Nuclear proliferation is an ever present security concern. In a recent book by Michael Krepon, Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb, Krepon examines the ironies of living in a world with nuclear weapons. He divides history into two nuclear periods: the past up until 1991, and everything thereafter. Krepon’s ideas have been recently featured in The Economist and also in an op-ed on proliferation vs. abolition that Krepon wrote for UPI.
Krepon argues that while our current nuclear situation in no way compares to that of past years from WWII through the Cold War, the bomb is still a huge concern.
“I begin this book with a snapshot of where we are and then move back in time to snapshots of previous periods of presumed maximum nuclear danger. The purpose of these vignettes is to place contemporary anxieties into histori-cal context.”
A large part of the book is dedicated to addressing the irony that, though we remain in fear of the bomb’s use, countries have, and continue to build up their nuclear arsenals. A recent New York Times report addresses the fact that even defense strategies in the United States are becoming outpaced by the build-up of nuclear weapons in Iran and Pakistan.
Krepon argues: “I also believe that a sense of irony helps when working on nuclear problems. Good intentions can produce terrible results, and good outcomes can some¬times result from nefarious plans.”
As the article in the Economist explains, Krepon uses five principles from the cold war that can still apply in circumstances today: deterrence; conventional military strength; containment; diplomatic engagement; and a readiness on both sides to engage in arms control. As the struggle between abolition and proliferation occurs in this nuclear age –something that Krepon addresses in his own article – the greatest challenge to stability will depend on the 5 principles he lays out, especially in Pakistan and Iran where nuclear weapons are becoming a more legitimate concern.
Though it concerns very real dangers, Krepon’s book is not meant to scare the reader. As he puts it: “The United States has been through far worse periods of nuclear peril, and we have found safe passage. We can get through this mess as well. This is a hopeful book.”