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Nuclear Arsenals Today

Raja Menon

Edited by Ashley Tellis, Abraham M. Denmark, and Travis Tanner
The National Bureau of Asian Research, Washington, 2013, pp. 333, price not stated.


The main argument of this comprehensive volume of nuclear weapon activity in Asia is that it is only here that there is the fear of renewed and widespread nuclear proliferation. The era of bipolar competition is looked back upon with nostalgia as an era when the two superpowers fully realized the dangers of nuclear weapons and strove to keep them safe, and secure enough to preclude their actual use. The shift in the relevance of nuclear weapons from the West to Asia, it is feared, will constitute a ‘second nuclear age’ where the rules might not be as clearly understood as it was in the Cold War. It is difficult to agree entirely with this basic hypothesis as the alleged Cold War nuclear stability was based on dangerous first strike deterrence and launch on warning. These doctrines have largely been abandoned, certainly by China and India which have adopted far more mature and stable nuclear doctrines. Pakistan too had adopted a doctrine of restraint, although of first use, which is now under stress with the inception of newer technologies that may also induce a first strike option.   A reputed scholar of nuclear matters, Paul Bracken, is quoted as saying that the Cold War achieved three significant stabilities—the absence of nuclear use despite intense rivalry, strong technical safety mechanisms to prevent accidental use and a cold rationality that governed nuclear relationships. These achievements might not be beyond the governments of the new nuclear powers, but there admittedly might be a ‘cascade of proliferation’ with the removal of what was probably an unwritten agreement between the Cold War superpowers to prevent others from having nuclear weapons. The world in the meanwhile has shifted the discourse on nuclear matters from one of achieving nuclear stability to one of nuclear abolition. So Tellis’s overview concentrates on arguing whether the abolition agenda will be effective and concludes that nuclear weapons will be relevant in nuclear Asia for many years to come. The abolition agenda, Tellis argues, is driven by the hope that disarmament would reduce the incentives for non-nuclear states to proliferate, which comes from the expectation that having fulfilled their obligation under article VI of the NPT to disarm, they would morally bind the non-nuclear states to not weaponize. This link apparently is tenuous and perhaps rightly so, because the motivation for states to go nuclear does not necessarily arise from being ...

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