New Article by Senior Advisor Francis J. Gavin in Journal of Strategic Studies

Explores Role of History in Academic, Policy Debates

Aug 30, 2012

NPIHP is pleased to announce the publication of a new review essay by NPIHP Senior Advisor and Director of the University of Texas at Austin's Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law Francis J. Gavin. "Politics, History and the Ivory Tower-Policy Gap in the Nuclear Proliferation Debate" examines The Spread of Nucelar Weapons: An Enduring Debate, the newest in a series of books by Stanford University Profesor Scott Sagan and Columbia University Professor Kenneth Waltz.

The long-standing debate between Waltz and Sagan centers on what should be done about the spread of nuclear weapons. Waltz argues that nothing should be done. Proliferation should not be feared or discouraged because nuclear armed states are able to deter one another. More proliferation would lead to a more peaceful world. Sagan argues that because of the hidden flaws which inevitably exist in nuclear weapons' complex technical and organizational systems, there is always the possibility that accidental or unauthorized nuclear use could lead to a civilization-ending global war. Discoraging the proliferation of nuclear weapons keeps the statistical odds of such an accident lower than they otherwise might be.

In his review essay, Gavin suggests that Sagan and Waltz should 'vigorously engage the new primary materials and resulting scholarship' on nuclear history with a view towards revisiting long-held assumptions, and that if they seek be truly useful to policy-makers, they should make recommendations which acknowledge the real world complexity, uncertainty and time pressures which those policy-makers face.

Gavin's essay appeared in the August 2012 edition of the Journal of Strategic Studies (subscription required).

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Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Leopoldo Nuti // Co-Director, Nuclear Proliferation International History Project; Public Policy Scholar
  • Evan Pikulski // Program Assistant