This collection comprehensively documents major developments in U.S. nuclear weapons policies and programs from the mid-1950s through 1968, the period that set the nuclear stage for the decades of the Cold War that followed. Given the importance of the nuclear competition to superpower tensions during the post-World War II era, not only as a source of friction in itself but as an element that made the tensions inconceivably dangerous, the documents in this collection introduce the reader to one of the critical inner mechanisms of the Cold War.
One of the values of this set is that it serves as a guide to significant archival sources on U.S. nuclear history. For each item in the catalog that has an archival origin, detailed information on file location is provided. With that information, researchers are able to identify relevant collections at the National Archives and other repositories and locate other documents that may be relevant to their projects.
This collection also complements, and even substitutes for, the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. The editors of FRUS have made an extraordinary effort to show the complexity of U.S. national security policy during the 1950s and 1960s, especially the critical role of nuclear weapons issues. Yet, as valuable as FRUS is, the sensitivity of the nuclear weapons issue may have discouraged its editors from including significant documents relating to U.S. thinking and conversations with the Europeans about nuclear weapons and Anglo-American nuclear relations generally. For example, the selection of documents on the NATO Nuclear Planning Group and its origins in FRUS 1964-1968, volume 13, Western Europe, is relatively thin, although the National Archives has a substantial volume of declassified material relating to the NPG's formative years.
Besides providing fuller coverage to nuclear weapons issues in U.S.-European relations, U.S. Nuclear History contains material that executive branch classification authorities denied for use in FRUS. For example, some excised documents that appear in FRUS contain redactions that do not appear in the versions available to the National Security Archive. Moreover, this collection includes documents that were withheld altogether from FRUS, perhaps because senior State Department officials worried that publication in the globally-distributed volumes could have embarrassing reverberations for U.S. foreign relations.