I shudder to think what the world would be like today if President Eisenhower had listened to his military advisers, who proposed using nuclear bombs against Communist China in 1958. Such a move would have helped to legitimize the use of weapons of mass destruction in conflict situations. What would have happened during the Korean War or the Vietnam War if that precedent had been set?
The Washington Post reports that Air Force officials “proposed using 10-to-15 kiloton nuclear bombs” if China blockaded the Taiwan Strait.
But “the President simply did not accept the contention that nuclear weapons were as conventional as high explosives," according to the now-declassified Air Force history of the Taiwan crisis.
In releasing the official history, William Burr of George Washington University’s National Security Archive said Eisenhower’s decision forced Air Force leaders to think more seriously about conventional warfare instead of relying on nuclear arms.
A similar discussion is underway today as the Pentagon, under direction from Congress, examines US nuclear strategy as part of the debate over whether to develop a new generation of weapons in the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.
The danger of no longer considering nuclear weapons a deterrent or last resort is still present today. Just the other day, Sen. Clinton insinuated she might use nuclear weapons to “obliterate” Iran.
And what would be our response if a terrorist group did attack the US using nuclear weapons? Would we blindly continue the Cold War doctrine of responding to a nuclear attack with massive nuclear retaliation, search for a justifiable “host nation” target, and end up killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the effort to wipe out a small group? Pursuing a new generation of nuclear weapons like the Reliable Replacement Warhead will do little to actually help secure loose nuclear weapons from terrorists or deter such an attack. We need a new nuclear strategy that is built upon US leadership towards global disarmament. As a first step towards that goal, you can join us in asking Congress not to give a penny for the Reliable Replacement Warhead as they examine funding for the program this month.
Photo courtesy of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum