Courtesy Reuters

The Politics of Vulnerability: 1980-83

This article is adapted from the concluding chapter in Nuclear Arms: Ethics, Strategy, Politics, ed. R. James Woolsey, San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1984, and is printed by permission of the publisher. Copyright (c) 1984, Institute for Contemporary Studies.

As the Soviet Union has steadily improved its strategic nuclear and other military forces in recent years, it has become increasingly clear to Americans that the United States is vulnerable in a sense that was never true before the advent of nuclear weapons.

This type of vulnerability had its first major impact on the U.S. political debate following the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe and development of nuclear weapons in the late 1940s and then, again, during our last great national paroxysm of concern about strategic and nuclear issues at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. But this third time around our reaction has been different and less sure-footed.

Our primary response, as a nation, to the first evidence of our new vulnerability was overwhelmingly positive. Dean Acheson, Arthur Vandenberg and other farsighted statesmen built a bipartisan consensus for the NATO Alliance even at the same time as our fears helped produce bitter political recriminations about other issues-e.g., "who lost China," and the responsibility for the Korean War.

The second major wave of public concern-over the Soviet space and missile programs, fallout, atmospheric nuclear testing, nuclear crises, the missile gap, and so on-was fueled initially by the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 and then by Khrushchev's missile-rattling, the Berlin crisis of 1961, and the Cuba missile crisis of 1962. Our response as a nation to those events, and to the sense of national vulnerability and fear they produced, was extraordinary. We made a major and effective national effort in education with the National Defense Education Act; undertook the space program that led to the moon landings; and initiated two extremely successful and well-managed strategic programs: the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and the Polaris submarine and missile. Neither

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