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Books on nuclear issues

The Button: The Pentagon's Strategic Command and Control System, by Daniel Ford. New York: Simon & Schuster. 270 pp. $16.95. How could the United States really use nuclear weapons, if forced to do so? This difficult but important essay by the former executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists raises serious questions about the ability of a president or anyone else to issue commands after a Soviet attack. The problem of launching retaliatory strikes, along with changes in military doctrine and technological circumstances, is leading America to an offensive strategic position -- and closer to nuclear war.

In a nuclear showdown, the plan most likely to be used by either side is a massive first strike, aiming for decapitation. Political leaders on both sides may not want war, but if the danger of an attack is sensed, they may be unable to keep from pushing the button. The US and Soviet Union could enhance stability by agreeing to phase out multiple-warhead missiles. The US alone could back off from its provocative posture by placing priority on submarine defenses and by building a better command-and-contro l system. Nuclear Battlefields: Global Links in the Arms Race, by William M. Arkin and Richard W. Fieldhouse. Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Publishing Company. 328 pp. $28 cloth. $14.95 paper.

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The main blockage to citizen participation in the nuclear arms issue, according to these analysts at Washington's Institute for Policy Studies, is secrecy. To overcome this, the global nuclear weapons system is detailed here: the various arsenals, laboratories, testing sites, electronic support facilities, factories, military bases, and more. In all, the five nuclear powers have nuclear-related facilities in 65 countries and territories -- all of which are tallied in 120 pages of appendixes. The infrast ructure is seen as ever changing and never safe; it is not only the means to fight the next war, but the likely cause of it. The authors conclude that denuclearization can only begin with widespread knowledge of the system that makes the world a nuclear battlefield. This guide is a unique contribution, but is it really necessary and sufficient to catalyze some resolution to the nuclear menace? Waging Nuclear Peace: The Technology and Politics of Nuclear Weapons, by Robert Ehrlich. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press. 397 pp. $39.50 cloth. $12.95 paper.

A physicist at George Mason University takes a firm moderate stance, contending that we will escape nuclear catastrophe only by avoiding the simplistic solutions of hawks and doves. The threat of nuclear war will never fade away, and we must learn to live with it. No technical fix can offer permanent protection, and the ease of cheating makes disarmament or minimum deterrence unwise.

Michael Marien edits Future Survey, published monthly by the World Future Society, Bethesda, Md.

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