Russell E.










INTERVIEWER: Dr Brown, first of all can I ask you... I just wonder, could we have your name and your title for the transcripts?

DR HAROLD BROWN: Harold Brown. I'm a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as well as a variety of private activities...

INT: Well, we won't go into...

HB: ... private sector activities.

INT: Going back, can I ask you - at the end of the Fifties, beginning of the Sixties, President Kennedy inherited a nuclear policy or strategy of massive retaliation. What do you think both sides, both Russian and western sides, understood by the term "massive retaliation"?

HB: The term "massive retaliation", as it was understood at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, was a policy of responding to major Soviet conventional attacks - for example, in Western Europe, should that have occurred, with a massive nuclear response, a strategic response against the Soviet Union itself. Now that had been stated as a policy by the Eisenhower Administration, John Foster Dulles, then Secretary of State. During the 1950s, the NATO alliance, and specifically the US, had introduced into Europe a large number of tactical nuclear warheads which could have been an intermediate step on the way to massive retaliation. But massive retaliation, as such, was a policy saying that the Soviet Union could expect to be destroyed by a nuclear response if it carried out a massive conventional attack on Europe. The basis for that policy was the belief that Soviet conventional military capability, non-nuclear capability in Europe, was enough to overwhelm the NATO conventional forces that would be resisting it. And although that may have been an overestimate of the then conventional Soviet military capability, I think it was not a wrong estimate. We should not confuse the present degraded Russian military forces with the capabilities that they had at that time; and we should not confuse the success of Western military forces in the Gulf War with the capabilities that NATO had in conventional military capabilities during the 1950s.

(B/g talk. Cut.)

INT: So, when President Kennedy and Robert McNamara came in, they brought a whole new broom of policies with them. What was their policy then, and why did they bring it in?

HB: Well, there was an evolution of policy when the Kennedy Administration came in the beginning of 1961. In the first place, I think there was an understanding that massive retaliation would assure the destruction not only of the Soviet Union but also of the United States and its allies as well, because by that time the Soviet Union had the capability, after such an attack, to respond with a massive nuclear response of its own. I remember, for example, a meeting of the National Security Council - it would have been in May of 1961; I had joined the Government that spring - and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were there, and the Secretary of State and the other members. I was a subordinate, but I was at the meeting. President Kennedy asked what the effect would be in terms of United States fatalities if the Russians were to respond to a massive American nuclear strike, with a strike on the United States; and he asked General May, who was then Vice-Chief of the Air Force... no, he was Chief of Staff of the Air Force by then, I think... and he also asked me, because I was thought of as a nuclear expert, and we both gave the same answer: that if they attacked us first, there might be 50 or 60 million American deaths. If they attacked in response to an American attack, there might be 10 or 15 million American deaths. And President Kennedy observed that so far as he was concerned, those were both unacceptable results, both not the basis for a foreign and security policy. With that approach, which of course was a sensible one, a rethinking of policy made sense. Initially, McNamara turned to the idea of targeting military installations only. I guess that was the Athens speech, which was in 1961 - I forget exactly when... 1961... It was in a NATO meeting, I think. And he said, "Well, the way to bring this down, to make this more acceptable, would be to target military installations only. And if both sides did that, then the casualties, in the unlikely and very undesirable prospect of a nuclear war, would be less." In a way, of course, that was harking back to 18th century theoretical military behavior, where the armies fought each other. In fact, then, as since, civilians were not off-limits and there was massive civilian destruction. But in any event, this was a proposal, and it was, I think, an intellectually appealing approach. He expressed that view, and we began looking at plans along those lines. And then it became clear that if you did that, if you said that your main approach was going to be to target the other side's military capability, what would happen is that the hardening of military targets on both sides - that is, protection with concrete or whatever, especially its nuclear capability, its missiles and silos, its dispersed aircraft - would multiply targets to the point where, if you were really trying to reduce the other side's military capability - its strategic military capability to attack our target, our military targets or our civilian population - those targets would proliferate to the point where there would be no limit to the amount that you would spend on strategic forces. That was one influence - perhaps not the only one - in causing another rethinking of the policy. The other influence probably was the recognition that this could not be done just by one side: it only works if both sides agree to target only the military targets on the other side. Those two factors together made this attempt at changing to military targets only a not quite practical solution. And so, later that same year, or maybe early the next year, at a speech at Ann Arbor, Bob McNamara moved to the policy of mutual assured destruction - although I don't think... we may not have named it that so early, but in effect that's what it became. We did actually, in my shop, an analysis of what it would take to assure unacceptable civilian casualties on each side, and what could be done to limit damage. There are

INT: Fascinating answer. Can I ask you my question, then. I know it was never possible to go back and un-invent what had been invented, but did America really believe in the Sixties that without a strong nuclear force, the Soviets would have wished to either invade Europe or in fact invade America?

HB: Well, America was never under direct conventional threat. Geography still works that well. And of course, our neighbors are Canada and Mexico - it's not the same as France having Germany as a neighbor, or Russia and Germany having each other as neighbors. So that was not a concern. Europe was much more of a concern. Of course, the whole Cold War began largely in a political context, and the concern in the late Forties began with poor economic conditions, the aftermath of World War II, powerful communist parties in France and in Italy and so forth; then proceeded through the Marshall Plan, and only then did the disparity in conventional forces on the two sides of the Iron Curtain start to play a role. If I'm asked whether [the] US official elite opinion-forming group believed that the Russians were poised to invade Western Europe - there was a spectrum of opinion, but I think most of us... almost all of us felt that there was at least a strong prospect of intimidation by military superiority, that the Russians after all did not have to physically invade Czechoslovakia in 1948 [sic] in order to destroy the democratic government that then existed. And we believed, and I think correctly, that an overwhelming disparity in military capability in favor of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union-led Warsaw Pact, would, at the very least, produce a finlandized - as we then called it - Western Europe, and could in fact, even if no invasion took place, change the governments there. And we did rule out an actual invasion, although we believed that the threat of nuclear retaliation, certainly when there was a big US preponderance in nuclear capability, and even after there was rough parity in nuclear capability... well, did deter a conventional attack. From what I understand from the archives that have since been opened up, Soviet archives, it is clear that they felt that a military preponderance gave them substantial political advantage. Moreover, they clearly did have war plans that involved sweeping to the channel in a short time. Now, war plans as an evidence of intention can't be relied on. Every country has all sorts of contingency plans which it doesn't intend to use at all, and certainly doesn't intend to use unless some outrageous thing causes them to be brought into play. But the existence of those plans on the part of the Soviet Union, and the clear record that they felt that their military conventional preponderance gave them political clout and enabled them to threaten and to intimidate Western governments, suggest that this was real, it wasn't imagined.

INT: But how were McNamara's policies received both politically and militarily?

HB: By whom?