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The key to understanding John Mueller's intent in this book is that a laudatory cover blurb is offered by "Stephen M. Walt, author of Taming American Power." Mr. Mueller, likewise, wants to limit the exercise of American power in the world by arguing, quite rightly, that we face no realistic nuclear threat from any other nation and pretty much never have. For the sake of argument we might pretend that the USSR briefly had a worrisome nuclear capacity. But recall that after the Cold War former Soviet officials admitted that even as late as the Cuban Missile Crisis they had no capacity to engage in an exchange with us and that Daryl Press and Keir Lieber have recently written authoritatively about the nuclear supremacy we enjoy today. Mr. Mueller takes the whole matter a few steps further and shows that the weapons themselves are far less destructive and murderous than both opponents and advocates have always claimed, that possession of nuclear weapons has never served to deter enemy action, that even rogue states aren't going to use them and that terrorists aren't going to obtain them. His ultimate argument is that if the leaders of a country are determined to obtain a nuclear capacity we can blithely "let them have it." In essence, his is a call for isolationism, justified by accepting that no matter how evil the regime they aren't a realistic nuclear threat to us.

Of course, his position requires that we adopt a posture of indifference not only to nuclear weapons, but to evil. After all, it is all well and good for us to sit back and relax, secure in the knowledge that North Korea is incapable of inflicting much of any harm on us. But how can any decent person justify indifference in the face of the harm the regime inflicts on its own people? Indeed, unfortunately for Mr. Mueller and his ilk, he's fatally undermined one of the most effective arguments that the non-interventionists/isolationists had going for them lo these past 6 decades, that the casualties such a regime might inflict as we were removing it make such action too risky to be worthwhile. When Mr. Mueller demonstrates that a nuclear weapon exploded in Central Park would not even destroy the surrounding buildings and that the release of nuclear materials around Chernobyl had no deleterious health effects on the surrounding population, he is accidentally making a powerful case for our dropping a bomb on a Politburo meeting.

The value of this book is that it demythologizes nuclear weapons, speaks rationally about their military limitations, and obviates any notion that we need fear having them used against us. But, where the book is meant to get us to turn a blind eye to the attempts of evil regimes to obtain such weapons, it instead turns up the pressure on us to remove these regimes entire, since it can be done with so little risk and at so little cost.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

John Mueller Links:

    -FACULTY SITE: John Mueller: Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies, Mershon Center, Professor of Political Science (Ohio State University)
    -WIKIPEDIA: John Mueller
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Atomic Obsession
    -BOOK SITE: Atomic Obsession (OUP)
    -BOOK FORUM: Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al Qaeda: Featuring the author, John Mueller, Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies, Ohio State University; Michael Krepon, Co-Founder, Henry L. Stimson Center; and Jeffrey G. Lewis, Director, Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative, New America Foundation. (Moderated by Justin Logan, Associate Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute, The Cato Institute, 10/29/09)
    -ESSAY: Atomic Overreaction: A nuclear Iran is undesirable, John Mueller writes, but the prospect is less scary than some of the hysteria-fueled ideas on how to avert it. (John Mueller, 1/10/10, The Chronicle Review)
    -ESSAY: Exaggerating the alarm over a nuclear attack: How much should the prospect of a nuclear attack frighten us? In the view of John Meuller, a professor of political science at Ohio State University, our worries about nuclear weapons and their use by sovereign states and stateless terrorists border on obsession. Fact is, he points out in "Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda," published by Oxford University Press, nuclear weapons have not been used since World War II. In this controversial book, he argues that efforts to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction have themselves caused widespread suffering and violence. (GUEST BLOGGER: John Mueller, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY: Calming Our Nuclear Jitters: An exaggerated fear of nuclear weapons has led to many wrongheaded policy decisions. A more sober assessment is needed. (John Mueller, Winter 2010, Issues Online)
    -ESSAY: Nuclear Bunkum: Don’t panic: bin Laden’s WMD are mythical, too. (John Mueller, 1/01/10, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: The 'Safe Haven' Myth (John Mueller, October 21, 2009, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: The Rise of Nuclear Alarmism: How we learned to start worrying and fear the bomb -- and why we don’t have to (JOHN MUELLER, OCTOBER 23, 2009, Foreign Policy)
    -ESSAY: Abolition? Why? (John Mueller, June 7, 2009, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: How Dangerous Are the Taliban?: Why Afghanistan Is the Wrong War (John Mueller, April 15, 2009, Foreign Affairs)
    -ESSAY: Terrorphobia,/a>: our false sense of insecurity )John Mueller, May/June 2008, American Interest)
-ESSAY: Apocalypse Later (John Mueller, 11.12.2007, National Interest)
    -ESSAY: Radioactive Hype (John Mueller, 08.29.2007 , National Interest)
    -ESSAY: What If We Leave? (John Mueller , 2/26/07, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of Francis J. Gavin. "Same As It Ever Was: Nuclear Alarmism, Proliferation, and the Cold War." (John Mueller, International Security 34:3 Winter 2009/10)
    -INTERVIEW: Was Obama Nuke Summit Necessary or Just “Nuclear Alarmism”? And What About Israel’s Arsenal? (Democracy Now, 4/14/10)
    -LECTURE: Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda (John Mueller, BookTV)
    -INTERVIEW: A Different View: So What If Iran Gets The Bomb? (Marc Ambinder, Sep 25 2009, The Atlantic)
    -INTERVIEW: The Nuclear Debate (Riz Khan show, April 12, 2010, Al Jazeera)
    -INTERVIEW: Aftermath of the Nuclear Summit; The Politics of Insurance (Warren Olney, 4/14/10, KCRW)
    -REVIEW: of Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda By John Mueller (Michael Burleigh, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW: of Atomic Obsession (GABRIEL SCHOENFELD, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Atomic Obsession (Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Atomic Obsession (Simon Jenkins, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Atomic Obsession (Robert Jervis, The National Interest)
    -REVIEW: of Atomic Obsession (Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy)
    -REVIEW: of Atomic Obsession (Gerard DeGroot, Arms Control Association)
    -REVIEW: of Atomic Obsession (Benoît Pélopidas , Nonproliferation Review)
    -REVIEW: of Atomic Obsession (Stuart A Reid, The National)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Reassessing the Cold War alliances: Petr Lunak considers how documents discovered in Warsaw Pact archives are influencing and challenging conventional interpretations of the Cold War alliances. (Petr Lunak, Nato Review)