Jonathan Schell has recently written a superb book about the history of the nuclear age, The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger. What Schell does is expose a lot of the hidden assumption underlying the discussion surrounding nuclear disarmament and nuclear proliferation (which as he notes are intertwined). Here’s a small taste:
In short, even in a world without nuclear weapons, deterrence would, precisely because the bomb in the mind would still be present, remain in effect. In that respect, the persisting know-how would be as much a source of reassurance as it would be of danger in a world without nuclear weapons.
Perhaps that is what the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, a nuclear abolitionist, was hinting at when he told the scientist Victor Weisskopf, who worked on the Manhattan Project, that “every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution.” If, in the sixty years of the nuclear age, no great nuclear power has won a war by making nuclear threats against even tiny, weak adversaries, then how could a nuclear monopoly by a small country enable it to coerce and bully the whole world? The danger cannot be wholly discounted, but it is surely greatly exaggerated. A world at zero would not be a heaven on Earth, but neither would it be the one painted by today’s terror-ridden nuclear strategic theory.
He also reminds us that every ‘proliferator’ develops nuclear weapons to defend against someone else’s bomb (or the specter that they might have a bomb). It’s a very good read.