ISBN: 978-1-108-48986-7

Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer

University of Oslo

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This brilliant book combines new theoretical perspectives and empirical insights to explain nuclear competition between the superpowers during the late Cold War. This competition is not the anomaly posited by proponents of the theory of the nuclear revolution. Citing Wohlstetter’s 1959 observation that the nuclear balance is delicate, Green unpacks underexplored assumptions in the theory of the nuclear revolution and argues that the ’survivability of weapons systems varied over time, by type, and across the superpowers’. Green recasts the purpose of nuclear competition and the role of domestic-level factors in shaping it and applies this in a careful analysis of the superpower nuclear balance during the late Cold War. The Revolution that Failed is one of several recent studies challenging the dominant theory of how nuclear weapons shape international relations. It shows that American decision-makers did not opt for the stabilizing policies prescribed by the theory of the nuclear revolution, but instead paired peacetime nuclear competition with arms control agreements tailored to secure advantages against their adversaries. Increased technological uncertainty, misperception spirals, and low appeal of arms control to key players today suggest that qualitative nuclear competition is unlikely to disappear. This book challenges prevailing narratives about the purpose of nuclear arms control at a time when this enterprise appears to be eroding or transforming. While this perspective places clear limitations on what purpose arms control can deliver as a stabilizing measure, it also underscores that a world without meaningful arms control is likely to be more dangerous. As this book shows, life as a nuclear weapons state is replete with vulnerabilities and fear, even for the biggest players.