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Doomed to Cooperate: How American and Russian Scientists Joined Forces to Avert Some of the Greatest Post-Cold War Nuclear Dangers. Siegfried Hecker, ed. Los Alamos, NM: Bathtub Row Press, 2016. $80.00. 976 pp.
Although this two-volume edited collection of essays on the post-Cold War collaboration between US and Russian nuclear-weapons laboratories stretches to nearly 1,000 pages, readers need not worry. The volumes comprise what Siegfried Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory who organised the effort, estimates to be roughly 90 articles and interviews with some 100 participants. Each entry is short and easy to read, despite being technical in nature. There is also a helpful guide to the reader at the front of the first volume, and the text has been structured so as to aid the reader in finding subjects of interest. Hecker conceived of the book some years ago, but did not succeed in finding support for the endeavour until 2010. Along with colleagues at the Russian Federal Nuclear Center (VNIITF), Hecker organised conferences in 2012 and 2013 to motivate participants to put their recollections in writing. Hecker’s initial plan was to produce two books – one in English, the other in Russian. Eventually, Hecker learned that the Russian-language version was to become another casualty of what he delicately describes as the ‘deepening political crisis’ (p. xxii) in US–Russia relations. The stark juxtaposition of the cooperation detailed in Doomed to Cooperate with our present moment, in which even the publication of a book about this cooperation is too sensitive, is jarring and more than a little disconcerting.
Doomed to Cooperate is best understood as an archive documenting one of the most remarkable periods of the nuclear age. Given the advancing age of most of the participants in what is commonly called the ‘lab-to-lab’ programme, such an archive is irreplaceable. Casual readers might have preferred a short oral history of the sort made popular by writers such as James Andrew Miller, but scholars who study nuclear weapons or US–Russia relations during this period will treasure what is an invaluable historical document. The length of the text is necessary since those recollections and stories that did not make it into Doomed to Cooperate are likely to be lost as the participants pass away and Russia’s political freeze deepens. The materials are also being placed online at https://lab2lab.stanford.edu/ to make them more widely available. But the bound copy is a beautiful artefact of a profoundly different moment in US– Russia relations.