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Arms Control and Cooperative Security

Arms Control and Cooperative Security ed. Jeffrey Larsen and James Wirtz. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009, 288 pp.

Arms Control and Cooperative Security takes the reader on an engrossing journey which begins by outlining historical attempts at arms control prior to the radically new environment created by the disintegration of the monolithic Soviet threat, the explosion of globalization, and the events of 11 September 2001 which shattered America’s cozy, albeit naïve, sense of security. The book is an able attempt to demonstrate how old disarmament and nonproliferation regimes, intended to reduce tensions and the possibility of misunderstanding and miscalculation, were reasonably effective but are now outmoded for a much more complex, globalized environment. Many new players, unimagined, or simply ignored under the bipolar paradigm, now populate the international landscape. Globalism—represented by the ubiquity of the Internet, the dissolution of border controls, the growing influence of multinational corporations, transnational movements, nongovernmental organizations (NGO), the increasing challenges that can only be addressed via global cooperation, and so forth—has, in effect, democratized, expanded, and leveled the playing field so that any determined actor, group, or state can now get into the proliferation business—cheaply. This possibility simply did not exist a generation ago. Due to this paradigm shift, the United States has moved away from more traditional venues for controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) toward initiatives that may, in fact, perform better than more formal regimes that have serious flaws: the amount of time it takes to reach agreement and the difficulties associated with verification and compliance enforcement.

The editors have done a solid job bringing together some of the best minds in the field of arms control. Jeffrey Larsen’s brief introduction serves as a useful kickoff for the discussion. In James Smith’s succinct history of arms negotiations, he insists arms control will never be dead, despite what naysayers would have us believe. Acknowledging that the current environment is far more complicated, he contends there remains great value in making arms control efforts a significant part of US national security strategy. Kerry Kartchner, describing the evolving international context, proclaims the old arms control paradigm is dead, mainly because it was fatally flawed and those flaws are only magnified by the “new” paradigm confronting strategists today. And yet, he remains hopeful about the future. Noteworthy is the credit he bestows on “Bush 43” operatives for recognizing the changing dynamic and working toward more viable solutions to emerging proliferation problems. He applauds that much-maligned administration for staying ahead of the curve. Jennifer Sims tackles the convoluted domestic political front and the impact it has on the arms control process in a straightforward fashion that delves into the roots of American exceptionalism, evolving unilateralist tendencies (manifested most unashamedly during George W. Bush’s watch), and how the growing dissonance between the United States and traditional allies regarding the strategic horizon fuels those developments. Forrest Waller delivers an excellent synopsis of past arms control negotiations before smoothly transitioning to an examination of promising future possibilities. His work dovetails nicely with Leonard Spector’s argument that for all its flaws, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and similar constructs still have utility. In essence, we should avoid “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and, instead, combine elements of legacy regimes with more innovative and effective programs enabled by technology and overall improvement in state-to-state relationships in the wake of the Cold War.

Michael Moodie’s “Regional Perspectives on Arms Control,” is largely devoted to “lesser” concerns (small arms and light weapons, for example). The fact is, these “lesser” concerns enjoy center stage in countries and regions that simply do not worry much about more “titanic” issues. In struggling Third World states, the focus is local rather than global. Undoubtedly, regional concerns are important issues in their own right; however, the discussion is less captivating to this American reader because the underlying issues seem more intractable. Lewis Dunn’s contribution identifies various “tools” in the cooperative security tool bag that can be leveraged to decrease misinformation, miscalculation, accidents, and tension. These include: strategic dialogue and the exchange of information and data; liaison arrangements; joint endeavors; unilateral and reciprocal actions; and traditional arms control agreements. The inherent value of these “tools” is not always obvious to the casual observer, but they can be extremely cost-effective compared with prohibitively expensive armaments, and, in many cases, more effective at achieving political and strategic goals, chief among them security. Due largely to its placement, Guy Roberts’ “Beyond Arms Control: New Initiatives to Meet New Threats,” predictably repeats many points mentioned earlier. It would be a fine stand-alone piece, but sandwiched as it is near the end, it only serves to reinforce the ideas of authors with the good fortune to precede him. Rebecca Johnson’s decidedly anti-Bush tone conveys the message that universal norms regarding arms control and nonproliferation efforts stand a far better chance of being successful than formal treaties that institutionalize discrimination based on relative power.

James Wirtz’s compact conclusion reemphasizes the common thread running throughout: The world has undergone radical change in a flash; going forward, collective efforts—on a scale of magnitude far greater than heretofore—are required; creative solutions, dependent upon rigorous cooperation are needed, if present and future efforts are to succeed.

This volume is a valuable primer for those unfamiliar with the field and a handy and concise resource for those more in tune with the realities of arms control in the new century.

Lt Col John H. Modinger, USAF, PhD

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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