What are the military aspirations and capabilities of the world's real and would-be nuclear powers? These are the basic questions husband-and-wife reporters Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger set out to answer. That they fail in their quest should surprise no one. Not only are governments secretive about such matters, governmental approaches to forming a unified nuclear policy also tend to be piecemeal and politically driven. In their two-year odyssey, which began in 2005, Hodge, a writer for Jane's Defense Weekly, and Weinberger, a contributor to Wired's national security blog, Danger Room, visited nuclear sites in the U.S., the Marshall Islands, Kazakhstan, Russia and Iran. They discover a milieu in which the terrible clarity of the Cold War doctrine of mutually assured destruction no longer applies but where the political momentum to do something nuclear is too strong to stop.

Most of A Nuclear Family Vacation covers American installations - from the design labs at Los Alamos and Livermore to archaic missile silos sprinkled across the Great Plains. At each stop, the authors encounter turfs to be protected and missions to be rationalized. They do not find, however, anything approaching a national strategy for the development and use of nuclear weapons and defenses. Little wonder, then, that their narrative is shot through with flashes of dark humor and incredulity.

"During our journey across the U. S. nuclear complex," they report, "it occasionally felt like we were visiting an Oldsmobile factory: outmoded facilities with a cynical workforce and little in the way of a vision for the future. . . . In Russia, the United States and its allies threw money at nonproliferation programs without any clear way to gauge their success. Iran's nuclear program - whether peaceful or not - was doing little beside guaranteeing the country's continued political and economic isolation." One can only imagine what Hodge and Weinberger might have discovered had they extended their forays into such other hot zones as North Korea, China, Pakistan, India and Israel.

Edward Morris reviews from Nashville.

 

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