Off the Shelf

By Henstrand, R. E. | Joint Force Quarterly, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Off the Shelf


Henstrand, R. E., Joint Force Quarterly


Although North Korea's recent partial declaration of its nuclear activity and destruction of a cooling tower at a nuclear facility in June allowed resumption of the Six-Party Talks, it would be premature to celebrate these actions as a victory for counterproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Iran's bold missile tests in July raised tensions in the Middle East as Tehran continued to develop its nuclear capability while calling for the destruction of Israel. The West rightly remains concerned about North Korean and Iranian uranium enrichment activities and suspected sales of nuclear technology to other countries. The proliferation of nuclear and other WMD and the potential terrorist use of such weapons remain ominous threats that the strategy and policy communities must address and the general public should try to understand. The following titles take steps in the right direction to help both audiences.

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The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor by William Langewiesche New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007 179 pp. $22.00 ISBN: 978-0-374-10678-2

Anyone associated with the formulation and execution of U.S. national security policy should read The Atomic Bazaar to gain insight into the real and potential problems of nuclear proliferation. William Langewiesche wrote this while reporting for The Atlantic Monthly, and the book, a loosely confederated group of related articles from that journal, is a quick read that clearly frames today's nuclear proliferation challenges against the backdrop of terrorists and weak states seeking to obtain nuclear material through illicit means.

Noting that there are many people in the world today who, given the required material, could assemble a Hiroshimatype nuclear bomb in their garage (p. 3), Langewiesche devotes the first part of the book to demonstrating the potential ways such individuals could obtain the material required to construct one. He also does a good job of debunking myths and rumors about "loose nukes" and "briefcase nukes" missing from the former Soviet arsenal but unfortunately skews his work with blatant, opinionated criticisms of the G.W. Bush and Clinton administrations' policies. He describes how one could, with enough highly enriched uranium (HEU), set off a significant nuclear explosion simply by dropping one lump of HEU onto another (p. 67). Langewiesche balances these alarming examples by noting that the challenges associated with obtaining and successfully assembling the required material likely explain why such an attack has not yet occurred (p. 69), but he decidedly points out that it is possible. The second part of the book is dedicated to explaining how Pakistan's A.Q. Khan successfully obtained the technology for Pakistan to develop its nuclear arsenal and subsequently set up an illicit international trade in material required to construct nuclear weapons.

Langewiesche concludes that nuclear war between the great powers is far less likely than an exchange of nuclear weapons between or among poor states or non-state actors that seek to instill terror or to be "respected, feared, or to intimidate" (p. 16)--and there is "nothing like nuking civilians to achieve that effect" (p. 6).

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On Nuclear Terrorism by Michael Levi Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007 224 pp. …

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