- Doomed to Cooperate: How American and Russian Scientists Joined Forces to Avert Some of the Greatest Post-Cold War Nuclear Dangers ed. by Siegfried Hecker
Edited by Siegfried Hecker. 2 vols. Los Alamos, NM: Bathtub Row Press, 2016. Pp. 540 & 436. $80.
Throughout the Cold War, U.S. and Soviet scientists worked tirelessly to invent new nuclear weapons and refine old ones, all in the name of nuclear deterrence, the promise to annihilate an enemy and lay waste to their cities and people. This strategy resulted in the creation of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed almost overnight. The lethal stability of deterrence was gone, with the Soviet nuclear arsenal and industry seemingly up for grabs. These potential “loose nukes” included 39,000 nuclear weapons at sixty sites across eleven time zones, 1.4m kg of fissile materials, and one million employees (vol. 1, p. 35).
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Russian and U.S. scientists, many of whom had developed nuclear weapons during the Cold War, cooperated to confront these post-Cold War dangers. The two volumes of Doomed to Cooperate tell the story of the lab-to-lab programs and celebrate their many successes. Starting with the 1988 Joint Verification Experiment, where Russian and U.S. scientists visited each other’s labs to determine parameters for the nuclear threshold treaty, the book covers lab director exchanges; warhead security enhancement; efforts to secure nuclear materials; the cleanup of residual nuclear materials in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan; the conversion of weapons scientists to non-military research; cooperative work on basic science; and methods of nuclear stockpile stewardship.
Both volumes contain extensive technical information on all of these endeavors from Russian and U.S. perspectives, with humanizing anecdotes sprinkled in. When U.S. scientists explained a method for removing explosives bonded to metal, one Russian scientist remarked, “You have just given us a gift!” (vol. 1, p. 266). Another Russian remarked about the similarities he shared with his U.S. counterparts, noting that “Even their jokes are the same, especially the bad jokes” (vol. 2, p. 68). In fact, although “doomed to cooperate” makes for an evocative title, good will and joviality characterized almost the entire enterprise. This partnership produced true good in the world, as scientists “moved from rivalry at a distance to mutually beneficial collaboration face-to-face,” according to Soviet scientist Rady Ilkaev (vol. 1, p. 72).
The book is probably not meant to be read cover to cover, as there is frequent repetition. Being scientists, the contributors make heavy use of acronyms, a tendency that is occasionally overwhelming. “Under the TOBOS project,” reads a typical sentence, “an AMIS system was delivered to SNL and installed there, with the assistance of VNIIA specialists, at the same igloo bunker where T-1 was deployed” (vol. 1, p. 230). And despite [End Page 187] some exceptions, the book favors complex technical details and esoteric discussions of bureaucratic structure over human interaction.
One strength of the book is the ability of the contributors to express their understandings of the role of nuclear weapons in the world during and after the Cold War. The writings in Doomed to Cooperate show that weapons scientists believed that nuclear deterrence during the Cold War ensured peace and stability. The arms race, as U.S. scientist George Miller puts it, “helped generate a sense of caution in our relations” (vol. 1, p. 136). Scientists apparently felt responsible for the dangers of nuclear weapons; they “could not rest until they were dismantled,” writes Siegfried Hecker, the book’s editor and former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (vol. 1, p. 50). But by no means were all of the nuclear weapons dismantled. Scientists’ shared identity made it easy for them to work together, but did little to question the wisdom of national security based on nuclear weapons. Ilkaev writes that nuclear weapons will continue to be fundamental to Russia’s security in the future. There are no disarmers here—another Russian writes of the need...