Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear States and Terrorism

Peter R. Beck­man; William Paul Crum­lish; Michael Dobkows­ki; Steven Lee
  • Review
By – March 26, 2012

Since 9/11 the fear of a nuclear-armed ter­ror­ist group strik­ing Amer­i­ca has leapt from the pages of over­wrought Hol­ly­wood screen­plays into schol­ar­ly works deal­ing with a cred­i­ble threat. The lack of ideas for how to counter such an elu­sive attack, or to orga­nize it into the pan­theon of nuclear pol­i­cy, has been answered by four pro­fes­sors from Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. Nuclear Weapons pro­vides a sur­vey course on the his­to­ry of nuclear weapon devel­op­ment, polit­i­cal the­o­ry and its usage in World War II all the way through what the authors call the Sec­ond Nuclear Age — the post-Cold War peri­od of a sole super­pow­er, nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion, and the grow­ing Islam­ic ter­ror­ist threat. They pro­vide a series of essays which can be read sep­a­rate­ly or togeth­er that spell out the evo­lu­tion of how states deal with these two issues: nuclear weapons can­not be unin­vent­ed, and there is a pow­er­ful taboo against ever using them again. 

Clear­ly writ­ten though some­what plod­ding, the book is designed for an under­grad­u­ate sur­vey course or for the curi­ous arm­chair polit­i­cal the­o­rist. The title some­what over­states the con­tents of the book — most of it deals with the his­to­ry of nuclear weapons in light of cur­rent events, and only one chap­ter actu­al­ly delves into the spe­cif­ic issues of nuclear ter­ror­ism. Still, this is an acces­si­ble and unfor­tu­nate­ly com­pelling read for this age of rogue states like Iran, Al Qae­da, and the ongo­ing ten­sions with India and Pak­istan. Epi­logue, glos­sary, index.

Zachary Thacher is a screen­writer, mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant, and com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er liv­ing in Man­hat­tan. He leads the Kol haK­far minyan in down­town New York.

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