Friday, 5 September 2008

Book Review: Deception - Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons, by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark (2007)

Deception is one of the most important books of our times. Well written, extensively researched, and exceptionally informative, it works brilliantly at several levels.

As an examination of Pakistan, the book effectively ends any myths of that country being a democracy, even when there is an apparently democratically-elected leader. The military is the one and only dominant power in Pakistan, and everything - and everyone - is controlled by the will of the Generals, some of them visible to the public, but most of them playing the power game from behind the shadows.

As an expose of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, both its development and transformation into an export business to countries like Iran, Libya and others, Deception presents a gripping narrative. It is both a terrific personal tale of A.Q. Khan, Pakistan's Father of the Bomb, and a story of a fragile nation deciding to define itself through military might in order to keep up with the neighbours (India got the bomb first), and then transforming its military knowledge into economic benefit through exports to any willing buyer.

In effect, the book tells the story of the end of the era of nuclear non-proliferation. Someday in the future, a nuclear weapon is going to be detonated very unexpectedly, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the entire world . This book tells the story of how this future event came to be.

But the real story that this book has to tell is about the United States foreign policy, from the Carter era of the late 1970's to the George W. Bush era of the mid-2000's. The revelations about the inner-workings of US foreign policy towards Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Iraq, and other countries are simply stunning. The book shines a strong light on the blatant hypocrisy, grand lies, cover-ups, and mistakes committed by successive administrations, generally in pursuit of short-term gains at the expense of easily foreseeable long-term strategic disasters. Anyone who still believes a single word uttered publicly by a US leader when it comes to foreign policy should pull up a chair and read this book. And quickly.

Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark currently work for the Guardian newspaper, and previously worked for the Sunday Times of London. The depth of their research is combined with a strong narrative style that is several notches above the typical level of books written by journalists. The book is brimming with a multitude of essential characters -- the authors do a masterful job of keeping all the names and roles clearly defined.

At 449 pages, this is not a quick read. But it is one of those essential books that is instantly recognizable as both a unique chronicle of the recent past and a priceless guide to the near future.

449 pages, plus Notes and Index.

Published in hard-cover by Walker and Company.

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