Kimball Smith Series: “The Rise of Malignant Deterrence” with Richard Rhodes

Event time: 
Tuesday, April 16, 2024 - 6:30pm to 7:30pm
Rosenfeld Hall RSN See map
109-111 Grove Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

Register below for a lecture by Richard Rhodes, historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” Light dinner will be provided. Yale community members of all disciplines and levels of expertise are encouraged to attend.

Co-sponsors: Physics Department, History Department.
Partners: Wright Laboratory, Political Science Department.


Deterrence—the theory that the risk of mutual destruction inhibits two nuclear-armed states from engaging each other in war, and limits war against their client states as well—has been a bedrock reality of international relations since the end of World War II. One major line of the theory’s development traces back to the wartime efforts of the Danish physicist Niels Bohr to forestall a nuclear arms race by enlisting the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and the USSR to negotiate early agreement to international control. That project failed, an arms race ensued, but deterrence fundamentally succeeded.

Since the end of the Cold War, however, deterrence itself has been weaponized and turned malignant. Inadvertently during the 1999 Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan and intentionally by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in attacking a voluntarily nuclear-disarmed Ukraine, nuclear threats have been invoked to allow aggressor states to pursue conventional war largely unimpeded. Malignant deterrence, far more unstable and dangerous than was traditional deterrence, opens a new path to potential use of nuclear weapons.
Speaker Biography

Richard Rhodes is a member of the Yale Class of 1959, which celebrates its sixty-fifth reunion this year. He is the author or editor of twenty-six books including “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction, a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award; “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb,” which was one of three finalists for a Pulitzer Prize in History; and, most recently, “Scientist,” a biography of the biologist Edward O. Wilson. He has received numerous fellowships for research and writing, including grants from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He has been a host and correspondent for documentaries on public television’s “Frontline” and “American Experience” series. His play, “Reykjavik,” about the historic summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, has been performed at Stanford University and in Washington, D.C. Rhodes has two children and four grandchildren and lives with his wife, Dr. Ginger Rhodes, a clinical psychologist, in Seattle, Washington.

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