The neutron bomb in America, 1975-1981.


Frank Viola

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Enhanced radiation warheads (ERW) are small thermonuclear devices with the properties of reduced blast and increased radiation. This study addresses President Jimmy Carter's 1978 decision to defer production of enhanced radiation warheads, so-called neutron bombs. President Carter deferred ERW production because he believed the political disadvantages outweighed the military advantages. But President Carter let contradictory ideas impede his administration's neutron warhead policy before deferring ERW production on April 7, 1978. This study relies on recently declassified documents to contest two prevailing interpretations of the president's neutron warhead deferral, Carter's moral qualms and European resistance to home-soil deployment. Despite the weight of current scholarly opinion, President Carter was not indecisive when it came to ERW, but ambivalent - his contradictory ideas impeded development of an orderly neutron warhead policy. What's more, Carter's ambivalence weakened the position of the United States within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This study ends with President Ronald Reagan's 1981 public approval of enhanced radiation warhead production.