By Joseph Cirincione
Summary by Elaine Lynn for Book Club discussion
Concise, authoritative and fascinating, this book was originally published in 2006. The paperback edition was updated to 2007.
The governments of the United States and the Soviet Union have been both wise and spectacularly lucky. No one doubts that the world is safer today because the danger of global thermonuclear war has been greatly diminished. The American and Soviet leaders gradually developed command and control systems that were successful in preventing accidents, unauthorized attacks and other immediate causes of war.
Most of the accidents and close calls are probably still hidden away, yet to be uncovered by historians. Cirincione mentions one we know of in 1995 when Russia mistook a Norwegian weather rocket for a US submarine-launched ballistic missile. Yeltsin had only a few minutes to launch havoc on the world, but he decided that the “information” must be a mistake.
Since the 1980’s, the two superpowers have reduced their nuclear weapons by almost 70%. Today, we still have more nuclear weapons than any military purpose could justify. Unfortunately, the command and control system in Russia has deteriorated further.
In addition to the reduction in weapons, the number of countries which were developing, had developed or were seriously discussing nuclear programs has dropped since the 1980’s. This was due to a combination of factors that still determine such decisions today, including security, expense, need for status or prestige, internal politics and other factors.
New nuclear nations have been born. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Ukraine instantly became the third greatest nuclear power on the face of the globe. Kazakhstan and Belarus also became part of the nuclear family by virtue of the Soviet military facilities left in their territory. It wasn’t immediately obvious to all their...