Era of Strangeloves and Sober Strat­egy

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by John Nils­son-wright

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)

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