Yale Professor Paul Bracken Discusses “Managing a Multipolar Nuclear World”

Paul Bracken

News Story: April 3, 2013

Paul Bracken, a Yale University professor who was among 2012’s Best 300 Professors in the United States list according to the Princeton Review, was at Sacred Heart University recently to speak about his new book, The Second Nuclear Age. The program was sponsored by the Isabelle Farrington College of Education, the John F. Welch College of Business and the Department of Government and Politics. Bracken, who has a joint appointment as professor in the school of management and the department of political science at Yale, received his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University before earning his doctorate from Yale.

A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Bracken also co-chairs the board of advisors of the U.S. Naval War College Postgraduate School. Bracken focused his talk on the challenges of nuclear non-proliferation as well as the differences between the first nuclear age – the Cold War – and today.

Bracken has been a senior staff member of the Hudson Institute for more than 10 years. His concentrations as a professor are on strategy, technology and war. As a researcher and professor, he teaches a management course on business, government and globalization along with a core MBA problem-framing course, which uses a term called multi-framing. Bracken said he not only teaches this concept, but also puts it into practice by looking at an issue through multiple frameworks to see what comes up.

Bracken conceded that his viewpoint that the United States and the world are in a second nuclear age was uncommon and might even be considered uncharted territory. “The second nuclear age has unique dynamics to it, which in my mind, no book has explored before this,” he said. Most historical books discussing the Cold War to the present look at events that happened year by year, but they don’t give insights of the overall trends.”

The most important lesson around nuclear weapons, Bracken said, is that, “you don’t have to fire a nuclear weapon to use it. The United States used nuclear weapons every single day of the Cold War.” The core argument of Bracken’s book is that nuclear weapons have an enormous impact on politics, not just when countries are fighting against each other. There are nine nuclear states now, and each country arming themselves – regardless of the reasons to do so – seems to spur surrounding countries to do the same. The fundamental difference between the first and second nuclear age is that now we are looking at a multi-player game versus just Washington and Moscow, Bracken noted.

During the Cold War, the United States aligned themselves with Germany, France and Japan for both economic and political reasons. Bracken said the U.S. could have gone the expensive route by putting troops in those countries to protect them from a Soviet attack, but chose the cheap way, which was to place nuclear weapons there.

He views communication and bargaining between states between 1948 and 1991 as a roulette wheel. “Most of the time it ends on 34 black and nothing happens. Sometimes it lands at a bad time when countries are angry at each other.” He then cited Suez and the Cuban Missile crisis as examples where peace almost went awry. Bracken noted that it’s not what you say, but how you say it. He said that words matter and that what a president or senior official says in a television interview will be analyzed in detail by the opposing side.
One important issue, which Bracken believes is largely ignored today, is nationalism – the fictitious belief that one people is superior to another. Although nationalism is not necessarily something to ascribe to, he said that it is a vital topic to discuss. Americans find other peoples’ nationalism distasteful, and it is seen in the U.S. as a negative force. “You must appreciate and understand nationalism if you want to convince other countries to listen to you,” he said.

Alexey Karpinskiy, a Sacred Heart finance student residing in Stratford, but originally from Russia, attended the event. “He’s very objective, and I agreed with everything he mentioned. In our approach to nationalism, this is an important issue that needs to be looked at more closely by our government,” he said.

Bracken went on to delineate another difference between the two eras: fear. The older generation that lived through red scares and McCarthyism has been swept up with this cartoon image of the Cold War. Until a scare in 2007 where the Air Force mistakenly strapped hydrogen bombs to the outside wings of B52s instead of inside the planes, Bracken said “the guidance was that nuclear weapons don’t matter anymore, and you don’t need to put good people into the programs.”

During the many crises in the Cold War, everyone was scared and none of the world leaders would consider staging war rallies against other countries. Now, during the second nuclear age, there are intense rallies of people promising war in various countries, proving how much the fear has subsided in the last 20 years or so. Bracken explained that, in any respectable U.S. institution or think tank today, the word nuclear would always be followed by the words “non-proliferation” or “disarmament.” Bracken argued that one of the lessons that carried over from the Cold War to the second nuclear age is that to prevent a nuclear war, there is a need for some people to think about the unthinkable.

“I now have a better understanding of today’s nuclear reality,” Karpinskiy said. “At one point, he said that today we are not as afraid of nuclear weapons as the Cold War generation was. It truly does sound like the idea is ridiculed today.”

To illustrate how we must go beyond our conventional understanding of the world, Bracken quoted Rudyard Kipling: “And what should they know of England who only England know?” He concluded, “you begin to see your own culture only when you view it from a broader perspective.”