Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review: The Nuclear Express

I have just finished reading a new book co-authored by Thomas C. Reed and Danny B Stillman called The Nuclear Express, published by Zenith Press. The authors are clearly, extremely knowledgeable on the subject and have put together what is in my view one of the most comprehensive essays on the subject of nuclear proliferation that has ever been published.

Thomas C. Reed is a former nuclear weapons designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, political manager for Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial contests, Secretary of the Air force under presidents Ford and Carter, Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Policy, and a successful businessman.

Danny B. Stillman is a Los Alamos physicist with decades of experience in nuclear design, diagnostics, and testing. For thirteen years Stillman directed the Los Alamos Technical Intelligence Division; at the end of that tour he was awarded the Intelligence Community Seal Medallion.

It is hard to take issue with the accuracy of this book in which any reader who has even the slightest interest in the subject will find packed with fascinating facts and dates that shed a bright light on our dangerous road to nuclear hell. Stillman and Reed crisscross the globe connecting the dots, turning what could easily be a horribly boring subject for policy nerds into a suspenseful, entertaining, and most importantly, enlightening read. The first thing the reader is struck by is that, clearly, the United States would never have become the first nuclear power in the world had it not been for a small group of Jewish scientist who escaped Hitler, moved to the US and were eager to strike back at the Nazi's by helping the allied war effort.

But where I do take issue with Stillman and Reed is not on their impeccable facts, but on their rather weak conclusions, especially on the matter of Iran. With the possible exceptions of North Korea or a Taliban takeover of Pakistan, Iran represents the single greatest threat of nuclear proliferation this world has ever confronted. What are Stillman and Reed’s answers to that threat? That we should “stay in touch” with Iran, seek “UN Sanctions” and should they acquire a nuclear arsenal... to contain the crazy mullah’s like it's 1985... and they are the Soviets. Wow! In this case the authors are showing their age. Perhaps the radical Islamic concept of martyrdom and 72 virgins hasn't sunk in with them yet.

For two experts that’s quite a passive, Jimmy Carter-like state-of-mind. Clearly, an Iranian nuclear arsenal will spark the kind of regional arms race this world has never seen. Every single Sunni Arab state will rush to acquire nuclear programs and most have the ability to pay for it in cash. Certainly Russia and France will rush to fill such contracts without batting an eye. An Iranian bomb will very likely end up in the hands of their Shiite terror-proxies like Hezbollah, and an Iranian ballistic missile delivery system will threaten the European continent in a way that would make the Soviet threat seem like child’s-play. Not because it will be as large (it won’t), but because it will be far less predictable, or susceptible to old-school rational discussions about mutually assured destruction and all the rest. As the old saying goes, just one nuclear explosion can ruin your entire day.

Any person who is really concerned about nuclear proliferation would shutter at the very thought that Iran might acquire the bomb yet Reed and Stillman seem remarkably casual about it. That is one scenario that I would think any expert might find a way to overcome their personal inclinations towards appeasement and weakness.

Having said all of that, The Nuclear Express is a great read and will be a real eye-opener for those naively going about their day without the slightest thought of the real-world dangers of nuclear proliferation.


  1. Sounds like a good read.

  2. Nice review, and I agree: "Weak conclusions on Iran" We are intelligence gurus, telling the readers how we got here. What to do next is left to the younger generation. Don't try to bomb Iranian facilities, Mr. President, but DO SOMETHING. - Tom Reed, co-Author

  3. I am honored to get a comment from co-Author Thomas Reed. In response I would only say that the more we talk about NOT bombing the Iranian Nuclear facilities, the more likely that in the end we will have no other alternative. The only real “DO SOMETHNG” alternative that I can think of is some kind of internal regime change in Iran. But the clock is ticking and time is running out. Sometimes one is left with nothing but bad choices. In any event, congrats to Reed and Stillman for a fantastic book.

  4. thought provoking stuff. Scary! If it's not swine flu it's insane people with nuclear bombs. Perhaps our better days are behind us.


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