“From the time of its inception in 1946, the RAND Corporation has stood at or near the center of strategic thought in America. Over the course of nearly 20 years, the dynamics of strategic thought at RAND shifted dramatically. The strategists’ focus shifted from the development of strategies for ‘efficient’ war in the late 1940s, to an exclusive focus on deterrence in the mid-1950s, to a much broader, strategic-political appreciation for nuclear weapons in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Over the course of these shifts, the analysts at RAND developed a few central tenets of nuclear strategy: the best way to survive war was to avoid it altogether; the nation’s forces could not deter an attack they could not survive; in the event deterrence failed, the nation should attempt to control the use of nuclear weapons and limit, insofar as possible, civilian casualties in both the U.S. and the USSR; flexibility in the nation’s nuclear strategy could translate into a more flexible and aggressive national strategy. Out of these manifold tenets was born counterforce, a strategy for both deterrence and war that called for invulnerable forces, city-avoidance, counter-military strikes, and the preservation of command-and-control systems on both sides. Counterforce, it was hoped, would allow the U.S. to use its nuclear weapons in a controlled and discriminate way, avoiding the needless slaughter of civilians while simultaneously limiting the effectiveness of the Soviet offensive and ultimately bringing war to a negotiated end.
With the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, RAND moved to the upper levels of defense policy-making. In less than two years, Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, instituted many of the changes called for by the RAND strategists, creating a national strategic force that was both well-protected and capable, in the event deterrence failed, of waging war in a controlled and discriminate fashion. Although McNamara soon publicly disavowed counterforce, in fact it remained as the foundation of American nuclear strategy for decades to come.”Back to Library