restricted access The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War by Campbell Craig, Sergey Radchenko (review)
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Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko, The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. 232pp. $27.00.

In this ambitious study, Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko tackle two enduringly controversial topics: the U.S. decision to develop and use nuclear weapons against Japan during World War II and the role of the nuclear bomb in the origins of the ensuing diplomatic Cold War with the Soviet Union. In exploring the many complicated issues raised by the bomb from the birth of the Manhattan Project through the failure of the Baruch Plan for international control at the end of 1946, Craig and Radchenko offer interesting new evidence from the Soviet side. They also make good use of the existing literature, particularly works by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Gregg Herken, David Holloway, Martin J. Sherwin, and Wilson Miscamble. Throughout, they address the many controversies surrounding these issues in a calm, deliberative manner without any hint of the rancor that has sometimes attended academic debates on the nuclear bomb and the Cold War. This lively and concise study is a must-read both for specialists and for those more generally interested in the pivotal years surrounding the birth of the nuclear age.

Stressing the “parochial, inward nature of the two Cold War powers” (p. x), the book is divided into chapters that alternate between Washington and Moscow. Although this device sometimes impedes the book’s narrative flow, it effectively underscores the authors’ conclusion that Soviet and U.S. leaders were “acting as if they were on different planets” (p. x). In covering pre-Hiroshima U.S. decision-making, Campbell and Radchenko lean heavily on the secondary literature. This seems an entirely appropriate strategy given that few relevant high-level documents from the Roosevelt-Truman era of nuclear policy have come to light since the 1970s. The authors make good use of new Russian-language sources, most notably Atomnyi Proekt SSSR, a nine-volume collection of documents issued beginning in 1998. Craig and Radchenko are careful, however, to note that currently available Soviet documents tell us little about high-level policymaking, particularly with respect to the role played by Iosif Stalin. Perhaps the most novel methodological contribution here is a long-overdue reassessment of Soviet nuclear espionage. Rather than engaging in the often-heated debate over exactly who was—and was not—a Soviet spy, Craig and Radchenko seek to answer the more interesting question (at least to most diplomatic historians) of how nuclear spying affected policy in Washington and Moscow

A little over half the book is devoted to exploring pre-Hiroshima U.S. and Soviet nuclear policies. In the case of the United States, the key question was whether (and on what terms) to share the nuclear secret with its wartime allies. Craig and Radchenko build on Sherwin’s groundbreaking work in concluding that from 1943 onward, Franklin D. Roosevelt hoped to use the nuclear bomb as leverage in negotiations with Stalin. They suggest that Roosevelt sought to use the bomb to convince the Soviet Union to accept collective security and “Open Door” economic arrangements that [End Page 208] would “secure a real Wilsonian order ... without having to ask the American people to pay the severe political and military costs that attaining such an ideal normally would have required” (p. 33). But although they assert that the “American role in the Cold War was offensive—it had nothing fundamentally to do with a Soviet threat to American security” (p. xv), the authors are skeptical of claims that either Roosevelt or Truman employed a coherent strategy of “atomic diplomacy” vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Rather, Craig and Radchenko convincingly demonstrate that although some U.S. leaders hoped to use nuclear weapons as a bargaining tool, they never crafted an effective strategy for actually doing so.

One of the great ironies of the half-hearted U.S. efforts at “atomic diplomacy” is that, thanks to extensive espionage, Stalin probably knew more about the nuclear “secret” than Truman did in the crucial early months of his presidency. Craig and Radchenko are unequivocal in asserting that espionage played a critical role in both jumpstarting Stalin’s...