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Tag: "nukes"

A Bit More on the Romney Thing…

[ 6 ] July 12, 2010 |

More than a few people have noted that the foreign policy vision of the Republican Party appears to have moved to the far right of the Reagan administration; thus, when the Heritage Foundation ghost writes an op-ed for Mitt Romney, the resulting cesspool is a mishmash of opinions that would have been on the far right fringe of Reagan’s national security apparatus. As the oft-cited Baron YoungSmith has argued:

It means, first and foremost, that the responsible Republican foreign policy establishment is not coming back. Mandarins like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker, who have all testified or written on behalf of the START treaty—calling it an integral, uncontroversial way of repairing the bipartisan arms-control legacy that sustained American foreign policy all the way up until the George W. Bush administration—are going to be dead soon (or they’ve drifted into the service of Democrats). The people who will take their place will be from a generation of superhawks, like John Bolton, Liz Cheney, and Robert Joseph, who are virulently opposed to the practice of negotiated arms control. Mitt Romney, though a moderate from Michigan, is not going to be the second coming of Gerald Ford.

I made a similar argument in a Right Web article a few weeks ago:

Many of the moderate Republicans who favored arms control and engagement with the Soviet Union are still around, but they have minimal influence on the institutional right. Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, and George Schultz have all played key roles in developing foreign policy for multiple Republican administrations. However, none have developed an extensive base within the institutional right wing, the constellation of independent organizations and foundations (including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute) that have emerged as key players in internal Republican Party debates. This faction has, by and large, concluded that the greatest threat posed by Russian nuclear weapons is loss, theft, or accidental launch, rather than pre-emptive attack.

In contrast, the signatories to the Washington Times op-ed mentioned above all represent organizations that are part of the institutional machinery of movement conservatism.[11]

In addition, prominent political figures have been able to promote the studies and reports produced by these groups, including for instance Sarah Palin, who despite her clear lack of knowledge on the subject tried to use that hardline rhetoric in attacking Obama’s arms control initiatives.

The influence of the institutional right wing is even more pronounced on foreign policy than domestic policy because so many major political actors (both Democrat and Republican) simply don’t care about foreign policy. I suspect that Mitt Romney actually has opinions about major issues of US domestic policy, and these opinions may even be informed by some subject area knowledge. In foreign policy this is not the case, and Heritage Foundation ideologues who would have been laughed out of the Reagan administration find themselves in command of the foreign policy statements of several major GOP presidential aspirants.

Youngsmith is right to note that the GOP moderates aren’t coming back, but it’s worth additional investigation to determine why they were so helpless in the face of the dire fanatics when it came to developing an institutional base. I suspect that at least part of the answer is personality based; Baker and Scowcroft, for example, seem to have eschewed institution building in favor of cultivating an elite consensus. For whatever reason, this strategy has failed utterly to ster the last ten years of foreign policy production in the Republican Party.


This is What Happens When You Hand the Wheel to Dire Fanatics…

[ 4 ] July 9, 2010 |

Fred Kaplan and Pavel Podvig show Mitt Romney why it’s a mistake to let the morons and fanatics at the Heritage Foundation write your op-eds for you….

What’s the Point of Having a Nuke if No One Knows You Have It?

[ 7 ] June 26, 2010 |

This is pretty awesome. Playing as Argentina, I was caught only during the testing stage for my advanced plutonium device (presumably, I was testing near the FalklandsMalvinas). I did take a long and expensive route, however.

Via ArmsControlWonk.

Nukes and Cold War Nostalgia

[ 2 ] June 2, 2010 |

I have an article up at Right Web on nuclear policy and the institutional Right.

The vehement attacks against President Obama’s arms control initiatives reveal the extent to which the militarist extreme in the Republican Party’s foreign policy establishment has remained deeply entrenched despite the significant setbacks hawks have suffered since helping drive the country into war with Iraq. Using language that conjures images from the heyday of the Cold War, neoconservatives and other right-wing nationalists have endeavored to paint the administration as willing to sacrifice national security to achieve international acclaim. They have also drowned out more moderate voices in the Republican Party, whose realist views, although more in line with the policies pushed by the Obama administration, are failing to have an impact on conservative discourse.

Read the rest at Right Web.

More on Israel and South Africa

[ 2 ] May 25, 2010 |

Josh Pollack engages in a somewhat defensive dissent from the idea that Israel may have offered to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa. He argues that the documents do not provide sufficient proof that Israel offered to sell warheads to SA, and mobilizes Avner Cohen, who knows a lot about the Israeli nuclear program, in support of this case. A couple of observations:

  1. Cohen and Pollack are correct to note that the evidence presented is not definitive. The problem is that, short of a signed confession by Shimon Peres detailing his intentions behind offering payloads in three sizes, there essentially can be no proof of Israeli willingness to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa. Even in that case, it could correctly be noted that Peres often undertook somewhat adventurous foreign policies, and there’s no evidence that Rabin would have allowed the sale go forward. There might be some document somewhere in the Israeli archives indicating a willingness, but I doubt even that. The question, then, isn’t whether we have 100% proof of such willingness, but rather what standard of evidence we’re willing to accept. Frankly, I don’t know whether Rabin (and the rest of the relevant bits of the Israeli national security apparatus) would have gone ahead with the sale if the South Africans had pursued the question further. In this sense, Pollack is probably correct to suggest that McGreal’s headline was a touch sensationalist. I do know, however, that the documents raise some exceedingly difficult and twitchy questions about the Israel-South Africa relationship, above and beyond what was previously known.
  2. Cohen and Pollack seem to allow that Peres was at least rhetorically open to the option of selling nuclear weapons to South Africa. While the statement “Israel was prepared to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa” is more troubling than “Israel’s Defense Minister was willing to entertain the idea of selling nuclear weapons to South Africa,” the distance isn’t all that great. As I suggested in my earlier post, catching the Defence Minister of Iran, Pakistan, or North Korea in a similar conversation would produce calls for the most drastic international action. Relatively few, I suspect, would worry overmuch about whether Supreme Leader Khamenei or Kim Jong-Il had actually given the go ahead to such a sale.

1969 Sino-Soviet War

[ 8 ] May 15, 2010 |

This claim has appeared in a few other places, but apparently without the official sanction:

Liu Chenshan, the author of a series of articles that chronicle the five times China has faced a nuclear threat since 1949, wrote that the most serious threat came in 1969 at the height of a bitter border dispute between Moscow and Beijing that left more than one thousand people dead on both sides.

He said Soviet diplomats warned Washington of Moscow’s plans “to wipe out the Chinese threat and get rid of this modern adventurer,” with a nuclear strike, asking the US to remain neutral.

But, he says, Washington told Moscow the United States would not stand idly by but launch its own nuclear attack against the Soviet Union if it attacked China, loosing nuclear missiles at 130 Soviet cities. The threat worked, he added, and made Moscow think twice, while forcing the two countries to regulate their border dispute at the negotiating table.

Some observations:

  1. Even if the USSR mooted the idea of a nuclear attack on China to the United States, it doesn’t mean that such an attack would actually have been carried out. Soviet conventional capabilities greatly exceeded Chinese, although perhaps not to the degree that the Russians could have ensured the destruction of China’s (fairly primitive) atomic forces without resort to nuclear attack. Suggesting to Washington that an attack was imminent may just have been an attempt to feel out the Nixon administration’s attitude towards China.
  2. Even if the US insisted it would respond to an attack on China by nuking the USSR, it doesn’t mean that such a response would have been undertaken. Nixon would have every incentive to bluff in this situation, and I have serious doubts as to whether he would have been willing to go full Armageddon in defense of the PRC. Obviously, the US had made neither an explicit nor implicit security guarantee to Beijing, minimizing potential reputational effects of a non-response. Of course, the threat of a nuclear response against Moscow would carry its own costs without follow-through.
  3. Launching nukes against China would have been an incomparably bad idea on the part of Moscow. Even assuming that the Russians managed to destroy the Chinese nuclear deterrent, it’s unlikely that the Russians would have been willing to completely destroy China as a political and cultural entity. We now know that the Soviet leadership was a) sensitive to international opinion, and b) at least somewhat nervous about the idea of butchering hundreds of millions of people. A nuclear attack to settle a border dispute would not have sat well with anyone in either the West or the Third World, and probably would have incurred serious resistance from within the CPSU.

Alyona Show on Prompt Global Strike

[ 4 ] April 26, 2010 |

On Friday I appeared briefly on the Alyona Show to discuss Prompt Global Strike:

Prompt Global Strike: Still Not Actually Dead. Kind of Alive, in Fact

[ 15 ] April 23, 2010 |

Noah Shachtman notices what I noticed two weeks ago:

The Obama administration is poised to take up one of the more dangerous and hare-brained schemes of the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon. The New York Times is reporting that the Defense Department is once again looking to equip intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. The missiles could then, in theory, destroy fleeing targets a half a world away — a no-notice “bolt from the blue,” striking in a matter of hours. There’s just one teeny-tiny problem: the launches could very well start World War III.

Over and over again, the Bush administration tried to push the idea of these conventional ICBMs. Over and over again, Congress refused to provide the funds for it. The reason was pretty simple: those anti-terror missiles look and fly exactly like the nuclear missiles we’d launch at Russia or China, in the event of Armageddon. “For many minutes during their flight patterns, these missiles might appear to be headed towards targets in these nations,” a congressional study notes. That could have world-changing consequences. “The launch of such a missile,” then-Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a state of the nation address after the announcement of the Bush-era plan, “could provoke a full-scale counterattack using strategic nuclear forces.”

The Pentagon mumbled all kinds of assurances that Beijing or Moscow would never, ever, never misinterpret one kind of ICBM for the other. But the core of their argument essentially came down to this: Trust us, Vlad Putin! That ballistic missile we just launched in your direction isn’t nuclear. We swear!

Yeah, I’m really not sure that changing to an atmospheric quasi-ballistic missile from SLBMs really helps. For one, the shift would somewhat reduce the promptness of the global strike (although probably not by much). More importantly, it doesn’t really solve the dilemma. If Putin/Medvedev/Hu/Whomever are inclined to worry that a detected launch was the prelude to an all-out nuclear attack, they’ll likely not be reassured by the news that it comes from some “special” location in the US. If the US decided to launch a preventive nuclear assault on Russia or China, wouldn’t we initiate the attack in the most deceptive way possible?

This isn’t to say that we should eschew research of any weapon that can decrease the time between order and KABOOM. Questions of strategic stability, however, need to be taken very seriously. How willing would we be to use these weapons in a war over the Taiwan Straits? In response to another Russia-Georgia War? Or, perhaps even more disconcerting, what if we decided we needed to kill Osama Bin Laden with 30 minutes notice during the midst of a Russia-Georgia War that we were otherwise uninterested in?

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What Allies are For

[ 1 ] April 22, 2010 |

Strangely, when we hear claims that the Obama administration coddles enemies and scorns friends they never refer to concerns like this:

Fresh from signing a strategic nuclear arms deal with Russia, the United States is parrying a push by NATO allies to withdraw its aging stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.

At a meeting of foreign ministers of NATO countries here, officials from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries are prodding the United States to begin negotiations with Russia for steep reductions in nonstrategic nuclear weapons — mostly aerial bombs which, in the case of those belonging to the United States, are stored in underground vaults on air bases in five NATO countries.

For conservatives, the concept of the “Coalition of the Willing” is a doubly useful concept.  When we want to invade a country, we simply assemble what allies can be cheaply purchased.  When we want marshal arguments about the “weakness” of a Democratic administration, we rhetorically collect a group of disgruntled allies to insist that our friends are losing confidence in our resolve. This is because, with perhaps one or two exceptions, the views of allies are never valuable to conservatives in and of themselves.  Rather, those views are only meaningful insofar as they provide symbolic ammunition to be fired either on the domestic or international stage. The fact that most Europeans have no interest in keeping US tactical nuclear warheads on their territory is irrelevant compared to the rhetorical value of the few complaints about American “abandonment.”  In this sense, conservatives genuinely are quite Realist, in the sense that they view allies in purely utilitarian terms.  This is also why conservatives so desperately loathe the State Department, through which the actual views of actual friends are channeled at oft inconvenient times.

Same Old Song with a Few New Lines

[ 4 ] April 22, 2010 |

Nuclear terrorism concerns aren’t new:

“Officials regard the possibility of atomic sabotage as the gravest threat of subversion that this country, with its virtually unpatrolled borders, has ever faced,” The New York Times reported in 1953, telling readers that the Eisenhower administration was preparing to alert the public to the danger from “valise bombs.”

Hundreds of pages of declassified documents from the 1950s, obtained by The New York Times from the F.B.I. under the Freedom of Information Act, lay out a strikingly familiar story, in which Communist agents played the role of today’s Al Qaeda.

Then, as now, investigators searched for agents they feared were in the United States awaiting orders to attack. Then, too, the government spent millions to install radiation detectors at airports and seaports despite doubts about their effectiveness. (In those days, false nuclear alarms were set off by radium watch dials, once hidden in a woman’s corset.)

Nor is the worry in recent years about nuclear material crossing the permeable Mexican border new. An F.B.I. memo from 1953 warned that “a saboteur could easily pose as a Mexican ‘wetback’ and get into the country without detection, presumably carrying an atomic weapon in his luggage.”

Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has written on nuclear history, said: “The fear of a clandestine nuclear attack on American soil goes back to the very beginning of the nuclear era. There’s certainly nothing new here, even if they didn’t call it terrorism back in the ’50s….”

Security officials later speculated about whether China might set off a smuggled nuke in the United States and make it look like a Soviet attack, provoking devastating war between its rivals. Later, as portable tactical nuclear weapons proliferated in both Eastern and Western Europe, there were periodic alarms about their security.

Today, of course, our ability to track the transit of nuclear material is considerably greater than it was in the 1950s, and the science of nuclear forensics (being able to determine the origin of nuclear materials after a detonation) is far more advanced. There are perhaps more terrorist organizations, but their prospective state sponsors are far weaker than the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China. At some point, the failure of non-state actors to launch a nuclear attack or even a credible chem/bio attack should make people think more seriously about the barriers that such organizations face in developing and delivering nuclear weapons.

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.


[ 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.

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