ILW Focuses on Politics Behind Tactical Nukes

ILW Focuses on Politics Behind Tactical Nukes

Photo by: U.S. Capitol

A new paper from the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Land Warfare looks at how politics in the 1950s influenced Army doctrine, particularly the shift to nuclear weapons.

Written by retired Army Lt. Col. David C. Rasmussen, an Afghanistan veteran and political scientist, the paper looks at the Eisenhower era when efforts were underway to reduce U.S. troop presence in Europe and cut defense spending by 30 percent, proposals resisted by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Matthew Ridgway.

“A Case Study of Politics and U.S. Army Doctrine: 1954 Field Manual 100-5: Operations” is part of ILW’s Land Warfare Paper series.

To offset the reductions, a compromise was offered to provide the Army with tactical nuclear weapons, something the service was already considering, Rasmussen writes, noting the Army had tested the ability to shoot a small tactical nuclear weapon from a cannon.

Rasmussen looks at the campaign promises made by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to end the Korean War and to prevent U.S. involvement in other wars, and to cut defense spending because Eisenhower, a retired Army general, thought big spending hurt the economy and eroded the American way of life.

“An economy and society increasingly burdened by and geared toward a permanent war footing could only result in what Eisenhower referred to as a ‘garrison state.’ He was describing a society in which personal freedom, liberty and economic opportunity were permanently subordinated to the needs of security,” Rasmussen writes. Eisenhower viewed this as “something that would eventually destroy liberty and prosperity—the very ideals Americans were trying to defend.”

The Army’s doctrine changed to adopt the employment of tactical nuclear weapons, something Rasmussen says was the result of this pressure to cut. “The timing of administrative decisions to reduce Army resources is highly congruent with the Army’s doctrinal shift in September 1954.

“If the administration had decided not to allow the Army to employ tactical nuclear weapons, the Army would not have had any reason to incorporate them into its doctrine,” Rasmussen writes.

The full paper is available here: