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Q: Did president Harry Truman consider stopping the Soviet nuclear program? ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Did president Harry Truman consider stopping the Soviet nuclear program?
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: civitas-ga
List Price: $40.00
Posted: 25 Feb 2006 08:48 PST
Expires: 27 Mar 2006 08:48 PST
Question ID: 700832
Presently there are nearly a dozen countries either with nuclear
weapons or close to having them (United States, Russia, United
Kingdom, France, China, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, North
Korea, and Iran).  Once the bomb was developed, the gates were open
for the spread of such weapons.  Can you tell me what you know about
what Harry Truman and his administration did between the dropping of
the bombs in August of 1945 and the Soviet development of the bomb in
1949 to try to prevent the Soviets from developing the bomb?  Was the
option of using one or several "surgical strikes" to eliminate the
Soviet program before it became operational ever given consideration? 
Please tell me where you got your information.  Thanks so much!  --

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 25 Feb 2006 13:03 PST

It's pretty near impossible to say that some sort of preemptive action
against the Soviets was never considered, but if it was, that fact is
buried in secret archives somewhere, and has certainly not made its
way into the history books.

I looked through a number of scholarly texts on Truman, as well as
others on Stalin and on the history of atomic bombs in general, and
none mention anything about the US considering direct intervention
against the Soviets to put a halt to their nuclear program.

Instead, the US policy was one of containment, nuclear superiority,
and planning for air-nuclear attacks in the event of open war with the

Given the absence of any mention of the sort of preemptive activity
you asked about, how would you like researchers to proceed with your

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this,

Subject: Re: Did president Harry Truman consider stopping the Soviet nuclear program?
Answered By: hedgie-ga on 28 Feb 2006 01:30 PST
Yes. He did. 
   Several strategies were under consideration,
   In the end the 'contaiment strategy' won.

	Preventive war and 'first strike' are related.
      fifty years old, yet timely and still unresolved, issue:

"..In the late 1940s and early 1950s, preventive war was seriously discussed
because of the advent of nuclear weapons. It was argued that because the
United States had nuclear superiority, we would be well advised to fight the
Soviets sooner rather than later, before they could match our nuclear

  And it was LeMay who essentially advocated preventive war during the 1962
  Cuban Missile Crisis..."

	Here is a bio of Curtis E. LeMay one of the coldest of America's cold
	warriors, who was an advocate of preventive war against the Soviet 

	LeMay, a soldier, was not alone in this thinking. 
	Politicians and scientists considered this issue,
        and some came to the same conclusion:

" The temptation to strike first is so strong that it has even affected
Western leaders. At a time when the United States had the only working atomic
bombs, Winston Churchill privately urged U.S. leaders to deliver an ultimatum
to Russia. In Marc Trachtenburg's critically acclaimed book, "History and
Strategy," Churchill is quoted as saying, "We ought not to wait until Russia
is ready." In 1948 Churchill argued in the House of Commons for "bringing
matters to a head" while America yet retained its atomic monopoly. Churchill
told the House of Commons that this approach offered "the best chance of
coming out of it alive."

 "John von Neumann, a leading mathematician and the founder of game theory,
said, "If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say
today at 5 o'clock, I say why not one o'clock."

	The incentive for preventive war and later for a 'first strike' 
	which would eliminate the danger, were strong. As any good strategist knows,
        to win the game, one has to get 'into the opponent's head'.
        This was Russian thinking:

	First Strike - Surprise nuclear missile attack

"The official Russian acronym for surprise nuclear attack is VRYAN. It
is derived from the Russian words, "vnezapnoye raketno-yadernoye napadenie."

Nuclear war has two basic objectives. The first objective is the elimination
of the enemy's strategic weapons. The second objective is the preservation of
friendly nuclear strength in order to blackmail the surviving countries. A
country that successfully destroys all opposing nuclear weapons (while
retaining a large nuclear reserve) can dictate the shape of the future"

  There were problems with the plan for  preventive strikes gainst SU:

 	1) Surgical strikes would not be enough. There were several
   'secret cities,' so secret that they were not even on the map
    until quite recently.
    There were no satellites and little covert air photography
   (Remember  1962?  The  U-2 spy-plane was a great innovation.)

     It would have to be a war, and after that war another problem
     would arise - how to control a country. In this case, a country 
    which had just won 'a great patriotic war' against the Nazis.
     Yes, Americans were more popular than Germans in Russia at 
     the time, but of course this  was not an  'absolute'. 
     Russian fought Napoleon, Hitler... and they would fight any occupiers.
     Occupiers are resented.

	2) US - the CIA underestimated Soviet capabilities

   The famous "Einstein's letter" to FDR.

   had a Russian counterpart:

" By the time Kurchatov had written to Beria, the tide of the war had changed
and Soviet troops were pushing the Nazis back to Germany. In 1945 the Soviets
had reached Berlin and Germany surrendered on May 8th, 1945.

Kurchatov was told to build a bomb by 1948, less than three years away.
Stalin also put the ruthless Beria in charge of the project to insure its

	The CIA underestimated Soviet capabilities as follows:
" It is probable that the capability of the USSR to develop weapons based on
atomic energy will be limited to the possible development of an atomic bomb
to the stage of production at some time between 1950 and 1953. On this
assumption, a quantity of such bombs could be produced and stockpiled by
1956.[3] ..."

      At that time it was believed that US would be able to keep
	technological leaderhip. That was one of the reasons for developing
	the hydrogen bomb.

      The CIA underestimated  the situation in both areas: 
     a)The 'leaks':  Both the atomic and hydrogen 'classified data' were
               stolen and sent to Russia by spies and
     b)The 'ability': The physical principles were known since 1939, and
	Russia had competent scientists, Kurcatov, Landau, Sacharov ... who
	considered the defense of their country against unprovoked attack paramount

	3) A War between the Allies, between SU and US in 1945, that was one of
	Hitler's dreams. It was a serious possibility:

 " A major U.S. government study was conducted on the consequences of an
atomic war with Russia in 1953. The study predicted that most of our European
allies would retreat into neutrality. The study also predicted that the war
would cost ten million American lives and last for ten years "

" It was all empty talk,  of course, because Americans don't believe in
unprovoked nuclear attacks -- even against hair-trigger psychopaths like
Stalin. Gen. Orvil Anderson, the head of the Air War College, was dismissed
by President Truman for advocating a preventive war with Russia .."

	 That would have to be updated:

       Americans did not  believe in unprovoked attacks in those days.

	 The reasons for the change in attitude are not entirely clear.
	 The balance of power has changed, but not that much.
         Russia and other countries are not defenseless:

"We concluded a contract for the supply of air-defence systems to Iran and
there is no reason not to fulfil it," Mikhail Dmitriyev, the head of Russia's
military-technical cooperation agency, said.
Worth an estimated $700 million, the deal for up to 30 Tor M-1 surface-to-air
missiles is the largest since Russia in 2000 withdrew from an agreement with
the US restricting the supply of military hardware to Iran.

     Russia did not hand over or sell their defense systems  to the US.
     Reading the US popular press, articles about sales of HEU, one
     might gain the impression that Russia dismantled it's nuclear aresenal. 
     That is not so. Russuia is selling SURPLUS HEU (enriched uranium) only.

 A good historical study of that era, early proliferation, is in this book:

	The alternative 'meme' (or plan) was the Baruch plan:
 	alternative to stopping proliferation by naked force.

	The dilema of those times,
       'How to deal with proliferation',
        is still with us.

That however, analysis of the current options, is a different question.


Clarification of Answer by hedgie-ga on 16 Mar 2006 14:15 PST
         Since you asked specifically about Truman's position, and I jsut
happened to come across a passage in a book I am reading, I want to add this.
This happened after the fist two nuclear bombs were dropped and Japan capitulated.

 On October 25, 1945 , Oppenheimer was ushered into the Oval Office.
President Truman was naturally curious to meet the celebrated
physicist ...
"The first thing is to define national problem ", Truman said, " then
the international".
 Oppenheimer let an uncomfortably long silence pass and said haltingly : 

"Perhaps it would be best first define the international problem". 

He meant, of course, that the first imperative was to stop the spread
of these weapons [ what we call proliferation today]
by placing international controls over all atomic technology. At one
point in their conversation, Truman suddenly asked him to guess when
the Russians would develop their own atomic bomb. When Oppie replied
that he did not know, Truman confidently said he knew the answer:


For Oppenheimer such foolishness was proof of Truman's limitations.

End of quote from
page 329, American Prometheus ..

 Today, when we have another 'simple minded, all-American president'
in the Oval Office, dismantling the NPT
(non-proliferation treaty, by supporting India's nuclear program
outside of the controls, while attempting to stop Iran's
program monitored as prescribed by the treaty) it may be a good time
to quote from another  Opppie's statement.
 This is what he said in his parting speech in Los Alamos, when he
resigned as director of the Manhattan Project:

"The people of this world must unite or they will perish".

By that he meant that there are no 'nuclear secrets' in the long run.
The international law, combined with
international law enforcement is the only realistic strategy to stop proliferation.
If it is not stopped - it will lead eventually to the nuclear war. 
In the case of nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India,
radioactive cloud would reach US withing eight days.
There is no current countermeasure. The 'Star War' weapons cannot
shoot down radioactive fallout. Of course, we
can go to our backyards and dust out and restock those bomb shelters
from the  fifties, our parents built.

Subject: Re: Did president Harry Truman consider stopping the Soviet nuclear program?
From: probonopublico-ga on 26 Feb 2006 04:59 PST
Germany, Russia, Japan, Britain & America were all trying to develop
Atomic weapons during WWII but, fortunately, America got there first.

Russia was our ally in WWII (supposedly) until Stalin ignored the
Yalta Agreement. Then Truman ordered the bombing of Hiroshima which
probably also sent a message to Stalin.

However, thereafter, America had neither the stocks of atomic weapons
nor the bomber capability to reach Russia so a game of bluff was
played by both sides with Britain playing an important role as the
base for US bombers and a few atomic bombs.

It worked so there was no need to escalate the problem.

In short, I don't think Truman ever had the option to bomb Russia out
of the arms race.

Well, that's my take.

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