Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy
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Nuclear weapons have long played a central but often unappreciated role in American grand strategy. In spite of the unimaginable consequences of their use in war, we know far less about how the bomb shapes U.S. national security and world politics than we should. Both our leading theories and histories have failed to fully explain important choices American leaders have made about the bomb over the past eight decades. This is less a failing of scholarship and more a reflection of the steep methodological, linguistic, and normative barriers to understanding nuclear strategy and statecraft. This challenge will only deepen, as new geopolitical and technological forces return the critical question of the purpose and consequences of nuclear weapons to the heart of the debate about the future of America’s grand strategy. This lecture seeks to disturb this complacency about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy to explore important questions: What is the rationale for these weapons, and how do they advance America’s interests in the world?
Francis J. Gavin is the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University. In 2013, Gavin was appointed the first Frank Stanton Chair in Nuclear Security Policy Studies and Professor of Political Science at MIT. Before joining MIT, he was the Tom Slick Professor of International Affairs and the Director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas. He directs the Nuclear Studies Research Initiative and, with James Steinberg, the International Policy Scholars Consortium and Network. From 2005 until 2010, he directed the American Assembly’s multiyear, national initiative, the Next Generation Project: U.S. Global Policy and the Future of International Institutions. Gavin is the Chairman of the Board of Editors of the Texas National Security Review, a Non-Resident Senior Advisor at the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an affiliate of MIT’s Security Studies Program, a senior fellow of the Clements Center for National Security, a distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center, a senior advisor to the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and a life-member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He received a PhD and MA in history from the University of Pennsylvania, an MS in modern European history from Oxford University, and a BA in political science from the University of Chicago.
His writings include Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958-1971 and Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age. His latest book, Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy, was published by Brookings Institution Press in January 2020.