Your browser currently has javascript disabled. Enabling it will give you access to the advanced features of this site, such as synchronized transcripts, videos, and photo galleries. Here's how to do it.

How Many Nuclear Missiles Are Enough?

Robert McNamara

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara holding a press conference during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Photo by Harvey Georges / AP

In this military budget discussion in the White House on December 5, 1962, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara offers his recommendation for how many nuclear missiles are enough for the United States to have.

Later in life, McNamara would become a leading advocate of nuclear disarmament, but as Secretary of Defense he oversaw a large buildup of nuclear forces. With so much uncertainty about what the Soviets have and what will serve as a deterrent, he said, “we ought to buy twice what any reasonable person would say is required for strategic forces” because the consequences of being caught short were dire.

Tape 65.2, Presidential Recordings Collection, President’s Office Office, John F. Kennedy Library. Transcript by David Coleman.

Also published on Medium.