July 30, 2013 at 11:26 am

Griffith Thesis: Weighing Capabilities and Intentions: George Kennan and Paul Nitze Confront the Bomb

History graduate student Luke Griffith published his master’s thesis on “Weighing Capabilities and Intentions: George Kennan and Paul Nitze Confront the Bomb” on OhioLINK.

Abstract: While countless historians have studied George Kennan and Paul Nitze, there has yet to be a comprehensive account of Kennan and Nitze’s views on nuclear weapons throughout the Truman administration. Prior to the Soviet atomic test in 1949, Kennan and Nitze worked in tandem to preserve the U.S. atomic monopoly and to build a potent retaliatory nuclear arsenal. Kennan and Nitze also rejected the notion that the Truman administration could negotiate an international atomic energy agreement. In the wake of the Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb, however, Kennan and Nitze fundamentally disagreed over the bomb’s role in U.S. security policies. Contrary to his previous analysis, Kennan advocated a strategy of minimal deterrence and a “declaratory policy” of non-American first use. Nitze, though, supported efforts to retain U.S. nuclear superiority and to initiate a massive buildup of U.S. conventional strength. Ultimately,this thesis demonstrates that Nitze, not Kennan, shaped the Truman administration’s approach to U.S.-Soviet atomic energy negotiations, U.S. military strategy, and U.S. nuclear policy throughout the final years of Truman’s presidency.

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