There is a degree of arrogance involved in publishing your thoughts at random on the internet. A vain assumption that there are people out there who will be interested in what you have to say (and as an aside: hello and welcome to both of you!) This is perhaps even more apparent when you are dealing with the obscurities and super-specific geekiness of academic history. One reason for this particular blog is the hope that it might interest an audience outside of what is often called ‘the academy.’
That leads into the main question: why in heavens name should you be interested in nuclear history? I for one am not going to pretend that I have all – or even a minority of – the answers to this question. But, I’m enough of a bloviator to think that I might be able to stumble towards a few basic thoughts on the matter.
‘The most peculiar and haunted of presidents’ is going to be a quixotic figure in any field of study.(1) Nixon and Henry Kissinger – the man most closely associated with the president and his policies – are sources of endless fascination for the scholar and layperson alike.
In my own field, the relationship between the two men and the idea of nuclear proliferation is no less enthralling than any of the other areas in which they involved themselves. Both had little time for the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and non-proliferation activities in general, as their sights were firmly set on the ‘big picture’ policies of détente with the Soviet Union, the normalisation of relations with the People’s Republic of China, the Middle East peace process, Vietnam, and the ‘Year of Europe.’
I meant to post about this ages ago, when the documents were first released, but other stuff got in the way as usual. However, this is so interesting that I had to talk about it at some point.
The National Security Archive at George Washington University continues its excellent work in obtaining the release of previously classified nuclear documentation with this recent set of diplomatic messages.(1) They highlight the efforts of the United States in trying to restrain Pakistani nuclear ambitions while concurrently attempting to achieve other – often conflicting – foreign policy objectives.
The Iranian nuclear situation is nothing if not fascinating. The sheer level of anger the thought of an Iranian atomic bomb causes ‘the West’ is remarkable, but not unprecedented. Recent developments have been described as a “provocation” by the French government, amongst others.
Similar concerns were apparent in the late 1960s and early 1970s when India was progressing her weapons programme.(1) Likewise in the 1970s, U.S. ally Taiwan had serious plans for nuclear capability, but was ‘dissuaded’ by American pressure and the promises of an atomic security umbrella.(2) Yet, eyes were turned away when Israel developed capability. By 1974 at the latest (and probably much earlier – some documentation seems to indicate that there was an awareness of the Israeli bomb project in 1968), Israel was known to have a nuclear arsenal.(3) As an interesting sidenote, the same document that accurately assesses the Israeli and Taiwanese programmes also categorises South Africa as more of a danger regarding the proliferation of nuclear materials (such as uranium) rather than as a nuclear weapon state (which it became by the early 1980s, albeit in a very limited fashion.)