Why did the United States move from a position of nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1960s to one of nuclear parity under conditions of mutual assured destruction in 1972? The story of this transition both sheds new light on the Cold War and offers new insights for today’s nuclear challenges.

Drawing on declassified conversations between three presidents and their most trusted advisers, James Cameron offers an original answer to this question in his new book The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation. John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon struggled to reconcile their personal convictions about the nuclear arms race with public demands. In doing so they engaged in a double game, hiding their true beliefs behind a façade of strategic language, while grappling in private with the complex realities of the nuclear age.

Hosted by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, the discussion was moderated by Togzhan Kassenova and featured James Cameron and James G. Hershberg. 

James Cameron

James Cameron is assistant professor in international relations at Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo. 

James G. Hershberg

James G. Hershberg is a professor of history and international affairs at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.

Togzhan Kassenova

Togzhan Kassenova is a fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.