Striving for influence; A comparative analysis of Niels Bohr’s and John von Neumann’s ideas about nuclear deterrence and arms control in the Cold War.
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During the later part of the Second World War and the course of the Cold War, politicians, public intellectuals and scientists fiercely debated the development and use of nuclear weapons. This study focuses on two scientists who contributed to this debate: mathematician John von Neumann and physicist Niels Bohr. While both had access to the political and military leadership of the United States and the United Kingdom, the reception of their ideas about nuclear deterrence and arms control differed. Political and military leaders met Von Neumann’s ideas with interest, while Bohr’s plea for openness and transparency was not taken serious. This study aims to offer explanations for this by providing a comparative analysis of Bohr and von Neumann’s ideas about nuclear deterrence and arms control and their reception in the political-military leadership of the United States and United Kingdom in the context of the Cold War. Next to this, it investigates how Bohr’s and von Neumann’s ideas about nuclear deterrence and arms control were connected to the core of their scientific ideas. Also, this study will try to explore some explanations why the political-military leadership held certain preferences in the first place, which underlying mechanisms influenced the coming about of these preferences, and, even more important, whether these preferences were justified.