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Identity statement

Reference code(s)
US NUCLEAR HISTORY: Nuclear Arms and Politics in the Missile Age, 1955-1968
1950-1985, 1997
Level of description
collection level
Extent and medium of the unit of description (quantity, bulk, or size)
358 fiche


Name of creator(s)

The National Security Archive, from sources at US national security agencies, principal of which were the US Department of State, US Department of Defense, US Air Force, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Strategic Air Command, Executive Office of the President

Administrative / Biographical history

The US Nuclear History: Nuclear Arms and Politics in the Missile Age, 1955-1968 collection documents US nuclear policy decision making during the presidential administrations of Dwight David Eisenhower, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Through multi- billion dollar expenditures of strategic nuclear forces, command and control and communications, these administrations sought to deter threats to professed vital political and strategic interests. Between 1955 and 1968 the US strategic nuclear program grew rapidly as Washington invested billions of dollars in delivery systems designed to project thermonuclear weapons towards targets in the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. Much of the nuclear build-up was in the areas of Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber construction, the development, production and deployment of nuclear-tipped Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) designed for striking targets within minutes of launching. During the 1955-1968 period, the United States undertook its heaviest and most sustained nuclear force build-up and developed the 'overkill' capability that it, along with the Soviet Union, would maintain throughout the Cold War. By 1968, the United States had deployed more than 1,000 ICBMs in concrete silos in the Midwest States and over 640 Lockheed-built Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missiles in 41 submarines; the US Air Force was successfully testing Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) that would significantly augment the capability of ICBMs and SLBMs; and, the US Strategic Air Command fielded a bomber force of more than 600 nuclear-armed Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers. Moreover, during the 1950s and 1960s, the US government supplemented its strategic forces by deploying 7,000 tactical nuclear weapons in Western Europe. Developments in the US nuclear posture from 1955 to 1968 also included methods of command and control. To integrate the strategic plans of the US Army, Air Force and Navy, the US Department of Defense developed the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff (JSTPS) to prepare a Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). Finally, to co-ordinate nuclear strike and post-strike operations, the US Air Force and the US Department of Defense developed communications and control systems linking civilian and military decision makers to incoming missile or bomber attacks. By 1968, however, the Soviet Union had deployed formidable tactical nuclear forces in Eastern Europe and eroded the US lead in strategic missiles, thus leading President Lyndon Baines Johnson to press for US-Soviet arms control negotiations.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The National Security Archive, Washington, DC, USA.

Content & structure

Scope and content

The US Nuclear History: Nuclear Arms and Politics in the Missile Age, 1955-1968 microfilm collection presents an integrated record of US decision making relating to the development, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons, 1955-1968. Documents are generated from a number of sources including the US Department of State, US Department of Defense, US Air Force, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Strategic Air Command, the Executive Office of the President, US National Security Council, and Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Material relating to early US policy planning and decisions on thermonuclear weapons includes relevance studies by the RAND Corporation, a US non-partisan government policy guidance institution, 1952; memoranda from the Office of the White House relating to nuclear weapons stockpiles and projections, 1959; and, memoranda from the US Department of State and the Atomic Energy Commission relating to underground and atmospheric nuclear testing, 1959-62. Papers relating to nuclear weapons development, acquisition and testing include memoranda from Gen Curtis E LeMay, Commander-in-Chief, US Strategic Air Command, relating to increased budgetary needs for the proposed nuclear build-up, Jan 1956; memorandum from Gen Andrew Jackson Goodpaster, Defense Liaison Officer and Staff Secretary to the President, relating to the concept of 'massive retaliation' in the event of a Soviet first-strike, May 1956; memorandum from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff relating to emergency war plans, nuclear strategy, and preventive war, Sep 1956; memorandum from the Gen Lyman L Lemnitzer, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, relating to US doctrine on thermonuclear attack, Apr 1961; memorandum from the US Department of Defense to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy relating to scenarios for US and Soviet first-strikes, Oct 1961; memorandum from Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara to the Office of the Secretary, US Army, relating to nuclear damage limitation and 'assured destruction'. Papers relating to nuclear strategy and planning include memoranda concerning the applicability of Soviet cities as targets of US nuclear attack; the US Strategic Air Command Basic War Plan, [Feb 1960]; papers relating to target co-ordination and planning for a functional Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), 1960-1961; papers on 'war-gaming', net evaluation exercises of US capabilites in the event of a general nuclear war with the Soviet Union, including memoranda from Robert R Bowie, Director of US State Department Policy Planning Staff, concerning Soviet capabilities to inflict direct damage on the US, 1953-1967. Material relating to air, land and sea nuclear delivery systems, missile deployments, alert programs, and defence appropriations include memoranda from Goodpaster concerning Eisenhower's endorsement plans for missile program acceleration and for upgrading US Strategic Air Command capabilities, 1957; memoranda from the President's Science Advisory Committee relating to the construction of civil defence structures and missile deployments, 1958; report from the US Department of Defense, Weapons Systems Evaluation Group, reviewing US weapons systems and directly-related functions which constitute the strategic offensive posture of the US 1964-1967; press statements and memoranda from US Secretary of Defence McNamara relating to the doctine of 'assured destruction', defence appropriations, and weapons development, 1961-66; US National Security Briefings on strategic intelligence, Soviet capabilities for strategic attack, anti-missile and air defence, and economic trends, 1963. Papers relating to nuclear strategy, planning, weapons and delivery systems in the European theatre include reports regarding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's strategy for nuclear war, 1954-1969; the deployment of Chrysler 'Jupiter' PGM-19 IRBMs in Western Europe; the establishment of the Douglas 'Thor' PGM-17 IRBM program in Great Britain, 1956-1963; the escalation of US-Soviet hostilies in Berlin, 1961; reports concerning British co-operation with with US Strategic Air Command; speech by US Secretary of State McNamara, in Athens, Greece, relating to US assurances to its European allies in the event of a general war, 1962. Papers relating to nuclear warning and defence include reports from the US Department of State concerning the immediate construction of a Distant Early Warning (DEW) system in Canada and Alaska, 1952-1953; reports from the President's Science Advisory Committee, including studies of civil defence measures in the event of a nuclear attack, 1957-1958; reports from the US Department of State regarding the construction of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) in the United Kingdom, 1958; memoranda from the North American Aerospace Command (NORAD), relating to nuclear pre- emption and tactical warnings, 1958-1959; reports from the President's Science Advisory Committee's Anti-Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Panel, 1958-1959; papers from the President's Science Advisory Committee and the US Department of Defense relating to the construction and deployment of Bell Laboratory Nike-Zeus and Nike X Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABMs) in the US, Canada, and Western Europe, 1959-1968.

System of arrangement

The collection is arranged into sections according to subject. Sections include material relating to nuclear weapons properties, effects, production and testing; nuclear strategy and planning; nuclear delivery systems and deployments; nuclear operations; US and Allied nuclear strategy, planning, and delivery systems in the European Theatre and Canada; nuclear command, control and communications; and, warning and defence. The sections are arranged in chronological order therein.

Conditions of access & use

Conditions governing access

Open, subject to signature of Reader's undertaking form, and appropriate provision of two forms of identification, to include one photographic ID.

Conditions governing reproduction

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be provided for research use only. Enquiries concerning the copyright of the original material should be addressed to The National Security Archive, 1755 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC, 20036, USA

Language/scripts of material


Finding aids

This Summary Guide, and in hard copy in the Centre's reading room, Thomas S Blanton and Malcolm Byrne (eds.), US Nuclear History: Nuclear Arms and Politics in the Missile Age, 1955-1968 (The National Security Archive and Chadwyck-Healey, Washington, DC, 1997).

Allied materials

Existence and location of originals

National Archive, Washington, DC; Dwight D Eisenhower Library, Abilene, KA, Library of Congress Manuscript Collection, Washington, DC.



Compiled Jul 1999

Description control

Rules or conventions

Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

This catalogue is made available under the Open Data Commons Attribution License. This catalogue may be updated from time to time in order to reflect additional material and/or new understandings of the material.

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This catalogue may contain links to external data sources as part of the W3C Semantic Web initiative.


  • Alliances
  • Armed forces
  • Arms race
  • Berlin Wall
  • Boundaries
  • Civil defence
  • Defence
  • East West relations
  • Foreign relations
  • Government
  • Government policy
  • Higher science education
  • International conflicts
  • International law
  • International relations
  • International tensions
  • Military doctrine
  • Military engineering
  • Military equipment
  • Military organizations
  • Missiles
  • Nuclear engineering
  • Nuclear testing
  • Nuclear warfare
  • Nuclear weapons
  • Organizations
  • Rights of states
  • State security
  • Territorial rights
  • Warfare
  • Weapons

Personal names

  • Bowie, Robert R, fl 1953-1967, US public official
  • Eisenhower, Dwight David, 1890-1969, US President and General
  • Goodpaster, Andrew Jackson, b 1915, US General
  • Kennedy, John Fitzgerald, 1917-1963, US President
  • LeMay, Curtis Emerson, 1906-1990, US Air Force General
  • Lemnitzer, Lyman Louis, 1899-1988, US General
  • McNamara, Robert Strange, b 1916, US Secretary of Defense

Corporate names

  • NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • US Armed forces


  • Alaska, USA, North America
  • Americas
  • Athens, Greece
  • Canada, North America
  • Caribbean
  • London, England
  • USSR, Eastern Europe

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