“Here’s my strategy on the Cold War. We win, they lose.” — Ronald Reagan, 1977

To win the Cold War America first had to show it could win a hot war. The Israeli air force’s decimation in 1973 by a Russian-armed Arab coalition led Moscow to conclude it could win a conventional war in Europe. Subsequent Soviet aggression reflected this confidence. But by the 1980s American technological advances and President Ronald Reagan’s determination to defeat the Soviets steadily turned the tables. In 1982 U.S.-backed Israelis destroyed the Russian-built Syrian air force. A year later America’s deployment of Pershing II missiles and Reagan’s announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative convinced Moscow it could not defeat NATO. The Communist empire collapsed before the decade was through.

Reagan defeated the Soviets despite the open hostility of America’s foreign policy establishment and the reluctance of a fair part of his own cabinet. The reigning academic wisdom, informed by game theory, thought winning impossible. Players with roughly equal forces could only annihilate each other or reach a détente. The establishment embraced this pseudo-scientific mathematicised nuclear strategy and its concomitant shibboleths: flexible response, limited nuclear war, countervalue versus counterforce targeting, strategic arms limitation, and so forth.

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