CRITICAL MASS by William E. Burrows


The Dangerous Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting World
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 A grim reminder that much of the post-cold war world remains armed and dangerous. Drawing on a variety of sources, Burrows (Deep Black, Exploring Space, etc.) and Windrem (an NBC News producer) offer a detailed if overlong report on the extent to which, in the wake of the USSR's collapse, less developed countries (Brazil, Egypt, India, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, South Africa) have been able to buy or build strategic weapons (atomic, biologic, and chemical) and the means to deliver them. Without the moderating influence of a bipolar global order, there's little to prevent backward but belligerent nations from acquiring and employing state-of-the-art arsenals for genocidal or geopolitcal purposes. (While the authors focus on outlaw vendors, they disclose also that putatively legitimate Western industrial enterprises account for an alarming volume of the trade in weaponry.) As Burrows and Windrem make clear, ambiguities in application complicate the task of policing the traffic in deadly contraband. By way of example, research reactors may be used to create bomb-grade plutonium for thermonuclear ordnance, and fertilizer ingredients are easily convertible into poison gases or high explosives (like those used against New York's World Trade Center last February). Nor is it practical, the authors point out, to impose expert controls on scientists prepared to serve unstable regimes; the same holds true for control of computer disks or other media (including fax transmissions)--any of which may contain a wealth of classified information. Restricting the proliferation of military material, Burrows and Windrem argue, mainly requires multilateral political resolve. In all, an authoritative and accessible survey of a life-or- death issue. (Maps; 16 pages of b&w photos--not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1994
ISBN: 0-671-74895-5
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1993


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