Journal Article - Quarterly Journal: International Security

The Madman Nuclear Alert: Secrecy, Signaling, and Safety in October 1969

| Spring 2003


Recently declassified documents reveal that in October 1969, President Richard Nixon ordered the U.S. military to go on nuclear alert. Nixon’s decision to test his “madman theory” was meant to signal to leaders in Moscow and Hanoi his willingness to do whatever was necessary to end the war in Vietnam. Scott Sagan of Stanford University and Jeremi Suri of the University of Wisconsin investigate the implications of Nixon’s order for the dynamics of nuclear weapons decisionmaking and diplomacy. According to Sagan and Suri, “The October 1969 global nuclear readiness operation produced the worst of all worlds.” Not only was the nuclear alert ineffective; it was also dangerous. The authors conclude that the possibility that new nuclear states may similarly seek to exploit their nuclear weapons arsenals to achieve political objectives underscores the importance of adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

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For Academic Citation: Sagan, Scott D., and Jeremi Suri. The Madman Nuclear Alert: Secrecy, Signaling, and Safety in October 1969.” Quarterly Journal: International Security, vol. 27. no. 4. (Spring 2003):

The Authors

Scott Sagan