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The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon November 28, 2012
Anyone who grew up in the 1950s and 60s remembers the school drill of "duck and cover", when students were expected to crouch underneath their desks as shelter from a nuclear explosion. It was, of course, a totally ineffectual maneuver intended to give the people a (false) sense of security from the impending sneak attack by that archenemy of the West, the communist menace, the USSR. These simple bygone days, when the only two nuclear super powers were locked in a global game of brinksmanship, have now been replaced by a more complex and much more dangerous world. Assured mutual destruction and the fear of a devastating retaliation were last tested almost 50 years ago during the Cuban missile crisis. During the Cold War nuclear arsenals were built up by the USA and the USSR more for mutual deterrence than for actual use. The exclusive nuclear club has now added seven more members, some of whom are presently engaged in regional conflicts and others overtly or covertly support terrorist factions.
Since the end of the Cold War, the nuclear threat no longer looms large in the collective psyche of the West. The threat of mutual destruction has made a nuclear arsenal less effective as a deterrent in the minds of military strategists.

In his book " The Second Nuclear Age", Paul Bracken writes, "An older generation wants to make the nuclear nightmare go away by inoculating the young with protective ideas. Nuclear weapons are useless and we should get rid of them." The new strategy is to "Strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Get rid of ballistic missiles" and I suppose that we should all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya".

Newcomers to the nuclear club, such as India, Pakistan and China are vying to consolidate their regional power and balance of influence against each other. China is also flexing its might on the world stage. Israel needs its nuclear capability as a bulwark against its perennial enemies sworn to its destruction. North Korea, a belligerent militaristic state with an unstable and unpredictable leadership, cannot be relied upon to heed the threat of a retaliatory destruction as a deterrent. It could behave erratically against its neighbors or by arming terrorist agents with nuclear devices. Iran, is rapidly progressing to becoming a nuclear nation; it unequivocally threatens Israel and openly supports terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Quaida, any of whom would not hesitate to detonate a nuclear device against the West.

Bracken spends a good portion of the book discussing India and Pakistan and the new multipolar nuclear world, including the potential for Middle Eastern countries to seek a nuclear arsenal. The author contends that proliferation of nuclear weapons threatens the stability of the order of nations and is contrary to the liberal concept of international law guiding relations between nations. Such an arsenal reinforces a country's sovereignty and guides its political strategy independent of other nations' limiting influence or pressures.

This is a serious, somber book that exposes the contradictions in the post-Cold War strategy of neglecting the nuclear arsenal in the hope for a non-existing nuclear free world. The potential hazard is not from mature nuclear nations, such as France or Great Britain but from the nuclear "nouveaux riches" who shall not be deterred by international law, the United Nations or it's court.

At 306 pages long, the book is somewhat unbalanced, takes several pages to get on track and strains the reader in some parts, but its content is sobering. It leaves the reader with a sense of foreboding and hoping that our leaders are not lulled by fanciful strategies or "sleeping at the wheel" while our enemies arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2012
Paul Bracken brings his extensive experience and research on nuclear weapons issues to a somber preview of the "Second Nuclear Age". American focus on non-proliferation and arms control are worthy efforts, but we need to think and plan more for the inevitable proliferation of nuclear weapons and the challenges of recent nuclear states. Bracken draws upon war games and regional rivalries to show the risks of nuclear crises that no state really desires. Opaque command and control systems, poor crisis management, and the political utility of nuclear weapons are all described in disturbing detail. Bracken cogently describes the need for a new era of U.S. strategic innovation to deal with emerging global threats.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2013
Little has changed in the literature on nuclear strategy and nuclear warfare in the past 20 years. Philip Bobbitt's work "The Shield of Achilles" is one notable exception. But Bracken does an amazing job here describing the multiple reasons why we had all better begin thinking about the unthinkable once again.

More than that though, it occurred to me that the most insightful, creative thinkers about the future may well be nuclear strategists. In other fields, experts can make wild prognostications just to make headlines or a name for themselves. But in nuclear strategy, you had better be damned well sure you understand how the world might evolve because if you get it wrong, billions of people will die and civilization may come to an end.

This book is very crisp, hard-hitting, and fast-paced. Entire academic departments are sometimes eviscerated in three sentences. And the author knows what he is talking about. He's sat through the war games, lived in think tanks, seen the whole Cold War through to its end. We should all take pause that someone with this biography is now sounding the klaxon and asking everyone to wake up and pay attention.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2012
Paul Bracken presents a clear strategic roadmap leading from the 1940s into today and on to tomorrow. Part One summarizes the Cold War, present day crises scenarios are presented in Part Two, and strategy proposals for the future are discussed in the last part. The transition is from a time when nuclear weapons were at the core of strategic planning to a time when strategic planning must be conducted in a nuclear environment. His ideas provoke thinking and provide a structure by which to better understand current events. The provocation of thinking leads to criticism but that can be a beneficial outcome itself.
As a reader unaccustomed to academic works of this nature, I stumbled over some vocabulary. For example, there is a distinct difference between `strategy' and `grand strategy' and that distinction is more important when the discussion goes from business planning to geo-political planning. I came to that realization when it struck me that goals and objectives were never included in the author's discussions. The singular goal of strategy is the implementation of grand strategy (or the thwarting of your adversary's grand strategy). In business, the goal is the improvement of the bottom line but in geo-politics it is not as self-evident. Only once, during the discussion of China's foreign policy, does Bracken use the term `grand strategy' and never once does he explicitly discuss goals or objectives. It is my understanding, dating back to the 1950s, that Soviet planners used the term `strategy' where we use `grand strategy' and `operations planning' where we use `strategy'. The ship has sailed to adopt that convention but it would have helped.
The implicit goal imbedded in Bracken's thesis is the maintenance of a status quo or a return to a stable state of affairs. The problem is that it is unbalanced. The status quo is, in general, favorable for nations that have but not for `have-not' nations because it only assures them that they will continue to not have. There is no incentive. A more precise discussion of goals tailored for specific crises would have strengthened Bracken's argument.
In my opinion, nuclear confrontations or crises of a lesser nature might be blunted but never resolved without due consideration of the goal and objectives coupled with their associated constraints and requisites of each side.
In the opening part of his book, Bracken presents a case for the use of war-gaming as means to not only hone our thinking through of strategic processes but to give insight into adversarial plans or responses. An example he gave of the successful use of war-gaming was the conduct of the WWII naval war in the Pacific. Admiral Nimitz reported that every movement of the Japanese with the exception of the kamikaze attacks was anticipated because they had been revealed during war-games beforehand. The exception he noted exposes a basic weakness in war-gaming; its success is dependent on the rationality of the parties. In our culture, the use of kamikaze attacks were irrational and so were not considered. The Japanese fleet movements were very rational because their leaders, like ours, studied Mahan and Billy Mitchel - both sides were singing from the same hymn books.
Although Bracken and other intellectual thinkers might deem it politically incorrect to consider much of the conflicts in the Middle East, particularly Jihadist and Israel as well as Iran versus America to be based on religious differences, many of us believe that to be the case. Religion is by its very nature irrational in that it relies on faith rather than reason. Suicide bombers shouting "Allah is great" is all the evidence I need. Suicide bombers and suicide nations differ only in scale, one may be carrying TNT and the other a nuclear bomb but both are irrational. Again, it is impossible to war-game irrationality unless, maybe, to have a certified schizophrenic as one of the players. If war-gaming cannot be effective absent an assumption of rationality, and I believe it cannot be or is seriously hampered, much of Bracken's scenarios fall apart.
Another criticism: in Chapter 10, Bracken argues for the establishment of a two prong American policy. The first is to publically and emphatically announcing a commitment to never be the first to employ nuclear weapons - so far, so good. The second prong would be to just as emphatically announce that we would retaliate against any nation that did strike first with a nuclear weapon including a friendly nation like Israel.
I, probably as well as the majority of both political parties, oppose such a policy. It would mean that we are willing to become the nuclear policemen of the world. To put an iota of credence behind the policy would require us to maintain a massive military capability with forces scattered around the world to ensure a quick response. Otherwise the policy would be paper thin. A one strike retaliation would also be either ineffective or the spark for a prolonged follow-up war. Consider this scenario: The Chechens or a similar group suddenly becomes a serious threat to Russia and the Kremlin believes the only solution to the problem was a limited nuclear strike and they also believe the American policy to be an empty threat. Would we retaliate against Russia in that circumstance and invite thewar that would surely follow? I think it would be unwise to do so. The proposal has not been thought through.
But do I suggest you buy the book? Yes. It got me thinking and it will do the same for you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2013
Paul Bracken is a professor at Yale. Before Yale, he used to work with Herman Kahn (Dr. Strangelove's character was partially based on Khan). The book is well written and raises critical questions about nuclear weapons. It is not pretentious or esoteric. I think he has some profound insights. The book is a warning. The new global nuclear system is out-running the current conventional thinking. There are eight acknowledged nuclear powers today: the US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Israel has the bomb but does not publicly acknowledge it. Iran is developing a bomb. Brazil and Japan have the technical capability and economic resources to go nuclear if they so choose. Bracken may be right: it's impossible to eliminate nuclear weapons. The only solution is to 'manage' them. He is probably right that the next nuclear crisis will be highly dangerous. The multi-player games are inherently less stable than two-player games. However, there is no discussion in his book about what "nuclear weapons" mean. Today, there is a blurring between tactical nuclear weapons and non-nuclear systems with a capability for precise powerful strikes. Moreover, "tactical" nukes can be used for strategic missions. They can be put on small drones, etc. Bracken is not asking: "What are nuclear weapons"? I think it would be a good question. The EMP (electromagnetic pulse) nuclear weapon will be exploded in high altitude. It will no longer kill millions with radiation and destroy the cities. But the use of electromagnetic pulse will paralyze electronic equipment; knock down power-grids and communication networks. It will spread panic. In a sense you no longer need nukes in the old capacity.

The author tend to see the role of the United States through rose-colored glasses. He believes that U.S. is a benevolent observer of a spontaneous race. He dismisses the missile defense, he thinks the U.S. missile defense has no bearing whatsoever on the issue. I disagree -- I think the strategic missile defense seriously alarmed both Russians and Chinese who fear that the American missile defense will diminish their deterrence capabilities. The Russians have openly said so. Now they are furiously working on upgrading and improving the nuclear arsenals. The fear of U.S. by Iran and others may be a catalyst of the second nuclear age. Therefore the issue of spread of nuclear weapons is linked with the question of the U.S. global hegemony. It is a question of Grand Strategy, not merely of "management". What the book misses is an ejection of grand strategic and ethics-related probing. It is very visible in the case of Japan. He advocates Japan going nuclear, since it could be one of "legitimate" nuclear countries, "good guys". It will help the burden of the U.S. I think he is mistaken. I don't believe Japan going nuclear would bring a strategic benefit. Besides, many Japanese consider nuclear weapons to be unethical. But Bracken doesn't believe in the nuclear bomb as an ethical question. I also think his treating countries in terms of "good guys" or "legitimate" nuclear powers, and "bad guys" is contra-productive. In the end, it is very hard to agree that the "management" of the nuclear weapons in terms of scenarios is the right way ahead. It is the issue of diplomacy, foreign policy, and more broadly - grand strategy. This strategy must be comprehensive and based on assessment of interests, threats, and resources with the long-term objectives taken in consideration. It seems to be beyond his survey. Still, Bracken's book is a provocative, detailed and welcome examination of the emerged order, which he calls the second nuclear age. I recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2013
This is a well written, important work; editing could have shortened it just a bit. Bracken had several goals in mind when writing this book, and he achieves all of them. He also recounts some remarkable historical events of which most people were probably unaware. For example, when Nixon made his famous visit to China, it was at a time when China and Russia were deeply worried about each other. During that trip, we gave China as much intelligence as we had, which was quite a lot, about the Russian nuclear weapons deployed against China.

One important point Bracken makes is that the possession of nuclear weapons has tremendous ramifications. Using a synthesis of several war games, Bracken shows the chilling consequences of an attack against Israeli civilians by Hezbollah or Hamas if Iran has nuclear weapons. It was our possession of nuclear weapons, and the warning moves we made without explicit verbal threats, which helped keep the Russians from interfering with the Berlin airlift.

Another point is the importance of war games to model potential crises before they occur. Once they occur there is time pressure and high levels of anxiety which is not the time to identify possible counter moves and their ultimate results in a potentially horrific escalation. Not only does the US do less gaming of this type, but the think tanks which used to do much of this have been somewhat emasculated, and oriented to shorter term objectives. In general Bracken is skeptical about the ability of bureaucracies to engage in out of the box thinking: it was outsiders who came up with the whole idea of arms control. Did we game the impact of sanctions on Iran of different severity, and consider other steps (besides the Stuxnet worm)?

Bracken recounts the role of atomic weapons in the Cold War as one source for better thinking about the "second nuclear age" when atomic weapons are much more wide spread and in the possession of less rational parties. His own thinking about the "second nuclear age" is useful, but mostly the discussion increased my alarm for the potential of at least one annihilation of a city: not as a result of a bolt from the blue, but from a sequence of escalations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2013
This is a scary book! The author has a lot of experience in this field and gives the reader an inside view of how war games are played and the insights obtained. It gives the reader a keen viewpoint of the current use and consequences for chemical weapons in Syria. The new strategies that arise as one adds players to a two player game are quite interesting. I recommend it highly--you will have a better appreciation of what we face now and in the future.
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on April 24, 2014
The author has the ability to transform complex concepts into something others can readily understand and has many penetrating, well-informed insights. Game Theory applied to Pakistani and Indian nuclear war options? That could easily have degenerated into page after page of unreadable technical gibberish. Instead it was fascinating - as was much covered in the book.

Perhaps the most insightful part of the book was on the role Nationalism in strategy. Many countries are highly nationalistic - almost all are more so than the United States. At baseline many Americans have a poor understanding of how strategists in other countries view their adversaries (and their friends). This becomes somewhat more important when they have nuclear weapons.

Generals always prepare for the last war. So do politicians and bureaucracies. If history is any guide, I would wager that our next conflict will not involve terrorists and counterinsurgency. Perhaps it has been unwise to let our nuclear force atrophy - and to the author's point - to stop thinking about strategy in any meaningful way.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2013
This is a comprehensive treatment of the modern age, and deals with the facts as well as tactical positions. He glosses over an important consideration of zealotry and culture in assessing the US policies vis a vis Iran, for example. But the book is very well researched and provides sound reasoning.
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on June 12, 2014
Simply put: a must-read. Eloquently written, always sharp and to the point, and informed by years of wargaming. The real deal. Plus the ultimate kicker: revelations on "Proud Prophet" 1983 wargame.
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