Saturday, January 12, 2013

Paul Bracken's "The Second Nuclear Age"

Paul Bracken is the author of Fire in the East and The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces. He is a professor of management and political science at Yale University, and was previously a member of the senior staff of the Hudson Institute under Herman Kahn and a consultant to the Rand Corporation. He serves on several Department of Defense advisory boards and works with global multinational corporations on strategy and technology issues.

Bracken applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest new book, The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Second Nuclear Age is a good indicator of the entire book because it is an outside the box view of nuclear weapons in the cold war. My book describes the second nuclear age, the spread of the bomb for reasons that have nothing to do with the cold war. But the cold war holds many useful lessons.

Page 99 argues that merely having the bomb makes an enormous difference because it forces others to consider scenarios and "what next?" possibilities in an entirely different way. China got the bomb in 1964. This forced President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara to think about a Chinese intervention in Vietnam in an entirely different way than Beijing's entry into the Korean War in 1950. It reinforced the U.S. strategy of incremental escalation to avoid nuclear scenarios. On page 99, I argue that China may never have had any plans to intervene in Vietnam, and that even if China's leadership was dead set against it, it wouldn't alter the reality that the mere existence of a Chinese atomic bomb altered the calculus of decision making in Washington.

Page 99 further describes a Chinese nuclear alert in 1969 -- not directed at the United States but at the Soviet Union. This example exposes the myth that the cold war was a bipolar competition. Even in 1969 there was a three-way game, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Yet a bipolar view of the cold war was a useful myth because it stabilized their competition. The cold war was known not to be bipolar, but bipolarity was retained as a useful fiction.

The United States adheres to myths today, in the second nuclear age: a.) that the major nuclear powers will disarm someday, as promised in the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT); b.) that nuclear weapons have little utility; and c.) that India will someday have to give up the bomb and join the NPT. None of these things are going to happen, but pretending that they will is quite useful.
Learn more about The Second Nuclear Age at the Times Books website.

Writers Read: Paul Bracken.

--Marshal Zeringue