29 September 1961: “Nuclear Shot Across the Bow”
On the morning of 29 September 1961, General Lauris Norstad briefed the North Atlantic Council on the current status of LIVE OAK planning. In this document, Jules Léger gives a summary of the briefing and provides a concise overview of the LIVE OAK plans. Formed in 1958–1959, the LIVE OAK organization was intended to plan for the defence of Berlin but not “planning with a major military scope.” It is because of these limitations on LIVE OAK that the discussion was opened up to NATO in order to facilitate wider planning.
The document describes in depth the Council discussion that followed Norstad’s briefing. He was concerned by the short turnover that was expected (one week) for a decision to be made as well as general concerns about the plans themselves. Léger noted that “the implementation of LIVE OAK plans would undoubtedly have political as well as military implications for NATO.” He turned next to the issue of nuclear weapons. He worried about the “possible effect of use of a ‘nuclear shot across the bow’” which could result in a “rapid escalation . . . into a nuclear exchange.” This issue would be the sticking point for the remainder of the Berlin contingency plan talks.