The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump (Hardcover)

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(Military History - General)


The President has the power to end the world in minutes. Right now, no one can stop him.

Since the Truman administration, America has been one "push of a button" away from nuclear war—a decision that rests solely in the hands of the President. Without waiting for approval from Congress or even the Secretary of Defense, the President can unleash America's entire nuclear arsenal. 

Almost every governmental process is subject to institutional checks and balances. Why is potential nuclear annihilation the exception to the rule? For decades, glitches and slip-ups have threatened to trigger nuclear winter: misinformation, false alarms, hacked warning systems, or even an unstable President. And a new nuclear arms race has begun, threatening us all. At the height of the Cold War, Russia and the United States each built up arsenals exceeding 30,000 nuclear weapons, armed and ready to destroy each other—despite the fact that just a few hundred are necessary to end life on earth.

From authors William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and Tom Z. Collina, the Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC, The Button recounts the terrifying history of nuclear launch authority, from the faulty 46-cent microchip that nearly caused World War III to President Trump's tweet about his "much bigger & more powerful" button. Perry and Collina share their firsthand experience on the front lines of the nation's nuclear history and provide illuminating interviews with former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Congressman Adam Smith, Nobel Peace Prize winner Beatrice Fihn, senior Obama administration officials, and many others.

Written in an accessible and authoritative voice, The Button reveals the shocking tales and sobering facts of nuclear executive authority throughout the atomic age, delivering a powerful condemnation against ever leaving explosive power this devastating under any one person's thumb.

About the Author

William J. Perry served as Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and then as Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, and has advised presidents all through the Obama administration. He oversaw the development of major nuclear weapons systems, such as the MX missile, the Trident submarine and the Stealth Bomber. His new "offset strategy" ushered in the age of stealth, smart weapons, GPS, and technologies that changed the face of modern warfare. His vision now, as founder of the William J. Perry Project, is a world free from nuclear weapons. 

Tom Z. Collina is the Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC. He has 30 years of nuclear weapons policy experience and has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was closely involved with successful efforts to end U.S. nuclear testing in 1992, extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995, ratify the New START Treaty in 2010, and enact the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Collina has published hundreds of articles, op-eds, and reports and appears frequently in major media.

Praise For…

"This authoritative account reveals the true extent of the nuclear threat."

Publishers Weekly

"Generating the political will to turn the tide against nuclear weapons is both possible and necessary, and Perry and Collina's book offers some practical interim steps that will make that task easier to accomplish."


"Every citizen should read this book—a clear account of our history with nuclear weapons, the continuing risks of their use through human error or cyberattacks, and the authors' recommended steps to create a safer future. It's an assault on the complacency of ‘nobody would be crazy enough to unleash these' thinking."

President Bill Clinton

"Today, a nuclear catastrophe could occur instantaneously, at any moment, without any warning, with a lasting impact too terrible for words. That's why The Button is one of the most important books of 2020."

—Eric Schlosser, Pulitzer Prize Finalist and author of Command and Control

"Bill Perry, one of the wisest and most effective Secretaries of Defense ever to serve, has coauthored with Tom Collina another provocative, must-read book. The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump brings to life the nuclear dangers and dilemmas of the present day and makes a compelling case for several pragmatic changes to US nuclear weapons policy that would meaningfully reduce the risk of nuclear miscalculation."

—Michèle Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy

"At a time when the power to destroy our world rests in the hands of men like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, The Button is a powerful and urgent reminder that the risk of nuclear war is far too great. More than that, it offers a smart, comprehensive, well-argued case for what we can do to pursue a safer and more peaceful world."

—Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama

"The risk of accidental nuclear war is increasing, and through The Button Perry and Collina give an insightful account of the dangers of nuclear weapons, how fragile the current nuclear launch system is and most importantly—what you can do about it. This book will make you realize that no one person should have the sole authority to end the world and there is an urgent need to move to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons."

—Beatrice Fihn, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize

"No one knows how to prevent nuclear war better than Bill Perry. He had a front row seat to the arms race and the wisdom to back away from the brink. In this must-read book, Perry and Collina tap into a powerful insight—that we have been focused on the wrong nuclear threat. They chart a new and compelling course to keep us safe from blundering into atomic destruction."

—Wendy Sherman, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

"Bill Perry and Tom Collina give some clear thinking about the dangers of nuclear weapons and how to reduce these dangers. This deserves top attention at capitals around the world."

—George Shultz, former Secretary of State

"In our cyber world with nine nuclear weapons states, the risk of blunder, mistake, or false warnings greatly exceeds the risk of a premeditated nuclear attack. Our strategies reflect old thinking, leaving us exposed to grave and unnecessary dangers. The Button is a must-read book for leaders and citizens and underscores the urgent need for new thinking and wise, rational leadership on the most important issues facing the world."

—Sam Nunn, former US Senator

"American nuclear policy is broken. We are drifting towards catastrophe with a new arms race, new weapons and new war-fighting doctrines pulled from the darkest days of the Cold War. In The Button, two top experts, William Perry and Tom Collina, detail the problems and lay out exactly the dramatic shift we need to pull us back from the brink. There is no more important issue than preventing nuclear war, and no more important time than now. If you read only one national security book this year, read this one."

—Joe Cirincione, former president of the Ploughshares Fund

Product Details
ISBN: 9781948836999
ISBN-10: 1948836998
Publisher: BenBella Books
Publication Date: June 30th, 2020
Pages: 280
Language: English