Return to Armageddon: The United States and the Nuclear Arms Race, 1981-1999

Oxford University Press
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When the Cold War ended, the world let out a collective sigh of relief as the fear of nuclear confrontation between superpowers appeared to vanish overnight. As we approach the new millennium, however, the proliferation of nuclear weapons to ever more belligerent countries and factions raises alarming new concerns about the threat of nuclear war. In Return to Armageddon, Ronald Powaski assesses the dangers that beset us as we enter an increasingly unstable political world. With the START I and II treaties, completed by George Bush in 1991 and 1993 respectively, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, it seemed as if the nuclear clock had been successfully turned back to a safer hour. But Powaski shows that there is much less reason for optimism than we may like to think. Continued U.S.-Russian cooperation can no longer be assured. To make matters worse, Russia has not ratified the START II Treaty and the U.S. Senate has failed to approve the CTBT. Perhaps even more ominously, the effort to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by nonweapon states is threatened by nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan. The nuclear club is growing and its most recent members are increasingly hostile. Indeed, it is becoming ever more difficult to keep track of the expertise and material needed to build nuclear weapons, which almost certainly will find their way into terrorist hands. Accessible, authoritative, and provocative, Return to Armageddon provides both a comprehensive account of the arms control process and a startling reappraisal of the nuclear threat that refuses to go away.
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About the author

Ronald Powaski is the author of The Cold War: The U.S. and the Soviet Union, 1917-1991 and March to Armageddon: The United States and the Nuclear Arms Race, 1939-1987, both by OUP. He is an adjunct professor of history at Cleveland State University. He lives in Euclid, Ohio.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Feb 20, 2003
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9780190289676
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Americas (North, Central, South, West Indies)
History / Military / Nuclear Warfare
History / United States / 20th Century
Political Science / International Relations / Arms Control
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Since the first atomic bomb was exploded in 1945, a close community of civilian experts, including scientists, academics, and think-tank intellectuals, has advised the American government on the prospects of nuclear war. Based on interviews with these experts, as well as hundreds of pages of recently declassified documents, Counsels of War is the first book to trace in detail the deliberations and shifting recommendations of the experts on the bomb from Hiroshima to "Star Wars."

Gregg Herken writes about the people whose profession it has been to think about the unthinkable—Robert McNamara, Paul Nitze, Herman Kahn, Bernard Brodie—including their intense rivalries, personal animosities, and often contentious relationship with the professional military. He reveals how the influence of the scientist and strategist has extended well beyond the laboratory and the classroom—in the proposal of Kennedy's advisers for a nuclear "demonstration" and even a "clever first-strike" against the Russians, for example. Counsels of War also shatters certain popular assumptions about U.S. nuclear policy. As Herken points out, while American doctrine stresses "retaliation," U.S. strategists have always planned to "pre-empt" a Soviet attack.

Herken shows that the lines in the current nuclear debate were actually drawn at the dawn of the atomic age, and that the experts' technically abstruse arguments have only served to hide from the public the fundamental, deeply held—and quite subjective—differences at the heart of the debate. Since Hiroshima, there has been a growing awareness of the peril created by nuclear weapons, yet the crucial questions that were never adequately addressed in 1945 unanswered today. Given the inability of the experts to confront the essential dilemma of the nuclear age, Counsels of War calls for a new nuclear debate, one focused on American rather than Soviet intentions and that seeks an answer to the fundamental, yet still unresolved question: What are these weapons for?
The Oscar-shortlisted documentary Command and Control, directed by Robert Kenner, finds its origins in Eric Schlosser's book and continues to explore the little-known history of the management and safety concerns of America's nuclear aresenal.

A myth-shattering exposé of America’s nuclear weapons

Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that has existed since the dawn of the nuclear age: How do you deploy weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them? That question has never been resolved—and Schlosser reveals how the combination of human fallibility and technological complexity still poses a grave risk to mankind. While the harms of global warming increasingly dominate the news, the equally dangerous yet more immediate threat of nuclear weapons has been largely forgotten.

Written with the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller, Command and Control interweaves the minute-by-minute story of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas with a historical narrative that spans more than fifty years. It depicts the urgent effort by American scientists, policy makers, and military officers to ensure that nuclear weapons can’t be stolen, sabotaged, used without permission, or detonated inadvertently. Schlosser also looks at the Cold War from a new perspective, offering history from the ground up, telling the stories of bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance crews, and other ordinary servicemen who risked their lives to avert a nuclear holocaust. At the heart of the book lies the struggle, amid the rolling hills and small farms of Damascus, Arkansas, to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States.

Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with people who designed and routinely handled nuclear weapons, Command and Control takes readers into a terrifying but fascinating world that, until now, has been largely hidden from view. Through the details of a single accident, Schlosser illustrates how an unlikely event can become unavoidable, how small risks can have terrible consequences, and how the most brilliant minds in the nation can only provide us with an illusion of control. Audacious, gripping, and unforgettable, Command and Control is a tour de force of investigative journalism, an eye-opening look at the dangers of America’s nuclear age.
For half of the twentieth century, the Cold War gripped the world. International relations everywhere--and domestic policy in scores of nations--pivoted around this central point, the American-Soviet rivalry. Even today, much of the world's diplomacy grapples with chaos created by the Cold War's sudden disappearance. Here indeed is a subject that defies easy understanding. Now comes a definitive account, a startlingly fresh, clear eyed, comprehensive history of our century's longest struggle. In The Cold War, Ronald E. Powaski offers a new perspective on the great rivalry, even as he provides a coherent, concise narrative. He wastes no time in challenging the reader to think of the Cold War in new ways, arguing that the roots of the conflict are centuries old, going back to Czarist Russia and to the very infancy of the American nation. He shows that both Russia and America were expansionist nations with messianic complexes, and the people of both nations believed they possessed a unique mission in history. Except for a brief interval in 1917, Americans perceived the Russian government (whether Czarist or Bolshevik) as despotic; Russians saw the United States as conspiring to prevent it from reaching its place in the sun. U.S. military intervention in Russia's civil war, with the aim of overthrowing Lenin's upstart regime, entrenched Moscow's fears. Soviet American relations, difficult before World War II--when both nations were relatively weak militarily and isolated from world affairs--escalated dramatically after both nations emerged as the world's major military powers. Powaski paints a portrait of the spiraling tensions with stark clarity, as each new development added to the rivalry: the Marshall Plan, the communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the Berlin blockade, the formation of NATO, the first Soviet nuclear test. In this atmosphere, Truman found it easy to believe that the Communist victory in China and the Korean War were products of Soviet expansionism. He and his successors extended their own web of mutual defense treaties, covert actions, and military interventions across the globe--from the Caribbean to the Middle East and, finally to Southeast Asia, where containment famously foundered in the bog of Vietnam. Powaski skillfully highlights the domestic politics, diplomatic maneuvers, and even psychological factors as he untangles the knot that bound the two superpowers together in conflict. From the nuclear arms race, to the impact of U.S. recognition of China on detente, to Brezhnev's inflexible persistence in competing with America everywhere, he casts new light on familiar topics. Always judicious in his assessments, Powaski gives due credit to Reagan and especially Bush in facilitating the Soviet collapse, but also notes that internal economic failure, not outside pressure, proved decisive in the Communist failure. Perhaps most important, he offers a clear eyed assessment of the lasting distortions the struggle wrought upon American institutions, raising questions about whether anyone really won the Cold War. With clarity, fairness, and insight, he offers the definitive account of our century's longest international rivalry.
An incredible true tale of espionage and engineering set at the height of the Cold War—a mix between The Hunt for Red October and Argo—about how the CIA, the U.S. Navy, and America’s most eccentric mogul spent six years and nearly a billion dollars to steal the nuclear-armed Soviet submarine K-129 after it had sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean; all while the Russians were watching.

In the early hours of February 25, 1968, a Russian submarine armed with three nuclear ballistic missiles set sail from its base in Siberia on a routine combat patrol to Hawaii. Then it vanished.

As the Soviet Navy searched in vain for the lost vessel, a small, highly classified American operation using sophisticated deep-sea spy equipment found it—wrecked on the sea floor at a depth of 16,800 feet, far beyond the capabilities of any salvage that existed. But the potential intelligence assets onboard the ship—the nuclear warheads, battle orders, and cryptological machines—justified going to extreme lengths to find a way to raise the submarine.

So began Project Azorian, a top-secret mission that took six years, cost an estimated $800 million, and would become the largest and most daring covert operation in CIA history.

After the U.S. Navy declared retrieving the sub “impossible,” the mission fell to the CIA's burgeoning Directorate of Science and Technology, the little-known division responsible for the legendary U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes. Working with Global Marine Systems, the country's foremost maker of exotic, deep-sea drilling vessels, the CIA commissioned the most expensive ship ever built and told the world that it belonged to the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who would use the mammoth ship to mine rare minerals from the ocean floor. In reality, a complex network of spies, scientists, and politicians attempted a project even crazier than Hughes’s reputation: raising the sub directly under the watchful eyes of the Russians.

The Taking of K-129 is a riveting, almost unbelievable true-life tale of military history, engineering genius, and high-stakes spy-craft set during the height of the Cold War, when nuclear annihilation was a constant fear, and the opportunity to gain even the slightest advantage over your enemy was worth massive risk.
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