We All Lost the Cold War

We All Lost the Cold War

We All Lost the Cold War

We All Lost the Cold War


Drawing on recently declassified documents and extensive interviews with Soviet and American policy-makers, among them several important figures speaking for public record for the first time, Ned Lebow and Janice Stein cast new light on the effect of nuclear threats in two of the tensest moments of the Cold War: the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the confrontations arising out of the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. They conclude that the strategy of deterrence prolonged rather than ended the conflict between the superpowers.


To the “winners” go the spoils—and the opportunity to impose their version of history on events. Across the political spectrum, Americans have concluded that resolve and strength “won” the Cold War and “defeated” the Soviet Union. Deterrence and its twin strategy of compellence have been given credit for restraining Soviet aggression, for convincing Khrushchev to withdraw Soviet missiles from Cuba, for preventing Soviet military intervention in the Middle East in 1973, and for the collapse of the Soviet empire.

This book challenges all these claims. We contend that the strategies of deterrence and compellence were generally more provocative than restraining and that they prolonged rather than ended the Cold War. This central theme is documented through a detailed reconstruction of the calculations of Soviet and American leaders in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and the crisis in the Middle East in 1973. These two crises provide a window on the broader relationship between the superpowers. Drawing on new evidence of the calculations of Soviet and American leaders, the book advances an interpretation of the impact of nuclear threats and nuclear weapons radically at odds with the conventional wisdom.

Our analysis is historical but has important implications for contemporary foreign policy. Although the Cold War is over, its “lessons” survive. The final three chapters of the book explore the links between past and present and propose a very different set of lessons. We urge greater appreciation of the risks of threat-based strategies and greater attention to the clarification of interests and reassurance when adversaries are driven by need rather than opportunity.

We circulated drafts of the manuscript to friends and colleagues and received helpful suggestions for refinement of the central argument of the book. We also got extensive criticism, less about the details of the study and rather more about its principal thesis. American scholars and policymakers whose world view was shaped by the Cold War found it difficult to believe that the strategy of deterrence provoked rather than restrained in 1962, was irrelevant in l973, and prolonged the Cold War. Russians who are now deeply critical of Soviet policy echoed these views. We received the same response, but in reverse, from Russians at the other end of the political spectrum who blame the United States for the long Cold War. Needless to say, our thesis is also anathema to American “revisionists” who also hold the United States primarily responsible. They all see the conflict between the superpowers as a Manichaean struggle between good and evil. The book portrays the Cold War as a contest between insecure, competitive, and domestically driven leaders with competing conceptions of security. We hope . . .

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