Order Presidential Doctrines Essay
Flexible response was a defense strategy implemented by John F. Kennedy in 1961 to address his administration’s skepticism of Dwight Eisenhower’s New Look policy of massive retaliation. Flexible response called for mutual deterrence at strategic, tactical and conventional levels, giving the United States the capability to respond to aggression across the spectrum of warfare, not limited only to nuclear arms.
The New Look policy, though initially useful, quickly became obsolete with the introduction of inter-continental delivery systems that undermined the credibility of a deterrence threat. The cornerstone of U.S. and European defense strategy was then threatened as the U.S. could no longer rely on nuclear threats to provide security for it and its allies.
John F. Kennedy won the presidency by claiming that the Republican party had allowed the U.S. to fall behind the Soviets into a missile gap. Upon entering office Kennedy cited General Maxwell Taylor’s book The Uncertain Trumpet to Congress for its conclusion that massive retaliation left the U.S. with only two choices: defeat on the ground or the resort to the use of nuclear weapons. Technology had improved since massive retaliation was adopted. Improvements in communication and transportation meant U.S. forces could be deployed more effectively, quickly, and flexibly than before. Advisers persuaded Kennedy that having multiple options would allow the president to apply the appropriate amount of force at the right place without risking escalation or losing alternatives. This would improve credibility for deterrence as the U.S. would now have low-intensity options and therefore would be more likely to use them, rather than massive retaliation’s all-or-nothing options.
Flexible response was implemented to develop several options across the spectrum of warfare, other than the nuclear option, for quickly dealing with enemy aggression. In addition, the survivability of the retaliatory capability was stressed, leading to the diversification of the strategic force, development of the strategic triad and half the Strategic Air Command force being put on permanent alert status.
The Kennedy Doctrine did not include the ability to fight nuclear wars because of the idea that it would undermine deterrence, was technologically unworkable, would fuel the arms race, and was not politically feasible. Importance was also placed on counterinsurgency and the development of unconventional military forces, unconventional tactics and “civic action” programs.
Types of Flexible Response
There are four different avenues of response: informational, diplomatic, economic, and military. Informational responses are designed to both increase the awareness of the problem and to gain support for potential conflict from both the public and Congress. Diplomatic responses are centered on strengthening international support for the issue and possibly withdrawing embassy staff from the region to ensure their safety. Examples of economic responses include imposing sanctions on the offending country, embargoing their trade goods, and the cancellation of any funding that the country may be receiving. Finally, there is the multitude of military responses available, ranging from increasing troop preparation and stationing them in the target area all the way up to launch a limited nuclear strike. Together, these options allow the president to decide what level of commitment is warranted in any given situation and react accordingly without having to resort straight to threats of nuclear annihilation.
Stages of Flexible Response
A staged plan was devised to counter any Soviet military action other than a first strike consisting of three stages:
(1) Direct defense: In case of a conventional Soviet attack (meaning non-nuclear or this would be considered a first strike) initial efforts would be to try and stop the Soviet advance with conventional weapons. This meant that the foreseen Soviet attack on West-Germany would be tried to be forced to a halt by NATO’s European forces, Allied Command Europe.
(2) Deliberate Escalation: This phase would be entered when conventional NATO forces were succumbing under the Soviet attack. This was actually expected as intelligence indicated Soviet divisions outnumbered NATO divisions by far. In this phase NATO forces would switch to a limited use of nuclear weapons, such as recently developed tactical nuclear weapons (like nuclear artillery).
(3) General Nuclear Response: This was the last phase or stage which more or less corresponded to the mutual assured destruction scenario, meaning the total nuclear attack on the Communist world. If the Soviets had not already done so, this would make them switch to all-out attack as well.
Development of the Strategic Triad
By 1960, the United States had three means of strategic forces: ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. This triad made it possible for the United States to impose unacceptable damage to the Soviet Union with one strategic force independent of the other two forces. These different forces had their advantages and disadvantages. Bombers could deliver large payloads and strike with great accuracy, but were slow, vulnerable while on the ground, and could be shot down. ICBMs are safe in their underground silos while on the ground, but were less accurate than bombers and could not be called back when launched. Submarines were least vulnerable but were also least accurate and communication could be poor at times. Each of these forces provided the United States with different options to tailor their response to the situation.
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