The Challenges of Nuclear Non-Proliferation.

AuthorMichelsen, Niall
PositionBook review

Burns, Richard D. and Philip E. Coyle III. The Challenges of Nuclear Non-Proliferation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. xvi + 238 pages. Paperback, $33.00.

The front cover of this book has a powerful and foreboding image of a nuclear test in the Pacific. This seems a good choice because the authors have packed quite a bit of high quality and somber material into a short book. This book provides a useful account of the decisions and actors that have characterized the international efforts to rein in the spread of nuclear weapons since 1945. The authors faced a fundamental choice in how they approached the material. The standard approach to this topic focuses on individual countries that are either already or potentially ready to join the nuclear weapons club. These books typically have separate chapters on India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and perhaps others. Burns and Coyle chose to focus on the efforts to build a non-proliferation regime encompassing institutions and norms. This approach generates some intriguing insights but comes at a cost. The main cost is that readers might wish for a detailed account in one location of what the authors call the secondary nuclear powers (India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea). Adopting the regime approach spreads those stories across chapters. As one example, the chapter on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does not address the shock it received after the first Gulf War revealed that Iraq had a significant nuclear weapons program despite IAEA safeguards. A later chapter discusses the topic; however, the IAEA chapter seems incomplete without it.

The payoff of their approach comes when important regime elements, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA, warrant their own chapters, along with nuclear test bans and geographical non-proliferation zones. One especially attractive feature is that each of the chapters tells a story that stands on its own. In addition, several chapters are also subdivided so that readers can hone in on the parts of the complex narrative the book presents without necessarily wading through sections that are of less interest to them. Since chapters contain separate narratives, the text tends to go backwards in time as the new narrative evolves. This date hopping can happen even within chapters as the sub-narratives have their own histories. For example in one chapter, a section ends with reference to President George W. Bush, with the...

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