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For release 13 July 2004
For more information,
contact William Burr, 994-7032

U.S. Nuclear War Plans A
"Hazard to Ourselves as Well as Our Enemy"

Overkill Problem Led Top Commanders to Complain About the SIOP's Destructiveness

Go to the Electronic Briefing Book

The U.S. included so many nuclear weapons in its first missile-age plan for nuclear war that top military commanders called it a "hazard to ourselves as well as our enemy," according to newly declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

Under the first Single Integrated Operational Plan, prepared during 1960, a Russian city the size of Nagasaki--devastated in 1945 with a twenty kiloton bomb--would receive three 80 kiloton weapons. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, then leaving office, along with Navy leaders and White House Science Adviser George Kistiakowsky, was deeply critical of the SIOP's overkill. Eisenhower was later reported to have said that the plan "frighten[ed] the devil out of me." Incoming Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara soon decried the "fantastic" levels of fallout that attacks on a multitude of Soviet targets would produce.

Ever since its creation, the SIOP has been one of the U.S. government's deepest secrets. Even historical information about U.S. nuclear war plans has been hard to come by and documents once available become reclassified again. Today's posting includes never before published as well as previously declassified key documents from 1959-1961 on the history of SIOP-62 (for fiscal year 1962). Among the disclosures in the documents:

  • The SIOP included retaliatory and preemptive options; preemption could occur if U.S. authorities had strategic warning of a Soviet attack;
  • A full nuclear SIOP strike launched on a preemptive basis would have delivered over 3200 nuclear weapons to 1060 targets in the Soviet Union, China, and allied countries in Asia and Europe;
  • A full nuclear strike by SIOP forces on high alert, launched in retaliation to a Soviet strike, would have delivered 1706 nuclear weapons against a total of 725 targets in the Soviet Union, China, and allied states;
  • Targets would have included nuclear weapons, government and military control centers, and at least 130 cities in the Soviet Union, China, and allies;
  • Alarmed White House scientists, Army and Navy leaders were concerned that the SIOP would deliver too many nuclear weapons to Soviet and Chinese territory and that the weapons that missed targets "will kill a lot of Russians and Chinese" and that fallout from the weapons "can be a hazard to ourselves as well as our enemy";
  • According to the damage expectancy criteria of SIOP-62, it would take three 80 kiloton weapons to destroy a city like Nagasaki--which the U.S. had actually bombed with a 22 kiloton weapon;
  • The Marine Corp commandant was concerned that the SIOP provides for the "attack of a single list of Sino-Soviet countries" and makes no "distinction" between Communist countries that were at war with the United States and those that were not;
  • The Defense Department has overclassified and inconsistently released information about the SIOP.

Some evidence exists that after the Cold War ended, Strategic Air Command commander-in-chief General Lee Butler tried to curb what he saw as the SIOP's "grotesque excesses" by paring down the huge target lists. Security classification, however, hides whether General Butler's reforms took hold or whether the SIOP remains an instrument of overkill.

Go to the Electronic Briefing Book

 

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