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Profile: Herman Kahn

Herman Kahn was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Pentagon releases its tightly classified five-year plan for the US’s military policy, the Fiscal Year 1984-1988 Defense Guidance. A central element of the plan is its acceptance of the winnability of a “protracted nuclear war” with the Soviet Union. Although such an idea is publicly repudiated by President Reagan (see March-April 1982), the idea is set into policy by the White House’s National Security Decision Directive 32, which mandates the modernization of US nuclear forces with regard to “developing a capability to sustain protracted nuclear conflict” (see May 20, 1982). The Defense Guidance document mandates that during a lengthy nuclear conflict, US forces “must prevail and be able to force the Soviet Union to seek earliest termination of hostilities on terms favorable to the United States.” The Defense Guidance document is leaked to the New York Times, which reports its existence in an article entitled “Pentagon Draws Up First Strategy for Fighting a Long Nuclear War.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 127; Air Force Magazine, 3/2008] In 2008, J. Peter Scoblic will write that the Reagan administration’s position is not, at first glance, markedly different from that of its predecessors; since the Kennedy administration, the government’s various agencies and departments have worked to provide some sort of viable “nuclear flexibility” that would give the US a nuclear option besides an all-out nuclear strike—a “war orgasm,” in nuclear war scholar Herman Kahn’s terminology. But Scoblic will note that those other administrations recognized the likelihood of any limited nuclear exchange quickly escalating into an all-out barrage by both nations. The Reagan administration does not accept this as a likelihood, Scoblic will observe. No other administration had made specific plans for a nuclear war that would last six months, with, as Scoblic will write, “pauses for reloading silos and firing fresh volleys of missiles.” The Pentagon plan provides for what it calls “a reserve of nuclear forces sufficient for trans- and post-attack protection and coercion,” or, in Scoblic’s words, “having enough weapons to win one war… and immediately be ready to deter or fight another.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 128]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Herman Kahn, US Department of Defense, J. Peter Scoblic

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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