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Air University Press

The Next Arms Race

The Next Arms Race, edited by Henry D. Sokolski. US Army Strategic Studies Institute, 2012, 527 pp.

The nuclear policy dynamics of the Cold War appeared complex at the time, as the two great-power blocs led by the United States and the Soviet Union alternately pursued an active arms race and arms control measures to maintain sufficient security and stability in their relationship to limit the probability of nuclear war. The security and stability were tenuous. Neither side was completely comfortable with the difficult balance which had required decades of negotiation to achieve. Henry Sokolski offers an edited volume which attempts to explain the increasing complexities of the global nuclear balance as the number of nations able to produce nuclear weapons increases and the former Cold War rivals continue to draw down their nuclear forces.

The Next Arms Race is primarily a policy advocacy piece, offering several theoretically and historically grounded legitimate recommendations for how to stave off nuclear weapons proliferation, and the proliferation of technology and material required to build nuclear weapons, through a series of international agreements beyond those currently in effect. While the policy prescriptions recommended in Sokolski’s concluding chapter are important, the path leading to those prescriptions is the ultimate strength of this volume.

Sokolski opens with an overview of the contemporary global situation and speculates on what the future may look like if proliferation goes unchecked. He readily admits his precise predictions may prove false, but the book supports his conclusion that the complexity of the nuclear balance—if one can be had—will increase dramatically to the point that current deterrence strategies and arms control regimes will be insufficient to handle quantitative and qualitative increases in nuclear capabilities and new nuclear power states. Sokolski enlists an impressive cadre of international scholars and policy practitioners to describe in greater detail the regional political, technological, and strategic dynamics of Northeast Asia (China, Japan, and the two Koreas), the Middle East (to include Israel and North Africa), and South Asia (China, India, and Pakistan).

These discussions clarify the complex dynamics at the confluence of regional and global politics, technological capabilities and proliferation, strategic culture, and national histories. Authors in the final section provide important discussions on the influence of nuclear weapons strategies and decisions on precision conventional technologies, missile technology developments, advances in missile defense, and arms control measures. The reader cannot help but understand the exponential growth in the complexity of nuclear weapons issues. Regional issues are closely tied to global ones, and developments in one region can influence those in another, whether positively or negatively. Precision global conventional strike capabilities can change the nuclear calculus by forcing nuclear weapons states into a “use it or lose it” situation, possibly leading to increases in the likelihood of nuclear weapons use. Finally, the challenges for cooperation in arms control increase in lockstep with the complexity of regional, global, and technological dynamics. Sokolski et al. paint a dire picture of the future of nuclear weapons and the potential for states to use them. Perhaps they darken the image to garner attention to this important topic. However, given the gravity of the consequences for not carefully considering and developing effective regional and global strategies for controlling nuclear weapons, their depiction is warranted.

If there is a weakness of The Next Arms Race, it is that it fails to offer a discussion of the theory behind its argument. Political scientists will see international relations theory throughout, but theory is not specifically discussed. However, as a policy advocacy piece, the omission can be expected and does not detract from the book’s message. Sokolski et al. compile a collection of works which perform two critically important functions in the dialogue on nuclear weapons. First, they make sense of the complex dynamics which govern states’ decisions on nuclear weapons and related technologies. Second, they offer legitimate policy prescriptions which may help control the complexity of nuclear weapons issues and contain the spread of nuclear weapons and related technologies.

The Next Arms Race is important reading for policymakers within and outside the Department of Defense, military professionals, and especially strategist who will develop the military responses when arms control and diplomacy fail or those who work in fields directly related to nuclear weapons.

Lt Col Michael J. Martindale, USAF

US Air Force Academy

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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