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The Limiting Language of Nuclear Strategists

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Carol Cohn wrote an article in 1987 after spending a year with defense analysts. She is a social scientist who was introduced to that world in 1984 and decided that this community needed more study. The article describes the highly gendered nature of much of the discussion of nuclear weapons and analyzes some of what that is likely to mean about discourse about them and decisions on nuclear weapons policy.

Cohn later wrote other pieces on the topic, which are worth reading. Here’s one. They were chapters in books, I suspect because journal editors would not accept them.

The 1987 article is often cited, but it has produced little of the analysis that it might have. What it says – and does, in some very careful analysis – requires too much self-examination for the defense analyst community.

Using gender as an analytical tool could provide so many insights that we need now, with the conventional ideas about deterrence breaking up with a third nuclear power, China, rising, and Russia’s war of imperialism. We are beyond the simplistic image of teenage boys playing chicken.

I published some thoughts in Inkstick. Many thanks to the editors there for welcoming the piece.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner

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