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Joint UK-France SSBN Fleet?

[ 7 ] April 13, 2010 |

This is an interesting notion that is unlikely to happen in anything but a very limited sense:

France has offered to create a joint UK-French nuclear deterrent by sharing submarine patrols, the Guardian has learned. Officials from both countries have discussed how a deterrence-sharing scheme might work but Britain has so far opposed the idea on the grounds that such pooling of sovereignty would be politically unacceptable.

In a speech this morning in London, Gordon Brown said he had agreed to further nuclear co-operation with France last week after talks with Nicolas Sarkozy. The prime minister did not comment explicitly about submarines, saying only that the UK and France would both retain “our independent nuclear deterrent”.

“We have talked about the idea of sharing continuity at sea as part of a larger discussion about sharing defence burdens,” a French official said.

A British official confirmed that the French government had raised the idea of shared “continuous at-sea deterrence”, but added that any such scheme would cause “outrage” in the midst of an election campaign.

Today, Brown said of his talks with the French president: “We have agreed a degree of co-operation that is, I think, greater than we have had previously but we will retain, as will France, our independent nuclear deterrent….

Sarkozy hinted at the potential for shared deterrence in a speech at Cherbourg. “Together with the United Kingdom, we have taken a major decision: it is our assessment that there can be no situation in which the vital interests of either of our two nations could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened,” he said.

Britain and France could synchronise nuclear deterrent patrols and co-operate in the deployment of surface fleet task forces, sources say. However, British officials played down the possibility of formal agreements on the nuclear deterrent – or on sharing each other’s aircraft carriers.

The idea of a shared deterrent is certainly interesting; during the Cold War, the NATO alliance essentially “shared” the nuclear umbrellas provided by the US, the UK, and France. Italy and West Germany did not need to invest in their own nuclear weapon programs because it was impossible to imagine an attack that would not also involve one of the three nuclear states. The current situation for France and the United Kingdom is very similar. While it’s obviously possible to imagine France or the UK going to war independent of one another, it’s difficult to envision scenarios where the nuclear deterrent of either country would become militarily relevant in an independent conflict. If anyone flings a nuke at either London or Paris, the expectation would be that the other would become involved (not to mention the United States). Thus, the idea of a shared deterrent has some appeal, especially given the high cost that both countries face in replacing their SSBN fleets.

That said, nuclear weapons play other roles besides deterrence. Nukes remain a prestige weapon, and in some sense guarantee a seat at the big power table. Without nukes, it would be much harder to distinguish France or the UK from the bevy of second tier powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Spain, Canada) that lack nuclear weapons but have otherwise similar defense profiles. Indeed, it becomes very hard to justify the two security council seats for France and the UK if they’re sharing one of the key elements of their national power. Again, the idea of folding the two European permanent seats together (and replacing with, say, India or Japan or Brazil) makes some intuitive sense, but would be procedurally very difficult.

The command and control details of a shared deterrent would also be difficult to work out. There are a variety of different schemes, running from a CoG to CoG link (Brown calls Sarkozy from the ruins of London and asks him to shoot back at aggressor country X) to high level military contacts to the direct presence of French and British naval officers on each others submarines. Working out firing bureaucracy would be extremely complex, especially given that both countries seem to have somewhat idiosyncratic nuclear command procedures. Future procurement would also be a bit twitchy, as the RN SSBNs are scheduled for replacement prior to the French. However, the procurement issue might also be the firmest ground for collaboration; 4-5 boats to one design makes much more financial sense than 6-8 boats of two designs.

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Hackery, Thy Name Is Michael Barone

[ 24 ] April 13, 2010 |

Michael Barone essays some constitutional “analysis,” which is touted by various wingers* who also don’t know anything about constitutional law, except that the framers intended the Constitution to enact the 2008 platform of the Texas Republican Party.     And it’s even worse than this setup suggests:

I would expect an Obama nominee to decline to answer. But Republicans may not take such a response as meekly as they did when Ginsberg [sic] declined to answer dozens of questions back in 1993. They might press harder, as they did in 2009 when they prompted Sotomayor to declare, to the dismay of some liberal law professors, that she would only interpret the Constitution and the law, not make new law. Just raising the health care mandate issue helps Republicans given the great and apparently growing unpopularity of the Democrats’ legislation.

Republican Senators were able to force Sonia Sotomayor to mouth some of the same vacuous tautologies as Samuel Alito and John Roberts. Victory! Uncited: the “liberal law professors” who were allegedly dismayed because Sotomayor said she would “interpret the Constitution.”

But we’re getting to the really dumb stuff:

Another set of questions could prove embarrassing for Democrats who have lauded Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade for creating a right to privacy that includes contraception and abortion. “How can the freedom to make such choices with your doctor be protected and not freedom to choose a hip replacement or a Caesarean section?” asks former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey in The Wall Street Journal. “Either your body is protected from government interference or it’s not.”

Generally, it’s a bad idea to rely on the unfounded assertions of one of the most relentless liars in American public life, and this is no exception. First of all, nothing in Griswold and Roe suggests an absolutely unlimited right to do anything involving one’s body. But this is beside the point, of course, because nothing in the health care bill prevents anyone from getting a hip replacement or Caserean section if they choose to obtain one and can find a willing provider. But yes, asking the next Supreme Court nominee about the contradiction between a non-existent constitutional right first adduced in the landmark opinion My Fevered Imagination v. Strawman and a non-existent legislative provision sure will make the nominee look stupid and uncomfortable. I hope Jeff Sessions takes the bait.

McCaughey also notes that in 2006 the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Oregon ruled that the federal government couldn’t set standards for doctors to administer lethal drugs to terminally ill patients under Oregon’s death with dignity act. So does the Constitution empower the feds to regulate non-lethal drugs in contravention of other state laws?

McCaughey seems never to tell the truth, even by accident. If (unlike, one suspects, Barone) you actually read the Court’s holding, you’ll see that it’s a statutory interpretation case, not a constitutional case: the Court didn’t say that the federal government couldn’t preempt state laws concerning lethal drugs, it said that it didn’t give the Attorney General that authority.   Absolutely nothing in the Court’s opinion suggests that Congress couldn’t give the Attorney General that power if it chose to do so, and it is clear from a ruling issued the year before case that such a law would be upheld.

That’s an impressive day’s hackery!

*As a commenter notes, the “winger” label does not seem fair as applied to Zandar — he seems to be more of a centrist type .   My apologies.

BUT WHAT DID HE HAVE TO SURRENDER11!/!?1/!??!!?

[ 7 ] April 12, 2010 |

Seems like progress, if sanctions on Iran are your thing:

President Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China on Monday to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, administration officials said, but Mr. Hu made no specific commitment to backing measures that the United States considers severe enough to force a change in direction in Iran’s nuclear program.

In a 90-minute conversation here before the opening of a summit meeting on nuclear security, Mr. Obama sought to win more cooperation from China by directly addressing one of the main issues behind Beijing’s reluctance to confront Iran: its concern that Iran could retaliate by cutting off oil shipments to China. The Chinese import nearly 12 percent of their oil from Iran.

Mr. Obama assured Mr. Hu that he was “sensitive to China’s energy needs” and would work to make sure that Beijing had a steady supply of oil if Iran cut China off in retaliation for joining in severe sanctions.

I’m skeptical of sanctions working, if by “working” you mean to effect a direct change in Iranian behavior. However, I do think that sanctions can have a substantial atmospheric effect, to the extent that they convey the disapproval of international society, and consequently help to build international norms. In that context, getting Russia and China on board is a meaningful achievement for the liberal internationalist project.

For A Change…

[ 17 ] April 12, 2010 |

Over at the Prospect I make the case for nominating an actual liberal for the Supreme Court.  In particular, there’s no political reason for not doing so:

It might be objected at this point that a nominee like Karlan or Koh might compel a Republican filibuster. The proper answer to this is, so what? First of all, in the (probably unlikely) possibility that a filibuster of a nominee holds, the result would be the eventual confirmation of a more moderate nominee. If Obama preemptively nominates a moderate nominee, the result would be … exactly the same. In the worst-case scenario, progressives are no worse off.

This might be a problem if this would increase Republican obstruction in other areas, but with the centerpiece of Obama’s first-term domestic agenda already passed, the prospect of further major legislation near zero, and Republican obstructionism in the Senate virtually maxed out, there’s no reason to believe that a Republican filibuster would incur any net political cost. If anything, it would provide ammunition for a narrative painting the Republicans as the “Party of No” while providing a venue for defending liberal constitutional values. And finally, the filibustering of a Supreme Court nominee for the first time since 1968 (and second total) would escalate the cycle that is likely to lead to the elimination or substantial modification of the filibuster rule — something that would be a massive victory for democracy.

To paraphrase Joey La Motta, if Obama puts forward a strong progressive nominee and we win, we win. If we lose, we still win.

Of course, Obama is likely to lean towards a more moderate candidate on substantive grounds. Of the actually viable candidates, as I imply Diane Wood seems easily the best to me.

Are the Venezuelans Marching Through El Paso Yet?

[ 5 ] April 12, 2010 |

In general, I feel the same way as Yglesias and Attackerman about the Venezuelan Embassy’s aggressive spamming tactics. In this case, however, the Venezuelan ambassador’s letter to the editor of Armed Forces Journal is a useful corrective to Peter Brookes’ hysterical nonsense about the threat that Hugo Chavez poses to motherhood, apple pie, etc. While Brookes raises some legitimate concerns about possible Venezuelan efforts to help Iran evade international banking and finance restrictions, most of his argument is simply garbage. For example, he hoists the trusty “why would an oil exporting state ever need nuclear power” canard, when the answer is quite obvious; nuclear power used for domestic needs means that more oil can be exported on the international market. The other terrifying oil exporting, nuclear power generating state in the Western hemisphere is called “Canada,” and is well known to exert a destabilizing influence on all of its neighbors. As for the military buildup that Venezuela is allegedly using to intimidate its neighbors, I’ll simply let the ambassador tell the story:

About 1.1 percent of Venezuela’s gross national product goes to military spending, below the South American regional average of 1.7 percent and significantly less than Colombia (5.7 percent), Chile (2.9 percent) and Brazil (1.5 percent). Despite having the region’s second-largest GDP, Venezuela is fourth in total defense spending, behind Brazil, Colombia and Chile.

As to specific concerns Brookes raised, the following is important to consider: The purchase of Russian fighter jets corresponds exactly to the number of F-16s sold to Venezuela by the U.S. in 1980. Since the U.S. has refused to supply key parts necessary for these planes, Venezuela has been forced to look elsewhere to rebuild its air force. Therefore, the new planes come as a replacement, and not as an expansion, of its existing fleet..

With regard to Brookes’ complaints as to who is selling Venezuela these goods, it bears recognizing that in 2006, the Bush administration imposed a set of politically motivated sanctions on Venezuela limiting the sale of arms, military goods and dual-use equipment. That Venezuela is purchasing needed equipment from countries other than the U.S. is not a surprise — it’s a basic necessity.

The inability of the right wing foreign policy machine to distinguish between a leftish leader with autocratic tendencies and mild aspirations to regional influence and TEH GREATEST THREAT TO AMERICAN SECURITY SINCE THE LAST GREATEST THREAT TO AMERICA remains troubling.

Who Do We Need to Torture to Get to the Bottom of This?

[ 3 ] April 12, 2010 |

Thiessen explains why the Smolensk crash sucks for Poland, but REALLY sucks for America:

This weekend, in that same forest, much of Poland’s 21st century intelligentsia was wiped out as well—particularly, its pro-American, conservative intelligentsia, those who stood up to Russia, reached out to Ukraine and Georgia, and looked to the United States and NATO before the European Union. The effect of their loss will be felt long after the tears dry—in Poland and in the United States as well.

Don’t worry, Marc; I guarantee that if you torture enough people, pretty soon you’ll “find out” that Obama and Putin planned the whole thing…

H/t Duss.

Is Putin the Right Man to Head Smolensk Crash Investigation?

[ 10 ] April 11, 2010 |

Vladminir Putin has personally taken charge of the investigation of the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and much of his upper government and top brass this weekend.

Certainly, this move is meant as a signal of solidarity with and support for the Polish people and government. But how likely is it to be perceived as such? Conspiracy theories about Russia’s possible involvement in the crash began swirling about shortly after news broke and seem to have been exacerbated by this announcement.* Such suggestions are likely unfounded: though one can argue Russia may well gain from a destabilized Poland, all evidence points toward human error and aggravating weather.

But from a PR perspective, that’s hardly the point. Symbolically, the tragedy could not have occurred at a worse time or place in terms of exacerbating tensions between Russia and Poland. For that reason, Polish officials themselves should be involved in heading the official investigation, rather than simply running one in parallel, to allay suspicions and fears and turn this terrible tragedy into an opportunity for mutual cooperation, rather than a return to decades-old recriminations and mistrust.

*As of today, members of Hubdub are staking virtual dollars on whether or not the Polish government will formally lodge an accusation within the next couple of weeks. So far, most predict no – a healthy sign that calmer heads will prevail.

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Belated 2010 NL Preview

[ 6 ] April 11, 2010 |

East:  1. Phi 2. Atl 3. Fla 4. NYM 5. Was I suppose  on some level the Phillies are more vulnerable than they might seem; they feel like a great team and have the core of one, but this core has yet to win more than 93 games in the weak lead.   But you have to think that with Halladay this could be the strongest version yet, and the bullpen has to get better.    There’s been something naggingly unfinished about the Braves since Ted Turner left, this year reflected in the ridiculous Vazquez trade (part of the “let’s play Kansas City As!” game that started with Gillick donating Abreu to the Yankee cause.)   But the team is better than its record the last two years reflect, and if Glaus is healthy except for Melky the lineup is decent, and they have the best pitching depth in the division.    If the Phils have bad luck with injuries, the Braves could push them, and should compete for the wild card.    Speaking of unfinished, the Marlins aren’t going to patch their holes and won’t win the division, but have enough talent to be vaguely competitive.       One can see a superficial case for Mets optimism; there’s some impressive core talent, and the team went to the wire in ’07 and ’08.   The first obvious problem, though, is that except Bay every one of the Mets’ front-line players is coming off an off year, an injury, or both; as a group they’ll be better than last year but not better enough.  The second problem that there’s nothing behind it on offense — the 2B has no power, the RF can’t get on base, the C is a poor-man’s version of the RF, and the 1B is a joke.    And then there’s the pitching — beyond Santana not only was the rotation lousy, but although they’re mostly young they had the peripherals of a 37 year-old junkballer on his last legs (and Perez, the pitcher with the highest upside, was especially gruesome.)    A declining K-Rod won’t get much more support, either.   That’s not a contending team.     The Nationals continue to be a tribute to the aftereffects of syndicate ownership.

1. STL 2.  MIL 3. CIN 4. CHI 5. HOU 6. PIT There’s no way around it — having the best player in baseball is a major edge in a thin division, and having a manager and pitching coach who can get ace performance out of journeyman starters ditto.    Outside the 3-4 slots the offense isn’t very good, but they should win the division anyway.    I figure one of the not untalented but highly flawed Brewers, Reds, and Cubs will make things interesting, but my suggestion that it will be Milwaukee is a pure guess.   The Pirates are terrible but at least are heading in the right direction, while the Astros may be a little better now but it’s not obvious when their next decent team is going to emerge.

1. COL 2. LA (*) 3. SF 4. ARI 5. SD The staff that the Rockies have put together in that park is pretty remarkable; I see this as the year when they’re finally good wire-to-wire, although one really good power hitter in the corners would make that more certain.   The next three teams are all potential contenders if things break right; my preference for the OK-both-ways Dodgers over the all-defense Giants is marginal, although I remain less impressed with the DBacks than most sabermetric types.   The Padres are the Nationals with one really good 1B added.

Hey, My Job Is Easy

[ 11 ] April 11, 2010 |

This new Taibbi classic reminds me of another crucial underpinning of the Robert Samuelson mindset:  since it’s easy to imagine churning out fourth-rate center-right boilerplate at a six-figure salary for as long as you’re able to draw breath (no minimum level of brain function required), why shouldn’t the huge number of people physically and/or mentally destructive jobs wait until 7o too?

Ad Generator Fail

[ 14 ] April 10, 2010 |

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I Used to Hate the Fool in Me, But Only in the Morning

[ 1 ] April 10, 2010 |

DBTs tonight in Lexington!

Horrible

[ 10 ] April 10, 2010 |

Context makes it particularly tragic.

A plane carrying the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, his wife and other high-ranking officials crashed in a heavy fog in western Russia on Saturday morning, killing all aboard, Polish officials said.

Russian television showed chunks of still-flaming fuselage scattered in a bare forest near Smolensk, where the president was arriving for a ceremony commemorating the murder of more than 20,000 Polish officers by the Red Army as it invaded Poland….

Among those on board the plane were Mr. Kaczynski; his wife, Maria; former Polish president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski; the deputy speaker of Poland’s parliament, Jerzy Szmajdzin’ski; the head of the president’s chancellery, Wladyslaw Stasiak; and the head of the National Security Bureau, Aleksander Szczygo.

While the death toll included much of the government, several of Warsaw’s paramount leaders were not on board — notably Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Mr. Komorowski, the head of the lower house of parliament.

noted without comment.