Bath on Brown, 'Eisenhower's Nuclear Calculus in Europe: The Politics of IRBM Deployment in NATO Nations'

Gates M. Brown
David W. Bath

Gates M. Brown. Eisenhower's Nuclear Calculus in Europe: The Politics of IRBM Deployment in NATO Nations. Jefferson: McFarland, 2018. 277 pp. $45.00 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4766-6950-2.

Reviewed by David W. Bath (Rogers State University) Published on H-War (October, 2020) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

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The early Cold War was a time of profound metamorphosis for the United States. The country’s power and influence had never been greater. However, the costs of poor decisions had never been greater either. Nuclear diplomacy—the influencing of nations through the control of nuclear weapons—had just begun. This paradigm required leaders of great insight and a strong understanding of foreign relations. Yet US presidents also dealt with the impact of their decisions on the domestic audience.

When Dwight D. Eisenhower began his presidency in 1953, he was only the second president to face the escalating Cold War with the Soviet Union. Thus, Eisenhower spent his presidency trying to attain two separate and conflicting goals: preventing the fearsome threat of a potential nuclear World War III through military dominance while reducing the associated costs to the greatest extent possible. To accomplish both tasks, Eisenhower chose to increase the United States’ reliance on nuclear weapons through his New Look defense policy.

He emphasized the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to replace the nuclear bomber as he believed the new capability would make the bomber obsolete. However, he was forced by domestic politics to create an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) as well, in the hope that the smaller missiles could be operational before the more capable ICBMs. To allow the shorter-range IRBMs to reach key targets in the Soviet Union, the Eisenhower administration was compelled to create basing agreements with NATO allies. These agreements—and their impact on US relations with the United Kingdom and France—are the focus of Gates Brown’s book, Eisenhower’s Nuclear Calculus in Europe.

In his monograph, Brown argues that Eisenhower reshaped NATO into a two-tiered alliance, with the United Kingdom and the United States at the top because of their control of nuclear weapons while the other members were relegated to inferior positions because they lacked the new weapon. An assistant professor of military history at the Army Command and General Staff College, Brown revised his dissertation, “Miscommunication and Misunderstanding: Eisenhower, IRBMs, and Nuclear Weapons in the NATO Alliance,” to create the book.

Brown uses the first several chapters to review Eisenhower’s creation of the New Look and the arguments against his emphasis on massive retaliation, primarily focusing on the army’s arguments against the policy. He then provides a quick overview of the development of IRBMs. Because each service feared obsolescence if they did not obtain a nuclear weapon, this process engendered fierce infighting between the services. Brown again focuses on the army perspective of the strong clash between the army and air force, even taking on the argument that IRBMs had to be created because ICBMs could not be prepared quickly enough—an argument that the air force never accepted and one that was proven wrong in October 1959, when the ICBM was declared operational.

He then moves into the meat of the manuscript: Eisenhower’s relationship with the United States’ NATO allies and the deployment of the IRBMs to NATO nations. Brown notes that the original plan for the IRBMs was for them to be given to Great Britain to help assuage the rift that had developed over the Suez Canal and “to reassure the U.S. public of its safety in the missile age” (p. 116). Soon after, the administration decided to provide IRBMs to NATO, who would control their use in Europe so that the non-nuclear states could focus their efforts on developing a consolidated military defense. The European nations would provide military personnel who would provide a bulwark to stop any Soviet attack while NATO, under control of a US general, prepared for a nuclear response. Brown contends, however, that because Great Britain was already a nuclear power with its own nuclear assets, Eisenhower’s unique agreement with Great Britain ignored NATO, instead requiring a coordinated decision between the leaders of the two countries to authorize any nuclear attack from British soil. In addition, in order to gain British cooperation for a nuclear test ban treaty, the Eisenhower administration agreed to provide “technical cooperation in the field of guided missiles as well as atomic weapons research” (p. 134). Finally, the Eisenhower administration considered selling IRBMs to Great Britain outright, which Brown argues “gave the British an independent guided missile with no U.S. control over their use” (p. 140).

Brown uses NATO responses to the proposed British agreements to reveal the concerns of the other European nations over the exclusive relationship between the United States and Great Britain. A NATO memo stated that the giving of special concessions to Great Britain was causing tensions in the alliance, as it revealed a two-tiered organization. The memo also maintained that the British agreement “encouraged the French to demand some similar concessions” and “removed much of the enthusiasm for the [NATO] stockpile idea” (p. 142). Brown then uses De Gaulle’s response to show that the NATO concerns, while made for the command’s purposes, were correct. He reveals that the French originally accepted the idea of NATO IRBMs on French soil, but after De Gaulle took over, he refused to accept an inferior position to the British, eventually removing France from the military portion of NATO. This area could have been greatly expanded, using responses from each country impacted, to reveal the true impact of the IRBMs on the NATO alliance.

The French response leads to Brown’s apparent conclusion: IRBMs “had a dramatic impact on the relationship between France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These weapons, although militarily important, were significant because of their impact on the NATO alliance.” This reveals, he notes, “how peacetime military deployments have second and third order effects outside of the intended policy end state” (p. 168). This argument could have been greatly strengthened if Brown had used French documents to reveal how the use of IRBMs altered its relationship with NATO. While the Eisenhower administration’s differentiation between Great Britain and France undoubtably had an impact on relations with the French, it is difficult to judge the significance of this action without using French sources to reveal their motives. Since he also speaks to the impact of the IRBMs on the NATO alliance, it would have been extremely helpful to have additional sources from NATO or NATO countries to reveal the impact of the IRBMS on the alliance as a whole.

Brown’s topic—the politics of IRBM deployment in NATO nations—is a fascinating one, valuable both to students of the Cold War specifically and students of US international relations more broadly. However, the manuscript tries to cover too many topics at once and only skims the surface of the placement of IRBMs in Europe. Had the author focused on the agreements to place IRBMs in Europe and the impact of these decisions on each country in NATO rather than reviewing the value of Eisenhower’s New Look policy and the creation of IRBMs as well, the book could have provided much more detail on the topic described in the subtitle. Sadly, only about fifty pages are devoted to the topic and there is little mention of any European nation but Great Britain and France.

Brown was not well served by his publisher, who apparently did not require peer review and allowed numerous spelling and grammatical errors, including a sentence that fails to conclude and the inconsistent spelling of Wernher von Braun (pp. 57, 66, 108), a key leader in the army’s development of IRBMs. However, the book opens an interesting topic of study: the politics behind the deployment of IRBMs to NATO countries—specifically the United Kingdom—and the impact of the decision on the state of the alliance.

Citation: David W. Bath. Review of Brown, Gates M., Eisenhower's Nuclear Calculus in Europe: The Politics of IRBM Deployment in NATO Nations. H-War, H-Net Reviews. October, 2020. URL:

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