Timely portrait of an alliance, seemingly unlikely, of former Cold War mavens now committed to nuclear disarmament.
Only last month did the news come that China’s nuclear arsenal is likely much more extensive than anyone had guessed. Russia is a constant worry, not least because its conventional forces are so reduced that the temptation is ever greater to rely on nuclear solutions in the event of an attack, real or perceived. But the heroes of former New York Times reporter and editor Taubman’s (Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage, 2003, etc.) tale are less worried about these major players on the world stage than about the disaffected, shadowy figures from the margins—al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps even the narcotraficantes. At the center of the group is nuclear strategist Sidney Drell; around him are Sam Nunn, at one time “the Senate’s leading authority on Cold War military matters”; George Shultz and William Perry. Closing up the five—and this may give Christopher Hitchens fits—is Henry Kissinger, that dark master of realpolitik, who more than any of the other figures maneuvered and positioned himself for best advantage when, early in 2011, the quintet signed off on a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece calling for the effective abolition of nuclear arms. Kissinger’s position, it seems, is still nuanced—read: subject to revocation—but the mere fact that these five quite different players, whose names show up in the indexes of every history of the Cold War, came together on the point was significant enough. However, as Taubman continues, there’s more to the story. The great value of his book is twofold. First, the author gives a lucid summary of the long, shifting struggle between East and West and the contributions each of the five made to it, for better or worse. (See Robert De Niro’s film The Good Shepherd for worse.) Second, Taubman shows how influential these old Cold Warriors have been in shaping the policy of the present administration and its “ambitious nuclear agenda,” providing a useful look at the way in which such decisions are made and shaped.
Will the partnership prevail? Stay tuned, but hope for the best—for, they warn, “[i]f urgent steps are not taken to rein in nuclear weapons...a catastrophic attack is virtually inevitable.”