The SAC [Strategic Air Command] Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959, produced in June 1956 and published today for the first time by the National Security Archive www.nsarchive.org, provides the most comprehensive and detailed list of nuclear targets and target systems that has ever been declassified. As far as can be told, no comparable document has ever been declassified for any period of Cold War history.
The SAC study includes chilling details. According to its authors, their target priorities and nuclear bombing tactics would expose nearby civilians and “friendly forces and people” to high levels of deadly radioactive fallout. Moreover, the authors developed a plan for the “systematic destruction” of Soviet bloc urban-industrial targets that specifically and explicitly targeted “population” in all cities, including Beijing, Moscow, Leningrad, East Berlin, and Warsaw. Purposefully targeting civilian populations as such directly conflicted with the international norms of the day, which prohibited attacks on people per se (as opposed to military installations with civilians nearby).
The National Security Archive, based at The George Washington University, obtained the study, totaling more than 800 pages, through the Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) process (see sidebar).