The Illogic of Nuclear Superiority: A Review Essay

Abby Fanlo and Lauren Sukin | Department of Political Science, Stanford University

Monday, April 8, 2019 12:15 PM to 1:30 PM


How does the size of a state’s nuclear arsenal affect the likelihood that the state achieves its goals in an international crisis? Most scholars of this question have argued that having large nuclear arsenals does not especially benefit states in crisis situations. Matthew Kroenig’s The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy (2018) argues that states possessing a larger nuclear arsenal than a crisis opponent will emerge victorious more often. As a result, Kroenig’s book is an important and direct contrast to existing scholarship. If Kroenig’s argument is correct, policymakers should pursue larger nuclear arsenals, even though doing so could potentially trigger dangerous arms races. However, in a detailed reconsideration of Kroenig’s approach, we reaffirm the conventional wisdom that nuclear superiority does not generally determine crisis outcomes. This review essay identifies central concerns with the construction of Kroenig’s argument, including both the logic he uses to argue nuclear superiority confers advantages and his operationalization of superiority. We then utilize alternative methodological techniques to more accurately test the effect of superiority on crisis outcomes, concluding that Kroenig’s findings are flawed.