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Miami historian discloses nuclear ploy

01/07/2003

An article published by Miami University historian Jeffrey Kimball and William Burr, a National Security Archive senior analyst, on a 1969 worldwide secret nuclear alert ordered by President Nixon has received national and international attention.

Their article appears in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. A longer, fully documented version will appear in January 2003 in the journal Cold War History, which is published in the United Kingdom.

The results of their historical sleuthing have been picked up by such media outlets as the New York Times, Washingon Post, Associated Press, CNN, ABC, NBC and Agence France Presse.

President Nixon ordered the secret nuclear alert in October 1969, calling his wartime tactic a “madman strategy” aimed at “jarring” the Soviets into pressuring North Vietnam to make concessions.

The ploy didn’t work, however. Nixon wanted the global military measures to be detectable, but not alarming to the Soviets.

Soviet leaders may have seen it as a bluff or they may not even have noticed it. Or they may have noticed it, but did not want to acknowledge it. In any event, Moscow made no change in its Vietnam policy.

The authors’ disclosure of the Nixon administration’s largest secret military operation was the result of several years of research. Recently declassified papers from the Strategic Air Command prove that the alert, which for many years had only been rumored, actually did take place.

Piecing together documentary evidence from the recently declassified files of Nixon’s National Security Council, the authors were able to prove that the nuclear alert was connected to Nixon’s Vietnam policy.

Known to White House insiders as the “Joint Chiefs of Staff Readiness Test,” the purpose of the nuclear alert was kept secret even from the generals implementing the military exercise, according to memos revealed by Kimball and Burr.

Kimball is a specialist in the Nixon presidency and is author of the award-winning Nixon’s Vietnam War (1998).

For more information and sample documents, go to the National Security Archive site at www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/ For the article that appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, go to www.thebulletin.org/issues/2003/jf03/jf03burr_print.html

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