National Security Panics

Threat Inflation and US Foreign Policy Shifts

By Jane K. Cramer

© 2017 – Routledge

256 pages

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Hardback: 9780415693028
pub: 2017-06-30

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About the Book

This book examines ‘national security panics‘ that led to major U.S. foreign policy shifts. A national security panic is a period when the public was gripped by a widespread fear of imminent threat from an enemy allegedly bent on the destruction of the United States, yet with hindsight, the public fears are known to be based on highly inaccurate portrayals of the actual military threat at the time. The book argues that scholars should try to understand these periods of public fear because they have had major policy consequences. The sources of these fears is much disputed, even though they are known, with hindsight, to have been based on highly inaccurate views of the actual threats at the time. The author examines four key cases: the ‘Red Juggernaut‘ panic (c. 1950), the ‘Missile Gap‘ panic (c. 1960), the ‘Window of Vulnerability‘ panic (c. 1980) and the ‘Iraq WMD‘ panic (c. 2003), and tests three groups of hypotheses about the sources of these widespread public fears: (1) Were these fears rooted in intelligence failures? (2) were these public fears largely caused by psychological biases among decision makers? (3) Or were these fears caused by intentional threat inflation by political actors? Unlike other works, this volume explores all these competing explanations within and across multiple cases, side-by-side. In the end, contrary to the explanations of many others, the author finds that the root sources of these public fears is primarily intentional threat inflation by political actors. It also demonstrates that in two of cases, the intentional threat inflation was led by challengers to the executive branch, indicating that even though executive branch power is vast, it is not the necessary condition many scholars contend that it is.

This book will be of much interest to students of US national security, US foreign policy, US politics, Cold War studies, and IR/Security Studies in general.

Table of Contents


1: Introduction to the Study of Panics

2: Hypotheses of Panics

3: The "Red Juggernaut" Panic

4: The "Missile Gap" Panic

5: The "Window of Vulnerability" Panic

6: The "Iraq WMD" Panic

7: Conclusions: The Sources of Public Panics


About the Author

Jane K. Cramer is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Oregon. She is co-editor of American Foreign Policy and the Politics of Fear (Routledge 2009) and Why did the US Invade Iraq? (Routledge 2011).

About the Series

Routledge Global Security Studies

Global Security Studies is a series for cutting-edge monographs and books on international security. It emphasizes cutting-edge scholarship on the forces reshaping global security and the dilemmas facing decision-makers the world over. The series stresses security issues relevant in many countries and regions, accessible to broad professional and academic audiences as well as to students, and enduring through explicit theoretical foundations.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Military / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / International Security
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / General