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Primer treats issues of nuclear defense as if lay people mattered

The Nuclear Reader: Strategy, Weapons, War. edited by Charles W. Kegley Jr. and Eugene R. Wittkopf. New York: St. Martin's Press. 332 pp. $10.95 (paper). Many nations desire nuclear defense, but one likes to think none of them want to use it. Yet if a war began, could the president be evacuated from the White House before enemy missiles arrived? If conflict breaks out in Europe, should the United States write off its allies in an effort to save itself from a nuclear holocaust? What happens if ``star wars'' doesn't work? Will the development of smaller missiles -- for a ``limited'' war -- actually make a war more likely? Is nucle ar war survivable?

In ``The Nuclear Reader,'' 24 essays by well-known thinkers on the subject cover these and many other questions. Because these individuals are discussing ideas that have wide-ranging influence on the arms control scene -- and are doing so in a very articulate way -- the book should be on the reading list of anyone who wants to understand the issues. Divided into three sections -- strategy, weapons, and war -- it focuses on US-Soviet relations and offers a broad spectrum of opinion. Included are excerpte d essays by Carl Sagan, Jonathan Schell, Theodore Draper, Paul M. Kattenburg, Joseph S. Nye, and Robert S. McNamara, among others.

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The clear and interesting prose, the effort made to define technical terms, and the brief ``dictionary'' for those who want to know what TTBT, BMD, and EMP mean, give one the distinct impression that the book's editors and essayists want the lay public to understand the issues! It is a very refreshing thought.

Each section has an introductory essay by the editors that briefly summarizes its major points. Under ``strategy,'' they point out that nuclear weapons are forcing us to revise our concepts of national strategy. In the past, say the editors, ``War was . . . seen as the continuation of politics by other, albeit extreme, means.'' This is no longer possible.

Instead, nations have resorted to strategies like MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), where each side has enough weapons to destroy the other and a stalemate is effected. Another approach, called NUTS (Nuclear Utilization Target Selection), argues that a long, but limited nuclear war attacking specific targets is possible and survivable.

The strategists give substantial thought to the morality of war and deterrence. They describe the type of thinking that could tempt a nation to go to war and how, from a strategic standpoint, to deal with it.

The segment devoted to weapons focuses specifically on arms control, but the editors feel that complete disarmament is an unrealistic goal. They point out that ``nuclear weapons are a consequence, not a cause, of the conflicts of interest that divide states.''

Of special interest is ``Star Wars: A Critique,'' by the Union of Concerned Scientists. After describing the many technological steps needed to develop the system, plus the danger of a preemptive strike by the Soviets to prevent it from going into place, the authors write:

``If we get through this hazardous passage . . . [we] would then have a defense of stupefying complexity, under the total control of a computer program whose proportions defy description, and whose performance will remain a deep mystery until the tragic moment when it would be called into action.''

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Whether or not one agrees with this assessment, the questions raised in this essay and elsewhere in the section are sobering.

The last part of the book offers, among other things, insights into how a nuclear war might begin, whether a civil defense could work, and the effects of nuclear war.

Jonathan Schell's ``Nuclear Holocaust'' is a chilling account of what it would be like if a one-megaton bomb were exploded about 8,500 feet above the Empire State Building in New York City. Carl Sagan's piece on ``Nuclear Winter'' offers grim prospects for survival following a war. Barry R. Schneider's ``Invitation to a Nuclear Beheading'' points out a less publicized danger.

``Beheading'' in this context means the destruction of the top command structure of either the US or Soviet government so the country would be left with no one in charge and retaliation against a first-strike would be disorganized, at best. Schneider points out that the president and his 16 successors are nearly always in Washington, D.C., and if a bomb hit there, many, if not all, would be killed. To solve this problem, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is authorized to designate who

should be in charge. But there is one small problem: FEMA's headquarters is in downtown Washington, too.

The editors of this book have done a remarkable job of covering the range of thinking influencing policy and planning connected with nuclear war. And because of its variety and depth, the book will be useful not only for those looking for a wider view of the situation than they may have had before, but also for readers who have not read anything on the subject previously.