Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda

Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda

by John Mueller


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199837090
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 02/01/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 888,659
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

John Mueller a political scientist at Ohio State University and at the Cato Institute. He is the author, co-author, or editor of 18 books and hundreds of scholarly and popular articles. His research areas include international relations, security studies, risk analysis, public opinion, foreign policy, terrorism and counterterrorism, and dance history.

Mark G. Stewart is Professor of Civil Engineering at The University of Newcastle, Australia. He has more than 25 years of experience in probabilistic risk and vulnerability assessment of infrastructure and security systems. His expertise in risk assessment is applied to a wide range of threats and hazards most notably terrorism and climate change.

Table of Contents

Part I. The Impact of Nuclear Weapons
1. Effects
2. Overstating the Effects
3. Deterring World War III: Essential Irrelevance
4. Influence on History
5. Influence on Rhetoric, Theorizing, and Budgets
Part II. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons
6. Arms Races: Positive and Negative
7. Proliferation: Slow and Substantially Inconsequential
8. The Modest Appeal and Value of Nuclear Weapons
9. Controlling Proliferation
10. Assessing the Costs of the Proliferation Fixation
11. Reconsidering Proliferation Policy
Part III. The Atomic Terrorist?
12. Task
13. Likelihood
14. Progress and Interest
15. Capacity

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Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al Qaeda 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
reannon on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Calm down, everyone. The world is not going to be destroyed by nuclear weapons, or chemical or biological ones, either. That's the gist of this well-researched and well-reasoned book Whether it will get heard or not is another matter, it flies too much in the face of conventional wisdom.The gist of the book is expressed at the end of chapter 2, and it is worth a lengthy quote:Consequences of overstatementTo repeat: it is certainly true that nuclear weapons can be massively destructive. Moreover, if thousands (maybe hundreds) of the largest are launched, the results on society could be as calamitous as the alarmists insist - or nearly so. But because an all-out nuclear attack with thermonuclear weapons could be catastrophic, it does not follow that that similar descriptors should unthinkingly and casually be applied to explosions that would do vastly less damage, however horrible the consequences of those explosions would be in their own right. Moreover, it obviously does not follow that because these weapons exist, they will necessarily and inevitably go of. Nevertheless, because of the vivid, dramatic, and unforgettable impression left by the Hiroshima bombing, and in part perhaps because of the exertions in the postwar period by legions of alarmists from all corners of the political spectrum, nuclear fears have escalated to the point where simply lacing the weapons into the conversation often causes coherent thought to cease. Concern about nuclear weapons and about their awesome destructive capacity is certainly justified. But routine exaggerations of that capacity, and the obsession with the weapons such exaggerations have inspired and enforced, have often led to international policies that have been unwise, wasteful, and destructive - sometimes even more destructive than the bombs themselves. Thus, wars have been fought and devastating economic sanctions have been inflicted to prevent fully deterrable and containable countries from obtaining nuclear weapons. And the consummate horror that terrorists might be able to obtain a nuclear bomb has inspired costly policies and exertions, often without any consideration about how likely dread consequences are to happen."Mueller goes into some death about the actual level of lethality of WMD and the difficulties in manufacturing and using them. They require a pretty high level of technical expertise and equipment Security controls have improved. The chances, therefore, of terrorists getting hold of WMD are quite small, and he goes in-depth into the number of steps required and the probabilities of each - and also the probabilities that ALL the required steps could be successfully accomplished, which are vanishingly small.He also goes into the reasons that more countries have not chosen to create and stockpile WMD. There are the above difficulties, plus the fact that WMD cost so much for weapons that in the end have little tactical usefulness.Mueller also discusses that well-meaning efforts to diffuse the threat have often been counterproductive. Nuclear scientists exaggerated the dangers of nuclear weapons in attempting to see that the weapons would never be used and to prevent any other war like World War II. Anti-proliferation regimes may have encouraged some proliferation in order to have "bargaining chips" for negotiations. The author is particularly incensed that so many people have died due to the economic sanctions imposed to prevent proliferation, much less in wars fought for the purpose, all of which have been far more deadly than the weapons themselves would have been.Mueller provides a vast amount of knowledge of the topic allied with cogent reasoning. His extensive notes and bibliography attest to the degree of study he has put into the subject.Read this book, and sleep better at night. More importantly, send copies to government officials making weapons and diplomatic decisions.
Tunguz More than 1 year ago
Every once in a while a book arrives that challenges many of our most deeply-held assumptions, and makes us reconsider some aspects of our worldview. For the better part of the last sixty five years one such assumption has been the imminent threat to the survival of the entire World posed by the nuclear weapons. With the end of the Cold War this threat seemed to be receding fast, only to be rekindled in the first decade of the 21st century by the rise of various rogue regimes around the world, and even more ominously, by the rise of non-state agents that aim to destroy as much of the modern Western civilization as possible. However, according to John Mueller much of that threat is way overblown (pardon the pun) and in "Atomic Obsession" he aims to refute most of our prejudices when it comes to nuclear weapons. This is a very well researched book as sixty pages of references at the end clearly testify. Mueller brings up many good arguments and for the most part he seems very convincing. I am particularly swayed by the quick -calculation arguments that, for instance, refute notions such as that of a "suitcase bomb" that can be used to bring devastation to a major US city. The probably impact of one such device would be far smaller than what had transpired on 9/11, with the cost in development and resources that far exceed anything that any terrorist group is likely to have. There are several well constructed arguments like that one, and for the most part I am willing to be swayed. However, there are some problems with the kind and range of sources that are consulted. It is hard to escape the impression that Mueller is rather selective in terms of sources that he cites. Most of the best-argued quotations are from the sources that support his claims. This could be because his claims are indeed the most reasonable and well-thought out, and most of the highest experts would agree with them. However, it is also obvious that the quotes from the sources that oppose his POV are more often than not very silly and preposterous, and it doesn't take a genius to refute them. In a sense, Mueller is oftentimes setting up a straw-man argument that does nothing to help his cause. The most off-putting aspect of this book are the persistent snide remarks that show up every few pages. It could be argued that they are attempts at humor in an otherwise very serious book, but I didn't find a single one of those remarks funny. In fact, these remarks are rather distracting and do a disservice to his arguments. Many times I would find myself essentially agreeing with one argument or another, until I reach one of those condescending remarks that implies that anyone who sees things differently is essentially an idiot. Were it not for this supercilious tone the book would be a very readable treatment of the subject. In what gotta be the most presumptuous line that I had ever read in any scholarly work, Mueller accuses Albert Einstein of "confidence bordering on intellectual arrogance" in latter's endorsement of one World Government. I am not a very big fan of that idea either, to say the least, but if anyone can be allowed to show intellectual arrogance that would be Albert Einstein. Such a dismissive, and yes intellectually arrogant, attitude on the part of Mueller is extremely off-putting. Many of his arguments would probably flow much better with well intentioned skeptics had he chosen to adopt a much more even-handed att