Capsule Review

Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age

In This Review

Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America's Atomic Age
Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America's Atomic Age
By Francis J. Gavin
Cornell University Press, 2012 240 pp. $35.00 Purchase

Gavin is concerned that U.S. nuclear policy is distorted by myths about the past, and he believes that a better understanding of the history of the nuclear age would improve the contemporary approach. He worries that today’s policymakers have an inadequate grasp of nuclear history, from crises to arms control negotiations, and believes that with an improved understanding, they would somehow be better able to deal with current challenges, including calls for “global zero” -- a world without nuclear weapons. Gavin’s ambition is admirable, but he does not quite manage to fully demonstrate the influence of myths about the past nor does he succeed in adequately debunking them. Nevertheless, there is a lot of good material here, including an interesting chapter on U.S. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s contributions to American nuclear strategy. And Gavin makes some sensible observations on the difficulty of ending the nuclear age, along with a persuasive argument about the need to prevent the use of nuclear weapons rather than abolishing them altogether.

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