To Kill Nations: American Strategy in the Air-Atomic Age and the Rise of Mutually Assured Destruction, Edward Kaplan

Reviewed by Paul C. Avey



Edward Kaplan seeks to explain “the rise and fall of air-atomic power in the early Cold War” (p. 6). He accomplishes this and more, providing a book that should be widely read by students of nuclear strategy. The broad elements of the story are familiar. Yet the devil is in the details; terms such as “massive retaliation” and “assured destruction” are used imprecisely by many scholars.

Kaplan offers precision by mustering an impressive array of declassified sources to deftly trace the evolving role of American nuclear strategy as interservice politics, civilian leaders, and the changing strategic environment interacted to advance new ideas and operational plans. In doing so, he advances our understanding of U.S. strategic policy.

Kaplan shows how the newly independent U.S. Air Force succeeded in appropriating nuclear weapons into existing concepts after World War II. This led to the advent of air-atomic strategy, which sought to provide the United States with the most efficient and moral path to victory. Initially, this centered on using bombers to destroy Soviet industrial capability. Later, as Soviet nuclear forces grew, the focus turned to an “offensive-defense” (p. 107) that sought to destroy Soviet nuclear capabilities and force Soviets acquiescence. The air-atomic mission assured not only the 

To continue reading, see options above.

About PSQ's Editor


Full Access

Join the Academy of Political Science and automatically receive Political Science Quarterly.


America at a Crossroads: The 2024 Presidential Election and Its Global Impact
April 24, 2024
8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ET
New York, NY


Editor’s spotlight

Virtual Issue

Introduction: Black Power and the Civil Rights Agendas of Charles V. Hamilton
Marylena Mantas and Robert Y. Shapiro


Search the Archives

Publishing since 1886, PSQ is the most widely read and accessible scholarly journal with distinguished contributors such as: Lisa Anderson, Robert A. Dahl, Samuel P. Huntington, Robert Jervis, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Theda Skocpol, Woodrow Wilson

view additional issues

Most read

Articles | Book reviews

Understanding the Bush Doctrine
Robert Jervis

The Study of Administration
Woodrow Wilson

Notes on Roosevelt's "Quarantine" Speech
Dorothy Borg

view all

New APS Book

China in a World of Great Power Competition   CHINA IN A WORLD OF GREAT POWER COMPETITION

About US

Academy of Political Science

The Academy of Political Science, promotes objective, scholarly analyses of political, social, and economic issues. Through its conferences and publications APS provides analysis and insight into both domestic and foreign policy issues.

Political Science Quarterly

With neither an ideological nor a partisan bias, PSQ looks at facts and analyzes data objectively to help readers understand what is really going on in national and world affairs.

Stay Connected

newsstand locator
About APS