BOOK REVIEW: Avoiding the Tipping Point

By Graham, Thomas, Jr. | Arms Control Today, November 2004 | Go to article overview

BOOK REVIEW: Avoiding the Tipping Point


Graham, Thomas, Jr., Arms Control Today


BOOK REVIEW: Avoiding the Tipping Point

The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices

Edited by Kurt M. Campbell Robert J. Einhorn and Mitchell B. Reiss

Brookings Institution Press, July 20O4, 285 pp.

IS n 1958, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made clear the reason the United Kingdom acquired nuclear weapons. Referring to the British nuclear-weapon program, Macmillan said in a television interview that "the independent contribution [i.e., British nuclear weapons]...puts us where we ought to be, in the position of a great power."

Likewise, in a November 1961 speech, French President Charles de Gaulle said that "a great state" that does not have nuclear weapons when others do "does not command its own destiny." After the May 1998 Indian nuclear test, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced with pride, "We have a big bomb now, India is a nuclear-weapon state." Although it is a historical accident, the five permanent members of the UN security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) are the five nuclear-weapon states sanctioned by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The belief held by many of the 182 NPT non-nuclear-weapon states that some nuclear-weapon states cling to nuclear weapons as their political claim to great-power status is not without foundation.

Indeed, in the early 1960s, there were predictions that there could be as many as 25-30 nuclear-weapon states within a couple of decades. President John F. Kennedy feared that nuclear weapons would sweep all over the world. If this had happened, there would be a large number of nuclear-weapon states in the world today: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said in September that "40 countries or more now have the know-how to produce nuclear weapons." If they had all chosen to exploit this capability, it would be impossible to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorist organizations and rogue states.

Yet, there has been very little actual nuclear weapons proliferation since the entry into force of the NPT in 1970, far from what Kennedy feared. Beyond the five NPT nuclear-weapon states, Israel and India were already far along in their programs in 1970. The only additional states truly to acquire and maintain nuclear weapons since that time are Pakistan and probably North Korea.

Many books have been written on the nuclear policies of the states that never subscribed to the NPT-India, Pakistan, and Israel-as well as those countries that have threatened the NPT from within-Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Yet, there has not been the same attention to the nuclear policies of states that have been stalwart in their observance of the provisions and principles of the NPT and who are central to the continued viability of the regime. This makes The Nuclear Tipping Point a most timely and valuable publication. This important volume edited by Kurt Campbell, Robert Einhorn, and Mitchell Reiss-all highly prominent and respected nonproliferation experts who also contribute to the book-examines in detail the cases of Egypt, Syria, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

These countries together have provided a cornerstone of the NPT regime: an assurance to the pact's many non-nuclear-weapon states that their regional neighbors will not acquire nuclear weapons. When the NPT was negotiated in the late 1960s, some of the negotiating parties were worried that this implicit pledge would not hold and so supported limiting the NPT initially to 25 years rather than granting it permanent status. By 1995 the NPT's success had been demonstrated to the point that states-parties agreed to extend the treaty indefinitely.

A crucial underpinning for these actions has been provided by the United States: the nuclear "umbrella" it used to shelter its al lies in Europe (most importantly, Germany) and Asia (Japan and South Korea). …

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