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The Seventh Decade

Jonathan Schell

Beginning with his 1982 book, The Fate of the Earth, Jonathan Schell has written with power, clarity, and passion about the threat nuclear weapons pose to all humankind and the need to take bold action to avoid catastrophic failure. His latest book builds upon his earlier work and makes the case that today’s nuclear arsenals together with the growing spread of nuclear weapon know-how are creating a situation of extreme danger.

Part I of the new book presents a succinct history and analysis of the misguided thinking about the utility of nuclear weapons and nuclear policies since 1945. Part II is devoted to Bush Administration’s 180-degree reversal of traditional U.S. non-proliferation policy by seeking to prevent and reverse nuclear proliferation by use force instead of diplomacy and treaties. The subtitle of this part is aptly chosen: Rise and Fall of the Bush Doctrine.

Part III of the book is devoted to what Schell refers to as the Second Nuclear Era, the period beginning with the end of the Cold War. His focus is the current scene in which it has become recognized that non-state terrorists might acquire a nuclear weapon and yet the nuclear weapon states are focusing on “improvements” to their arsenals. Schell sees the abolition of nuclear weapons by global agreement as the only way out of the growing threat nuclear weapons pose to humankind. Schell is no stranger to the many obstacles that must be overcome to achieve nuclear abolition given that two of his earlier books, Abolition (1984) and The Gift of Time (1998), have abolition as their main themes.

Fortunately, Schell’s latest call for global nuclear abolition comes at a time it is likely to receive the serious attention it deserves. It connects directly to the George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn OpEd in the January 4, 2007, Wall Street Journal arguing that the global abolition of nuclear weapons must become the ultimate goal of nuclear arms control. That surprising OpEd is the product of an October 2006 conference the Stanford Hoover Institute celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Reykjavik Summit at which Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev agreed abolition should become the goal for nuclear arms. The January 2007 OpEd has gained the support of many high-level military and civilian figures from past U.S. administrations, and the leadership of the U.K. has signaled its support as well.

The outcomes of the U.S. Presidential and Congressional elections in November 2008 will have a major impact on U.S. nuclear posture. Without dedicated U.S. leadership, global nuclear abolition will go nowhere.

Jeremiah Sullivan


New York, Metropolitan Books, 2007, 272 Pages; ISBN 978-0805081291, US$ 24.