Nuclear Weapons, the End of the Cold War, and the Future of the International System

  • John Lewis Gaddis
Part of the Issues in International Security book series (IIS)


It is not given to many generations to witness a completely unprecedented event. The collapse of empires, the overthrow of dynasties, the outbreak of plagues, the onset of revolutions, and even the improvement of the human condition itself— all of these are categories of events, which means that they have happened before and will almost certainly happen again. There are very few occurrences of which it can be said that nothing like them has ever taken place; there are not very many true points of departure in human affairs after which nothing can be even remotely similar again.


Nuclear Weapon Great Power International System Atomic Bomb North Atlantic Treaty Organization 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, translated by Rex Warner (New York: Penguin Books, 1954), p. 48.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    New York Times, May 25, 1946.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Among those advancing that hypothesis, although with varying degrees of certainty, are Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3a.
    Michael Mandelbaum, The Nuclear Revolution: International Politics Before and After Hiroshima (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 3b.
    Kenneth Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better, Adelphi Papers, no. 171 (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981);Google Scholar
  6. 3c.
    Albert Carnesale et al., Living with Nuclear Weapons (New York: Bantam Books, 1983);Google Scholar
  7. 3d.
    Joseph S. Nye, Jr., “Nuclear Learning and U.S.-Soviet Security Regimes,” International Organization, XLI (Summer 1987), pp. 371–402;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 3e.
    Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989);Google Scholar
  9. 3f.
    John J. Mearsheimer, “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War,” International Security, 15 (Summer 1990), pp. 55–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 4.
    John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books, 1989); see also Mueller’s article, “The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons: Stability in the Postwar World,” International Security, 13 (Fall 1988), pp. 55–79.Google Scholar
  11. 5.
    John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books, 1989); see also Mueller’s article, “The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons: Stability in the Postwar World,” International Security, 13 (Fall 1988), , pp. 62–75.Google Scholar
  12. 6.
    Such a book has already been written; see McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988).Google Scholar
  13. 7.
    Carl Kaysen, “Is War Obsolete? A Review Essay,” International Security, 14 (Spring 1990), p. 61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 8.
    Michael S. Sherry, Preparing for the Next War: American Plans for Postwar Defense, 1941–45 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  15. 9.
    John Gimbel, “Project Paperclip: German Scientists, American Policy, and the Cold War,” Diplomatic History, XIV (Summer 1990), pp. 343–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 10.
    Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (New York: Pantheon, 1985);Google Scholar
  17. 10a.
    Spencer Weart, Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  18. 11.
    Niles Eldredge, Time Frames: The Evolution of Punctuated Equilibria (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985);Google Scholar
  19. 11a.
    see also Stephen Jay Gould, Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  20. 12.
    For years it has been generally accepted that Israel does possess nuclear weapons; see Bundy, Danger and Survival, pp. 505–12.Google Scholar
  21. 13.
    One estimate places total military and civilian deaths from World Wars I and II alone at 70 million (“The Self-Purged Century,” The Economist, CCCXII [August 12, 1989], p. 13). Post-1945 combat deaths in interstate wars for the major nations that participated in the world wars total approximately 1.6 million, of which 900,000 were Chinese battle deaths in the Korean War (Melvin Small and J. David Singer, Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars, 1816–1980 [Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1982], pp. 89–95). I have used the estimate of 15,000 for Soviet battle deaths in Afghanistan. I have also assumed post-1945 civilian war deaths for the principal World War I and II belligerents to be negligible because no wars have been fought on their own territories during that period.Google Scholar
  22. 14.
    There is no standard list of diplomatic crises, but World War I is generally regarded as having broken out after six crises—Morocco (1905), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1908–1909), Morocco (1910), the First Balkan War (1912), the Second Balkan War (1913), and Sarajevo (1914). World War II broke out in Europe after five crises—Ethiopia (1935–1936), the Rhineland (1936), Austria (1938), Czechoslovakia (1938–1939), and Poland (1939); World War II in Asia also after five—Manchuria (1931–1932), Shanghai (1932), China (1937), Indochina (1940–1941), and the Oil Embargo (1941). But since 1945 there have been at least thirty-six major crises—Iran (1946), Greece (1947), Czechoslovakia (1948), Berlin (1948), Korea (1950–1953), East Berlin (1953), Indochina (1954), Quemoy-Matsu (1954–1955), Hungary (1956), Suez (1956), Lebanon (1958), Quemoy-Matsu (1958), Berlin (1958–1959), U-2 Incident (1960), Bay of Pigs (1961), Berlin (1961), Sino-Indian conflict (1962), Cuba (1962), Dominican Republic (1965); India-Pakistan war (1965), Vietnam (1965–1975), six-day war (1967), Czechoslovakia (1968), Sino-Soviet border incidents (1969), India-Pakistan war (1971), Yom Kippur war (1973), Iran (1978–1981), Afghanistan (1979–1988), Sino-Vietnamese war (1979), Nicaragua/El Salvador (1979–1990), Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988), Falklands war (1982), Lebanon (1982–1984), Korean airliner incident (1983), Panama (1989), Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (1990–1991)—not one of which has led to a world war.Google Scholar
  23. 15.
    I am paraphrasing both Alexander Hamilton (The Federalist, no. 28), and Paul Nitze NSC-68, April 14, 1950, U. S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: 1950, I, p. 244.Google Scholar
  24. 16.
    Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York: Random House, 1987), traces this process of relative decline in chapters 7 and 8.Google Scholar
  25. 17.
    Robert O. Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), especially pp. 182–216.Google Scholar
  26. 18.
    Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: Random House, 1979), pp. 132–38.Google Scholar
  27. 19.
    Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984).Google Scholar
  28. 21.
    Lawrence S. Kaplan, NATO and the United States: The Enduring Alliance (Boston: Twayne, 1988), pp. 58–62.Google Scholar
  29. 22.
    The term trading state is from Richard Rosecrance, The Rise of the Trading State: Commerce and Conquest in the Modern World (New York: Basic Books, 1986).Google Scholar
  30. 23.
    Bundy, Danger and Survival, pp. 427–36.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Lewis Gaddis
    • 1
  1. 1.Contemporary History InstituteOhio UniversityAthensUSA

Personalised recommendations