Russell E. Hershey,
INT: What did you think the Russians were doing at that time?
WK: Bluffing, fthe most part. The Russians were... their initial long-range missiles just were not adequate for... any kind of really serious use. They were these enormous things. They couldn't be protected. It took them hours to fuel them up and so on and so forth. and so at that point, they really had no serious nuclear capability. If they had bombs, but they had a very small and not very effective bomber force. They had a very small and also not very effective submarine capability and for all practical purposes, they had just a handful of inter-continental ballistic missiles, the ICBMs. So they were just not in a strong position, you know. Khrushchev had bluffed a great deal about how they were cranking these things out like sausages and they did have these shorter range missiles, which really complicated any targeting on the part of the United States or the allies, because even if we could take out the bombers and the ICBMs and the submarines, there were always these shorter range missiles that could attack targets in Europe. So that pretty much tied our hands, assuming there'd been any interest in attacking, which as far as I could judge, there wasn't. So, there's this story - I can't vouch for it - but it sounds plausible that, I forget who it was told the US ambassador right after the Cuban Missile Crisis that we're never going to go through that again, it's what the Russian allegedly said, and certainly it followed that their build-up of a more serious missile capability began, and they did deploy a substantial number of inter-continental ballistic missiles in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It took them about three more years to build up to a significant capability, but it was clear that they were ready to do that.
INT: Was America I suppose frightened is the word I would use of Russia and was it partially do you think down to a sort of a Pearl Harbor mentality?
WK: Well, frightened, I won't say that's quite the right word, but they... I think all of us, and myself certainly believed that this was a very hostile leadership in the Soviet Union, at the time - I've had second and third and fourth thoughts since then - there was the view that they would be fully capable of launching an attack, whether against the US strategic forces, but I think the standard scenario, if I may use that word, was a Russian invasion of Western Europe, which would then trigger a series of escalating actions on the part of NATO and the Warsaw Pact and that we and our allies were not in a position to stop such an invading force. Now, my own view at the time, as we delved into this, and subsequently, is that their ability to engage in such an attack was wildly exaggerated and without straining everybody's budgets, it was quite feasible to be able to stop it and so I came increasingly to feel, and certainly in retrospect, that far more important than the nuclear issues was whether or not we could come to grips with the conventional capabilities of the Soviet Union and the data increasingly indicated that that was quite feasible, although the United States, and in fact it was the civilian component of the Pentagon, that really felt that that was the case and it was something that was resisted and I happened to draft the changes in the NATO strategic doctrine or whatever it was called, I can't remember the name of the document, but it played up the non-nuclear defense and that triggered an enormous fight - by that time NATO was in Brussels to our great regret, having lost out on Paris - but the allies never really accepted the notion that a non-nuclear defense was fully feasible.
INT: How did the idea then start to evolve of what became known as assured destruction?
WK: The assured destruction was what I tend to think of as a white lie. The air force, once the notion of Counter-force No Cities and options was accepted, at least made official policy, began to make enormous demands on MacNamara. They wanted, oh, the Strategic Air Command wanted ten thousand Minuteman, the ICBM, land-based ICBM, and they wanted more bombers and it was primarily the air force that kept pressing. And one of the questions MacNamara kept asking me was, you know, what's the ceiling on this thing? At what point does it no longer make sense to buy these things? Well, I developed some answers to that, but they never really satisfied him and he always wanted to know what came to be a familiar phrase, namely, how much is enough? Where do we cut off on these capabilities? And not just the nuclear, but that was paramount. And finally he and Alan Endhoven worked out this scheme which said that if each leg of what came to be known as the triad, the three legs of the strategic forces, the ICBMs, the submarine launched missiles and the bombers, each should be capable of delivering the equivalent - and I stress the word equivalent - of four hundred megatons. There's a way of measuring different kinds of yields, whether it's a hundred kilotons or ten megatons or one megaton, one knows how to convert those all into one megaton equivalents. So saying that each leg should have four hundred equivalent megatons, didn't mean four hundred weapons. It could mean a lot more weapons than that. And, as it turned out, you could do this and say that's the ceiling and we won't buy beyond that four hundred survival warhead and that's the ceiling we're going to put on these forces, and we'll justify it in terms of their ability to deliver a minimum per leg of four hundred equivalent megatons on urban industrial complexes in the Soviet Union. There was even a chart that showed how many cities and how many megatons and so on and so by the time you got down to cities of twenty five thousand, you weren't getting a big return on your money, you know, a rather cold-blooded way of thinking about it, very few fatalities. So that put a lid and people assumed that that was what we were now planning to do. In fact, the SIOP, the Single Integrated Operational Plan, didn't change, the options stayed and so on, but it turned out that if you calculated four hundred megaton equivalents for each leg, you got enough warheads so that you fulfilled the target requirements of the SIOP, so that's what assured destruction was all about. It was a device to try and fend off the air force primarily.
INT: Why do you think it became, certainly throughout the sixties and well into the seventies, it became effectively known as the stabilization of the nuclear super-powers, Mutual Assured Destruction in particular?
WK: The notion of assured destruction and Mutual Assured Destruction, what the acronym became MAD, satisfied those people who thought that a minimum deterrent and blowing up some relatively small number of cities was sufficient as a deterrent. So that whole argument of assured destruction and Mutual Assured Destruction, since it was always kind of blithely assumed that the Russians being these terrible people, were going to blow up cities in any event, and so they liked that. It suggested, well, this is stabilizing, there's a lid on it. Well, there wasn't any lid on it and in fact, in the early seventies, when Jim Schlesinger became Secretary of Defense, he threw out the whole notion of assured destruction and went back to the kind of targeting that was reflected in the options and the Counter-force No Cities and so on.
INT: You mentioned earlier that SAC wanted ten thousand Minutemen and MacNamara said, no, they were going to get a thousand - that figure was later revised - where did the initial figure of a thousand ICBMs come from?
WK: To the best of my knowledge, the figure of a thousand Minutemen came out of the hat. I think it was a negotiated number. MacNamara had agreed to fourteen hundred and... I don't remember the details, it came down to twelve hundred and then to a thousand, but I don't think there was any specific rationale for that, other than the four hundred megaton equivalents, if even that was the case.
INT: Would it be fair to say it was almost a politstatement rather than a military requirement?
WK: (Pause) Well, let me put the issue of political [laughs] statement and military requirements in this perspective. Oncyou move from the notion of attacking cities - but even then, you sort of plan on aiming points within the cities - the air force always argued that it wasn't trying to kill people, but they just happened to get in the way, because you were going after industrial targets or military headquarters or things of that sort, but once you moved away from that and into the notion of attacking silos and nuclear storage sites and isolated headquarters, submarine bases and so on, and even conventional forces, you were specifying particular aim points. Now, the national target list that gets compiled I don't remember the exact number at the time, but was over forth thousand different targets that they had on the list, so you could pick all kinds of targets and by upping the number of targets and especially aim points, and some targets would require three or four aim points if they were large enough, you could up the number of warheads you needed. So, it was always possible to expand the target list and then drive up these numbers. One way to deal with that of course was to buy more Minutemen or more bombers or what have you. Another way was to scrub the target list and that was the sensible way to do it. But it was very difficult, given that all the targeting was done out in Omaha and done by the staff, this Joint Staff out there, and unless somebody with great authority was willing and able to lean over their shoulders and see what they were doing and what points they were picking and what the co-ordinates were and so on and so forth, you didn't know what these people were doing or how many of these targets they were planning on. so it was very difficult to control that, unless you were really willing to spend a lot of time in Omaha, eating steaks or something. and no Secretary of Defense was willing or able to do that, he just couldn't spend that amount of time. MacNamara started doing it, going out there, I think it was once a month, but other things kept crowding in on him and he stopped doing that and they really didn't accept a surrogate. Schlesinger started doing it in the early seventies, and again the job just caught up with him and he had to stop doing it. So, to this day, I'm not at all persuaded that anybody outside of the people. in Omaha know exactly what the targeting is.
INT: Did Robert MacNamara have any idea what sort of mega-tonage was targeted on a place such as Moscow? I was thinking in direct relation to something like Hiroshima, which was, you know, a twelve-kiloton bomb? Do you have any idea what sort of thing was targeted on Moscow?
WK: Moscow was very heavily targeted. My recollection is that, particularly after the Russians deployed their anti-ballistic missile defense system, Moscow was going to suffer even, if possible, greater damage than if they hadn't built the system at all, because what we did was pile on enough warheads so that assuming that each anti-ballistic missile killed a warhead and there were a hundred of them, or sixty or something like that, I forget the number, we would put sixty warheads on Moscow, just to defeat the ABM system and then we'd put another forty on to kill the targets. So the odds were very high that instead of just forty getting in, which were enough to devastate Moscow, there'd probably be on the order of eighty that would get in, or maybe all hundred and so Moscow would have been even worse off. But that was the kind of way you dealt with a city. Mind you, as the technology got better in developing weapons, it turned out that smaller weapons were much more efficient than the very large ones. So actually, in terms of yield, the number of weapons went up, but the individual yields went down, so that by the end of the Cold War, we may have had oh twelve thousand warheads, but probably lower mega-tonage in toto than we had say in the early sixties.