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Getting to Zero: The Path to Nuclear Disarmament

Getting to Zero: The Path to Nuclear Disarmament, edited by Catherine M. Kelleher and Judith Reppy. Stanford University Press, 2011, 404 pp.

In introducing this collection of essays, editor Catherine Kelleher states: “The chapters in the book do not debate whether going to zero is feasible or a good idea. Instead, they address in some detail what nuclear zero will mean for existing institutions, issues, and practices. . . . The chapters seek to offer the beginnings of a roadmap to a world in which nuclear weapons will no longer be the currency of power, but instead a historical memory” (p. 1). While this reviewer considers this goal to be overly ambitious, Getting to Zero does provide valuable insights to a variety of topics relevant to its subject—global nuclear disarmament.

The 19 chapters provide an international perspective, discussing the nuclear arsenals of the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, and Iran. Other topics include fissile materials and disarmament, weapons laboratories, and the civil nuclear industry. An initial section, entitled “How We Got to Where We Are,” opens the discussion of nuclear disarmament, which concludes with a final section, “What Next?” The intervening chapters provide readers with both broad and focused perspectives, resulting in valuable insights into complex issues.

Because the United States is the world’s foremost nuclear power, American policy receives the most coverage. Lynn Eden’s “The U.S. Nuclear Arsenal and Zero: Sizing and Planning for Use—Past, Present, and Future,” is useful to readers seeking an explanation of US nuclear war planning and targeting policies and how these influence the size and composition of the American nuclear arsenal. Matthew Evangelista also explores the American position in “Nuclear Abolition or Nuclear Umbrella? Choices and Contradictions in U.S. Proposals,” while Dennis M. Gormley describes American superiority in conventional counterforce strike capabilities as a “balancing act.”

Other nuclear powers are examined as well. Venance Journe’s “France’s Nuclear Stance: Independence, Unilateralism, and Adaptation” provides perspective on a nation where nuclear disarmament is an issue essentially closed to discussion. Avner Cohen’s chapter on Israel explains that state’s policy of “opacity,” which means that possession of nuclear weapons is neither confirmed nor denied. While France has decreased its nuclear arsenal, neither it nor Israel will lead the global disarmament effort. The UK has limited its nuclear capability to submarine-launched missiles, but it remains committed at this time to preserving this force as a deterrent.

Alexei G. Arbatov takes a pragmatic approach in “Nuclear Deterrence, Disarmament, and Nonproliferation.” He notes that mutual nuclear deterrence between the United States and Russia survived the end of the Cold War, and despite significant reductions in the number of nuclear weapons, the threshold for their use has been lowered, not raised. He also points out that “Great Britain, France, and China are not going to undertake any limitations of their nuclear forces through arms control treaties,” alleging that they lag far behind the two major nuclear powers, and that “Britain and France are elaborating limited nuclear strike options of their own” (p. 92). Arbatov argues that “It will never be proved with finality that nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence saved the world from a third world war during the Cold War decades” (p. 93). Citing the 1962 Cuban missile crisis as “the one example when the great powers came to the brink of war,” he observes: “the irony of that case was that the crisis was provoked by the very nuclear deterrence that is now portrayed as an insurance against nuclear war” (ibid.). In fact, Arbatov believes that “By maintaining mutual nuclear deterrence, the great powers are wasting resources that otherwise could be applied to more appropriate military and security tasks and missions” (p. 99).

This reviewer concluded that the authors of Getting to Zero sincerely believe that nuclear disarmament is possible if politicians in the states possessing these weapons have the will and demonstrate the leadership to set the example. Until that happens, other states will continue on their own paths seeking the political power these weapons provide. Thomas Jefferson famously compared slavery to a wolf held by the ears that could neither be continuously held nor safely released. The same can be said of nuclear weapons. While this book does provide a good study of the issues, there are no clear or easy answers to the questions raised.

Frank Kalesnik, PhD

Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

"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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