Shane Maddock on the Persistent Nuclear Myths of the Cold War

Shane Maddock, author of Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present blogs for the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations at In his most recent post, after the ratification of the New START treaty between the U.S. and Russia, Maddock addresses some Cold War-era myths about American nuclear hegemony that he says still cloud American officials’ thinking. He begins:

The New START treaty, which Russia ratified in late January, has stirred debate over the role of nuclear weapons in international politics. As Washington pressures both Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear ambitions, many U.S. commentators cling to the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a pillar of its international hegemony. They latch onto nuclear shibboleths peddled throughout the Cold War and after by historians, political scientists, and strategic studies practitioners. They became so familiar that they took on the status of unquestioned truisms. Yet evidence amassed by researchers since the Cold War’s end contradicts and, in cases, refutes claims of nuclear weapons’ constructive role in the superpower confrontation. A careful review of these flawed strategic assumptions seems appropriate and crucial if we hope to reduce the risk of these weapons being used again.

His essay walks through 5 false assumptions that must be dismantled if we hope to achieve real freedom from nuclear threats. The first misguiding principle he upends: the belief that America’s nuclear weapons arsenal kept the peace during the Cold War. Read the article, Toppling Nuclear Shibboleths, for his fascinating insights into America’s nuclear past and future.