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Newsweek: The Doomsday Dilemma

Authors: John Barry, and Evan W. Thomas
April 3, 2010


John Barry and Evan Thomas of Newsweek discuss the home-grown obstacles to Obama's goal of a nuke-free world, as he faces a series of nuclear policy decisions this spring.

For many years, America's master plan for nuclear war with the Soviet Union was called the SIOP-the Single Integrated Operational Plan. Beginning in 1962, the U.S. president was given some options to mull in the few minutes he had to decide before Soviet missiles bore down on Washington. He could, for instance, choose to spare the Soviet satellites, the Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe. Or he could opt for, say, the "urban-industrial" strike option-1,500 or so warheads dropped on 300 Russian cities. After a briefing on the SIOP on Sept. 14, 1962, President John F. Kennedy turned to his secretary of state, Dean Rusk, and remarked, "And they call us human beings."

Ever since the dawn of the atomic age at Hiroshima in August 1945, American presidents have been trying to figure out how to climb off the nuclear treadmill. The urgency may have faded in the post-Cold War era, but the weapons are still there. By 2002, President George W. Bush was signing off on a document containing his administration's Nuclear Posture Review, an -analysis of how America's nuclear arms might be used. Bush scribbled on the cover, "But why do we still have to have so many?" According to a knowledgeable source who would not be identified discussing sensitive national-security matters, President Obama wasn't briefed on the U.S. nuclear-strike plan against Russia and China until some months after he had taken office. "He thought it was insane," says the source. (The reason for the delay is unclear; the White House did not respond to repeated inquiries.)


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