Why universities modelling the impact of nuclear war in the 1980s could not change the views of the security state

Authored by: John Preston

The Routledge International Handbook of Universities, Security and Intelligence Studies

Print publication date:  October  2019
Online publication date:  October  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138572416
eBook ISBN: 9780203702086
Adobe ISBN:


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In the Cold War of the 1980s, Stan Openshaw (University of Leeds) and his academic colleagues produced original and sophisticated computer models which concluded that the UK government had vastly underestimated casualties and property damage in the event of a nuclear attack. The academics believed that these models would lead to policy acceptance that any military move which might provoke a nuclear attack would be unacceptable as casualties could be in the order of 80%. However, Openshaw was unaware that the UK government had already considered that a lower threshold of destruction would be an existential threat to the nation and were already developing authoritarian plans for national reconstruction. In conclusion, governments in crisis operate in the ‘state of exception’, considering state logics and brutally pragmatic forms of response that academics often misjudge in their conceptions of policy impact.

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