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USA was close to using nuclear weapons in the Vietnam war

HOW CLOSE DID THE UNITED STATES ACTUALLY GET TO USING NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN VIETNAM IN 1968? WAR ON THE ROCKS 

OCTOBER 24, 2018.”…….The publication of Michael Beschloss’ new book, Presidents of War, shined light on declassified documents describing the efforts that President Lyndon Johnson’s senior military officers undertook without presidential authorization in early 1968 to prepare for the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam.How close did the United States actually get to deploying nuclear weapons in Vietnam in 1968? Who initiated this plan, codenamed “Fracture Jaw,” and when did the president become aware of it? What can today’s leaders learn from this incident, and what implications does this episode have for command and control of nuclear weapons during wartime and the so-called “nuclear taboo” that purportedly dissuades their use?

Drawing on declassified “eyes only” materials housed at the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, I seek to situate the revelations in Beschloss’ book in the broader historical context to provide a more detailed account of the military’s planning for Fracture Jaw and just how far Pentagon and White House officials allowed these preparations to progress without the president’s full knowledge………….

The “Nuclear Taboo” and Command and Control Nuclear Weapons During Wartime

From the perspective of the so-called “nuclear taboo,” which dissuades the use of nuclear weapons because of their devastating destructive potential, the Fracture Jaw episode is something of a success story. Johnson consistently made clear to his advisors that he did not want to be put in a position where he would be asked for authority to launch tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Although he did not explicitly rule out the use of these weapons categorically, Johnson’s fury in discovering on Feb. 10 that planning had persisted in spite of his earlier directive only reinforces the notion that the president was committed to avoiding their use.

From the vantage point of command and control of the nuclear arsenal, however, this episode is more harrowing. Although the president’s regional and theater commanders expeditiously complied with the commander-in-chief’s directive to shut down Fracture Jaw, their planning had progressed with seemingly little presidential understanding of just how far along Pacific Command had advanced in preparing its tactical nuclear arsenal for possible use……….

In his role as commander-in-chief, the president retains ultimate (and effectively unchecked) authority over whether to deploy nuclear weapons, a choice Johnson described as “one of the most awesome and grave decisions any president could be called upon to make.” In this instance, Johnson did not hesitate to exercise this authority, but only after media speculation made him aware of how far preparations for their use in Vietnam had actually progressed. That the president and the White House staff was insufficiently aware of how far along this contingency planning had progressed rightfully raises important questions about the integrity of the country’s nuclear command and control infrastructure, particularly as the United States contemplates a greater reliance on tactical nuclear weapons in its deterrence posture. And it gives rise to speculation, however remote, about the decision Johnson would have had to confront in weighing a full-fledged nuclear option in Vietnam should Fracture Jaw have come to fruition. In his role as commander-in-chief, the president retains ultimate (and effectively unchecked) authority over whether to deploy nuclear weapons, a choice Johnson described as “one of the most awesome and grave decisions any president could be called upon to make.” In this instance, Johnson did not hesitate to exercise this authority, but only after media speculation made him aware of how far preparations for their use in Vietnam had actually progressed. That the president and the White House staff was insufficiently aware of how far along this contingency planning had progressed rightfully raises important questions about the integrity of the country’s nuclear command and control infrastructure, particularly as the United States contemplates a greater reliance on tactical nuclear weapons in its deterrence posture. And it gives rise to speculation, however remote, about the decision Johnson would have had to confront in weighing a full-fledged nuclear option in Vietnam should Fracture Jaw have come to fruition. ……

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October 25, 2018 - Posted by | history, USA, weapons and war

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