Kennedy came into office denouncing the missile gap. The only gap turned out to be that between the bogies created by Kennedy’s campaign team and reality. It was quickly realised that America had, and would retain in any forseeable future, an overwhelming superiority in nuclear strike power.
This was a traumatic period for the United States. It was the period of U2, the 1959 Summit, the complete collapse of policy after the death of Dulles. In this situation the “missile gap” presented all the pathological features of the rumour. The New Frontier provided the way out—back to supremacy and self-confidence. So far the New Frontier has achieved its only major legislative success in strategy and military appropriations. John Glenn first broke through to the new territory; now with the new strategy, we are safely home. And the New Frontier turns out to be remarkably similar to the Old: characterised by complete absence of all legal international restraint, based on the constant threat of resort to arms, and “chicken” as the moral crux of civilisation.
In a relatively short period Defence administration and policy have been transformed. It is reported that Kennedy and McNamara arrived relatively untutored in the major defence issues. Kennedy at least kept Kissinger at his bedside, but is reputed to have been unfamiliar with the discussions going on in the Pentagon. McNamara, who came straight from his new job, as head of Fords, has said himself that he had read only one book on strategy while with them.
McNamara has introduced at least one administrative change of far-reaching importance. In his first year of office he excluded all outside participants (the university strategists) from Pentagon strategy discussions. During the Cuban crisis he was revealed as deliberately distorting news. He then asked the press to maintain silence on important military moves. Recently he has demanded that all press interviews by Defence officials be memoed, or conducted with a PRO present. This involves a serious infringement on a free press, and has brought criticism from such an unexpected quarter as Joseph Alsop’s column.
This is one side of the McNamara achievement. On the other side is the “General War Offensives Package”—to misuse a Pentagon rubric. There are four basic components:
McNamara has attempted to build up an invulnerable, second strike, capacity. This is based on solid-fuelled Minuteman, in underground silos, solid-fuelled, mobile Polaris missiles, a much extended ground and air alert, and the BMEWS-warning system (giving approximately 15 min. warning of an approaching Russian strike).
McNamara has emphasised the importance of the maintenance of rational control during a possible nuclear war and during nuclear crises. He is supposed to have completely restructured the Pentagon “command and control” system.