Albert Wohlstetter

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Albert Wohlstetter (1913-1997) applied mathematical logic to strategic policy issues at the RAND Corporation in the 1950s and 1960s, and then a political scientist at the University of Chicago until he retired in 1980. His wife was the equally distinguished analyst Roberta Wohlstetter (1912-2007); they met as law students, briefly studying law to please their parents; his original scholarship was in modern dance, [1] but they collaborated in the ballet of nuclear war.[2]

He certainly was involved with neoconservatives, but was not considered a major part of the neoconservative movement. He was, however, a "hard-line" Reaganite opposed to Henry Kissinger's models of detente. [3] Among those who consider him an intellectual mentor are:

Survivable deterrence

One of his first contributions was to establish that medium-range bombers, positioned around the periphery of the Soviet Union, were both vulnerable and destabilizing. He led a shift to a combination of intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range, US-based bombers that could be launched on warning, but recalled using the "Fail-Safe" doctrine.[4]


He rejected the pure nuclear retaliation doctrine, and emphasized both flexible response, and the idea of a hardened second-strike force that remained credible after the worst possible attack. His emphasis on survivability did not mean he accepted Mutual Assured Deterrence, which held populations hostage; he rejected it in favor of increasingly accurate weapons for counterforce. While the technology for precision-guided munitions was not available when he did his early work, the capability was very much one he considered desirable.


Wohlstetter was dubious about nuclear nonproliferation in a world with dual-use technology. He distrusted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for reasons centered around the difficulty of verification, much as did George Kistiakowsky.


  1. Neil Swidey (May 18, 2003), "The analyst: Strategy guru Albert Wohlstetter spent decades arguing for military flexibility and precision targeting. But have his Washington disciples learned his real lessons?", Boston Globe
  2. Robert Zarate, Henry D. Sokolski., ed. (January 2009), Nuclear Heuristics: Selected Writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College
  3. Francis Fukuyama (2006), America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300113994,p. 31-35
  4. Albert Wohlstetter (December 1958), The Delicate Balance of Terror, RAND Corporation, P-1472