The U-2 Incident in Perspective—Surprise vs. Survival

June 1, 1960

Half a dozen years ago we asked it man, whose judgment on both military and scientific matters we very much respect tiu’ following question:

“If you had $2 billion additional to spend on national security, over and above funds presently available, how would you most profitably spend the money?”

The answer came without hesitation:

“On intelligence. The more we know about the forces we are trying to deter, the cheaper and more effective is our deterrence.”

Recalled today, the above dialogue does much to put the U-2 affair into proper perspective.

Warning against surprise attack is the key to the en­tire deterrent posture of the free world, since it is the key to survival of the retaliatory force. Any one who doubts this should read carefully the special report beginning on page 43. The report is based on a careful analysis of Soviet pronouncements and policy documents. Experts in Soviet military and political doctrine have read it and support its conclusions. The thesis of surprise attack runs through it like a Red thread from beginning to end. It is clear that the ringing down of the Iron Curtain involved far more than the paranoiac reflex of a totalitarian regime. It was an integral part of a calculated plan to attain military, political, and technological superiority, aided by Free world con­fusion, delusion, and misinformation.

The Air Force Association has long recognized Red secrecy as a paramount threat to the peace and security of the free world. As far back as 1953, the AFA State­ment of Policy called upon the United States to pro­pose, under the aegis of the United Nations, a declara­tion of “Freedom of the Air Spaces.”

In 1954, AFA’s Statement of Policy pointed out that “we cannot accept the possibility of our annihilation by surprise attack. Free-world security demands a vastly improved intelligence system to provide adequate warning of impending Soviet attack, to give defense planners a more factual idea of the form and magnitude of the military threat against which we should build our defenses.”

In 1955, President Eisenhower presented his famous “Open-Skies” proposal, which provided for mutual overflights by the US and USSR, with a free exchange of reconnaissance photographs. Russia rejected the plan, of course, because the Soviets had much to lose and little that they could not gain by other means from our open society.

In that year, the Air Force Association again ad­dressed itself to the problem of surprise in a Statement of Policy which said:

“History shows that Communists have no compunc­tion against striking first and without warning. … We must convince Soviet Russia that we are willing to take risks for world peace; that a free interchange of information and people among all nations is essential to world security; that the world air spaces must be free to the people of all nations.”

All such attempts at piercing the Iron Curtain to the degree necessary to protect the world against the threat of surprise attack have met with failure. But it should surprise no one that other and less open means have been pursued. Indeed, one salutary effect of the U-2 incident might well be the realization by the American people that this nation has been and must continue to be engaged in such activities. As a people Americans are prone to view the power struggle in which we are so deeply involved as a simple TV western kind of conflict, with the good guys and the bad guys plainly identified and with virtue inevitably triumphant, re­gardless of what underhanded tactics the villian may pursue. This wasn’t really true in Dodge City, and it certainly isn’t true in the world of today,

Another lesson we can learn from the U-2 is that we must spare neither time, energy, nor money in devising warning and reconnaissance systems that are free from the taint of clandestinity. As Publisher James H. Straubel pointed out in Space Digest last March:

“The far side of the earth—not the far side of the moon—represents the immediate and appalling threat to peace and freedom. … Our earth-bound and air-bound methods for detecting surprise attack must be continued and improved—but at best these are only expedients. We continue to live under the gun. Only in space—with our new line of sight—can we employ an electronic alarm system to effectively warn against sur­prise attack. … [And] with all the world alerted against aggressive action, the need for huge national attack forces would deteriorate, and voluntary reduction of armaments would be encouraged.”

Use of such electronic spaceborne systems as Midas, Samos, and their more sophisticated successors would involve no violation of national air space, and their development must be pursued with every resource at our disposal.

The collapse of the summit conference, which oc­curred as this was being written, must not be allowed to obscure the basic need for warning against surprise attack, which continues to exist regardless of Soviet intransigence or American vacillation, The fact that the US and the USSR have painted themselves into opposite corners serves to dramatize the fundamental philosophical conflict that continues to divide the world. In assessing its impact, let us not forget that it is tension and conflict which produce U-2s, not the reverse.—END