Shield of Dreams: Missile Defense and U.S.-Russian Nuclear Strategy

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SHIELD OF DREAMS: Missile Defense and U.S.-Russian Nuclear Strategy, Stephen J. Cimbala, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2008, 193 pages, $24.00.

The phrase "shield of dreams" is sufficient to invite the question, "If we build it, will they come?" Cimbala's answer is a resounding, "That depends." For starters, it depends on who they are. The bipolar world of the Cold War is rapidly receding in the rear-view mirror, and a new, multipolar world of both state and nonstate actors and of heretofore-unrealized threats has emerged. These actors possess or could obtain nuclear weapons and may be willing to use them in ways that defy the old Cold War calculus. Thus, as one considers the complexities of life in what Cimbala calls the "second nuclear age," the proposition that a ballistic missile shield could, by itself, make nuclear weapons obsolete seems indeed to be a dream.

What, then, is to be done? In response, Cimbala suggests that ballistic missile defenses can be an important component of a security strategy that continues to include nuclear weapons. Cimbala is not unduly fixated on numbers; he believes that the whole matter is far more nuanced than the numbers alone reveal. …