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For nearly half a century, Paul Nitze was one of the chief architects of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Nitze assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs. In this video segment, Nitze describes key issues confronting the incoming Kennedy administration. This transition period focused on the goals of the country's nuclear-strategic policy; how to approach crises in every region, from the Middle East to Vietnam; and whether to unify the armed services. Included are Nitze's recommendations regarding a conventional military buildup and a 'no-cities' policy, which would target military forces instead of civilian populations. Nitze's interview conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age: 'At the Brink' moves the viewer through his work with the World War II Strategic Bombing Survey, which placed him in Hiroshima and Nagasaki soon after the atomic bombs were dropped. From 1950 to 1953, Nitze served as director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff, and from 1961 to 1963 he was assistant defense secretary. As his interview reveals, Nitze held key positions during the period after World War II when the United States emerged as a superpower and Cold War strategic policies were being debated and defined. His classified 1950 report, National Security Memorandum 68, remains a seminal document: it was initially designed to persuade President Harry S. Truman that an increasingly menacing world required major increases in spending on defense and foreign military assistance. Nitze was also a major contributor to the Gaither Report, which stressed the need for a survivable nuclear deterrent by citing the vulnerability of the U.S. bomber force. Nitze opposed the doctrine of massive retaliation from the moment John Foster Dulles announced it at a dinner party in 1954. He was involved in crisis contingency planning, including the Berlin blockade and airlift in 1948, construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. During the missile crisis, Nitze recalls, he worked out the scenarios of increasing military escalation to pressure the Soviets to withdraw the missiles. Finally, he describes his disappointment that, although Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara initially embraced his no-cities strategy, following the Cuban missile crisis McNamara entirely abandoned the notion of winnable nuclear war.
Material Type: Diagram/Illustration, Primary Source