Euromissiles by Susan Colbourn [8/10]

Euromissiles: The Nuclear Weapons That Nearly Destroyed NATO” sounds like an arcane topic but in the hands of a superb, engaging American historian proves to be an engrossing delight. It is the story of the 1960s-1980s intermediate-range nuclear weapons—the SS-20s, the Pershing-2s, the cruise missiles, titles that resonate with my memories but might mean little to younger readers—that were touted for the defense/offence of Europe at the “second” height of the Cold War (assuming the Cuban Missile Crisis represented the apogee). Weaving in an astonishing array of archival and other sources, the author relates how a strategy of “flexible response” drove European nations and the United States to develop new missiles; how this galvanized Europeans (and not only Europeans, I remember enlisting in the peace movement in Australia in the early 1980s) to protest; how the new missiles began to be deployed just as Gorbachev entered the scene; and how he and Reagan and later Bush ended up agreeing to junk the lot of them. The author conveys both the inner workings of NATO and the two superpowers over this period, and the on-the-ground political chaos in Europe. Written in a rhythmic, digestible style, and effortlessly ducking back and forth in time amidst the complexity, she has written one of those rare books: a robust history that will stand as a reference book and also an accessible drama for us normal readers. A chapter called “The Year of the Missile” is as riveting as a thriller. Euromissiles is a triumph.

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