Many authoritarian leaders want nuclear weapons, but few manage to acquire them. Autocrats seeking nuclear weapons fail in different ways and to varying degrees-Iraq almost managed it; Libya did not come close. In Unclear Physics, Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer compares the two failed nuclear weapons programs, showing that state capacity played a crucial role in the trajectory and outcomes of both projects. Braut-Hegghammer draws on a rich set of new primary sources, collected during years of research in archives, fieldwork across the Middle East, and interviews with scientists and decision makers from both states. She gained access to documents and individuals that no other researcher has been able to consult. Her book tells the story of the Iraqi and Libyan programs from their origins in the late 1950s and 1960s until their dismantling.This book reveals contemporary perspectives from scientists and regime officials on the opportunities and challenges facing each project. Many of the findings challenge the conventional wisdom about clandestine weapons programs in closed authoritarian states and their prospects of success or failure. Braut-Hegghammer suggests that scholars and analysts ought to pay closer attention to how state capacity affects nuclear weapons programs in other authoritarian regimes, both in terms of questioning the actual control these leaders have over their nuclear weapons programs and the capability of their scientists to solve complex technical challenges.
Many authoritarian leaders want nuclear weapons, but few manage to acquire them. Autocrats seeking nuclear weapons fail in different ways and to varying degrees-Iraq almost managed it; Libya did not come close. In Unclear Physics, Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer compares the two failed nuclear weapons programs.
"For some years I have been puzzling over the question of why some countries that want nuclear weapons succeed in building them and others don't.... What happened with the failures, Libya and Iraq? A good deal of sporadic reading has long persuaded me that one way or the other both countries had or had acquired sufficient means to pursue a program-in the case of Libya there were financial resources and in the case of Iraq both financial and scientific resources. The Libyans started with almost nothing, but the oil boom enabled them to buy what they needed. Yet both countries had leaders-Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi-whose feelings about these weapons were ambivalent and always secondary to preserving the ideology of the regime. Now there is an excellent new book, Unclear Physics: Why Iraq and Libya Failed to Build Nuclear Weapons, by the Norwegian political scientist Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer, that is the most detailed study of these two programs that I have seen." * New York Review of Books *"An insightful account." * Foreign Affairs *"Path-breaking.... Braut-Hegghammer makes a major contribution to the burgeoning field of international nuclear history... as well as to the theoretical literature in security and proliferation studies.... A rich harvest of findings that complements and goes beyond that provided by previous studies.... Thoughtful and provocative in its analyses, and sometimes revelatory in its display of new evidence, this is an excellent addition to the literature on proliferation studies and the most authoritative account we have to date of the ill-fated Iraqi and Libyan nuclear programmes." * International Affairs *"A remarkable comparative history of the Iraqi and Libyan nuclear weapons programmes.... [Braut-Hegghammer's] account draws on interviews and rare documents to provide the fullest picture currently available of both programmes.... A thorough, well-researched history of two nuclear programmes, a history that is interesting in its own right but also significantly complicates simple theoretical models about regime type and proliferation. It ultimately reminds us that reality is often far more interesting than the stories we make up." * Survival *"[An] exhaustively researched and compelling history.... Braut-Hegghammer's work stands as a valuable reminder that sociology trumps technology when it comes to estimating the potential of a clandestine nuclear-weapon program. The culture that animates a nuclear enterprise matters." * The Nonproliferation Review *
Cornell University Press
Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Oslo.