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Tag: "nukes"

Global Strike

[ 36 ] October 25, 2008 |

In response to a variety of nuclear mishaps (B-52s flying while armed with nukes, nuclear triggers delivered to Taiwan, personnel falling asleep on nuclear weapons duty), the Air Force has created Global Strike Command, which is intended to concentrate on the management of nuclear weapons. Careless handling of nukes was the proximate cause of the firing of Air Force brass last year, although it’s fair to say that other considerations also affected the decision. As Jeffrey Lewis points out:

I should add that the Air Force is considering some organizational remedies. But the real question is “above the paygrade” the Air Force and, even, the Secretary of Defense. The “lack of focus” that SECDEF described reflects the reality that these weapons are largely irrelevant to the day-to-day mission of the Air Force. That we have nuclear weapons we do not need is evident in the day-to-day neglect by those who handle them.

The primary purpose for the creation of the USAF in 1947 was the conduct of nuclear strategic combat with the Soviet Union. This is no longer a pressing mission, and focusing on it no longer pays the USAF bills. Consequently, attention and diligence falter. This problem can’t be entirely remedied by changing the USAF’s organizational structure (although I think it may well help). The larger problem is that the USAF is a branch that doesn’t have a compelling reason to exist; the nuclear issues (and the F-22 problems, and the airstrike problems, etc.) flow from this.



[ 32 ] October 6, 2008 |

This is interesting; I got the impression on Thursday night that Palin had intentionally mispronounced nuclear, presumably as some sort of anti-elitist message to the base. Before the first time she said the word, she seemed to pause, as if for effect. Did anyone else get that impression?

Nuclear Families

[ 0 ] September 16, 2008 |

This is such an interesting article;I don’t know quite what to think of it.

The president of Switzerland stepped to a podium in Bern last May and read a statement confirming rumors that had swirled through the capital for months. The government, he acknowledged, had indeed destroyed a huge trove of computer files and other material documenting the business dealings of a family of Swiss engineers suspected of helping smuggle nuclear technology to Libya and Iran.

The files were of particular interest not only to Swiss prosecutors but to international atomic inspectors working to unwind the activities of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani bomb pioneer-turned-nuclear black marketeer.

Read the rest. As far as I can understand, the CIA flipped a Swiss family that was acting as a conduit for nuclear know how and equipment to reach Libya and Iran. This family (a father and two sons) were part of the Khan nuclear smuggling network. When they ran short on funds, they decided to cooperate with the CIA and send faulty equipment to the Libyans and the Iranians. Swiss prosecutors assembled a large amount of evidence on the family, and planned to prosecute. The US government was extremely reluctant to have the details of the relationship out in the open (the files also contained sensitive data about how to construct parts of a nuclear weapons operation), and heavily pressured the Swiss government to either turn over the files or destroy them. The Swiss, apparently, have decided on the latter.

I guess… um… good job? You hate to see the destruction of evidence (both from a legal and a historical perspective), but I can’t argue with the purpose behind the CIA’s activity, or with its desire to keep elements of that relationship secret. Moreover, there should certainly be some incentive for members of nuclear smuggling networks to cooperate with authorities. It’s probably good that the Tinner family isn’t prosecuted; future cooperative individuals might be dissuaded if they knew that cooperation would produce a paper trail that might lead to home country prosecution. The ideal outcome would perhaps have been for the Swiss to grant some form of immunity, and to have kept the documents under lock and key after they had been examined by nuclear weapons inspectors.

All that said, this really does fit in the Bush administration approach to non-proliferation, which is based on the principle of unilateral action (intelligence and military operations combined with intimidation). I suspect it’s not accidental that the administration prefers destruction of the information to transfer of it to the relevant non-proliferation organizations. While that approach may pay some dividends at some times, it’s not a good long term strategy; international non-proliferation efforts have a remarkable record of success in the last forty years.

The Soviet Missile Threat

[ 0 ] September 15, 2008 |

Pavel Podvig has a fabulous article in the Summer 2008 IS on the development of Soviet nuclear doctrine and force structure in the 1970s:

The data presented here demonstrate that concerns about the U.S. “window of vulnerability,” which figured so prominently in U.S. political discussions of the Soviet Union’s missile modernization program in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were unjustified. Contrary to the perception that existed at the time, the program did not have the potential to pose a serious threat to U.S. strategic forces. The evidence also strongly suggests that the Soviet Union had neither a plan nor the capability to fight and win a nuclear war.

The upshot is that there’s no indication that the Soviet consciously sought a first strike capability against the United States, or at any point structured their force around that eventuality. Rather, Soviet aims were predominantly defensive, oriented around the threat that US missile capabilities presented. Of course, as Podvig notes:

This is not to say that the Soviet military programs were benign or that the Soviet Union did not strive for military or political advantage, or at least parity with the United States. As documentary evidence of the Soviet programs continues to emerge, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Soviet military buildup was driven primarily by the inertia of the military industrial complex and by a lack of mechanisms to contain the country’s military programs.

The most notable implication of this study is confirmation that the “Team B” exercise of the 1970s, commissioned in substantial part by George H.W. Bush, was an unmitigated disaster. It was wrong in pretty much every way that intelligence analysis can be wrong, and it should stand as a lasting black mark on the reputations of its participants and adherents. While we can never fully demonstrate whether Team B was engaged in pure fantasy or intentional deception, I’m guessing predominately column B. Never a bad time to revisit this hilarious little piece of propaganda:

On Minimal Deterrence

[ 0 ] July 23, 2008 |

Jeff Lewis has a good article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on minimal vs. robust deterrence. The latter, advocated by folks like Albert Wohlstetter, asserts that nuclear deterrence is a delicate flower that will collapse if not nourished properly by thousands of warheads in multiple launch configurations. The former suggests that states that can be deterred from launching a nuclear attack will be so deterred by even a minimal chance of second strike response. Jeff Lewis is squarely in the former (minimal) category, as am I. The cost of absorbing a nuclear response from even a small nuclear power is so high, even for continent-spanning states, that a nuclear offensive will appear virtually suicidal. France, for example, could easily have destroyed the industrial heart of the Soviet Union if the Soviets (who had presumptive superiority) had launched an attack, even excluding the likely response of the other nuclear powers.

The question continues to have some policy relevance. For example, the irritatingly stupid arguments about how we need the RRW (Reliable Replacement Warhead) program in order to credibilate our deterrent vanish if minimal deterrence is taken seriously. Similarly, if minimal deterrence holds then there’s no need for the United Kingdom to pursue ridiculously expensive replacements for its Vanguard class nuclear ballistic missile submarines; the need to hide from Soviet attack submarines vanished, and no conceivable aggressor will be more deterred by the submarines than by some other, much cheaper delivery system.

The Phrase You’re Looking for is "Successful Diplomacy"

[ 7 ] June 27, 2008 |

National Suicide, My Ass

[ 33 ] May 23, 2008 |

It’s difficult for me to express just how moronic this column is:

THIS MAY sound like an extreme conclusion but, as Ari Bar Yossef, retired lieutenant-colonel and administrator of the Knesset’s Security Committee, writes in the army journal Ma’arachot, such cases of Islamist national suicide are not uncommon. He cites three such examples of Arab-Muslim regimes irrationally sacrificing their very existence, overriding their instinct of self-preservation, to fight the perceived enemy to the bitter end.

• The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest by allowing UN inspectors to search for (the apparently non-existent) weapons of mass destruction wherever they wanted. Yet Iraq’s ruler opted for war, knowing full well that he would have to face the might of the US.

• The second case is that of Yasser Arafat in 2000, who after the failure of the Camp David and Taba talks had two options: continue talking to Israel – under the leadership of Ehud Barak, this country’s most moderate and flexible government ever – or resort to violence. He chose the latter, with the result that all progress toward Palestinian independence was blocked. The ensuing loss of life, on both sides, testified to Arafat’s preference for suicide over compromise.

• The third case is that of the Taliban. Post-9/11, their leadership had two options: to enter into negotiations with the US, with a view to extraditing Osama bin Laden, or to risk war and destruction. The choice they made was obvious: Better to die fighting than to give up an inch.

OKKKAAAYYYY…. I have trouble believing that anyone, anywhere, still honestly holds to the first; everything we know now indicates that there was, literally, no way for Saddam Hussein to avoid the US invasion. He surely must have known this, too; the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction would necessarily have been interpreted as a failure on his part to cooperate, and consequently just cause for war.

The second is equally idiotic. Arafat didn’t believe he was committing national suicide; he was perhaps incorrect in his assessment of the situation, but mistaken and suicidal are entirely different concepts. This isn’t hard to understand, and again I’m befuddled that anyone not intentionally obtuse would by into the logic.

The best case can perhaps be made for the third. The Taliban was certainly over-matched, but there are three problems with the “suicide” argument. The first is that turning over Al Qaeda may, itself, have been tantamount to suicide; Al Qaeda made up a considerable portion of the combat strength of the Taliban, and might well have engaged in a campaign of assassination against Taliban officials in case of betrayal. The second is that it was not wholly unreasonable for the Taliban to think it could win the conflict; they may have believed they had reason to doubt the resolve of the United States, and they had a clear memory of another case in which Afghan guerrillas had defeated an invading superpower. Finally, Rubinstein might want to take note of the fact that the war in Afghanistan isn’t actually over; the Taliban continues to exist as an organization, has much of its leadership intact, and has made significant gains in the past three years.

So no, there is no impulse towards “national suicide” in Islam, or anywhere else; Drum concedes far too much to Rubinstein and to Jeffrey Goldberg. The key point, of course, is that what appears to be suicidal in hindsight rarely appears so at the time; in almost every case of purported “suicide” actual examination of the costs and benefits facing actors indicates that the choices made were not, in fact, suicidal. Now, it might be fair to note that certain constellations of cost and benefit, combined with certain cultural tendencies, may work to get close enough to “suicidal” behavior that the distinction doesn’t matter overmuch, but for my part I’m pretty sure that the Iranians (and both Rubinstein and Goldberg are essentially, here, laying the groundwork for an attack on Iran) understand that the nuclear annihilation of their regime by Israel and the United States would, in fact, constitute suicide.

Nukes in the ’58 Straits Crisis

[ 2 ] May 15, 2008 |

Hans Kristensen highlights some new information that has come to light on plans to use nuclear weapons to defend Quemoy from Chinese invasion in 1958:

Some of the veil covering U.S. nuclear war planning against China in the 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis now has been lifted by a declassified military study.

It shows that on the day after the Chinese began shelling the Quemoy islands on August 23, 1958, U.S. Air Force Headquarters apparently assured Pacific Air Forces “that, assuming presidential approval, any Communist assault upon the offshore islands would trigger immediate nuclear retaliation.” Yet President Dwight D. Eisenhower fortunately rejected the use of nuclear weapons immediately, even if China invaded the islands, and emphasized that under no circumstances would these weapons be used without his approval.

Read the rest;c the longer post discusses planning for nuclear utilization against China through the 60s and again in the 1990s.

Russian SSBNs not Patrolling

[ 0 ] May 4, 2008 |

Hans Kristensen has a good post on the inactivity of Russian SSBNs:

The number of deterrence patrols conducted by Russia’s 11 nuclear-powered ballistic missiles submarines (SSBNs) decreased to only three in 2007 from five in 2006, according to our latest Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

In comparison, U.S. SSBNs conducted 54 patrols in 2007, more than three times as many as all the other nuclear weapon states combined.

The low Russian patrol number continues the sharp decline from the Cold War; no patrols at all were conducted in 2002 . The new practice indicates that Russia no longer maintains a continuous SSBN patrol posture like that of the United States, Britain, and France, but instead has shifted to a new posture where it occasionally deploys an SSBN for training purposes.

Kristensen notes that the SSBN schedule stands at odds with the tempo of the rest of the Russian Navy, which has increased substantially over the past year and a half or so. The short explanation, I suppose, is that SSBN operations don’t really convey all that much prestige; they sail into the Arctic and hide, but don’t impress anyone other than a few whales. Taking this a step farther, I think that it confirms impressions that the Russian Navy operates today primarily as a public relations organization.

I would also guess that the survivability of those Russian SSBNs in a hot war is pretty low; the Russian Navy is no longer capable of providing layered “fortresses” for its boomers as it did in the Cold War, and the old Deltas can’t be much of a match for modern US attack boats. Fortunately, no one seems to care.

Chuckie Krauthammer: I Can Use Big Words Like "Deterrence"

[ 0 ] April 18, 2008 |

Chuckie Krauthammer comes not to praise nonproliferation, but to bury it:

The era of nonproliferation is over. During the first half-century of the nuclear age, safety lay in restricting the weaponry to major powers and keeping it out of the hands of rogue states. This strategy was inevitabily going to break down. The inevitable has arrived.

The six-party talks on North Korea have failed miserably. They did not prevent Pyongyang from testing a nuclear weapon and entering the club. North Korea has broken yet again its agreement to reveal all its nuclear facilities.

The other test case was Iran. The EU-3 negotiations (Britain, France and Germany) went nowhere. Each U.N. Security Council resolution enacting what passed for sanctions was more useless than the last. Uranium enrichment continues.

Right… well, the North Korea story hasn’t fully played out, but it’s not really fair to say that efforts have completely broke down yet. The Iran situation also has yet to play out, but both share one important commonality; the United States, under the recommendation of folks like Chuckie Krauthammer, decided to reject any and all multilateral efforts at nonproliferation in favor of… well, it’s not even clear that what the US tried can be referred to as a coherent strategy. In short, after the Bush administration spent years efficiently knifing the nonproliferation regime, Chuck is here to pronounce it dead.

Chuck goes on to repeat the “Iraq invasion scared Libya into giving up its weapons” story, a tale that Chuckie himself must know has been debunked so many times that is has ceased to be funny, but at least admits that “pre-emption” as a strategy is dead with regards to Iran and North Korea. So what do we get? Missile defense!

For the sake of argument, imagine a two-layered anti-missile system in which each layer is imperfect, with, say, a 90 percent shoot-down accuracy. That means one in 100 missiles gets through both layers. That infinitely strengthens deterrence by radically degrading the possibility of a successful first strike. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sitting on an arsenal of, say, 20 nukes, might recoil from these odds — given the 100 percent chance a retaliatory counterattack of hundreds of Israeli (and/or American) nukes would make Iran a memory.

Of course, one can get around missile defense by using terrorists. But anything short of a hermetically secret, perfectly executed, multiple-site attack would cause terrible, but not existential, destruction. The retaliatory destruction, on the other hand, would be existential.

Right. But here’s the thing (and I choose my words carefully…) you morally retarded nitwit; if Iran is sensitive to the cost of existential annihilation, then you don’t need even one layer of missile defense. If North Korea doesn’t want to get blown up, then aiming plenty of nukes at it will be more than enough to deter an attack. The “millenarian” line is an extraordinarily weak hook to hang missile defense on, especially WHEN IT STILL REQUIRES DETERRENCE TO WORK. At least Chuckie seems to understand that missile defense doesn’t take deterrence out of the picture; given the unlikelihood that a shield will be perfect, and the (incredibly likely) eventuality that Iran would figure out a means of delivering weapons other than by missile, deterrence is still necessary.

In short, for missile defense to work a deterrent relationship has to hold, but with a deterrent relationship missile defense is pointless. Chuckie would have us waste billions of dollars on missile defense while simultaneously gutting all of the multilateral tools of nonproliferation that have prevented five nuclear powers from becoming fifty.

I shouldn’t be surprised that someone who consistently betrays such monumental ignorance on basic security concepts manages to maintain a position as columnist for one of the two major foreign policy newspapers in the United States, but I am sad. I mean, I know he has the gravitas, and that he has a snide wit, but beyond that, he can have only one of two qualities; either a shameless willingness to deceive his readership, or a grasp on the issues upon which he writes that is so shaky that it crumbles at the first nudge. I’m betting a little from column A, and a little from column B

Stratcom Offers a Deal

[ 11 ] March 6, 2008 |

Via Armchair Generalist, STRATCOM Chief General Kevin Chilton is asking Congress to make a deal:

But as U.S. officials look to the future, Chilton said, “What we need is a modernized nuclear weapon to go with our modernized delivery platforms that we’ve worked on and are working on, and a responsive infrastructure, one that can produce weapons.

“If we do that right … you have an opportunity to lower what is referred to commonly as the hedge inventory, the backup inventory,” said Chilton, who is due to retire this summer.

The offer here is that, in return for backing the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (which is intended to produce a new generation of nuclear weapons), nuclear force levels will be substantially cut. The nugget of logic behind the deal is the argument that older weapons are less reliable, and that as such would need them in greater numbers than newer weapons.

And this, of course, is garbage. We do not now and have never needed every single nuclear weapon we launch to function properly; we have so many more than we need to do whatever job we could ever conceivably want to do. No plausible study suggests that our existing nuclear weapons are decaying at anything like the rate they would need to in order to threaten the robustness of the deterrent. More importantly, no enemy is ever going to make this analysis:

CRAZY FOREIGN DICTATOR: How many nuclear weapons will the Americans launch at us if we destroy New York?

LACKEY TO CRAZY FOREIGN DICTATOR: Dozens, sir. But perhaps half of those won’t work, which means that we will only suffer half of… well, dozens of nuclear explosions.

CRAZY FOREIGN DICTATOR: Ha ha ha. The American fools. If only they had funded RRW back when they had the chance. The Democratic Party truly is our best friend. Launch our attack!

It comes down to this; STRATCOM wants new toys, and the major nuclear labs want new jobs. It’s unclear to me why we should pay for either of those things.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

On Killing the NPT

[ 0 ] January 8, 2008 |

So, Michael Dobbs at the Washington Post, in his capacity as debate fact-checker, made the argument that Barack Obama’s claim that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “fell apart” during the Bush administration is a stretch:

There have certainly been a lot of reverses over the last seven years, particularly on North Korea, but things weren’t great under Clinton. It was under Clinton, after all, that India and Pakistan both tested nuclear weapons, which put a huge hole in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association sent an e-mail to Dobbs noting that neither Pakistan nor India were parties to the NPT, and that, moreover, the Bush administration has enjoyed significant reverses in several other regions on the non-proliferation issue. Dobbs reply was largely unresponsive (claiming that Pakistani nukes are a threat to the US is really sidestepping the issue), but did make the following argument:

Nevertheless, the twin nuclear tests by India and then Pakistan in 1998 came as a huge shock to the Clinton administration, and did much to undermine the international non-proliferation norms established by the treaty. Once those two countries went nuclear, other countries lost the incentive to abide by the treaty.

This may seem fairly arcane, but there’s really a lot going on here. Much of the problem revolves around the question of what, specifically, a treaty like the NPT is supposed to do. The “surprise” part of Dobbs argument above is simply a non-sequiter; whether anyone was surprised by the tests (and we certainly weren’t terribly surprised by the Pakistani test) is utterly irrelevant to whether the NPT was effective or not. The incentive bit is also wrong; neither Pakistan nor India were signatories to the NPT, so if incentives were changed it was by the international reaction to the tests, rather than the tests themselves. In this there was a clear, largely, and blindingly obvious distinction between the Clinton and Bush administrations; Clinton treated both states harshly, and Bush has essentially rewarded both (especially India). The Clinton reaction reinforces the NPT incentive structure, while the Bush reaction undermines it. Another way of putting this is that while the violation of a norm does tend to undermine that norm, the reaction to the violation is often just as important, and the reaction of Bush and Clinton was quite different. As such, Dobbs essentially has no case.

And then there’s all the other stuff that the Bush administration has done to undermine the NPT, including the inadvertent facilitation of North Korea’s nuclear program, the neglect of the CTBT (a treaty that established norms complimentary to that of the NPT), the drive for RRW (reliable replacement warhead), the various loose talk of developing new bunker buster nukes, and finally the establishment of a new non-proliferation norm that runs something like this: States that the US likes get to have nukes, and states that the US doesn’t like get bombed.

All in all, I’d say that the Bush administration has done a pretty effective job of killing the NPT. Moreover, given the contempt that the administration has had for any kind of international agreement that places any restrictions on US behavior, this is hardly surprising; I think they’re actually rather proud of their effort.

Jeffrey Lewis has more.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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