The United States and National Security, and Dominant Party in Balance of Power

The emergence of the United States as a dominant party in balance of
power equations is a relatively new phenomenon in world history. New military
technology coupled with increased global integration has allowed the United
States to reinvent the fundamental assumptions of international diplomacy while
propelling itself to the top of the hegemonic stepladder. This positioning was
achieved piecemeal during the course of the first two world wars, but it wasn't
until the deployment of the atomic bomb that the U.S.. assumed its position as a
true superpower. The years that followed this unparalleled ascension are the
most fascinating times in the history of U.S. international relations. Hopefully,
an investigation into this atomic diplomacy, along with a balanced analysis of
the problems of conceptualizing and implementing containment, will provide
insight for our current efforts to devise a workable post-war national security
There is no way to tell the story of post-war national security without
also telling the story of George Kennen. Kennen, the foremost expert of Soviet
Affairs in early post-war America, is almost wholly responsible for the policy
of containment. What we must remember under Kennen's containment is that nuclear
diplomacy is not separate from other national security measures as it is often
today. Nuclear weapons were part of an integrated system of containment and
deterrence. Truman told Kennen in early 1947 that "our weapons of mass
destruction are not fail-safe devices, but instead the fundamental bedrock of
American security" (Gaddis 56). They were never intended as first strike weapons
and had no real tactical value. The bomb is purely strategic, and its value
comes not from its destructive capabilities, but from its political and
psychological ramifications. Kennen was never naive enough to view the bomb as
an offensive weapon. In his long memorandum "The International Control of Atomic
Energy," Kennen noted that "there could be no way in which weapons of mass
destruction could be made to serve rational ends beyond simply deterring the
outbreak of hostilities" (Kennen 39). Even at this early point, Kennen began to
also recognize the potential of the bomb to completely wreck balance of power
arrangements. Simply achieving higher potentials of destruction would not
necessarily lead to a better negotiating position with the Soviets. Truman had
never considered not creating the hydrogen bomb, despite Kennen's objections.
Truman's justified his adamant support of the super bomb for bargaining
purposes with the Russians. Kennen's point, of course, had been that the very
decision to build the hydrogen bomb would inhibit bargaining with the Russians
on international control, since the Kremlin was unlikely to negotiate from a
position of weakness. Most of the American national security structure viewed
this as fallacious. Truman's perception was that the United States, as a
technology rich but man power short nation, was operating from a position of
weakness, since of necessity is relied more heavily than did the Soviet Union on
weapons of mass destruction to maintain the balance of power. The Soviet atomic
test in 1949 had upset that balance. Only by building the super bomb, it was
thought, could equilibrium be regained. It would not be until the Kennedy
administration that Kennen would be vindicated and an awareness would develop
"of the basic unsoundness of a defense posture based primarily on weapons
indiscriminately destructive and suicidal in their implications" (Kennen 365).
The late mistakes of the Truman administration would be carried over
into the Eisenhower years. Nuclear deployment became the primary American
security measure, naturally leading the Soviets to do the same. The problems of
the Eisenhower years stemmed directly from the overconfidence in the U.S.
nuclear program to achieve tangible military objectives in the face of increased
hostilities. John Foster Dulles, the symbol of bipartisan cooperation on foreign
policy, began to advocate the nuclear response. The impotence of our standing
army compared to the Soviet's military behemoth was clear to all U.S. policy
advisors. There was no way in which we could match Russia gun for gun, tank for
tank, at anytime, in any place. John's brother Allen Dulles, CIA director under
Eisenhower, said "to do so would mean real strength nowhere and bankruptcy
everywhere" (Gaddis 121). Instead, the U.S. response to Soviet aggressions would
be made on our terms. J.F. Dulles' solution was typical strategic asymmetry, but
of a particular kind. His recommendations prompted a world in which "we could
and would strike back where it hurts, by means of out own choosing. This could
be done most effectively by relying on atomic weapons, and on the strategic air
and naval power necessary to deliver them" (Dulles 147). This unbalanced
strategic equation between the two superpowers was not even the most dangerous
flaw of the 1950s.
In retrospect, the most startling