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Cult of the IrrelevantThe Waning Influence of Social Science on National Security$
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Michael Desch

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691181219

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691181219.001.0001

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The Scientific Strategists Follow the Economists to an Intellectual Dead End

The Scientific Strategists Follow the Economists to an Intellectual Dead End

(p.145) 6 The Scientific Strategists Follow the Economists to an Intellectual Dead End
Cult of the Irrelevant

Michael C. Desch

Princeton University Press

This chapter assesses whether academic social science had any influence on nuclear strategy. Social science did have important effects on strategy. At times this was direct. More often it was indirect, working not through the formulation of doctrine or the drafting of operational plans, but rather by providing the intellectual frameworks and mental road maps that shaped senior policymakers' and presidents' thinking about the utility of nuclear weapons during confrontations with other nuclear states. Academic strategists such as Thomas Schelling reputedly exercised such influence that the period between 1945 and 1961 is regarded as the “golden age” of academic national security studies. However, scientific strategists reached a dead end by privileging internal disciplinary concerns like logical rigor and the use of sophisticated methods over addressing concrete policy problems.

Keywords:   academic social science, nuclear strategy, social science, intellectual frameworks, nuclear weapons, nuclear states, academic strategists, Thomas Schelling, national security studies, scientific strategists

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