Military Review


Publishing Disclaimer: In all of its publications and products, Military Review presents professional information. However, the views expressed therein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Army University, the Department of the Army, or any other agency of the U.S. government.

The New Nuclear Disorder Cover

The New Nuclear Disorder

Challenges to Deterrence and Strategy

Stephen J. Cimbala

Ashgate Publishing Company, New York, 2015, 254 pages

Book Review published on: January 3, 2017

The New Nuclear Disorder: Challenges to Deterrence and Strategy is well written and easy to read, even if you are not familiar with the jargon or esoteric terms of art in the fields Stephen J. Cimbala covers. The book is a compendium of different ways the nuclear weapons policy problem is changing during the beginning of the twenty-first century. Cimbala examines a specific policy issue with each chapter. Many of the issues overlap to some degree between chapters, providing some continuity, but the issues are largely covered independently by chapter.

Although I cannot represent all the chapters in a short book review, I will touch on some of the more interesting ideas Cimbala brings to light. He does a nice job recounting the essential elements needed during a crisis for two opposing sides (the simplest case) to limit escalation and resolve their differences. Cimbala then points out that, essentially, all the elements he lists for a positive crisis resolution are targets for cyber war. In an actual crisis, the use of information war techniques could make information so untrustworthy that opponents would not reasonably understand one another’s positions and therefore could not resolve the crisis without escalation or possibly a nuclear exchange.

The book is not based entirely in theoretical scenarios. A significant portion is devoted to historical events that highlight the ease with which a nuclear crisis could develop. Cimbala uses events like the Able Archer “War Scare” in 1983, a Norwegian scientific rocket launch over Russia in 1995, and Vladimir Putin’s operations in Ukraine in 2014 to show how fragile global peace may be.

Cimbala covers other major areas of concern for those who must solve contemporary nuclear policy problems. These include how geography affects deterrence, the potential for proliferation of nuclear weapons in Asia, how to end an ongoing nuclear conflict, the likelihood of small regional nuclear wars, culturally based misunderstandings, missile defense technology issues, and the effects of proliferation (potentially positive or negative effects).

The underlying theme is that the way deterrence worked during the Cold War is no longer a valid model for contemporary policy, and new solutions must be developed. Cimbala lays out many thought-provoking problems but does not offer solutions.

The sole criticism I have for this book is the lack of clear explanation for the model being used to predict the results of a nuclear exchange. It is important to understand the assumptions used to determine the survivability of nuclear weapons in the various scenarios he proposes. The reader is left to accept Cimbala’s estimates without further explanation. It is a departure from an otherwise highly authoritative and well-documented work.

In summary, this is a very provocative and interesting book. If you have an interest in twenty-first century changes that affect nuclear weapons policy, this book will be very interesting for you, and it will illuminate challenges that are very difficult and are yet to be solved by policy makers worldwide.

Book Review written by: Harold A. Laurence, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas