[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-War]: Cone on Sauer, 'Atomic Anxiety: Deterrence, Taboo and the Non-Use of U.S. Nuclear Weapons'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sat Sep 29 23:26:44 MDT 2018

Best regards,
Andrew Stewart 

Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Date: September 28, 2018 at 7:43:45 AM EDT
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]:  Cone on Sauer, 'Atomic Anxiety: Deterrence, Taboo and the Non-Use of U.S. Nuclear Weapons'
> Reply-To: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Frank Sauer.  Atomic Anxiety: Deterrence, Taboo and the Non-Use of
> U.S. Nuclear Weapons.  Basingstoke  Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.  224
> pp.  $72.06 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-137-53373-9.
> Reviewed by Paige P. Cone (USAF Center for Strategic Deterrence
> Studies )
> Published on H-War (September, 2018)
> Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
> Leaders have abstained from using nuclear weapons for seven decades
> following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. These
> "super weapons" revolutionized the way wars have been fought between
> major powers and ushered in a new wave of thinking on military
> strategy. The non-use of nuclear weapons is perhaps one of the
> best-studied puzzles of international relations. Against this
> backdrop, it is impressive that Frank Sauer is able to advance our
> understanding of nuclear abstinence in his book, _Atomic Anxiety_.
> Sauer notes that the book sets out to _understand_ rather than to
> explain the non-use of nuclear weapons for seventy years. The
> distinction may be subtle, but it is important: to explain something
> is to elucidate--to make some idea or problem clear by describing it
> in more detail or showing relevant facts. To understand something is
> to perceive the intended meaning--to discern the significance,
> explanation, or cause of it.
> With this goal in mind, the book begins with a broad question--"What
> can explain the persistent non-use of nuclear weapons after 1945, and
> how can we better understand (the cause of) this nuclear
> abstinence?"--which is explored with the help of three more specific
> questions "What explains nuclear non-use and how do the existing
> explanatory concepts approach the phenomenon? Do the factors invoked
> by existing explanations as causes of nuclear non-use interact in
> decision-making practice and if so, how? Are there other facets of
> nuclear abstinence that have so far not been analyzed
> systematically?" (pp. 1-2). Sauer contends that the two predominant
> explanations for non-use, deterrence, and the nuclear taboo suffer
> from blind spots that result from a research design geared towards
> explaining the non-event, and outlines the goal of understanding
> non-use in practice.
> The first chapter begins with an impressively comprehensive review of
> the two main explanations for non-use, deterrence, and the nuclear
> taboo. Sauer contends that there is a divide between theory and
> practice in nuclear deterrence, arguing that the explanation suffers
> from a lack of understanding about how the strategy actually plays
> out. He questions whether "deterrence in practice is even the same
> thing that rational deterrence theory claims to describe" (p. 24). As
> a response to some of deterrence theory's weaknesses, a second
> explanation for non-use arose in the form of the "nuclear taboo,"
> epitomized by Nina Tannenwald's 2007 book of the same name. Sauer's
> main contentions with this explanation are the methodology employed,
> the "nomothetically weak foundations of social constructivist norm
> theory" (p. 36), and the norm of non-use being bounded by time and
> space and thus breakable.
> After a thorough review of the literature, Sauer revisits the two
> explanations through the lens of understanding, highlighting the
> blind spots that arise from a research design geared towards
> explaining non-use. He argues that the literature has lost track of
> how non-use comes about in practice from a decision-maker's
> perspective. In order to fill this gap, he outlines the book's
> methodology, a mix of deductive and inductive software-aided coding
> of texts of presidential addresses and recordings of personal
> presidential reflections. Sauer uses the case of the Cuban Missile
> Crisis, and in particular, the problem of Berlin to demonstrate how
> non-use came about through a dynamic process of decision-making. He
> relies on White House tape recordings that President Kennedy used for
> personal reflections. Likening his work to a Sherlock Holmes novel,
> Sauer notes that the Berlin study led him to delve deeper into the
> "trail of fear" and takes a second cut at the analysis by focusing on
> how the specific emotion of fear impacted the outcome of the crisis.
> Finally, he uses presidential addresses from twelve administrations
> to get a broader picture of how emotions affect the process of
> non-use. While Sauer does a fine job of outlining the methodology
> employed, it would have been very helpful to have some sort of visual
> of how individual statements fit within the "head codes"
> utilized--for instance, a table that lists the number of statements
> that fit in the categories of "deterrence," "tradition," _et cetera_
> would help the reader get a more immediate sense of the impact of the
> work.
> One of _Atomic Anxiety's _greatest contributions is to show that, _in
> practice_, the nuclear taboo may actually hinder deterrence. "The
> taboo cannot simply be said to amplify the 'effect of deterrence'
> (i.e. nuclear non-use); rather, from the perspective of
> decision-makers, the taboo amplifies the paradox evoked by evert
> deterrence relationship ... by making unbearable due to moral qualms
> that which deterrence forces a decision-maker to threaten, the taboo
> becomes a detriment to the practice of deterrence" (pp. 174-75). A
> second conclusion to come from the empirical case studies is that
> atomic anxiety has persisted for so long because of the
> emotional-cognitive function of fear, an explanation that is "more
> fundamental and precedes [the others]" (p. 175).
> While _Atomic Anxiety _has many strengths, there are two critiques
> worth fleshing out. Firstly, Sauer brushes aside the advancements of
> third-wave deterrence theorists' work on explaining the dynamic
> process of decision-making by arguing that their focus on human
> emotion is myopic to explaining limits to rationality rather than the
> role emotions play in their own right. He minimizes the importance of
> these studies in advancing our knowledge of strategic deterrence writ
> large. Scholars of the third wave focused on agency, the role of
> emotion in decision-making, and the dynamic process of deterrence in
> practice--a focus that is too similar to the goals put forth in
> _Atomic Anxiety _too be so easily brushed aside.
> Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a more comprehensive
> understanding of non-use would result from a less US-centric study of
> decision-makers. Sauer notes upfront that he focuses on US
> decision-makers in keeping with existing explanations of non-use,
> because the United States is the only country to have ever actually
> used nuclear weapons, and the source material is only readily
> available in the US. While I am quite sympathetic to the problem of
> publicly available information being unavailable outside the United
> States, this is nevertheless a problem for the generalizability of
> his work. From a historical perspective, a fuller understanding of
> the Cuban Missile Crisis and the "problem of Berlin" would arise from
> digging into the role of emotions among Soviet decision-makers. More
> currently, I am left wondering if the role of "atomic anxiety" takes
> the same form for other non-Western nuclear powers, particularly
> North Korea or China. Given the reality that the concept of
> deterrence now applies for North Korea, do we have the same
> confidence that Kim Jong Un will be "_afraid _to use nuclear weapons
> anyway--due to the primal fear of death they evoke" (p. 175)?
> These caveats aside, _Atomic Anxiety _is a groundbreaking work that
> rigorously takes to task long-standing explanations of nuclear
> non-use. The attention given to the importance of the collective fear
> of death _en masse_ and the interplay of deterrence and the nuclear
> taboo make this a must-read for scholars of international relations
> and security studies.
> Citation: Paige P. Cone. Review of Sauer, Frank, _Atomic Anxiety:
> Deterrence, Taboo and the Non-Use of U.S. Nuclear Weapons_. H-War,
> H-Net Reviews. September, 2018.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=52085
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
> License.
> --

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