March to Armageddon Essay - Critical Essays

March to Armageddon

The world has changed as a result of the decision to develop and then use nuclear weapons during World War II. MARCH TO ARMAGEDDON illustrates clearly the complexity of issues involved in the myriad decisions that contributed to the development and buildup of nuclear weapons and the parallel efforts made to control these weapons. Examining these interrelated issues, Ronald E. Powaski shows that both the arms buildup and arms control are subject to external forces, as well as internal politics and perceptions. For example, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, coupled with the belief of the Senate that the SALT I (strategic arms limitation talks) agreements had been detrimental to American interests, effectively prevented any agreement on SALT II. Although not a startling conclusion, it is one that is often overlooked and which helps to explain why arms control agreements are so difficult to achieve.

According to Powaski, the nuclear arms race exists largely as a result of the perceptions and misperceptions of the United States and the Soviet Union, growing from a base of mutual suspicion and mistrust. He cites a number of examples that illustrate that reactive policies, whereby each side based its own policies on those of the adversary, helped fuel the arms race. As a result, Powaski suggests, a number of “gaps"--bomber and missile--were perceived, whether or not they existed in reality.

Unlike a book such as Strobe Talbott’s DEADLY GAMBITS, which contains a detailed discussion of the INF (intermediate range nuclear forces) and START (strategic arms reduction talks) negotiations, MARCH TO ARMAGEDDON assumes little prior knowledge on the part of the reader of the arms race and its history and provides chronological overview of arms development and control from atomic weaponry’s first days until the present. Powaski, a high-school teacher who holds a doctorate in history, has written a book notable for its simplicity and usefulness.