U.S. Cold War Nuclear Target Lists Declassified for First Time


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“ON JANUARY 25, 1991, General George Lee Butler became the head of the Strategic Air Command. During his first week on the job, Butler asked the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff to give him a copy of the SIOP. Butler decided to look at every single target in the SIOP, and for weeks he carefully scrutinized the thousands of desired ground zeros. He found bridges and railways and roads in the middle of nowhere targeted with multiple warheads, to assure their destruction. Hundreds of nuclear warheads would hit Moscow—dozens of them aimed at a single radar installation outside the city.

During his previous job working for the Joint Chiefs, Butler had dealt with targeting issues and the damage criteria for nuclear weapons. He was hardly naive. But the days and weeks spent going through the SIOP, page by page, deeply affected him.

For more than forty years, efforts to tame the SIOP, to limit it, reduce it, make it appear logical and reasonable, had failed. “With the possible exception of the Soviet nuclear war plan, this was the single most absurd and irresponsible document I had ever reviewed in my life,” General Butler later recalled. “I came to fully appreciate the truth … we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.

Butler eliminated about 75 percent of the targets in the SIOP, introduced a targeting philosophy that was truly flexible, and decided to get rid of the name SIOP. The United States no longer had a single, integrated war plan. Butler preferred a new title for the diverse range of nuclear options: National Strategic Response Plans”

Excerpt From: Schlosser, Eric. “Command and Control.” 2009.      Link

It appears that during the Cold War the defence industries kept churning out nuclear bomb and the military kept trying to find targets for them. If a war had started by accident or design it would have destroyed most life in the northern hemisphere and perhaps triggered a nuclear winter. One lesson is the need to keep the military under very close supervision.

1 Comment

Filed under Cold War, History

One response to “U.S. Cold War Nuclear Target Lists Declassified for First Time

  1. Just one more terrifying truth from Cold War history. I agree that we need to keep the military under close supervision, as our safety depends upon such scrutiny.

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