After 1945, the parallel rises of US and USSR, emerged two superpowers in competition at all levels, fighting for hegemony on the post war world. Characterized by the possession of the nuclear weapon, obtained and used in 1945 by the United States and developed in USSR in 1949, this new conflict called the Cold War, and ruled by the realist vision of international relations in which states are fighting for power through war and deterrence, generated a new sort of war: the limited war. Actually, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki underlined the fact that total war could no longer be possible. The development of mass destruction weapons destroyed the idea that war was a continuation of politics by other means(1) and forced the US to find another way to deter USSR than massive retaliation. Kissinger, in 1957, explained this obligation: As the power of modern weapons grows, the threat of all-out war loses its credibility and therefore its political effectiveness. Our capacity for massive retaliation did not avert the Korean War, the loss of northern Indo-China, the Soviet-Egyptian arms deal, or the Suez crisis. A deterrent which one is afraid to implement when it is challenged ceases to be a deterrent.(2)The classical strategy wasn't working anymore; hence a new one had to be found to achieve the US objectives against the Soviet-Union. Indeed, the American strategy was characterized by what Osgood calls the twin fears(3) which necessitated a real action against communism.
[...] Actually, a mutual and tacit agreement on the fact that war must be kept restrained is necessary. And this co-operation is improved by communication between the two sides. For example, after the Cuban missiles crisis, which constituted the major risk of escalation in the Cold War conflict and made the superpowers realise that direct communication was necessary, a telephone” hotline between the White House and the Kremlin had been set to allow them avoiding escalation. Consequently, we can see that a limited war success is linked to many conditions. [...]
[...] Indeed, this concept can be seen in the series of strategic doctrines developed from the Kennedy period onwards, from the McNamara doctrine through the Schlesinger, the Nixon and the Carter doctrines. It is based on the idea that using nuclear weapons wouldn't necessary mean launching a total nuclear conflict but could be controlled. Actually, by limiting a nuclear attack to the use of small number of weapons and to military targets only, an escalation to an all out nuclear war could be avoided. [...]
[...] The refusal of Truman to satisfy the Mc Arthur demands in terms of “maximum counterforce” and use of nuclear weapon, during the Korean war, and its dismissal itself here illustrate this characteristic. Thirdly, in a limited war, battle is confined to a local geographical area and directed against selected target”(16). Here again, the examples of the Korean and the Vietnam wars are relevant. Actually, the battles have been confined to small areas: Korea and Vietnam only, even in spite of the Chinese involvement which could have extended the conflict to the whole South East Asia and China. [...]
[...] Halperin actually believed that manner in which the United States responds to Communist aggression in Indo-China, for example, affects the orientation of Thailand, the Philippines, and other Asian nations.” Consequently, as we have just explained, limited war objectives are, first of all, political. But limited war, even if it is not following the same rules than total war, is still a form of war and logically implies the involvement of the army. This reality brings us to ask ourselves if there is also a real military objective in a limited war. [...]
[...] This gave birth to the Truman doctrine of containment developed in 1947 and consisting in “supporting free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Consequently, the necessity of finding an alternative to massive retaliation, of restoring war as a legitimate instrument in policy and of solving the “twin fears” problem forced the US to rethink their strategy and to imagine a new type of war: the limited war. The question is here to define the concept of limited war. [...]
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