a member of the U.S. SALT delegation. During a conversation with a like-minded State Department official Seymour Weiss, Nitze worried that even with a SALT agreement, Moscow might be in a position to install multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on the SS-9 ICBMs, thus giving Moscow a "first strike capability against US land-based missiles." Nitze saw several alternatives to address this vulnerability: 1) developing a first strike capability, 2) a launch-on-warning doctrine, or 3) abandoning land-based missiles and "move entirely to sea" by relying on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Nitze argued that launch-on-warning was "always contrary to US strategic policy" and would be "inexcusably dangerous" during a "time of intense crisis." Nevertheless, he acknowledged that Washington could "be forced" into a launch-on-warning posture if Minuteman vulnerability "seems at least theoretically possible."

Document 15

Meeting of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament [GAC], Thursday, January 21, 1971, "ICBM Survivability," Top Secret, excised copy, excerpt

1971-01-21

Source: Donation from ACDA; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

While Paul Nitze and Gerard Smith were alert to the risks, a launch-on-warning posture was already embedded in U.S. nuclear planning. Bruce Blair, who was a Minuteman launch officer at the time, recalls that he "was postured for LOW [launch-on-warning] during the early 1970s, and the whole force and command system were geared to this timing", that is, to rapid response.[21]

This excerpt from a meeting of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament [GAC], a group of prominent civilian experts on arms control and nuclear forces, shows that military officials showed little doubt about the value of launch-on-warning. Focusing on the possible vulnerability of the U.S. Minuteman force to an attack by Soviet ICBMs, GAC heard testimony on, and discussed, Soviet ICBM forces, plans for hardening missile silos, and the possible role of anti-ballistic missile defenses. Toward the end of the session, one of the Committee members, Kermit Gordon, then president of the Brookings Institution, asked whether there was a "plausible scenario" for a simultaneous Soviet first strike against U.S. Minuteman and bomber forces.

The discussion that Gordon’s query prompted was less than straightforward but a launch-on-warning option flowed from the discussion of different scenario in which the Soviets targeted ICBMs and SLBMs on Minuteman silos and bomber bases respectively. According to Caltech President (and future Secretary of Defense) Harold Brown, once the Soviets launched their ICBMs, they would risk a [U.S.] "launch on warning." Commander James Martin then observed that "there’s about 20 minutes in there when the President might decide to launch on warning."

Document 16

Memorandum from Leonard Weiss, Deputy Director for Functional Research, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, to Leon Sloss, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, Office of International Security Policy and Planning, "Your Memorandum on `Launch-on-Warning," 29 January 1971, enclosing memorandum from Frank H. Perez, Office of Strategic and General Research, to Leonard Weiss, "Thoughts on Launch-on-Warning," 29 January 1971, Secret

1971-01-29

Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1970-1973, Def 12 USSR; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976

Prepared only a few days after the GAC discussion, this significant document shows that State Department intelligence officials recognized that a capability for launch-on-warning existed. They gave it relatively uncritical support, although one of the officials, Frank Perez, observed that he was "not advocating [its] adoption."

Both Perez and his superior officer, Leonard Weiss, constructed the discussion of launch-on-warning around the logic of deterrence: because the Soviets could detect a U.S. capability to get the Minutemen "off the ground in time," that could deter them from the "possibility of undertaking a first strike." Even if Moscow struck first, launch-on-warning would enable the United States to inflict "intolerable damage" on the Soviet Union.

According to Perez, a launch-on-warning capability would depend on the availability of "unambiguous warning," which could be provided by systems that were becoming available. The 440-L Over-the-Horizon system and the 647 early warning satellite, also known as the Defense Support Program, could detect mass missile launches.[22] Perimeter Acquisition Radars (PAR), a type of phased array radar, could provide "absolute certainty as to the size of the attack and … where [it] originated and to where it was directed," for example, whether Minuteman fields were a target.

While Perez was overoptimistic about the extent to which new warning systems like PAR could quickly provide actionable information, he believed that they would give a President a choice other than "rid[ing] out the attack and then respond[ing] with what residual [forces] remained." Instead, the president could "respond to a Soviet attack based on his assessment of the situation." For example, in response to a Soviet attack, Perez suggested that escalation and mass civilian casualties could be avoided with a controlled response of some 200-300 Minutemen against high-value Soviet military targets away from urban-industrial centers. Whether an attack by 250 Minuteman could actually limit escalation looks questionable in retrospect.

Document 17

Memorandum to the Secretary [William P. Rogers] Through S/S [Executive Secretary] From the Undersecretary [John Irwin], "DPRC Meeting of [sic] Survivability, March 17 – Information Memorandum," prepared by Leon Sloss, Office of Politico-Military Affairs, 18 March 1971, Secret.

1971-03-18

Source: RG 59, Records of Undersecretary of State John Irwin, 1969-73, box 5, SALT Jan-June 1971; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976

One of the problems that generated interest in a launch-on-warning capability was the alleged vulnerability of the U.S. Minuteman force to Soviet attack. This summary of a meeting of the National Security Council’s Defense Program Review Committee [DPRC], chaired by national security adviser Henry Kissinger, suggests interagency agreement that the Soviets had the wherewithal to destroy Minutemen but differences over when the threat would materialize. Taking the most cautious, "worst case" approach, the Defense Department estimated a threat by the mid-1970s. The "intelligence community", presumably the CIA, however, did not see a vulnerability problem at least until later in the decade depending on when the Soviets could deploy accurate MIRVs on the SS-9.

As some argued at the time, a "vulnerable" Minuteman force might not be a serious liability when more survivable U.S. SLBMs could threaten Soviet cities. Nevertheless, for some on the DPRC, the vulnerability problem posed important political questions, for example, "how would US political leadership react in a crisis if a significant portion of US force was considered vulnerable"? One possible implication was that if national authorities saw a danger of a Soviet preemptive move against U.S. missile silos, they might raise alert levels for possible recourse to launching Minutemen on warning. Raising alert levels, of course, could increase anxiety levels at the Kremlin heightening the risks of nuclear war. Only future declassification releases, however, may elucidate the DPRC’s later discussions of the broader implications of the survivability problem.

Document 18

K. Wayne Smith, National Security Council Staff, to Henry Kissinger, "Harold Brown on SALT," 10 May 1971, Top Secret, enclosing letter from Brown to Kissinger, 3 May 1971, Secret.

1971-05-10

Source: Nixon NSF, box 808, Brown, Harold; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976

As a member of the SALT delegation, Caltech President Harold Brown was a member of the SALT delegation would pass on his thinking to Henry Kissinger. For Brown, curbing the arms race by limiting ABMs was highly important, even more than limiting large Soviet ICBMs such as the SS-9. If the Soviets deployed MIRVs on the SS-9 they could pose a threat to U.S. Minuteman silos but, Brown believed, a launch on "unambiguous" warning capability, if not a doctrine, would make such an attack "a relatively risky and unattractive" proposition.

Attentive to the danger of false warning, Brown conceded that launch-on-warning was not a "sure tactic," but it could be "relatively easily … achieved during the mid-70s." Nevertheless, he did not necessarily support a launch-on-warning "doctrine," perhaps to give civilian authorities more flexibility in a crisis. Like Perez, Brown believed that Minutemen launched on warning could hit military targets, although he may have had Soviet bomber bases in mind.

In his comments, K. Wayne Smith, the NSC’s director for program analysis during the early 1970s, found value in Brown’s argument on the importance of controls over ABM radars, but questioned the merits of launch-on-warning. For Smith, it was a problematic deterrent, because of the danger that, during an international crisis, it could increase the risks of war by encouraging one side or the other to act precipitously.

Document 19 NEW

Aerospace Systems Analysis, McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company, Arms Control Implications of Strategic Offensive Weapons Systems, Volume IV, Technological Feasibility of Launch on Warning and Flyout Under Attack, Prepared for U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, ACDA ST/196, June 1971, Secret, Excised Copy

1971-06-00

Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 383, Records of U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Bureau of Intelligence, Verification, and Information Management, 1968-81: box 1 of 1.

This report assessed the technical practicality of launch-on-warning (LOW) as a means to assure Minuteman survivability in the face of an apparent Soviet strategic threat. With satellite-based warning systems providing nearly 30 minutes of warning of a Soviet ICBM attack, the National Command Authorities (NC) could order "the Minuteman [to] be launched within that 30-minute interval" and "the accuracy of the Soviet ICBMs will be unimportant because the Minuteman silos will be empty."

Whether the command-and-control system could function within the 30-minute time limit, whether the warning signals were accurate, and whether the Soviets might be able to defeat LOW by using submarine-launched ballistic missiles to "pin-down" Minuteman ICBMs were problems that the McDonnell Douglas analysts reviewed. For example, on false warning, the analysts maintained that the "probability of a false alarm by any one of the warning systems is negligible; the probability that two warning systems measuring entirely different phenomena would report correlated false alarms at the same time is infinitesimal." (Future analysts were not so certain.) On "pin-down," the analysts believed that the Soviets would not have the capability for several years and that it was possible to make "pin-down" impractical, e.g., by making Minutemen more resistant to radiation ("hardening").

In retrospect, one of the most problematic elements of the McDonnell Douglas analysis are the facts presented about the time required to make, transmit, and implement a decision to launch Minuteman missiles. According to the analysts, once the NCA made a launch decision, "significant delays" would occur, of which "the most important and the most surprising" was the "11 minutes required by the launch control crew to receive, decode, authenticate and execute the launch command." The analysts observed that "at one time," six minutes was the time required, bur 11 minutes was the "interval" established by "Air Force doctrine to insure that no crew attempts to launch before all crews have completed their prelaunch functions." Another four minutes was required to decode messages and transmit the launch command.

Bruce Blair, who was a Minuteman launch officer in the early 1970s, finds that the McConnell Douglas analysts were mistaken; it would take three minutes to launch the Minuteman at the most. The eleven-minute time line may have been the standard during the late 1960s but not in the years that followed.[23]

Document 20

L. Wainstein et al., The Evolution of U.S. Strategic Command and Control and Warning, 1945-1972 Study S-467, Institute for Defense Analyses, June 1975, Top Secret

1975-06-00

Source: FOIA request to Department of Defense; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976

A launch-on-warning capability depended on warning information, quick-reaction nuclear forces, but also a command-and-control apparatus that could assess strategic intelligence, make appropriate decisions, and rapidly convey them to military commanders. Pages 345-347 from chapter XXVI of this Institute for Defense Analyses history describe the Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites and their role in providing "usable warning time" as well as qualitatively better information so National Command Authorities would be better able to assess an attack and chose one of the SIOP options. Chapter XXX describes the central features of the National Military Command System as it stood during the early 1970s, including procedures for transmitting and implementing orders for the execution of the SIOP.

As important as the command-and control system was, confidence in its reliability was not high and reports on its failings were "continuous" during this period (and beyond). Thus, whether the NCA could properly assess warning information, much less make a decision to launch-on-warning and successfully transmit it to commanders in the field, would be problematic. For example, in 1970, even though the Defense System Program had already been successfully tested, the Blue Ribbon Defense Panel reported on the difficulty of providing warning information to the president: "it is possible that no President could be sure … that an attack was in progress or that retaliation was justified," unless confirmation of nuclear detonations was already available (p. 408).

Document 21 NEW

C.H. Builder, D. C. Kephart, A. Laupa, "The U.S. ICBM Force: Current Issues and Future Options," RAND Corporation, PR-1754-R, October 1975, Secret, excised copy

1975-10-00

Source: FOIA release by U.S. Air Force

This report shows how Carl H. Builder and his RAND colleagues looked at launch-on-warning when they considered future roles for ICBMs. Strongly interested in identifying the possibility for special roles for the Minuteman force, e.g., for limited strategic operations or counterforce missions, the RAND analysts assumed that the value of ICBMs as a deterrent depended on their survivability when under attack. While they believed that worries about a preemptive counterforce attack were exaggerated, they saw no good choices for assuring Minuteman survivability.

Builder and his co-authors considered whether a "launch-under-attack-assessment" would be useful for giving the Minuteman force enough time to be used in a crisis. Highlighting "attack assessment" instead of "warning," their definition of attack assessment demanded more authoritative reliance than warning from DSP satellites. Moreover, for the decision-making process to be credible, two problems had to be solved. One was "the attack assessment thresholds for considering launch commitment," for example, weighing the consequences of launching or not. The other was the "level of confidence in assessment information for launch decision." Was it necessary to have "confirmed reports" that Soviet warheads had detonated on U.S. soil? Also necessary for credible launch under attack assessment" were targets other than (empty) missile silos.

According to the report, once the President had made a decision, Minutemen could reach high altitudes "seven minutes" after a president’s launch decision. Although the report mentioned possible vulnerabilities of ICBM silos to SLBM strikes, during this period Soviet SLBMs were not accurate enough to pose such a threat.

To support a launch-under-attack assessment, the authors drew on a logic similar to that employed by INR’s Frank Perez: "we believe that the technical capabilities to launch ICBMs on attack assessment should be developed for their deterrence value–so that no adversary would dare assume that the U.S. could not launch the force out from any attempted disarming attack." Nevertheless, the authors argued against openly declaring the policy; the idea of launch-on-warning was so controversial that "it would be rigorously opposed as both dangerous and unstable (an accident could theoretically precipitate a nuclear war)." They also argued that the survivability of U.S. ICBMs was not important enough to require a decision to launch-under-attack. Implicitly, the danger of nuclear war was too terrible to allow the "assurance of ICBM retaliatory capabilities [to] rest upon such an awesome commitment."

Document 22

Minutes, National Security Council Meeting, "SALT (and Angola)", 22 December 1975, Top Secret, excised copy, published in edited form, without the launch on warning discussion, in U.S. State Department, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XXIII SALT 1972-1980

1975-12-22

Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, National Security Council Meetings Files, Box 2 1975-12-22; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

During a briefing by Director of Central Intelligence William Colby on Soviet forces, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, JCS Chairman George Brown, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (in his first incarnation in that role), and their colleagues discussed the possibility and problems of launch-on-warning (see pages 8-9). Looking at a worst-case scenario–a Soviet ICBM attack on U.S. Minuteman silos–Kissinger argued that it would be highly difficult for Soviet leaders to accomplish such an attack. Not only could the United States respond by launching SLBMs and bombers, it could also launch ICBMs on warning with the Minuteman force alone producing 80 million Soviet casualties. When ACDA Director Fred Ikle mentioned the dangers of a launch-on-warning posture–"accident prone" and "dangerous"-Kissinger suggested that it was already an available option by noting that command-and-control arrangements could be fixed to ensure that missiles were never launched without "presidential authority." Ikle remained a critic of launch-on-warning.[24]

Kissinger and top Pentagon officials were more interested in preserving the ambiguity of the U.S. posture so that the Soviets could not know with any certainty whether the United States had a "launch on warning policy." To complicate Soviet planning, US policymakers wanted to keep Moscow guessing. Further, as National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft suggested, it was "not to our disadvantage if we appear irrational to the Soviets in this regard." The implication was that U.S. ambiguity or even irrationality could encourage Soviet diplomatic caution.[25]

Document 23 NEW

Memorandum from Wallace D. Henderson, Director, Indications and Warning, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, to [Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert] Ellsworth, [Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Programs and Resources Thomas] Latimer, and [Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Warning Morton] Goulder, "Minuteman Launch on Warning Demonstration," 30 January 1976, with cover memorandum, Top Secret, Excised copy

1976-01-30

Source: MDR Request to Defense Department; also published in DNSA, Nuclear History II, 1969-1976.

Wallace Henderson’s memorandum gave general support to an Air Force program to demonstrate launch-on-warning by launching a Minuteman from Vandenberg Air Force Base in response to warning information from a Defense Support Program satellite. The point would be to "add credibility" to Defense Department statements that the U.S. had a "capability" for launch-on-warning while also mitigating concerns about "the low survivability of Minuteman in the face of mounting Soviet ICBM throw weight and accuracy." Henderson acknowledged a "negative" – that a demonstration "could revive emotional responses in Congress to discussion of "Launch on Warning."

According to the cover memorandum, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Ellsworth cancelled the plans, perhaps concluding that a demonstration was too controversial.

Document 24 NEW

William E. Odom to Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Soviet Launch-on-Warning Capability," 23 January 1978, with [State Department] Bureau of Intelligence and Research paper attached, "Soviet Launch-on-Warning Capability," 22 January 1978, Top Secret, excised copy

1978-01-23

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, National Security Files, NLC-6-79-4-20-3

Odom brought to Brzezinski’s attention an INR report on recent intelligence that the Soviets had acquired a "fast reaction" ICBM launch capability that made launch-on-warning feasible. According to the report, the quick-launch feature encouraged the Soviets to see their ICBMs as their "prime retaliatory force." Odom observed that the INR report represented an "upgrading" of an intelligence estimate that had been made a year earlier. "The least comforting implication is the [limited] readiness warning time we might have."

Document 25 NEW

Zbigniew Brzezinski to President Carter, "Information Items," 24 January 1978, Top Secret

1978-01-24

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, National Security Files, NLC-1-5-2-29-2

In this report to President Carter, the declassification reviewers released an important tidbit that was excised from the INR paper (see Document 22): "According to State, recently acquired evidence indicates that as much as 70 percent of the current Soviet ICBM force could be ready to launch in about three minutes, even from a normal readiness posture." Before, only a small portion of the ICBM force was at "the highest level of preparedness with gyroscopes continuously running." Brzezinski reported that the new information was "consistent with the USSR’s continuing efforts to improve its early warning capabilities."

U.S. intelligence information may well have been correct. According to Pavel Podvig, an expert on Soviet nuclear forces, ICBMs could be launched in 2.5 to 3 minutes after having withstood a nuclear strike, with 90 seconds needed for a pause, after the strike, and 60 seconds for the ‘launch cycle." However, the Soviets may not have deployed ICBMs with spinning gyroscopes until the early 1980s.[26]

Document 26 NEW

Memorandum from Russell Murray, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Program Analysts & Evaluation) to Secretary of Defense, “Interim Report on the PD-18 Study Modernization of the ICBM Force — ACTION MEMORANDUM,” 26 June 1978, with “Introduction and Summary,” “Paper # 2 Launch-Under-Attack,” and “Paper #3 “The Strategic Options Matrix,” attached, Top Secret, excised copy

1978-06-26

Source: (Program Analysts & Evaluation) to Secretary of Defense, "Interim Report on the PD-18 Study Modernization of the ICBM Force — ACTION MEMORANDUM," 26 June 1978, with "Introduction and Summary," "Paper # 2 Launch-Under-Attack," and "Paper #3 "The Strategic Options Matrix," attached, Top Secret, excised copy MDR request to Defense Department

During 1977-1978 the Carter administration launched a major review of nuclear strategy and forces, not only so the president would have alternatives to the massive strike options in the SIOP but also to strengthen deterrence and to mitigate the perceived vulnerability of the ICBM force. One of the studies of ICBM modernization reviewed the feasibility of a launch-under-attack option. Apparently finding that the U.S. had an "operational" launch-on-warning capability, the study found advantages and disadvantages in LUA. The key advantage was that a "credible LUA capability may enhance deterrence," by producing "great uncertainty" in the minds of Soviet leaders about the possibility of a first strike against the U.S.

If deterrence failed, the study questioned the value of "LUA as a tactic to maintain an effective ICBM force." The conclusion was that an "operational LUA capability is not a viable alternative for modernizing the ICBM force." The short amount of time was one consideration; another problem raised constitutional questions: "confidence in this tactic would require a system for transferring authority to a properly briefed and survivable figure quickly in the event communications with the President failed." The need for expert knowledge was another problem: "The President and his potential successors would have to be thoroughly familiar with the attack assessment systems and be prepared to make a decision in very little time." And such a requirement was wrong: "the President could decide to retaliate in a few minutes [but] he shouldn’t, as a matter of policy, have to do so." The Defense analysts did not want to see the president forced into a decision (or "jammed" in a crisis.) [27]

Document 27 NEW

Memorandum from [Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Stanley R.] Resor to [Deputy Secretary of Defense Charles] Duncan, enclosing memorandum by Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe, "Launch on Warning," 18 October 1978, Top Secret, excised copy

1978-10-18

Source: MDR request to Defense Department, under appeal at ISCAP

This massively excised critique of launch-on-warning as "dangerous, wrong, and ineffective" may have been influenced by the criticism of launch-under-attack found in Document 22. Some of the content can be gleaned by reading between the lines. For example, the second-to-last paragraph might address the problem of forcing the president to make a quick decision in a crisis.

Document 28 NEW

U.S. Department of Defense, "Nuclear Targeting Policy Review: Summary of Major Findings and Recommendations," circa November 1978, Top Secret, Excised copy

1978-11-00

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Zbigniew Brzezinski Collection, Subject File, box 35, Presidential Directive 59- 9/78-4/79

This synopsis of the Carter administration’s targeting study, directed by Defense Department official Leon Sloss, reiterated some objections to LUA, such as the risk of accidental war and the danger of forcing the president to "make a ‘use or lose’ choice if there are other options available." It also included a telling criticism of the role of ICBM deployments in targeting policy: "the set of targets for our ICBM force is not in itself planned to meet any specific objective." Moreover, then-current ICBM targeting would kill so many people that it would "likely invite retaliation against US urban/industrial assets." To reduce the escalatory risks, the study recommended a specialized launch-under-attack option using ICBMs only that would target a "broad set of nuclear and non-nuclear targets and command and control," while trying to "minimize collateral damage to population consistent with achievement of the attack objective." Whether attacking a "broad set" of targets would produce fewer fatalities looks doubtful in retrospect because many Soviet military-related targets were near population centers.

Document 29 NEW

Leon Sloss, Director, Nuclear Targeting Policy Review, to Director, Joint Staff et al., "Nuclear Targeting Policy Review," 13 December 1978, Top Secret, Excised copy

1978-12-13

Source: MDR release by Defense Department

Secretary of Defense Harold Brown had reviewed this targeting review study and directed officials to begin implementing some of the recommendations promptly. One of the recommendations, on page 9, concerned launch-under-attack. Along the lines of the targeting review study, the recommendation found that "LUA cannot be a substitute for measures to reduce ICBM vulnerability; rather it is an interim measure designed to strengthen deterrence." While an ICBM-only, launch-under-attack option was to be ready for implementation during 1981-1982, it was not to be incorporated into war plans "until it adequately supports the building blocks that are developed to support SIOP planning," (with each block representing a discrete option interrelated with others).

Document 30 NEW

William E. Odom, National Security Council Staff, to National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Launch from Under Attack," 8 October 1979, Top Secret

1979-10-08

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Brzezinski Collection, Subject File, box 42, Missile Warning Incidents 11/79-8/80

To Odom’s dismay, the latest version of the SIOP included what he termed an "unwise" launch-under-attack option. First, the U.S.’s tactical warning system was "just not good enough to let us know that our ICBMs are under attack" (although a few weeks later, the famous NORAD false alert incident demonstrated the importance of the DSP and other warning systems for disconfirming mistaken information about Soviet incoming missiles). Second, "little thought has been given to. the rationale of the target set." The SIOP launch-under-attack option "is targeted at empty Soviet silos and some conventional military targets," (in striking contrast to the "broad set" of targets recommended by the nuclear targeting review). That could provoke a "major Soviet response." Odom also argued that "if the LUA is executed and a few minutes later there is a decision to execute one of the MAOs [Major Attack Option] large numbers of our RVs would be destroyed through fratricide." That is, the blasts and radiation caused by the LUA strikes on Soviet targets would damage incoming U.S. reentry vehicles, "fratricide."

Odom recommended that Zbigniew Brzezinski ask Secretary of Defense Brown to revoke the LUA option from the SIOP, but it appears unlikely that the memo went any further than his boss’s desk.

Document 31

U.S. Strategic Air Command, "Current US Strategic Targeting Doctrine," prepared by Colonels Kearl and Locke, 3 December 1979, Top Secret

1979-12-03

Source: excised copy released on appeal by Air Combat Command

This study confirms that U.S. nuclear planners incorporated the Minuteman-only, launch-under-attack option into SIOP-5D, as of October 1 1979. In keeping with efforts during the 1970s to breakdown the SIOP into more discrete attack options, war planners initially conceived of LUA as a Selective Attack Option (SAO) because Minuteman missiles only would be committed to this option. During the 1980s, launch-under-attack was expanded to include bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, thus turning it into a Major Attack Option.[28]

As a sign that launch-on-warning was becoming routinized in operational planning but that a requirement for definitive information on detonations would not be integral to planning, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began to include "launch under attack" in their dictionary of military terms. The Chiefs explained it as "execution by National Command Authorities of Single Integrated Operational Plan Forces subsequent to tactical warning of strategic nuclear attack against the United States and prior to first impact."[29]

Document 32

William E. Odom, National Security Council Staff, to National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, "M-B-B Luncheon Item: Targeting," 5 August 1980, with Presidential Directive 59, "Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy," 25 July 1980, Top Secret, excised copy

1980-07-25

Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Brzezinski Collection, box 23, Meetings-Muskie/Brown 7/80-9/81. Initially published in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book 390, Jimmy Carter’s Controversial Nuclear Targeting Directive PD-59 Declassified

Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Directive 59 on "Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy" sought a nuclear strategy that enhanced deterrence, but if deterrence should fail it sought to "terminate the war on acceptable terms that are as favorable as practical." While there was "no plausible definition" of victory in nuclear war, the U.S. had to be "capable of fighting successfully." PD 59 did not directly endorse launch-on warning – it was not U.S. "policy" – nor did it mention launch-under-attack Nevertheless, launch-on-warning was a capability that was to be available in the form of "pre-planned options" for attacks by "vulnerable" ICBMs. What senior officials had in mind was probably something like a Minuteman-only LUA option.

Document 33

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Secretariat, Historical Division, Joint Chiefs of Staff Special Historical Study, A Historical Study of Strategic Connectivity, 1950-1981. July 1982, Top Secret

1982-07-00

Source: FOIA appeal to the Department of Defense, Initially Published in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 403, Declassified Pentagon History Provides Hair-Raising Scenarios of U.S. Vulnerabilities to Nuclear Attack through 1970s, 19 November 2012

With launch-on-warning options available in PD 59, defense officials in the new Reagan administration analyzed the capabilities of U.S. command-control-communications systems for implementing various launch-under-attack scenarios. A mid-1981 report found that in light of C3 vulnerabilities the prospects for a successful launch-under-attack were poor, either during a surprise attack or if U.S. strategic forces were on high alert ("fully generated"). For example, in the second scenario, "no combination of systems and procedure was fast enough to complete the process of warning assessment, decision-making, and emergency action message dissemination in the time available (3.5 minutes) between the first submarine-launched ballistic missile breakwater and attacks on command, control, and communications systems." Thus, the probability was "extremely low" that command-control-and-communications systems would provide "assured execution" of a launch-under-attack option. Trying to solve this problem was an important motive behind the Reagan administration’s push for improvements in the C3 system during the years that followed,

Document 34 NEW

National Security Decision Directive 13, "Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy," 13 October 1981, Top Secret

1981-10-13

Source: Release by Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, 2018

Following the logic of PD 59, Reagan’s NSDD 13 sought to enhance deterrence partly through a military posture that "makes Soviet assessments of war outcomes, under any contingency, so uncertain and dangerous as to remove any incentive for initiating attack." If, however, deterrence should fail, Reagan mandated "pre-planned options" and "immediate options" for attack. Like PD 59, NSDD 13 supported a capability to "wage war successfully," but implied the possibility of winning nuclear war by seeking to "deny the Soviet Union a military victory at any level of conflict." Moreover, like PD 59, NSDD 13 assumed that command-control-communications-intelligence (C3I) systems had to be "sufficiently survivable and enduring to support" U.S. target plans, although that was a nearly Sisyphean task.

In some contrast to Carter policy, which authorized launch-on-warning options, NSDD 13 stipulated that it was U.S. policy not "to rely on" launch-on-warning in an "irrevocable manner." That appeared to proscribe ICBM launch-on-warning, if not bomber launch, but it did not rule out launch-under-attack as incorporated in the SIOP. In any event, the point was to "leave Soviet planners with strong uncertainty as to how we might actually respond to such warning." Moreover, upon receipt of warning information, the U.S. "must be prepared to launch our recallable bomber forces upon warning that a Soviet nuclear attack has been initiated."[30]

Cutaway drawing of the Minuteman III launch site and control post. Air Force photo, n.d. (Source: National Archives, Still Pictures Division, Records of U.S. Air Force Commands, Activities, and Organizations (RG 342B), box 669, LGM 30G)

Drawing of Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) sites in Alaska, Greenland, and the United Kingdom. Excerpt from Office of the Historian, Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Air Command, History of Strategic Air Command FY 1974, Historical Study 142, Volume I, Narrative, 28 January 1974, Top Secret, Published on Digital National Security Archive

Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. “Aerial View of radomes at BMEWS site III at Flyingdale’s Moore, England, 6 August 1963.” [Quotation from caption on archival copy] Source: RG 342B, box 1519, Flyingdale’s Moor.

Drawing of Defense Support Program Satellite, including the infra-red telescope used to detect heat from missile launch plumes. Excerpt from Office of the Historian, Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Air Command, History of Strategic Air Command FY 1974, Historical Study 142, Volume I, Narrative, 28 January 1974, Top Secret, Published on Digital National Security Archive

Drawing of Defense Support Program System satellites deployed for collecting and transmitting data on missile launches and nuclear explosions. Excerpt from Office of the Historian, Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Air Command, History of Strategic Air Command FY 1974, Historical Study 142, Volume I, Narrative, 28 January 1974, Top Secret, Published on Digital National Security Archive.

Grand Forks AFB, 15 August 1970. “Launch control officer, seated at launch control panel, turns switch to start launching sequence. Testing operational readiness of Minuteman crews using Modified Operational Missiles (MOM’s)." U.S. Air Force photo. [Quotation from caption]. Source: RG 342B, box 912, Operational Readiness

“Overall view of the antenna and its power plant at the Pave Paws [Precision Acquisition Vehicle Entry Phased Array Warning System] radar site,” Beale Air Force Base, CA, September 1979 [Quotation from caption]. Deployed on the East and West Coasts, Alaska, and overseas, Pave Paws radars were used to detect launches of submarine launched ballistic missiles. They were later replaced by the Solid State Phased Array Radar System (SSPARS). US Air Force photo. Source: RG 342B, box 923, Beale AFB, CA.

Notes

[1]. Richard Garwin, “Launch Under Attack to Redress Minuteman Vulnerability?,” International Security 4 (1979/80): 117-139; Fred C. Iklé, "The Growing Risk of War by Accident,” Washington Post, 24 June 1980; Charles Mohr, “A Scary Debate Over ‘Launch Under Attack,’” New York Times, 18 July 1982; Hendrick Smith, “Colonel Stirs Question On MX-Firing Doctrine,” The New York Times, 8 April 1983; William Broad, “Pershings Stir Accidental War Fears,” New York Times, 12 December 1983; John Steinbrunner, “Launch Under Attack,” The Scientific American, 250 (1984): 33-41.

[2]. For Bruce Blair’s writings see, in particular, The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 1993), and Global Zero Alert for Nuclear Forces (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 1995). For the Office of Technology Assessment study, see Tim Carrington, “The Ultimate Secret: A Pentagon Report Its Author Can’t See – ‘Nuclear Decapitation’ Study Warns of Communication Being Destroyed in Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, 18 February 1986. See also Bruce Blair, The End of Nuclear Warfighting: Moving to a Deterrence-Only Posture: An Alternative U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, with Jessica Sleight and Emma Claire Foley (Princeton, N.J. and Washington, D.C.: Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, and Global Zero, 2019).

[3]. For accounts of early U.S. nuclear planning and the first SIOP, see Henry S. Rowen, "Formulating Strategic Doctrine," U.S. Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy, Appendices, Vol. 4 (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1975), 217-34; David A. Rosenberg, "The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960," Steven E. Miller, editor, Strategy and Nuclear Deterrence: An International Security Reader (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984), 113-82; and Scott D. Sagan, "SIOP-62: the Nuclear War Plan Briefing to President Kennedy," International Security 12 (Summer 1987): 22-51.

[4]. Blair, The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 170; Jerome Wiesner, "Warning and Defense in the Missile Age," 3 June 1959 (see document 2, below).

[5]. Robert S. McNamara, “No Second Use -Until,” The New York Times, 2 February 1983. For McNamara, Blair, and others in the mid-1980s debate, see "Science and the Citizen," The Scientific American 255 (1986): 74-76.

[6]. U.S. State Department, FRUS 1961-1963, 8:499-502.

[7]. Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 170.

[8]. For a valuable and comprehensive account of the history of MIDAS and DSP, see Jeffrey Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels: DSP Satellites and National Security (Lawrence, KS, University of Kansas Press, 1999).

[9]. Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 168.

[10]. Ibid, 186-187.

[11]. Ibid, 187; information from Bruce Blair, 14 May 2019.

[12]. Pavel Podvig, “Does Russia Have a Launch-on-Warning Posture? The Soviet Union Didn’t,” Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 29 April 2019;

Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 195-216; William Burr and Svetlana Savranskaya, eds., “Previously Classified Interviews with Former Soviet Officials Reveal U.S. Strategic Intelligence Failure Over Decades,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book 285, 11 September 2009; “Putin Meets with Members of the Valdai Discussion Club, Full Transcript of the Plenary Session of the 15th Annual Meeting,” 18 October 2018.

See also Simon Saradzhyan, “Putin’s Remarks on Use of Nuclear Weapons Are Confusing, But Unlikely to Constitute a Shift in Nuclear Posture,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Russia Matters, 28 November 2018.

[13]. For background, see the major study by Stephen Twigge and Len Scott, Planning Armageddon: Britain, the United States, and the Command of Western Nuclear Forces, 1954-64 (Amsterdam, Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000), 36-37, 117-119.

[14]. For more details on PSAC thinking about MIDAS, see Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels, 12-13, 17

[15]. Jacob Neufeld, Ballistic Missiles in the United States Air Force, 1945-1960 (Washington, D.C., Office of Air Force History, 1990), 213-14

[16]. Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels, p. 256, n. 37, citing an interview with Jack Ruina. If Schriever ever made an explicit case for launch-on-warning in writing it remains classified or unknown to this researcher

[17]. For McNamara’s decision and later developments, see Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels, 28-48.

[18]. According to Scott Sagan, "SAC and Air Force contractor personnel appear to have improvised their own safety procedures in a manner that seriously compromised Minuteman nuclear safety." See Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992), 81-91.

[19]. For McNamara’s decisions on the Minuteman force, see Stephen I. Schwartz et al., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 1998),185-86, and Desmond Ball, Politics and Force Levels: The Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

[20]. Known also as Forward Scatter Radar, Over-the-Horizon (OTH) radar used high-frequency radio transmitters and receivers that were placed on either side of the Soviet Union and China. It would bounce continuous signals between the ionosphere and the earth until the signal reached the correct receiver. The system would detect a missile launch when it disrupted the stream of signals.

[21]. Bruce Blair communication with editor, 22 February 2001.

[22]. For the deployment of the DSP satellites during the late 1960s and early 1970s, see Richelson, America’s Space Sentinels, 44-69.

[23]. Bruce Blair communication with the editor, 18 June 2019.

[24] Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, 342, note 40.

[25]. This resonates with a politico-military stratagem – the "Madman theory" – that has been associated with the Nixon administration: the notion that disproportionate threats and unpredictable irrationality could successfully coerce adversaries into compliance with U.S. goals. See William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball, Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998), 76-86.

[26]. E-mail from Pavel Podvig (editor of blog, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces), 22 May 2019, drawing on his notes from the Vitalii Kataev papers (Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford CA) and personal recollections.

[27]. For “jamming” the President in a crisis, see Bruce Blair, “Strengthening Checks on Presidential Nuclear Launch Authority,” Arms Control Today, January-February 2018, at 8.

[28]. For decisions on LUA, see Blair, Logic of Accidental Nuclear Warfare, 186.

[29]. Ibid., 168. For the downgrading of information confirming nuclear detonations in U.S. strategic planning during the 1980s, see ibid, 192.

[30]. For launch-on-warning policy as it developed during the Reagan administration, see Lee Butler, Uncommon Cause: A Life at Odds with Convention, Volume II: The Transformative Years (Denver, Outskirts Press, 2016), 10-12. For launch-on-warning not ruled out, see Michael Getler, “Joint Chiefs Back Plan for 100 MX,” Washington Post, 22 April 1982.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Tiananmen Massacre 30th Anniversary


Tiananmen Massacre 30th Anniversary

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Declassified Records Describe Attacks by Chinese Troops, Internal Official Debates, and U.S. Attempts to Keep U.S.-China Relations on Track

Today the National Security Archive publishes a special exhibit on the 30th anniversary of the massacre at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, 4 June 1989. To mark an event that decisively shaped contemporary China, the National Security Archive is republishing three documentary E-books that appeared on previous anniversaries, in 1999, 2001, and 2014. The declassified documents demonstrate that U.S. embassy officials realized very quickly that the Chinese military had carried out a massacre ordered by top officials who feared the public expression of dissent could threaten Communist Party rule.

During the years after the massacre, National Security Archive fellow Jeffrey Richelson and analyst Michael Evans filed declassification requests to find out how U.S. government officials monitored the events and what they learned from intelligence sources, including eye witnesses. The requests, some of which took years for the agencies to process, yielded high-quality documents that shed light on the events, including the background, the armed attacks on the protestors, and the internal debates among top Chinese officials. They also document the mixed U.S. response to the massacre, on the one hand, sheltering a protestor, and on the other, trying to keep open lines of communication with Chinese authorities and to maintain flows of U.S. investment.

As part of an ongoing brutal crackdown of internal dissent, Chinese authorities have carried out a harsh policy of history suppression, forbidding on-line or other discussions of the events at Tiananmen Square. In light of that it is worth recalling what U.S. government officials learned at the time and how they assessed Beijing’s response to internal dissent.

Read our previous postings

June 3, 2014

Chinese Military Was Split over Bloody Suppression of 1989 Student Protests, DIA Reported

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 473

June 4, 2001

The U.S. "Tiananmen Papers"

New Documents Reveal U.S. Perceptions of 1989 Chinese Political Crisis

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 47

June 1, 1999

Tiananmen Square, 1989: The Declassified History

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 16

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Imminent Threat to Guatemala’s Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN)


Imminent Threat to Guatemala’s Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN)

Published: May 30, 2019

Update for Guatemala Police Archive under Threat posting

Edited by Kate Doyle

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Morales Government Tightens Grip on Massive Human Rights Records Trove

Washington, D.C., May 30, 2019 – The National Security Archive joins our international and Guatemalan colleagues in calling for the protection of the Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN) of Guatemala, which faces new threats to its independence and to public access to its holdings.

In a press conference on Monday, May 27, Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart signaled his intent to assert his agency’s control of the AHPN including the prospect of new restrictions on access to the archived police records and possible legal action against “foreign institutions” holding digitized copies of the documents. Degenhart made his statements as a crucial deadline approached to renew an agreement that for a decade has kept the archive under the authority of the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The agreement now appears to be in jeopardy.

The hollowing out of the AHPN is taking place at a time when justice and human rights initiatives are broadly under siege in Guatemala and follows months of uncertainty for the celebrated human rights archive, which has been institutionally adrift since its long-time director, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, was abruptly dismissed in August 2018.

Since its discovery in 2005, the AHPN has played a central role in Guatemala’s attempts to reckon with its bloody past. Its records of more than a century of the history of the former National Police have been relied upon by families of the disappeared, scholars, and prosecutors. The institution has become a model across Latin America and around the world for the rescue and preservation of vital historical records.

* * * * *

Historical Background and Current Threat to the AHPN

by Kate Doyle

In a press conference Monday, May 27, Interior Minister of Guatemala Enrique Degenhart signaled his intent to assert his agency’s control of the country’s Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN). He claimed that existing law required new restrictions on access to the archived police records and warned “foreign institutions” holding digitized copies of the documents that the government was considering legal action against them. Degenhart made his statements as a crucial deadline approached to renew an agreement that for a decade has kept the archive under the authority of the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The agreement now appears to be in jeopardy.

The comments follow months of uncertainty for the celebrated human rights archive, which has been institutionally adrift since its long-time director, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, was abruptly dismissed in August 2018. In the wake of Meoño’s departure, the Culture Ministry and the Guatemalan office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – responsible for administering international donations to the AHPN – instituted drastic cuts to the archive’s budget and personnel. The two agencies agreed to eliminate the position of director in favor of a “technical liaison” and hired a trained archivist with no human rights experience to fill it. They dismissed all but one member of the investigative staff dedicated to locating and analyzing police records containing information about illegal State terror campaigns during the 1970s and 80s.

The hollowing out of the Historical Archive of the National Police is taking place at a time when justice and human rights initiatives are broadly under siege in Guatemala. The attacks come from every branch of government. In January 2019, President Jimmy Morales ordered the closing of CICIG, the UN-sponsored commission that for over a decade helped prosecute cases of corruption and organized crime. Congress has offered several versions of an amnesty bill aimed at releasing from prison scores of former Army, police, and paramilitary members found guilty of grave human rights crimes and crimes against humanity. Although none of the bills has passed yet, they hang like Damocles’ sword over victims of human rights crimes and their families. And in March a judge issued an arrest warrant for former Attorney General Thelma Aldana – known during her term in office for major anti-corruption and human rights prosecutions – accusing her of embezzlement and other crimes. Aldana has categorically denied the charges but the move quashed her hopes to compete as a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for June 16.

Since its discovery in 2005, the Historical Archive of the National Police has played a key role in Guatemala’s attempts to reckon with its bloody past. It holds the files of more than a century of the institutional history of the former National Police, including millions of pages that chronicle the State’s repressive policies against Guatemalan citizens during the 36-year armed internal conflict (1960-96). Its records have been used by families of the disappeared to research the fate of their loved ones, scholars have drawn on the collection to examine the history of guerrilla warfare and brutal counterinsurgency policies, and prosecutors have incorporated records as evidence into some of the most important criminal human rights cases tried by Guatemalan courts.

The AHPN also offers a wealth of documentation on the country’s social history, the history of public order, and the role of the police. Over the years, it has become a model across Latin America and around the world for the extraordinary achievement of its staff and management in rescuing the enormous, abandoned collection, and for its professional work since then in preserving the records, guaranteeing public access, and undertaking research of vital, contemporary relevance.

But for all its achievements, the Police Archive has existed in a precarious legal and fiscal status since its discovery almost 14 years ago. As a repository for the historical records of a former government security force, it functioned by definition under the authority of the State; yet except for the office of the Human Rights Prosecutor (Procuradoría de Derechos Humanos—PDH) – which found the neglected archive in 2005 and managed it until 2009 – the State never took leadership in overseeing the AHPN nor any financial responsibility for its operations. Instead, funding for the archive came from foreign governments – including millions of dollars from the United States – and international organizations, and flowed primarily through the UNDP. That funding dropped precipitously in recent years, as the attention of many governments drifted on to other countries and other priorities.

More complicated still, when the archive was discovered, the State entity with direct authority over it was the Interior Ministry, which controls the country’s security forces, their properties and their records. Recognizing the potential danger of that position, the PDH and the AHPN – under former director Meoño – worked with the government of then-President Álvaro Colom to negotiate the archive’s transfer from the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Culture and Sports, already the institutional home for the country’s General Archives of Central America (national archives). The transfer was effected by way of a signed agreement in 2009, conveying to Culture the physical records and the land on which the AHPN sat, a small territory inside a huge police base in Zone 6 of Guatemala City. The agreement terminates on June 30 of this year and must be renegotiated and re-signed to continue.

Even with the agreement in force, the problem remained that the AHPN as an institution was never formally accredited through any instrument under Guatemalan law, rendering it permanently vulnerable. Now the government is moving in on that vulnerability. Current Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart is one of Jimmy Morales’s closest advisers. He has aided the president’s campaign to shutter CICIG and aggressively backed efforts to arrest former Attorney General Aldana. His remarks on Monday concerning the Police Archive are the strongest indication yet that the government intends to intervene forcefully in AHPN operations and functions.

Degenhart referred to the collection as the “Historical Archive of the National Civil Police” – incorrectly imposing the name of the security force he heads for the National Police, which was abolished in 1997 by the peace accords for its role in assassinating, disappearing and torturing Guatemalan citizens during the conflict. He bristled at questions from journalists about his authority over the AHPN, saying, “The fact that the Interior Ministry through the National Civil Police does not participate in the management of its own archives is totally inconceivable.”

Degenhart repeatedly invoked Guatemala’s access to information law during his remarks (Ley de Acceso a la Información Pública, the Guatemalan version of the Freedom of Information Act) – not to promote open access to the police records but rather to insist that the records of the AHPN contain “restricted information” defined by the law and must be “protected” (in other words, withheld). Included in his concept of information restricted under the law was the “identification of persons,” which merited “special treatment.” Degenhart made no reference to Article 24 of the access to information law, which states that “In no instance can information related to the investigation of the violation of fundamental human rights or crimes against humanity be classified as confidential or reserved.

The Interior Minister also made a point of lambasting the AHPN’s decision to provide the Swiss government and the University of Texas at Austin with complete digitized copies of the police records. Former director Meoño and other senior staff made the move years ago both to ensure that a back-up copy existed in the event of an attack on the archive and to make access to the collection possible from outside Guatemala. Although Degenhart was vague about the Police Archive’s immediate future, he was abundantly clear about the government’s intention to alter the sharing arrangements.

“What I can tell you for sure is that we will not permit the massive exit of those archives outside the country,” he stated. When a journalist asked why, he answered: “Because it is sensitive information concerning national security, protected by the Law on Access to Public Information. There cannot be foreign institutions that hold a complete set of the archives.” He warned that the government was preparing legal action to challenge the agreements.

The AHPN is not the only archive serving human rights purposes under attack in Guatemala. Guatemalan media outlets reported in late March that both the chief of the General Archive of the Supreme Court – Rossana Aracely Alvarado Cortez – and the head of the Court’s Information System – Daniel Girón – were pressured to resign by Justice Department (Organismo Judicial) officials. Among the documents under Alvarado’s care were records gathered by Guatemalan tribunals in preparing cases for trial, including expert reports, witness statements and evidentiary material. Since the tribunals include the special, “high risk” courts that take on corruption and human rights cases, the lack of a director could make the archive vulnerable to interference.

A senior employee of the Justice Department reached for comment on the forced resignations called them “the destruction of justice” and a direct attack on the institution.

Another archive under stress is the collection of records of the former “Presidential General Staff” (Estado Mayor Presidencial—EMP), located inside the General Archive of Central America, Guatemala’s national archives. During the armed conflict, the EMP was a military intelligence unit serving the Chief of State, which became a notorious instrument of repression and violence. Some of its files were rescued and copied by human rights groups after President Alfonso Portillo dissolved the EMP in 2003, and the collection moved to the national archives in 2012. According to a recent column in El Periódico, the staff managing the EMP files was laid off in March. “As a result,” wrote author Manolo Vela Castañeda, “beginning in April, the cataloguing work has stopped and there is no one to attend to information requests…”

In response to the government’s actions, a broad collective of AHPN supporters have come forward to defend the Police Archive. Following Meoño’s dismissal in 2018, a civil society advisory group of Guatemalan human rights leaders, scholars, lawyers, and justice reform experts mobilized and have been a constant presence in discussions about the archive’s future. Hundreds of international allies of the AHPN – including historians, human rights groups, and archivists from around the world – signed a letter calling for the archive’s protection last summer. The National Security Archive sent this analyst for two weeks of meetings and talks with key stakeholders last October. And the widely respected Spanish archivist, Dr. Antonio González Quintana, wrote a comprehensive report on the Police Archive that assesses its current status and outlines a detailed strategy to strengthen the AHPN in the future. The report was delivered to the UNDP in February.

More recently, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, Archives Without Borders, the Guatemalan Association of Friends of UNESCO, and the Myrna Mack Foundation among many other organizations have issued statements protesting the government’s interference in the AHPN. On May 16, Human Rights Prosecutor Jordan Rodas Andrade submitted a legal complaint to the courts against the Ministries of Culture and Interior to force them to renew the agreement guaranteeing a continuation of its occupation of the police base in Zone 6 and the preservation of its documents.

The National Security Archive joins our international and Guatemalan colleagues in calling for the protection of the Historical Archive of the National Police of Guatemala. Specifically, the National Security Archive demands with our colleagues:

  • Protection of the archive’s irreplaceable trove of records from physical damage and political interference
  • Preservation of secure, digitized copies with the Swiss government and University of Texas at Austin
  • Renewal of the lease that permits the archive to remain in its original space
  • Improvement in the information system that hosts the 23 million document images scanned to date
  • Guarantees of the public’s ability to consult the records without restriction through its Access to Information Unit
  • And continuation of the archive’s support for human rights justice through investigations and analysis.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Trump Administration to Turn Over Trove of Declassified Records to Argentina on Human Rights Violations Committed During Military Dictatorship


Declassification Diplomacy : Trump Administration to Turn Over Trove of Declassified Records to Argentina on Human Rights Violations Committed During Military Dictatorship

Documents like this one pertaining to the fate of Ana Maria Pérez will be among those in the upcoming release. Photo courtesy of Berta Elvira Sanchez.

Published: Mar 24, 2019

by Carlos Osorio

For further information, contact Carlos Osorio : 202-994-7061 or cosorio

National Security Archive Hails Forthcoming Transfer of Formerly Secret Intelligence Records

Washington D.C., March 24, 2019 – On the 43rd anniversary of the military coup in Argentina, the Argentine government of Mauricio Macri has announced that the Trump Administration will provide “the largest delivery of declassified documents, in size and file quality, to another nation”—formerly secret U.S. records relating to human rights abuses committed during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. The official transfer of the records is planned for mid-April during a visit by Argentina’s minister of justice, Germán Garavano, to Washington D.C.

The turnover of formerly secret U.S. intelligence records—the collection will include CIA, FBI, NSC, and Defense Intelligence Agency documents—will culminate a special U.S. government declassification project authorized three years ago today by then-President Barack Obama during a visit to Buenos Aires, and implemented by the Trump administration.

In support of the Argentina declassification project, the National Security Archive hailed the forthcoming documents transfer. “We praise the Trump administration as well as President Macri for their concrete contribution to the cause of truth and human rights,” said Carlos Osorio, Director of the National Security Archive’s Southern Cone Documentation Project.

“With great expectations, Argentina awaits this documentation which will provide valuable support for the process of truth, justice and memory,” noted a statement released today by the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“This is the largest amount of information that the United States has ever transferred to another country,” President Macri tweeted today. “These documents will play a fundamental role in advancing justice for still unresolved issues of the past, one of the darkest periods of Argentine history.”

Osorio said that the National Security Archive would analyze the documentation and post a selection of the most significant and revealing records after the U.S. transferred the documents to Argentina.

In anticipation of the final release of records, the National Security Archive today posted a sampling of previously declassified, but heavily redacted, FBI records which reflect the potential value of the forthcoming declassification. Among them are detailed reports from the FBI’s legal attaché in Buenos Aires on repressive operations conducted by military security agents during the dictatorship. The declassification of similar records, according to Osorio, could provide evidence for victims, investigators, prosecutors and judges to pursue still unresolved human rights crimes in Argentina.

READ THE DOCUMENTS

(chronological order)*

Document 1

FBI, Memorandum on “Roberto Quieto,” for the Ambassador from Legal Attaché, Secret, January 9, 1976

1976-01-09

Source: FBI Argentina Project, May 2002

This fully excised two-page FBI memorandum from Legal Attaché Robert Scherrer to U.S. Ambassador Robert Hill likely contains information on Roberto Quieto’s capture and disappearance. Quieto was a Montonero leader who was disappeared in December of 1975. A couple of cables released by the Department of State in 2002 account for Quieto’s detention by Argentine security forces. But no documents released so far offer a hint as to his eventual fate. This is one of the documents among three heavily excised provided by the FBI to Argentine prosecutors in 2002. The upcoming declassification should reveal currently excised information from this cable and other cables related to the case.

Document 2

FBI, Cable for FBI Director from Legal Attaché, “Argentine Terrorist Activities”, Secret, August 11, 1976

1976-08-11

Source: FBI Argentina Project, May 2002

A Legal Attaché cable reports that “…at approximately 1:30 A.M., August 11, 1976… units of the Argentine Army Intelligence Service operating with the Buenos Aires Provincial Police …raided an apartment in La Lucila, Buenos Aires, and arrested a female occupant of the first floor, whose parents reside in the same apartment building on the sixth floor… the security forces withdrew from the area at approximately 4:00 A.M. August 11, 1976 after having carried out their mission.”

According to testimonies by the father and sister of Selma Ocampo, she and a friend, Inés Nocetti, were asleep when at around two in the morning men in plain clothes and in uniform surrounded their block. Selma resisted arrest. In the next apartment, an Argentine Navy officer refused to open his door to them and called a security detachment. The raiding police and intelligence agents also tried to enter the Ocampo’s parent’s apartment, but they refused as well. The agents eventually forced their way into Selma’s apartment. However, the security personnel called by the Navy officer arrived and, in the confusion, engaged in a shootout with the raiding agents before they could identify each other and cease fire. Selma Ocampo and Inés Nocetti disappeared in this incident and were eventually killed by Argentine security forces.

Document 3

FBI, cable, “ERP” September 17, 1976

1976-09-17

Source: FBI Argentina Project, May 2002

This declassified FBI cable from Legal Attaché Robert Scherrer to Ambassador Hill cites information from a confidential source shedding light on a recent security operation reported by the Buenos Aires news media. The source revealed that the Federal Police of Argentina (FPA), in conjunction with SIDE, raided an ERP safehouse in Buenos Aires on September 14th, 1976. "Two ERP members were killed, and three prisoners were taken, one a female in the last month of her pregnancy." The pregnant woman tried to escape from the 6th floor apartment using exterior balconies but “was apprehended in the street." The cable ends warning that “The foregoing information should not be discussed with any foreign officials, including those of the Argentine government.”

The apprehended woman was a nine-month pregnant Ana María del Carmen Pérez de Gaya, a member of the ERP whose code name was “Vicky.” She was taken to the Clandestine Detention Center Automotores Orletti and disappeared. Her remains, and those of her unborn child, were later discovered in a cement-filled drum.