Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

"The Twilight of the Bombs"

I found Richard Rhodes' fourth book on nuclear weapons at Schuler Books during my recent trip to Grand Rapids. (Amazon, you have failed me for the last time again!) Subtitled "Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons", it's a modern history of the the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Iraq wars, and arms control.

I came away from reading "Arsenals of Folly" a bit depressed. Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle hyped the Soviet thread, sabotaged Reagan's vision of a world safe from nuclear weapons, and turned up smelling like roses anyway. They're still present in "The Twilight of the Bombs", of course, but now the focus is on how we have made progress to a nuclear-weapon-free world. It's a more hopeful book. The coverage of India and Pakistan, I thought, was fairly sparse. But there is a lot of interesting material on the Nunn-Lugar bill, IAEA inspection of Iraq, and North Korea.

Hans Blix does not come off well; early on he seems to view his role more as verifying that NPT signatories are telling the truth, rather than trying to find out if they are lying. He got religion after the true extent of Iraq's deception was revealed. The book's explanation for Iraq's behavior in 1998-2002 is twofold: fear of Iran taking advantage of further inspections, and a poor decision at the end of the Gulf War to destroy its weapons of mass destruction without keeping records. Thus the IAEA was put in the position of not being able to demonstrate the truth--- that Iraq really wasn't a WMD threat--- because the destruction had been too disorganized and secretive. But the Bush administration doesn't come off looking good, either.

Rhodes closes with a fairly forceful last chapter arguing that Iraq (and also India, Pakistan, and North Korea) are, in some ways, hopeful signs. They demonstrate that it is possible for an inspection and verification regime to detect cheaters.

What if a suspected [CTBT] violator refuses to cooperate? That would be a material violation of the CTBT, potentially invoking a full range of responses from the international community, up to and including invasion. Richard Butler's world that would "rise up against such people" is no peacemaker fantasy. It's the world of this narrative, the world you've been reading about, acting imperfectly but with steady determination and increasing confidence on behalf of nuclear limitation and foreclosure: from Mikhail Gorbachev's and Ronald Reagan's initiatives to end the Cold War, to the voluntary disarming of the former Soviet republics and the securing of nuclear materials, to the U.S. and Russia's deepening mutual arms reductions, to the long effort to roll up Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program, to the up-and-down negotiations with North Korea that have nevertheless prevented another Korean war, to the international diplomatic pressure brought to bear effectively on India and Pakistan, to the persistent march forward of negotiations toward treaties to limit nuclear testing and proliferation. Revolutions are not imposed by fiat; they move from conception to reality in the practical experience of accomplishing them and living them through. Working through the day-to-day challenges of a world finally freed form the burden of a long, polarizing ideological conflict, hardly aware of where we were going, we find ourselves in the second decard of the twenty-first century well along the way to eliminating nuclear weapons once and for all.

If there is a weakness in his powerful conclusion on the moral necessity of limiting "public violence", it's that he views nukes as the end of the story. But new technologies will open up new weaponry, and nuclear weapons may be the easy case in terms of detectability, nonproliferation, and demobilization.
Tags: books, history, politics, technology
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