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The Soviet Union and the Cold War arms race

Radchenko, Sergey ORCID: 2016. The Soviet Union and the Cold War arms race. Mahnken, Thomas, Maiolo, Joseph and Stevenson, David, eds. Arms Races in International Politics: From the 19th to the 21st Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 158-175. (10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198735267.003.0008)

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This chapter is an account of the Soviet Union’s participation in the Cold War arms race, focusing largely on nuclear weapons. For the Soviet Union the nuclear arms race began as an issue of prestige: the A-bomb was perceived as important for great-power status. Nikita Khrushchev discovered in nuclear-tipped missiles a cost-effective fix for Moscow’s security concerns. Yet it was also Khrushchev who turned to arms control, especially after the scare of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev’s successor Leonid Brezhnev used nuclear weapons as a trump card for achieving much-wanted equality with the US, a basis for détente. But the nuclear balance reached in the 1970s was unstable, and détente constructed upon the threat of mutual destruction proved short-lived. Faced with spiralling costs of the arms race and apprehensive about the consequences of a nuclear conflict—particularly after the Chernobyl catastrophe—Mikhail Gorbachev moved decisively to quit the arms race.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIR)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0198735267
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2022 07:15

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