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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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Strategic Modernization Theory Bogs Down in the Vietnam Quagmire

Strategic Modernization Theory Bogs Down in the Vietnam Quagmire

(p.176) 7 Strategic Modernization Theory Bogs Down in the Vietnam Quagmire
Cult of the Irrelevant

Michael C. Desch

Princeton University Press

This chapter looks at the rise and fall of strategic modernization theory. One of the key figures in bridging the worlds of nuclear strategy and political and economic development, not to mention academia and policy, was the economist Walt W. Rostow. Unique among civilian development strategists, Rostow was not only a scholar of these issues; he also held a series of high-level U.S. government positions, which made him a direct formulator and implementer of policy. The chapter then outlines the intellectual context in which he formulated his universal model of strategic modernization and development. It also studies his arguments and shows how and why they provided U.S. policymakers with the mental map to interpret the Cold War in the Third World in a particularly threatening way and also to recommend strategies to respond to the challenge of underdevelopment there.

Keywords:   strategic modernization theory, nuclear strategy, political development, economic development, Walt W. Rostow, development strategists, U.S. policymakers, Cold War

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