Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Michael Krepon's "Better Safe Than Sorry"

Michael Krepon is co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, Diplomat Scholar at the University of Virginia, and the author or editor of many books, including Cooperative Threat Reduction, Missile Defense, and the Nuclear Future, Space Assurance or Space Dominance? The Case Against Weaponizing Space, Nuclear Risk Reduction in South Asia, and Escalation Control and the Nuclear Option in South Asia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb, and reported the following:
My book, Better Safe than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb, starts by placing current nuclear anxieties into an historical context. These anxieties have led to wretched excesses. During the Cold War, we and the Soviets built up huge nuclear arsenals and engaged in extremely risky practices. In erring on the side of "safety," we nearly incinerated the planet. That was the first nuclear age. The second nuclear age began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which has led to rising anxieties about nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. The Bush administration undertook extreme measures to be safe rather than sorry, fighting the first preventive war in U.S. history. Here lies another irony: As the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals declined precipitously, a war of choice became conceivable for the world's sole superpower.

On page 99, we are beginning the chapter on the second nuclear age. Here is an excerpt:

During the first nuclear age, only one triangular relationship mattered. China, the weakest leg of the triangle, at first linked up to the Soviet Union, and then normalized ties with the United States. During the second nuclear age, a second nuclear triangle emerged. The original alignment of the Washington-Beijing-Moscow triangle returned, as China and Russia had no need to compete over leading the Communist movement and much reason to counterbalance predominant U.S. power. The second triangular nuclear relationship involved China, India and Pakistan. The newer triangular competition was fueled by keen status consciousness, contested borders, and grievances from previous warfare. Both triangles bear watching.

All sides of the China-India-Pakistan triangle are unequal, which makes for awkward geometry, instability, and the potential for increased competition. But all three parties have publicly resolved not to repeat the wretched excesses of the cold war competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, including the mistake of arms racing. At the same time, the existing nuclear hierarchy in southern Asia – China followed by India followed by Pakistan – grates on New Delhi and Islamabad. Beijing has not yet deigned to accept India's interest in dialogue on the Bomb, including discussions on nuclear stabilization and confidence-building measures. Perhaps China's leaders will think differently after New Delhi captures Beijing's attention by testing thermonuclear weapons that can be placed atop new missiles that can reach Beijing and Shanghai. Pakistan cannot compete with India in conventional arms, but Pakistan's generals have demonstrated every intention to compete with India with respect to nuclear weapons.

There's a lot here to munch on. My intention is to present dense material in an accessible way.
Read the preface to Better Safe Than Sorry, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Michael Krepon and his work at his Stimson Center webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue