Readying to Call Down Thunderbolts: Nato Tactical Air Power During the Cold War, 1951-1990

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Johnston, Paul
NATO , Cold War , air power
This dissertation examines the history of tactical air power in NATO, from its founding to the end of the Cold War. Based upon archival records from NATO, the member nations, and their air forces, as well as a broad survey of the literature of NATO, the Cold War, and air power, this dissertation examines not only what NATO created for its tactical air power, but considers what this can tell us about the broader history of the Cold War itself. The history of air power as it developed, especially in the Second World War, provides the background, as does the somewhat bizarre intellectual history of nuclear strategy. Successive chapters then study the evolution of NATO’s tactical air power in the early to mid-1950s, later 1950s, flexible response and then détente and the late Cold War eras. Two key themes emerge. Firstly, the interplay between emphasis upon conventional versus nuclear weapons. Broadly, NATO’s tactical air power had a conventional birth, shifted to emphasis upon nuclear weapons and then, in what turned out to be the Cold War’s final act, shifted back again to a strong conventional emphasis. But perhaps the major conclusion to emerge from this study is that the shifting back and forth was more complex than is suggested by the conventional wisdom, which tends to reflect a bird’s eye view of declaratory policy. In fact, there is clear evidence of significant differences between high policy and the military actuality of NATO’s tactical air forces, in particular during the 1960s. This dissertation thus makes a contribution to the study of the history of air power, NATO, and the Cold War more generally.
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