THE TWILIGHT OF THE BOMBS: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World without Nuclear Weapons, Richard Rhodes, Knopf, New York, 2010, 480 pages, $27.95.
The Twilight of the Bombs is historian Richard Rhodes' conclusion to his tetralogy that began with the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Twilight has the usual strong attributes that characterize Rhodes's scholarship- solid research, intriguing detail, and an engagingly well-written story. Twilight's emphasis is on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the removal of nuclear weapons from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Ukraine, the ongoing nuclear crisis with North Korea, and the search for weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Rhodes argues that the possibility of rogue organizations obtaining some form of nuclear explosive device has greatly increased. No one is better than Rhodes at making understandable the complex technical aspects of nuclear weapons production.
Rhodes disregards the argument that the bomb has acted as a deterrent because of the possibility of accidental or inadvertent use, but recognizes that nuclear weapons dictated policies of caution. These horrific weapons were factors in bringing about limited war in Korea and Vietnam. Rhodes also does not adequately weigh the risks of maintaining a nuclear arsenal against the possibility that a nuclear-free world would increase the possibility of horrendous conventional warfare, wars like the long brutish Iran-Iraq war. The bomb may have deterred great power war, but it has shifted killing to the developing world- mass murder by machete.
Are nukes trump? Iran and Syria likely pursue an atomic bomb for a number of reasons including prestige and regional dominance, but more importantly, they want the bomb because without it they feel vulnerable to the overwhelming superiority of U.S. conventional forces. The take down of Iraq in a matter of days was not lost on those who would challenge the United States. But, the question of how and if "the bomb" has worked as a deterrent has always been a diffi cult and highly controversial case to make. …