“We Choose to Go to the Moon”: An Analysis of a Cold War Means-Developing Strategy

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  • By David Christopher Arnold
  • NWC Case Study

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Strategists often ask “With the means available right now, what end can we achieve?” However, in strategy design it can be more appropriate to ask, “What is the desired end, and what means are available to achieve it?” The answer to this question may be, “If this is the desired end, first this new capability has to be created.” Essentially, what President John Kennedy was asking Vice President Lyndon Johnson in April 1961 was, “What means do I need to generate if I want to beat the Soviets in a space race?” To succeed, the United States had to use the available instruments and elements of national power to create new means to reach the desired end within the time frame that Kennedy set. With the National War College National Security Strategy Primer as its guide, and using primary and secondary sources, this case study examines how Kennedy determined he could achieve his ends (beat the Soviets in the world competition) in a particular way (shape the world conversation) using means yet to be created (the moon landing).