The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons
By Joseph Cirincione
Reviewed by Catherine Thomasson, former President, PSR Board of Directors
Bomb Scare is a “must read” for all Americans especially since we have forgotten the incredible power of nuclear weapons and their indiscriminant destruction with lasting radiation effects. This book is an excellent primer on the history and future of nuclear weapons that, while short, is well thought out and surprisingly comprehensive. Joseph Cirincione, currently the Director for Nuclear Policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington DC, and one of the most well-known weapons experts in the United States, obviously has a commanding grip of this material.
The history of the development of the atomic bomb and the initial efforts to contain the technology was fascinating. The most important conclusions about control or abolition of the atomic bomb were raised soon after it was first used. As stated by Truman in 1946, “The hope of civilization lies in international arrangements looking, if possible, to the renunciation of the use and development of the atomic bomb.” Unfortunately, the United States was unable to renounce its ownership of the weapons which led to the arms race when the Soviets called their bluff by requiring this step before allowing inspections.
Joseph Cirincione moves us forward in time to the development of the idea that control of the technology should be at the level of the fissile material. This control was put in place even before the incredible cooperation which resulted in the Non-Proliferation Treaty with its 188 signatories (only Israel, Pakistan and India never signed). This treaty and others have resulted in relatively few countries still holding atomic weapons and no testing performed since 1997.
The heart of the book’s analysis outlines five main reasons all nations acquire or choose not to acquire nuclear weapons: Security, prestige, domestic politics, technology, and economics. The major players who have or appear to be acquiring nuclear weapons are reviewed.
I have to differ with Mr. Cirincione however with his attitude offered in the chapter entitled, “The Good News about Proliferation”. He invites the reader to be optimistic as he reviews the successes of the non-proliferation regime and increased security on nuclear materials worldwide. He reports the need for prudent policy choices which include preventing nuclear terrorism, blocking new nuclear states, reducing current arsenals and fortifying the nonproliferation regime. He feels this is done by reducing the perceived security threat to a given nation while lowering the appeal of nuclear technology.
My reason for measured pessimism is that both our current Congress and administration have not made “prudent policy choices” for the last decade and often state that conflict can be won primarily by relying on military might or the threat of attack including threatening use of nuclear weapons. The second very sobering concern is that the United States is currently leading the way in dismantling the nonproliferation regime. These are the main reasons you and every American should read this book and work to enlighten others and pressure our leaders for a saner nuclear policy!
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