Books of Note

October 2015

The New Nuclear Disorder: Challenges to Deterrence and Strategy
Stephen J. Cimbala, Ashgate Publishing Company, 2015, 254 pp.

In this book on nuclear strategy, arms control, and nonproliferation in the 21st century, Stephen J. Cimbala writes that although some observers had forecast that the end of the Cold War would greatly reduce the importance of nuclear weapons, U.S. conventional dominance has prompted potential adversaries to “seek offsets, and one of these offsets is [weapons of mass destruction], including the possession of nuclear weapons.” Cimbala, distinguished professor of political science at Penn State Brandywine, says that, in addition to the threat posed by the potential terrorist acquisition of nonconventional weapons, the United States has been “forced to confront evident nuclear proliferation in North Korea and the possibility of nuclear weapons spread to Iran.” He warns that the potential failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and reverse North Korea’s nuclear advances could increase the likelihood that other states in the Middle East and East Asia could join the ranks of nuclear-armed states. Among Cimbala’s observations about nuclear weapons in the 21st century is that policymakers must revisit the challenges associated with terminating a nuclear war in the event deterrence fails. During the Cold War, Cimbala writes, significant attention was devoted to how a nuclear war could end, but given the enormous Soviet and U.S. arsenals, most experts doubted that a nuclear war could be stopped before the mutual destruction of each country had taken place. Cimbala argues that, in the 21st century, the prospect of regional or local nuclear conflicts involving the use of small numbers of nuclear weapons is more likely and these conflicts could spread into a wider war that could involve other nuclear powers not involved in the initial conflict.—KINGSTON REIF

A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in World War I That Forever Changed the Nature of Warfare
Diana Preston, Bloomsbury Press, 2015, 352 pp.

In A Higher Form of Killing, historian Diana Preston examines the six-week period from late April to early June 1915 during which Germany deployed three new tactics in World War I and ushered in the dawn of the “age of weapons of mass destruction.” Preston links the first use of lethal gas by Germany on the battlefield at Ypres, aerial bombardment of the English homeland by German zeppelins, and the practice of unrestricted submarine warfare, exemplified by the sinking of the Lusitania by the German submarine U-20. These developments, Preston argues, made soldiers and civilians vulnerable to injury or death regardless of how far they were from the front. For example, she cites German gas pioneer Fritz Haber’s writing on the psychological effects of gas on soldiers; he claimed that the possibility of gas exposure caused soldiers anxiety at “[e]very change of sensation in the nose and the mouth,” which in turn sapped their morale. Unrestricted submarine warfare prompted anti-German rioting in the United Kingdom and public backlash against what Preston describes as “a new unprincipled form of warfare.” Commenting on the practice of zeppelin bombing, an editorialist for The Guardian wrote that “one of the blackest of many crimes with which Germany has stained herself…is that she has introduced this inevitably haphazard murder into warfare.” Preston’s graphic descriptions of Germany’s introduction of these tactics into warfare aid her convincing case that their use by Germany helped change the character of warfare.—NATHANIEL SANS