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The Second Nuclear Age
Cover of The Second Nuclear Age
The Second Nuclear Age
Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics
Borrow Borrow Borrow

A leading international security strategist offers a compelling new way to "think about the unthinkable."

The cold war ended more than two decades ago, and with its end came a reduction in the threat of nuclear weapons—a luxury that we can no longer indulge. It’s not just the threat of Iran getting the bomb or North Korea doing something rash; the whole complexion of global power politics is changing because of the reemergence of nuclear weapons as a vital element of statecraft and power politics. In short, we have entered the second nuclear age.

In this provocative and agenda-setting book, Paul Bracken of Yale University argues that we need to pay renewed attention to nuclear weapons and how their presence will transform the way crises develop and escalate. He draws on his years of experience analyzing defense strategy to make the case that the United States needs to start thinking seriously about these issues once again, especially as new countries acquire nuclear capabilities. He walks us through war-game scenarios that are all too realistic, to show how nuclear weapons are changing the calculus of power politics, and he offers an incisive tour of the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia to underscore how the United States must not allow itself to be unprepared for managing such crises.

Frank in its tone and farsighted in its analysis, The Second Nuclear Age is the essential guide to the new rules of international politics.

 

A leading international security strategist offers a compelling new way to "think about the unthinkable."

The cold war ended more than two decades ago, and with its end came a reduction in the threat of nuclear weapons—a luxury that we can no longer indulge. It’s not just the threat of Iran getting the bomb or North Korea doing something rash; the whole complexion of global power politics is changing because of the reemergence of nuclear weapons as a vital element of statecraft and power politics. In short, we have entered the second nuclear age.

In this provocative and agenda-setting book, Paul Bracken of Yale University argues that we need to pay renewed attention to nuclear weapons and how their presence will transform the way crises develop and escalate. He draws on his years of experience analyzing defense strategy to make the case that the United States needs to start thinking seriously about these issues once again, especially as new countries acquire nuclear capabilities. He walks us through war-game scenarios that are all too realistic, to show how nuclear weapons are changing the calculus of power politics, and he offers an incisive tour of the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia to underscore how the United States must not allow itself to be unprepared for managing such crises.

Frank in its tone and farsighted in its analysis, The Second Nuclear Age is the essential guide to the new rules of international politics.

 

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  • Copyright © 2012 by Paul Bracken
    • 1 •

    GAME CHANGER

    War games have been used for a long time to discover and test strategies. The U.S. Navy gamed out the war against Japan for twenty years before Pearl Harbor. Reflecting on this afterward, Chester W. Nimitz, the commander of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific, said that little surprised him during the war because he had seen it played out so many times before at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Only the kamikaze attacks came as a surprise—they hadn’t been imagined in the Newport war games.

    During the cold war, analysts at the Rand Corporation used games to explore the strange new world of nuclear strategy. What contributed to deterrence? How might a nuclear war start? What, exactly, did it mean to “win” a nuclear war? This last question led them to drop the term war from their work. New terms were used to capture a shift in strategic emphasis: crisis games, politico-military exercises, escalation games—the idea was that nuclear wars were not something the United States might win or lose like World War II. The focus shifted to managing them, not winning them, so that they didn’t go all the way to nuclear annihilation.

    Games use another tool, the scenario. Scenarios set the stage for a game’s interactions. Scenarios—the term and the idea were borrowed from Hollywood by Rand analysts in the 1950s—are hypothetical plot outlines of plausible future developments. They are not forecasts or predictions like “China will fire missiles at the United States on March 12, 2015.” Rather, they describe the context and the dynamics as seen by the different actors, along with the interactions that may lead to conflict.

    As nuclear weapons have spread in recent years, basic questions needed to be asked about the difference a nuclear context makes. To discover these questions as they apply to the Middle East, games have been played in the United States and Israel. I have been involved in some of these exercises and find them insightful—and troubling. The questions they raise are not unlike those asked at the start of the first nuclear age, updated to today’s environment. Would a nuclear Iran just sit on its bomb or would Iran use the bomb in some way? How might a nuclear war start, and how might it end, in the Middle East?

    In free-form games, teams are set up for the principal actors—the United States, Israel, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. The members of each team are told to role-play what they believe their countries or groups would do. The participants are diplomats, retired officials, and military officers. Academics are often included for good measure and to wander around the teams and pick up insights on what is taking place.

    Games can be controversial even before they start. The U.S. government’s official policy is nuclear nonproliferation. The United States, working with the international community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the UN, is determined to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. With official Washington declaring that Iran won’t get the bomb, a game presupposing that it will suggests that the current policy will fail. Some officials fight the scenario for this reason. What, they ask, is the point of wasting time over something that isn’t going to happen? Better, they argue, to focus on stopping Iran from getting the bomb than gaming out what happens if it does.

    Something else is going on here beyond a narrow objection to not sticking to official U.S. policy. It’s one of the features of games that make them so thought-provoking. Some people in Washington...
About the Author-
  • Paul Bracken is the author of Fire in the East and The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces. He is a professor of management and political science at Yale University, and was previously a member of the senior staff of the Hudson Institute under Herman Kahn and a consultant to the Rand Corporation. He serves on several Department of Defense advisory boards and works with global multinational corporations on strategy and technology issues. He lives in Connecticut.


Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 3, 2012
    Bracken (Fire in the East), Yale political scientist and an adviser to the Defense Department, addresses the uncomfortable subject of post–cold war nuclear management. He convincingly describes a 21st-century “second nuclear age” characterized by proliferation. Nuclear weapons have become established aspects of regional, as well as global military strategy—not least because of growing distrust of U.S. intentions. At the same time, U.S. policy, politics, and public opinion on the subject are influenced by a dangerous synergy of government “denial of nuclear reality” and hope mongering that catastrophe can be avoided. Bracken makes a solid case for applying intelligence and clearheaded analysis of a “new logic of Armageddon” focused on nuclear powers in the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. His potential scenarios include a nuclear Iran, a nuclear Indo-Pakistan confrontation, and a China combining nuclear capacity with the ability to move faster than its rivals. For America he recommends a primer on nuclear strategy, a readmission of nuclear weapons to the nation’s dialogue on security planning, a proactive policy as opposed to the reactive caution of the first nuclear era. There are no guarantees—but he makes a strong argument that depending on “prudence and luck” is a recipe for disaster. Agent: Jim Hornfischer, Hornfischer Literary Management.

  • Kirkus

    October 15, 2012
    Defense Department consultant Bracken (Fire in the East: The Rise of Asian Military Power and the Second Nuclear Age, 1999, etc.) writes that the nuclear genie is truly out of the bottle, and current efforts at nuclear disarmament ignore geopolitical realities. "The U.S. desire for a nonnuclear world," writes the author, "gives America's opponents a reason to manipulate developments in the other direction...and to shift competition to areas where they feel they have greater advantage." Thus, when the U.S. disengages from Afghanistan and Iraq, there will still be a nuclear China to contend with--and, if trends continue, a nuclear Iran. In the days of the Cold War, Bracken writes, things were easy; the superpowers subscribed to the theory of mutually assured destruction, and no one was going to pull the trigger knowing that would be the end of it all. Now, he argues, the dynamics have taken "an ominous new turn," and the idea of mutually assured destruction has seen its day. Besides, he notes, the superpowers found that a nuclear arsenal was a "most useful weapon," and if it was good enough for the U.S. and the Soviet Union, then why not for Pakistan, Iran and North Korea as well? Bracken notes that though Iran and Pakistan present opportunities for worry, nearby India is more heavily armed, if happily a democracy. He urges multilateralism in any future weapons accords--and, he suggests, the old treaties need reworking--adding that it might make a refreshing change to see an arms control initiative that does not originate with the U.S., which "has led to a bland, uninspiring agenda." Bracken's prescriptions on how to deal with an increasingly nuclear world are surely debatable, but to gauge by this well-tempered essay, it's a debate worth holding.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former U.S. deputy secretary of state

    "In this book--which could hardly be more timely--Paul Bracken dissects the dangerous and often neglected realities of 'the second nuclear age' and argues for bold, innovative, and often provocative ways to think about how to avert those dangers. Precisely because he challenges orthodox doctrines and practices and argues forcefully for his own strong views, he helps ensure that one of the most important, complex, and controversial issues of our time will get the hard-headed attention it deserves."

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Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics
Paul Bracken
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