The Development of U.S. Missile Defense Policy, 1961-1972



Barton J. Bernstein,

Date and Time

November 21, 2013 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


CISAC Conference Room

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ABOUT THE SPEAKER: James Cameron, Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at CISAC for 2013-14, completed his PhD in July 2013 at the University of Cambridge. James is very interested in the contribution history can make to informing today’s debates on nuclear strategy and U.S.-Russian relations. After completing his master’s in Russian and East European Studies at the University of Oxford, he was a business consultant specializing in the former Soviet Union. 

His dissertation, “The Development of United States Anti-Ballistic Missile Policy, 1961-1972”, used the transformation of the American anti-ballistic missile (ABM) program from John F. Kennedy to Richard M. Nixon as a prism through which to examine changing patterns of presidential nuclear leadership during this period. Employing both new American and Russian sources, the thesis shows how successive occupants of the Oval Office and their most trusted advisers managed the tension between their publicly articulated nuclear strategies and their inner convictions regarding the utility of nuclear weapons during this pivotal decade of the Cold War.

Richard Nixon did not believe in mutual assured destruction. Yet he signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972, which enshrined MAD as a central fact of the U.S.-Soviet strategic nuclear balance. Conversely his predecessors, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, publicly defended American nuclear superiority and pushed ahead with ABM, despite their private skepticism regarding the utility of both and desire to moderate the arms race. Employing newly available evidence from declassified telephone recordings and documents, this paper attempts to account for this contradiction. It does so by placing the perpetual presidential struggle to reconcile private convictions with public demands at the center of the emergence of assured destruction and the limitation of ABM as elements of U.S.-Soviet détente through strategic arms control.