Era of Strangeloves and Sober Strategy
The specter of nuclear war is never far away, as Kim Jong Un’s provocations and Donald Trump’s pledge to build the US weapons arsenal attest. Retired British diplomat Rodric Braithwaite has written a compelling account of the international relations of the nuclear era. From the Japanese bombings in 1945, he charts the nuclear age, detailing the strategic, political, diplomatic, scientific and technical implications of the bomb on both sides of the Cold War.
The outline is familiar, but the book breaks valuable new ground in exploring both US and Soviet perspectives, mining new archival material in English and Russian and, in the process, humanizing the protagonists on both sides, be they politicians, generals or scientists. It also examines the role of smaller nuclear powers such as the UK and France, and of activists and civil society in campaigning to halt proliferation. Reliance on nuclear deterrence presented critical dilemmas for policy-makers, given the weapons’ power to destroy. The problems persist and suggest caution and humility as essential for world leaders in managing the bomb’s awesome capabilities.
Braithwaite recognizes that luck and pragmatism have helped ward off global Armageddon, but he also notes the moderating role of politicians in averting disaster — a lesson one hopes is not wasted on Trump or his North Korean counterpart.
The book breaks valuable new ground in exploring both US and Soviet perspectives.
Armageddon and Paranoia: The Nuclear Confrontation By Rodric Braithwaite Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, 512 pages, $25.34 (Hardcover)