Langewische looks at nuclear proliferation with the eye of an expert. He offers both good news and bad. On the good news side is that it is indeed very difficult to craft a reliable nuclear bomb of the Hiroshima sort. Dirty bombs are another thing, but he believes that the public fear of them far outweighs their potential for harm. The NPT, or Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is viewed as both a saving grace in the effectiveness it has had during the cold war, and a problem today inasmuch as it is a blatant exercise in hypocrisy. The treaty traded five nations having a nuclear monopoly for other nations gaining access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Guess which side did not hold up their end? So why should the USA, which has broken its pledge to non-nuclear states to help them gain non-weapons based nuclear expertise, get to tell them what they can and cannot do? He points out that the major nations cannot really risk a nuclear confrontation because of MAD (mutually assured destruction), but notes that with the spread of nuclear weapons to more and more third world nations, nuclear weapons have become the weapon of choice for poor nations. It is no longer impossible for lesser nations to buy or develop their own nuclear technology. This is a chilling thing, but the wars they will fight are likely to be local in nature. I suppose that is an upside. And maybe if their nationhood is threatened the way the USA and USSR viability was threatened, they may think twice.
Langewische devotes considerable attention to the exploits of AQ Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb. It seemed to me a poor choice for him to have done so. This material is available elsewhere. He would have done better to explore in depth some other aspects of his large, well-informed knowledge. One item that was particularly informative was his discussion of a policy wonk reporter busily documenting everything in an obscure journal read only by those in the nuclear industry. That was quite interesting.
This is a good read, one that offers some new information and perspectives on a serious policy issue, a bit wonky, but that’s ok by me.