Fred Kaplan — described by the New York Times as "a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter" — is the War Stories columnist for Slate and the author of six critically acclaimed and bestselling books. In his columns, essays, interviews, and public speeches, Kaplan brings more than 40 years of experience as an observer and analyst of the foreign- and defense-policy scene, honing an insider’s grasp of its intricacies and an outsider’s sense of its broad contours, opportunities, and dangers.
He has also spent those four decades covering the wars of our time, in the Middle East, Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo—not just chronicling the wars themselves but analyzing their causes and consequences: probing the nature of war itself and the reasons for its persistence in human affairs.
His most recent release, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War, was called "jaw-dropping" by George Will and "surprisingly entertaining" by the New York Times. Richard Rhodes praised as follows: "With its stunning, new, in-the-room revelations, and with Fred Kaplan’s deep knowledge of nuclear strategy, The Bomb is the best overview yet of the world’s continuing struggle to come to terms with the threat of nuclear war." Referenced by nearly all who cover the subject, The Bomb is pivotal to informed discussions on nuclear warfare.
Earlier publications were equally well-received with The Wizards of Armageddon winning of the Washington Monthly Political Book of the Year; The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War becoming both a New York Times bestseller and a Pulitzer Prize Finalist; and Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War being hailed by The Times Literary Supplement as "the best account to date" on the subject.
Kaplan is renowned not only for his historical perspective and analytical skills, but also for his storytelling prowess. James Fallows likened The Insurgents to the narrative styles of Robert Caro and David Halberstam. John le Carre, the supreme spy novelist of our era, praised Dark Territory as “a book that grips, informs and alarms, finely researched and lucidly related.” Malcolm Gladwell, one of our finest storytellers, said of The Wizards of Armageddon, "I read that book when I was researching (The Bomber Mafia). Oh, my God, it is just a delight! What a great book!"
Before joining Slate in 2002, Kaplan was a staff reporter for the Boston Globe, working as the paper’s defense correspondent (1983-91, during which he was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for a special Sunday magazine on the nuclear arms race), Moscow Bureau Chief (1992-95), and New York Bureau Chief (1995-2002). He has also written for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, among other publications. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, NPR, and many other news networks and podcasts. He has held fellowships at the Council on Foreign Relations and New America. He was elected to the Society of American Historians, in recognition of his works’ "narrative power and scholarly distinction." He also writes about the arts, especially jazz, and reviews high-end audio equipment for The Tracking Angle. He graduated from Oberlin College and has a Ph.D. in political science from M.I.T.
His twice-weekly Slate column covers the waterfront in national-security affairs — their roots in Washington’s internecine politics and their outcomes in policies toward Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and other hot spots. He speaks at length, and with authority, on the news of the moment.
The Baffling Turnaround in War, Peace, and American Electoral Politics
For the past 50-plus years, Republicans have been the party of war hawks, high defense budgets, and a keen concern for national security above all else. Democrats, on the other hand, have been the party of coves, defense cuts, and opposition to intervention in foreign wars. Now their positions are very nearly reversed. Some of this is due to the rise of Donald Trump’s “America First” and “MAGA,” but the dynamics of this change are deeply rooted in social and economic changes over the past few decades. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Fred Kaplan, who has been writing about national security for more than 40 years, examines these changes—and outlines how they might affect the 2024 elections and, subsequently, the world.
The spread of globalization, economic interdependence, the unification of Europe, the end of the Cold War—many believed that these forces would make the world more peaceful, but in fact war persists. Some civilizing influences have even made war more efficient and thus more deadly. Fred Kaplan, Pulitzer Prize-winning defense reporter, author, historian, and Slate’s national-security columnist, draws on his 45 years of covering wars and diplomacy to explore why war is so commonplace, how today’s wars differ from past wars, and the prospects for settling conflict more peacefully.
What Happened After Oppenheimer
The surprise box-office success of Oppenheimer has revived popular interest in nuclear weapons and nuclear war. National-security columnist Fred Kaplan—author of The Wizards of Armageddon and The Bomb, two of the most highly acclaimed histories of the subject—will trace the story of what happened after Oppenheimer. How did it happen that the United States and the Soviet Union would each build tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, most of them hydrogen bombs, along with the missiles and bombers to deliver them on targets halfway around the world? And who were the scientists—in this case, mainly economists, political scientists, and a few physicists working at think tanks like the RAND Corporation who would have outsize influence in policy making to the present day—who came up with the ideas on how to deter nuclear war and how to fight, and possibly win, a nuclear war if it cannot be deterred.
Washington and the World
With the U.S. engulfed in a perpetual election cycle and nerve-rattling partisan clashes, Fred Kaplan asks what impact any particular President has on the rise and fall of American power — and what roller-coaster rides lie ahead. Come along with Fred Kaplan as he takes a deep dive into Washington’s relations with the rest of the world — with allies, adversaries, and fence-straddlers, in the various regions, the hotspots, and the ominous rumblings in areas that once were calm — and to what degree it matters that a Republican or a Democrat sits in the Oval Office.
For nearly 30 years after the Reagan-Gorbachev summits, few among us thought, much less worried, about nuclear war. Now the fear is back, but it’s taken the form of vaguely paralytic anxiety because, in the wake of the long reprieve from the Bomb’s shadow, few know how to grasp its dimensions; they’ve forgotten, if they ever knew. Fred Kaplan traces the real, little-known history of how the Bomb came to dominate our lives. He connects the dots between the generals who tried to make the Bomb an ordinary weapon, the presidents who faced crises and thought deeply about using those weapons, and the political maneuverings—with other nations and within the national-security bureaucracies — that have brought us to the brink of nuclear war or kept it at bay. He also addresses why, despite the ethical concerns and humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, the threat of nuclear war will not go away. Relevant to the present moment, he discusses the events in the Ukraine war, which have led Vladimir Putin to threaten the use of nuclear weapons in a scenario more plausible than any since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
History is Now: Understanding the Past to Secure a Better Future
As the great novelist William Faulkner once said, "The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past." History courses through the streams of our daily life, in all its realms. The events of today and tomorrow wouldn’t be what they are, if some shockwave of yesterday had gone a different path. Yet many journalists, pundits, and politicians misread the past, or draw false parallels with the present, and, as a result, propose wrongheaded policies that often aggravate, rather than solve, our problems. Fred Kaplan, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and acclaimed historian, lays out some rules for how (and how not) to apply the lessons of history to current crises. The architects of the Vietnam War thought they were preventing another Munich (they’d grown up absorbing the wrong lessons of World War II). Many analysts today view our tensions with Russia and China as a second Cold War (they’d grown up during the first Cold War and don’t see — maybe because they don’t know any earlier history — that today’s disputes aren’t remotely like the global rivalry of the mid-to-late 20th century). It’s not merely that they’re wrong about the past; it’s that their misreading of the past can propel us all to a tragic future.
Darker Territory: Cyber Warfare + A.I.
Much has been said about how artificial intelligence will change the way we live, but little about how it will transform the way we fight. The Pentagon is starting to integrate A.I. into the nation’s war plans. Combined with cyber technologies, it will turn warfare into something new. Imagine the disruptions of cyberattacks carried out at light speed, recognizing and responding instantaneously to enemy counterattacks, without human intervention or control, like a game of chess where pieces on the board shift positions or switch identities, and the board itself changes shape and color. Fred Kaplan, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the seminal book on cyber war, Dark Territory, guides us through this new labyrinth. Cyber security, in war or civilian life, is a big enough challenge: vulnerabilities are inherent to Internet technology; the advantage goes to the attacker. Cyber + A.I. intensifies the problem: weapons are autonomous; the line between offense and defense blurs; battle-plans run on programs that the machines devise and adjust. The technology is outpacing strategy. But there is still a chance to haul it back to human control. Kaplan examines that opportunity too.