The False Promise of Superiority

January 11, 2023

Nuclear bomb exploding

During the Cold War, American policymakers sought nuclear advantages to offset an alleged Soviet edge. Policymakers hoped that US nuclear capabilities would safeguard deterrence, when backed perhaps by a set of coercive tactics. But policymakers also hedged their bets with plans to fight a nuclear war to their advantage should deterrence fail. In The False Promise of Superiority, James H. Lebovic argues that the US approach was fraught with peril and remains so today. He contends that the United States can neither simply impose its will on nuclear adversaries nor safeguard deterrence using these same coercive tactics without risking severe, counterproductive effects. As Lebovic shows, the current faith in US nuclear superiority could produce the disastrous consequences that US weapons and tactics are meant to avoid. This book concludes that US interests are best served when policymakers resist the temptation to use, or prepare to use, nuclear weapons first or to brandish nuclear weapons for coercive effect.