A top strategic analyst explains what the Cold War can teach us about the War on Terror
September 11 was a product of bad intelligence and wrongheaded expectations about al-Qaeda’s motivations, intentions, resourcefulness, and capabilities. But it also sprang from a failure of the kind of predictive strategic thinking that kept the world from becoming atomic rubble in the fifties and sixties. In Thinking Beyond the Unthinkable, strategic analyst Jonathan Stevenson illuminates both the genius of nuclear deterrence and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), plus the blind spots that limited the great Cold War civilian strategists’ intellectual fertility and flexibility. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and the existential threat of nuclear holocaust abated, the American strategic community— from intelligence officers to policymakers to think tanks—lost the capacity to forecast and prepare for impending new threats to U.S. and global security. Complementing the cold-eyed revelations of Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower and Thomas Ricks’s Fiasco, Thinking Beyond the Unthinkable is a probing, urgent exhortation: if we are to extricate America from its current strategic predicament, we must regenerate for a new age the pragmatic creativity that once distinguished its strategic brain trust.
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Jonathan Stevenson is a professor of strategic studies at the Naval War College. He spent most of the 1990s in sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Ireland, and his previous books include “We Wrecked the Place”: Contemplating an End to the Northern Irish Troubles and Losing Mogadishu. He has published articles in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and The National Interest, as well as in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic.
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