Seeking the Bomb by Vipin Narang [8/10]

Primarily intended for an academic/policy wonk audience, “Seeking the Bomb: Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation” is a stunning surprise. Books on proliferation, arms control, etc., are by definition dense with facts and analysis, yet Vipin Narang, an MIT political scientist, cuts through the thicket with stark, clear prose laced with insight, to the point where I believe some general readers would benefit from diving in. This terrain is crowded with analysts seeking to understand why certain countries (beyond the original quintet of the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China) have pursued nuclear weapons, sometimes to the point of becoming irrevocably nuclear-armed (here we’re talking about India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea), more often turning around (or being turned around) before then. Narang’s brilliant idea is to conceptualize not WHY but HOW, that is, what strategies were (or are) being employed. He deftly distinguishes between hedging, sprinting, sheltered pursuit, and hiding, and anyone familiar with proliferation will immediately be able to line up bomb pursuers and those four labels. Narang unfolds a multi-factorial blueprint for why some states pursue one acquisition strategy, while others proceed differently, and mostly his theory seems borne out in history. More importantly from my perspective, this work on understanding HOW then sharpens our understanding of WHY. The case studies analyzed, in depth but with great clarity, are brilliantly presented, with just the right mix of detail or summation. All in all, Seeking the Bomb is an indispensable tool for us to ensure that the number of nuclear weapons states never enters double figures.

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