A "State of Fever": Civil-Military Relations and the Nuclear Revolution in the USSR

Oslo Nuclear Project and Comparative Institutions and Regimes Seminar with Joseph Torigian (American University and Council on Foreign Relations) 


The destructive power of the hydrogen bomb made war unthinkable and unwinnable. Yet new sources from the Russian archives provide crucial new details on how the effects of the so-called “nuclear revolution” were dramatically shaped by the context of Khrushchev-era civil-military relations. Khrushchev did subscribe to the “nuclear revolution,” but the military did not. To force his will on the Soviet Army, Khrushchev eliminated any opportunities for high-ranking officers to speak their mind and rapidly promoted a younger cohort. His massive cuts created a sense of crisis through the Soviet Army that led to major breakdowns in discipline. Exercises demonstrated that the military underestimated the destructive power and dangerous effects of nuclear weapons and a disbelief in the efficiency of such weapons rooted in the experience of the last war. These findings suggest that technological breakthroughs have far from inevitable effects on military doctrine.


Joseph Torigian is an assistant professor at the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC, a Stanton Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center. Previously, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton-Harvard’s China and the World Program, a Postdoctoral (and Predoctoral) Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), a Predoctoral Fellow at George Washington University’s Institute for Security and Conflict Studies, an IREX scholar affiliated with the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and a Fulbright Scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai. He has been interviewed for articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and the Telegraph, and his work has been published by Brookings, China Perspectives, Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, War on the Rocks, and The Diplomat. He has a PhD in Political Science from MIT. He researches Chinese and Russian domestic politics and foreign policy with a special focus on the causes and consequences of violence.


Published Dec. 2, 2019 9:24 PM - Last modified Dec. 2, 2019 9:28 PM