BOOK REVIEW: The Low Politics of Nonproliferation

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BOOK REVIEW: The Low Politics Of Nonproliferation Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking By Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz Free Press, 2011, 289 pp.

For most of the past 60 years, almost the only people who featured in books about how countries acquired nuclear weapons were politicians, generals, scientists, and strategists. These were powerful men who already were public figures, if not household names, in their own countries and often around the world. Nuclear history has been the stories of such men, of enormous struggles, great passions, and the fate of nations, reflecting how the bomb was introduced to the world by the United States.

The August 6, 1945, White House press release announcing the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima declared that the bomb was "a new and revolutionary increase in destruction" made possible by "a harnessing of the basic power of the universe." The United States had been able to build the bomb because it "had available the large number of scientists of distinction in the many needed areas of knowledge... [and] the tremendous industrial and financial resources necessary for the project." To drive the point home, the White House revealed that "employment during peak construction numbered 125,000" and observed, "We have spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history."

The press release established the story line for how people and governments came to think about nuclear weapons and what was involved in building them. Describing the Manhattan Project, the White House declared that

the greatest marvel is not the size of the enterprise, its secrecy, nor its cost, but the achievement of scientific brains in putting together infinitely complex pieces of knowledge held by many men in different fields of science into a workable plan. And hardly less marvelous has been the capacity of industry to design, and of labor to operate, the machines and methods to do things never done before.... Both science and industry worked under the direction of the United States Army, which achieved a unique success in managing so diverse a problem.... It is doubtful if such another combination could be got together in the world. What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history.

Ever since the Manhattan Project, wouldbe bomb builders have believed that if they could repeat the feat, some of this greatness would rub off on them.

The past five years have seen a wealth of books that tell a new and different story about the spread of nuclear weapons over the past 40 years. Notable among these recent books, some of which have been reviewed in these pages, are Shopping for Bombs by Gordon Corera, Deception by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, America and the Islamic Bomb by David Armstrong and Joseph Trento, The Nuclear Jihadist by Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, and Peddling Peril by David Albright. The newest addition to this literature is Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking by the wife-and-husband team of Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz. It is a sequel to their earlier work.

In all these books, the focus is the trade in nuclear technology, particularly the network established by Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist who trained and worked in Europe in the early 1970s before returning to lead Pakistan's uranium-enrichment program. Khan set up a procurement network that provided crucial technology to Pakistan's enrichment program and enabled the country to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. The Khan network later sold this technology to at least three other countries. The key players are small-time businesspeople and bureaucrats, engineers and technicians, intelligence analysts and spies, customs officials, police officers, and magistrates. No scientific breakthroughs take place, motives are often venal, self-interest rules, and ambitions are petty. …