Defense Department consultant Bracken (Fire in the East: The Rise of Asian Military Power and the Second Nuclear Age, 1999, etc.) writes that the nuclear genie is truly out of the bottle, and current efforts at nuclear disarmament ignore geopolitical realities.
“The U.S. desire for a nonnuclear world,” writes the author, “gives America’s opponents a reason to manipulate developments in the other direction…and to shift competition to areas where they feel they have greater advantage.” Thus, when the U.S. disengages from Afghanistan and Iraq, there will still be a nuclear China to contend with—and, if trends continue, a nuclear Iran. In the days of the Cold War, Bracken writes, things were easy; the superpowers subscribed to the theory of mutually assured destruction, and no one was going to pull the trigger knowing that would be the end of it all. Now, he argues, the dynamics have taken “an ominous new turn,” and the idea of mutually assured destruction has seen its day. Besides, he notes, the superpowers found that a nuclear arsenal was a “most useful weapon,” and if it was good enough for the U.S. and the Soviet Union, then why not for Pakistan, Iran and North Korea as well? Bracken notes that though Iran and Pakistan present opportunities for worry, nearby India is more heavily armed, if happily a democracy. He urges multilateralism in any future weapons accords—and, he suggests, the old treaties need reworking—adding that it might make a refreshing change to see an arms control initiative that does not originate with the U.S., which “has led to a bland, uninspiring agenda.”
Bracken’s prescriptions on how to deal with an increasingly nuclear world are surely debatable, but to gauge by this well-tempered essay, it’s a debate worth holding.