Nuclear Designs: Great Britain, France and China in the Global Governance of Nuclear Arms

By Greenberg, Myron A. | Naval War College Review, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Designs: Great Britain, France and China in the Global Governance of Nuclear Arms


Greenberg, Myron A., Naval War College Review


Larkin, Bruce D. Nuclear Designs: Great Britain, France and China in the Global Governance of Nuclear Arms. New Brunswick, NJ., and London: Transaction, 1996. 354pp. $34.95

The most salient feature of nuclear weapons is their singularity. I.I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics, witnessed the birth of the atomic age. So moved was he by what he had seen that morning in July 1945 that he offered the following appreciation: "A new thing had just been born; a new control; a new understanding of man, which man had acquired over nature." The advent of nuclear weapons therefore wrought a revolution in the management of large-scale organizations (as exemplified by the Manhattan Project), in the conduct of statecraft, and the concomitant operation of deterrence itself. Robert McNamara, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense, noted this phenomenological development in a particularly revealing observation: "Nuclear warheads are not military weapons in the traditional sense and therefore serve no military purpose other than to deter one's opponent from their use." In McNamara's caveat, then, lies the single politico-strategic raison d'etre for possession: deterrence.

In this book, Bruce D. Larkin makes explicit the connection between nuclear capability-that of Great Britain, France, and China-and political influence over great power behavior: "Anyone considering nuclear futures must take the British, French, and Chinese forces into account. How Britain, France, and China respond to nuclear futures must have enormous impact on what global future is chosen." The recognition of the operational dynamics of deterrence in this context is one of the most important contributions of Nuclear Designs. Larkin's basic thesis, then, is that these three "minipowers" (as he calls them) are the only nuclear states armed with sufficient thermonuclear capability to exert decisive leverage over the United States and Russia, and ultimately abandon their own nuclear weapons. These "minipowers" would be the exemplars not only to the great powers but also to the other nuclear aspirants, such as India, Pakistan, and Israel.

Having thus presented what is clearly an operational definition of nuclear deterrence, Larkin advances a thesis that appears to be paradoxical: the advocacy of denuclearization and with it the abandonment of the very instrumentality for geostrategic influence in a world of sovereign nation-states. …

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