Atomic Friends: How America Deals with Nuclear-Armed Allies, by Zachary Keck, an NPEC Wohlstetter Fellow, is a sleeper. It is about nuclear proliferation. It’s got to be boring, right?
No, not this one. A week after its release, the Aspen Institute’s Security Group named it “Book of the Week.” Meanwhile, Amazon ranked it fourth among new releases on arms control.
It’s a page-turner.
I’ve read it twice. Graham Allison of Harvard has praised it, as did Paul Bracken of Yale and Lynn Rusten of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
It is easy to see why. First, it refrains from abstracting and theorizing to tell a story — actually four — about the political and military fallout Washington had to cope with after the British, French, Israeli, and Pakistanis went nuclear. Zack not only unearths new, historical archival material, he interviewed those directly involved in the history he writes about.
Second, the book makes a point too many analysts have missed: Far from strengthening security alliance ties or relieving America of spending to support these friends, allied acquisition of nuclear weapons historically has proven to be less than a benefit. As Lynn Rusten notes:
Keck’s historical study of countries that have “gone nuclear” could not be more timely or clear … at a time when countries are re-evaluating their non-nuclear status, this book explains why U.S. policymakers must prioritize assuring allies and partners of their security without nuclear weapons.
Published August 2022
Published by: Rowman and Littlefield
Written by: Zachary Keck
Table of Contents
Foreward: Graham T. Allison
Chapter 1– Introduction
Chapter 2—Ultimate Betrayal (Britain, 1939-1946)
Chapter 3—Stuck in the Mud (Britain, 1947-1955)
Chapter 4: Full Cooperation at Last (Britain, 1956-1962)
Chapter 5: A Bomb is Born (France, 1945-1960)
Chapter 6: The General’s Bomb (France, 1961-1975)
Chapter 7: A Nuclear Cat and Mouse (Israel, 1950s-1963)
Chapter 8: The Bomb Which Shall Not Be Named (Israel, 1963-1979)
Chapter 9: The Bomb From Hell (Pakistan, 1973-1990)
Chapter 10: Pandora’s Box (Pakistan, 1990-Present)
Chapter 11: Conclusion
About the Author
Chapter 1: Introduction
How does allied proliferation impact U.S. national security? This question preoccupied U.S. officials during much of the Cold War, when numerous allies and partners considered acquiring the bomb. In the immediate post-Cold War era, its importance has diminished. Most friendly countries that once considered nuclear weapons abandoned these ambitions. The few that hadn’t, such as Israel and Pakistan, already acquired the bomb by 1991. Thus, the proliferation concerns of the first two decades after the Cold War mainly revolved around small, hostile nations like North Korea, Iran, and Libya.
This has begun to change. Saudi Arabia is pursuing the capabilities to build its own nuclear weapons, and its leaders have openly threatened to do so if Iran goes nuclear. President Kennedy was consumed by fears the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) would acquire nuclear weapons, and preventing that outcome was one of America’s greatest nonproliferation successes. This achievement is now in jeopardy as Germany openly questions its nuclear abstinence. 1 Periodic polls out of South Korea show strong public support for acquiring nuclear weapons. Although most South Korean political leaders haven’t endorsed this position, there have been calls for Washington to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Peninsula. Moreover, Seoul continues to push Washington to allow it to produce its own fissile material. Turkey and Egypt are also increasingly flirting with nuclear programs that make no economic sense. Although many claim Japan has a nuclear allergy owing to the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a rapidly deteriorating security situation has led Tokyo to consider revising its Pacifist constitution. It’s hardly unthinkable that Japan may eventually decide that rearmament should include a nuclear element, especially if China seizes the Senkaku Islands or Taiwan. If Tokyo did make this decision, no country is better prepared to rapidly build nuclear weapons. In Brazil, the president’s son, a member of Congress himself, has advocated for building nuclear weapons. Like Japan, Brazil’s existing nuclear infrastructure would make this a relatively simple enterprise. 2
1. Christian Hacke, “Why Germany Should Get the Bomb,” The National Interest, August 12, 2018 and Tristan Volpe & Ulrich Kühn, “Germany’s Nuclear Education: Why a Few Elites Are Testing a Taboo,” The Washington Quarterly, Number 40, Issue 3 (2017).
2. Richard Mann, “Eduardo Bolsonaro Defends Possession of Nuclear Weapons,” The Rio Times, May 15, 2019.
To read the first 77 pages, click here.