Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Michael Krepon’s ‘Better Safe Than Sorry’ Makes The Economist

Posted by K.E. White on February 12, 2009

Picture of Michael Krepon

The Economist gives a glowing summary of Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb, by Michael Krepon–“one of America’s most sensible specialists in nuclear-risk reduction”.

Michael Krepon is co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center. He also teaches politics at the University of Virginia, where I had the pleasure to be one of his students. 

From the book review:

Mr Krepon picks out five principles from the cold war that can still apply in lesser but still dangerous circumstances today: deterrence (an irrational set of theories that, ironically, grew out of attempts to think seriously about the bomb); conventional military strength; containment; diplomatic engagement; and, one useful result of all of the above, a readiness on both sides to engage in arms control. An equal achievement was the durability of the nuclear non-proliferation regime: most governments took the rational decision in seemingly irrational times that nuclear abstinence was the safest route to security.

It was the combination that counted: a lesson forgotten after the September 11th 2001 attacks, when George Bush sought America’s safety at first, not in diplomacy, containment and the judicious use of preventive strikes, but in military dominance and a disdain for diplomacy as a strategy. It was this new sort of “better safe than sorry” approach, whatever intelligence mistakes were made over Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, that led Mr Bush to launch the world’s first preventive war for non-proliferation.

America’s new president is ready to re-engage on arms control, argue for still more radical weapons cuts and make “zero” the guiding thought of his nuclear policy. But Mr Krepon, a radical but no dove, counsels caution: zero may yet prove a better guide for the journey than a destination. Disarmament, like nuclear abstinence in the first nuclear age, has to be a rational calculation, not an act of faith; impatience can be the enemy of radicalism. Much, he argues, will depend on how those five key principles are now applied to Iran, whose nuclear ambitions are the greatest challenge to stability in the second nuclear age.

Purchase the book via Amazon here, and read his recent article Does Threat Reduction Require Threat Inflation here. A Proliferation Press review is on its way.

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