INT: Was there pressure from within the military though, at that period, to build up the nuclear forces?
RM: No.. well there was in this sense.. I'll give you an illustration. President Kennedy and I went to the University of California for an honorary degrees, I think it was in April of 1963, and because we were in California, we decided to visit Vandenbergh Air Force Base which was a missile, site at the time, and we were met by the commander of the Strategic Air Command, General Powers, and as we got into the car at the air.. (laugh) -- I'll never forget it! --, Powers was sitting between Kennedy and me and Powers said "Now Mr President, when we get the ten thousand minute men", and the President interrupted him and said "what'd you say, General?". He said "well, when the get the ten thousand minute men, I.." and Kennedy interrupted again. He said "Bob, we're not gonna get ten thousand minute men, are we?" I said "no, no, no" "we're gonna get a thousand, Mr President" and what had happened was that Powers, the Strategic Air Command, had asked for ten thousand men. The Chief-of-Staff of the Air Force had cut it from ten thousand to three thousand, and I had recommended to the President that we proceed with one thousand. Now that's the way we were building our force structure. How did I arrive at one thousand? By estimating it would take let's just say 7 years to design the force and put them on procurement and actually deploy them, and therefore I had to look 7 years ahead and say how many weapons will the Soviets have 7 years from now and what do we need 7 years from now to assure a second-strike capability. Not a first-strike capability. That was never our objective. We didn't believe we could achieve it. We didn't believe we'd have been morally justified in trying to achieve it. In any ev, we couldn't. So therefore ours was always a second-strike force and how many weapons didwe need to assure a capability to respond with a second strike in answer or response to a Soviet first strike and assure such complete destruction or such unacceptable damage to the Soviets that they would never launch the first strike. That's what a second-strike means. That's the foundation of deterrence. That's the way we arrived at the thousand. Now, we were wrong. We'd looked ahead 7 years. We didn't know what their intention was, so what we said to ourselves was 'what are they capable of doing in 7 years?' and we estimated that, and based on that, we said we've got to have a thousand in this case at the end of 7 years. They didn't use their full capabilities. They used less than that and the result was, at the end of 7 years, we had more than we needed for a second-strike capability and that condition existed, say, from roughly 1955 up until the mid to late 1970s. Throughout that entire period, the West had far more nuclear force than it needed to achieve a second-strike deterrent capability against the Soviets. Ultimately, they were stimulated into a massive nuclear build-up by that fact.
INT: We've got a record of also saying that in fact ballistic defence of cities is in fact destabilising?
RM: Well, I believed it then, I believe it today. The only way we were able to obtain agreement on the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty -- and we began working toward that by contacts with the Russians the Soviets in November 1966, the Treaty negotiation didn't really begin until late 1968 --, the only way we were able to obtain the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty was to prove to the Soviets that we couldn't limit offensive nuclear forces, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, unless we had a companion limit on defensive forces. Just think now, if you're trying to ensure you have a second-strike capability and you decide you need, let's say, a thousand minute men for that and then they put in a defence. If you had a second-strike capability before they put in the defence, after they put in the defence you've got to increase your offence, otherwise you've lost your deterrent. So we finally proved that to the Soviets and that is that understanding ultimately led to these two treaties - the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. The Offensive Force Limitation Treaty could not stand without the Defensive Force Limitation Treaty.
INT: Much has been made during this period of the term 'MAD', Mutually-Assured or..
INT: ......Destruction. Can you explain what was meant by that?
RM: It's not mad! (laugh) Mutual Assured Destruction is the foundation of deterrence. Today it's a derogative term, but those that denigrate it don't understand deterrence. If you want a stable nuclear world -- if that isn't an oxymoron --to rephrase it, to the degree one can achieve a stable nuclear world, it requires that each side be confident that it can deter the other. And that requires that there be a balance and the balance is the understanding that if either side initiates the use of nuclear weapons, the other side will respond with sufficient power to inflict unacceptable damage. Mutual Assured Destruction. So Mutual Assured Destruction is the foundation of stable deterrence in a nuclear world. It's not mad, it's logical.
INT: Excellent answer. During your period in office and in fact the whole Cold War period, what was the worst moment for you that you felt things were really coming to a head?
RM: Well,.. looking back on it, I think we may have exaggerated the threat from the east, the Soviet threat,... I'm certain that in connection with the Vietnam war, for example, we misunderstood the degree to which the dominoes -- using President Eisenhower's reference --, we misunderstood the degree to which the dominoes might fall as a result of the loss of south Vietnam. But having said that, one shouldn't fail to recognise - and during my 7 years as Secretary, on 3 occasions we -- and I include you --, came very close to war with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. I'll just mention very quickly…in the summer and fall of 1961 when the Soviets put intense pressure on West Berlin, sought to in a sense "take" West Berlin from NATO, we came very very close to military conflict then. Again in October 1962 over Cuba, when they introduced, missiles into Cuba, and what we have learned since, when they actually introduced tactical nuclear warheads into Cuba, at a time when RCI was reporting there were no nuclear warheads… we had photographs of launchers but the CIA said there were no nuclear warheads on the island of Cuba. We now know there were roughly a hundred and sixty two including tactical nuclear warheads and at that time had Khrushchev not, on Sunday the 28th of October 1962, announced he was withdrawing those missiles, on the following day or so, the majority of President Kennedy's military and civilian advisers would have recommended attack including invasion of the island of Cuba, not knowing that that invasion almost surely would have been confronted with the use of nuclear weapons. We came very very close. You came very close to nuclear war at that time. Again, in June 1967, the Six Day War in which between Israel and Egypt. And as a part of that the hotline was used for the first time and one of the messages from Kosygin to President Johnson was 'if you want war, you'll get war'. These were very very tense times. So while I think, in hindsight, we exaggerated the threat at times, and we certainly misunderstood the objectives of the Soviets and I think the Chinese, nonetheless we faced very real threats.
INT: Final question then, sir. Was the Cold War necessary?
RM: That's a very good question and I hope your programme will throw some light on it. I would phrase the question slightly differently. It isn't so much 'was it necessary' but was the threat and the danger to the West as great as we believed at the time? And if we'd thought it to be less or different could we have acted differently in the West with advantage in economic or social terms or less risk of a military confrontation. And I don't have the full answer to that. It's a question that deserves to be reviewed. I've tried to review it to some degree in relation to Vietnam in a book I published. As a matter of fact, it's just been published in paperback as we're talking, in retrospect.
INT: Mr McNamara, thank you very much indeed.
RM: Thank you.
INT: Excellent interview, really first class.
RM: OK, OK! (laugh)
END OF INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT McNAMARA