Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
Eric Schlosser, Penguin Press, 2013, 632 pp.
In Command and Control, investigative journalist Eric Schlosser conducts an ambitious stocktaking of nuclear weapons stewardship, organized around one of the nuclear era’s most harrowing accidents—the September 1980 explosion of a Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in Damascus, Ark. The accident killed an Air Force airman, severely injured several other service members, and destroyed the silo in which the missile was deployed. The missile’s nine-megaton-yield warhead was thrown into a nearby field. Schlosser’s deep dive into the lives of the individuals involved and his detailed description of the technology they sought to control provides an entrée into the entire nuclear weapons enterprise. His nearly 500 pages of text include fascinating excursions, from the Strategic Air Command of Gen. Curtis LeMay (1948-1957) to the Soviet KGB’s intensive, worldwide effort in 1983 to detect U.S. preparations for a surprise nuclear attack. Schlosser moves adeptly from discussions of grand strategy to the emotions of the people handling the actual weapons. Many other nuclear accidents are recounted in addition to the title event, including losses of operational nuclear weapons at sea and near-detonations on land. For those inclined to dismiss safety incidents as ancient history, Schlosser recalls more-recent U.S. security lapses such as the six nuclear-armed cruise missiles that went missing for a day and a half in 2007 and the nearly one-hour loss of communications with 50 Minutemen III ICBMs in 2010. Schlosser’s prose is not polemical, but the sentiment he voices at the book’s end is unmistakable: “Every [nuclear weapon] is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder.”—GREG THIELMANN
Technology Transfers and Non-Proliferation: Between Control and Cooperation
Oliver Meier, ed., Routledge Global Security Studies, 2013, 280 pp.
The title of a section of one chapter in this volume is “Disarmament and development: a decades-old and continuing tension.” That turn of phrase, from the chapter by independent disarmament analyst Jean Pascal Zanders, aptly summarizes a main theme of the book: the difficulty of taking steps to tighten export control regimes without running afoul of the legal and political need to avoid unduly restricting access to the relevant technology. As many of the authors note, the issue is common to the biological, chemical, and nuclear nonproliferation regimes. In the concluding chapter, the book’s editor, Oliver Meier, an associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (and a former international correspondent for Arms Control Today), argues that cooperation should be “de-politicized,” as it “appears to work better the less it is framed in a non-proliferation context.” Another recurring theme of the book is the rapid pace of technological change, perhaps most notably in the biological sciences, and the inability of control regimes to keep up with it. In her chapter on cooperation in biosecurity, Jo Husbands of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences advocates greater cooperation involving scientists and scientific organizations. She argues that “[e]ffectively engaging scientists in monitoring and assessment could…help ensure that controls and limitations are focused where they are the most feasible and where they can do the most good.”—DANIEL HORNER