Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

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Archive for the ‘Blog-on-Blog’ Category

Blog-on-Blog: Kroenig Explores Why Do Countries Export Nuclear Weapons

Posted by K.E. White on June 30, 2010

PONI offers a crisp summary of a recent CATO featuring Matthew Kroenig’s new book Exporting the Bomb.

Read the summary, and  track down a copy.  But, for me, the value of this book comes in how it helps policy makers pressure nations to not spread their nuclear weapons?

On this score I’m not sure the book helps (but I’ll have to read it first):  by looking retroactively behind, Kroenig may be imposing a pattern on what are really sui generis instances.  For example, will this model derail once Iran gets the bomb and (may) begin freely exporting nuclear technology to other ‘have nots’?  Furthermore, would one instance of a dirty bomb cause all nations to reassess the strategic gains of proliferation?

Hence, I am not sure Kroenig can get away from the problem that those who study the demand-side for nuclear weapons:  1) lots of variables and 2) thresholds/triggers that remain in persistent flux—reacting to crises. technological changes and the current state of geo-politics.

From PONI’s blog:

Professor Kroenig began by outlining a logic to supply-side nuclear proliferation. Rather than economic benefits, it is strategic calculus that Kroenig believes drives proliferation. Relatively powerful states often face greater negative consequences due to nuclear proliferation that weaker states due to a number of factors, including deterrence of military intervention, a weakening of military coercion, the risks of being pulled into regional nuclear crises, dissipation of states’ strategic attention and assets to cover one more security development, and threats to the cohesion of alliances. As it constrains more powerful actors, weaker states will often benefit from nuclear weapons proliferation.

From this, Kroenig derives three propositions for the conditions under which states chose to provide sensitive nuclear assistance to others. The less powerful a state is relative to the recipient, the more likely it is to provide assistance. Common enemies are another condition that can spark nuclear assistance between states. Third, the less dependent a state is on a superpower patron, the more likely it is to undertake illicit transfers, as it will not have to weigh the costs of losing security guarantees against the perceived benefits of proliferating.

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Blog-On-Blog: What Jeremy Kahn Misses On the US-India Nuclear Deal

Posted by K.E. White on June 29, 2010

Jeremy Kahn, a former managing editor for TNR, offers a snappy piece (cautiously) defending the U.S. India nuclear.  The article boiled down:  don’t blame India for the regime falling apart; rather, blame the regime itself (and the Bush administration).

But his logic-chain derails a few times.

First, he concedes the Bush administration “gutted” the NPT regime.

While a critic of the deal myself, this claim strikes me as glaringly swallow—for either gleeful supporters or staunch defenders of the NPT to parrot.  India (and Pakistan, Israel, North Korea) have to be brought into the nuclear system.  And none of these countries will give up their weapons, or get a reform to the NPT that would gain them entry.

Ad hoc deals are the only solution.

But was an NSG exception the best way to go?  Clearly not:  logically, it demanded response a response from US rivals—a la the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.

But the biggest weakness remains its failure to promote non-proliferation within the terms of the US-India deal.  The US could–and should–have negotiated more stringent nuclear disclosure and inspection requirements.  By blatantly tying the N-deal to a sloppily thought out strategic aim (countering Chinese influence), the US caused more problems—and alienated key allies.

And India—at least in the near term—lost a chance to become a true leader on nonproliferation and disarmament.

The US-India nuclear deal did not, and has not, made the NPT irrelevant.  And the US-India nuclear deal hasn’t made it easier for Iran to get the bomb.

Iran, like most countries, will get the bomb it if decides to do so.  What the nuclear deal did was to lower the diplomatic pain it would feel.

But the real problem remains the P-5 members treating proliferation concerns secondary to other strategic interests.  Hence the real flaw with the NPT.

Kahn is right to defend India from being lumped in with other proliferators.  But, in doing so, he misses out on the costs of such an approach when it comes to nonproliferation.

In so doing, Kahn fails to imagine a world where India’s neighbors have nukes on hair-trigger alert.  Then how has either India or global non-proliferation been strengthened?

So who is to blame?  Nonproliferation remains a collective nuclear responsibility.

And, even with its flaws, the NPT has worked to prevent a nuclear attack for over 50 years.

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Blog-on-Blog: Will Obama’s START Treaty Pass the Senate?

Posted by K.E. White on April 7, 2010

Nukes of Hazard offers some good commentary on whether the U.S.-Russia Prague Treaty (Obama’s ‘New START’) can get the 67 votes necessary for Senate ratification.

Travis Sharp suggests partisan considerations may ultimately decide the treaty’s fate:

But, if they don’t vote solely on their constituents’ interests, what will drive senators’ calculations? Information, ideology, and partisanship would seem to be the three main factors. As in:

1    What type of information do senators receive about the Prague Treaty? Are the deliverers of this information credible? Remember, we haven’t done a real arms control drill for a long time, and nobody knows what the hell is going on.

2    What kind of ideology do senators have about international law, national sovereignty, arms control, and the morality of assured destruction?

3    What does partisanship dictate? Will opposing the Prague Treaty contribute to immediate electoral gains for Republicans? Do Republican senators in tough primaries need to veer right? Does it make more sense for Republicans to acquiesce to Obama now, on a Prague Treaty that is fairly modest, and save the real politico-nuclear savagery for later (read: CTBT)? Will Democrats from more conservative states, some with tough reelection fights, feel comfortable supporting the Prague Treaty?

Methinks number three looms largest in the months ahead.

But will partisan interests be the dominant ratification factor?  Three reasons why not:

First, I think it’s unlikely the 2010 midterms will be dominated by this foreign policy question.  If anything, Afghanistan may be the foreign policy weakness dominating the air-waves—a topic unlikely to help either side.

Second, domestic issues dominate the 2010 landscape.  Why would  Republicans throw out a messaging campaign that works (jobs, debt and incumbent dissatisfaction) by getting into the wonky world of non-proliferation—especially when both the NPR and New Start Treaty preserve America’s nuclear deterrent?

And finally, fighting the treaty may not deliver Republicans the victory they want.  Instead of having air-time devoted to a fight over a judicial nomination or spending disagreements, they will allow Obama to play up his role as Commander-in-Chief.  So not only do they risk they will lose, they haven’t necessarily blocked Obama either:  he can always go the executive agreement route and get by with 60 votes and a House majority.

In sum, I think Sharp’s first factor remains the most important.  First, do Senators make this a priority-one issue to fight or support.  (My guess:  even Obama’s opponents would rather stroke healthcare and debt fears).  Second, is what they are told make the treaty look radical or modest.  It seems most observers, with some exceptions, consider the NPR and New START a modest step.

Result:  I think it’s very likely Republican won’t push back too hard, and save their powder for fights down the road where 1) they have more political influence and 2) are combating a more substantial—and controversial—proposal.

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Blog-On-Blog: Iran and China

Posted by K.E. White on June 26, 2009

Protests in Iran seem on the verge of being stamped out. But the question of these demonstrations effect has filled the web. Two interesting observations involve China: 1) Why is China reacting so cooly to events in Iran and 2) Will Iranian demonstrations follow Tienanmen Square’s trajectory?

FP’s offers this blog noting the age demographics of China and Iran from 1970-2020. The key point: Youngsters like to revolt (duh!). Current Iranian unrest and China’s ’89 protests both occurred during youth-bulges; and both occurred on the precipice of significant aging within the population. Tentative conclusion: Iran’s population will grow more compliant to their repressive regime.

(Update 12:37 pm- This Brookings op-ed delves a bit deeper into Iran’s youth-problems)

I don’t put too much stock in this age variable alone. Is it just a youth bulge? Is it a large number of ‘frustrated’ youth–i.e. men unable to get married; women hungry for great freedoms; or large numbers of unemployable–thus disaffected–college graduates of both genders? Or is it all these components together with a triggering event–perhaps a stolen election?)

But more important, in my mind, is this: of the many differences between China and Iran histories, regime type stands out. A key component of the Islamic state’s legitimacy–internally and externally–comes from its quasi-democratic practices. This does not negate Iran’s shift to a more authoritarian regime; but while today’s ‘youth-bulge’ recede, cynicism in a long-standing electoral process will leave a distinctive mark on Iran’s current regime.

The impact? We’ll have to wait and see. But it won’t simply be ’89 China redux.

And there’s this thought-provoking blog (James Fallows at The Atlantic) on China’s cool response to developments in Iran.

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Blog-On-Blog: Accessing Jennifer Rubin’s Charge that Obama Triangulates U.S. National Security

Posted by K.E. White on May 22, 2009

At Contentions Jennifer Rubin sifts through the aftermath of yesterday’s Obama-Cheney duel. She takes a firm line: accusing President Obama of a “triangulation game on national security” and being a “president who seems intent on getting the politics right and worrying about the policy later.”

Her specific charge? Obama seeks good politics and not good policy when calling for the end of advanced interrogation techniques and the GITMO closure. These decisions fall into Obama’s ovreall governing strategy, which Rubin describes as: “…to soothe all parties and charm even the most virulent foes of the United States has been Obama’s lifelong modus operand.”

This article will contend the following: First, Rubin fails to show evidence of actual triangulation, only that Obama is discussing security policies that she does not agree with at a time of conflicted public and partisan opinion. Second, she confuses the tools used to advance national security (e.g. what do we do with terrorists suspected of threatening America once detained) with national security priorities (e.g. how America should effectively beat back the terrorist threat).

First, her portrayal of Obama as bargaining between two extremes—hawks and doves in Congress and the public—flys in the face of commonsense, not to mention the substance of Obama’s address yesterday. When Obama evoked the ‘middle’ in yesterday’s speech he was not discussing how he chooses national security priorities, but how transparent and checked executive decisions on national security should be. (While this is a related matter, it is not tantamount to stating: ‘Well some people like GITMO, others don’t—so let’s just move it to Montana and ban torture to whip up libreal support!’) Obama’s positions presupposed the judgement that advanced interrogation techniques and GITMO’s continued operation harm American security. Accessing these decisions is separate from evoking them as triangulation.

By blurring the tools used to obtain national security with actual policies—which, admittedly, can overlap—Rubin is guilty of begging the question. She overlooks this glaring weakness with the Cheney position: the policies instituted by the Bush White House were of questionable effectiveness, controversial at home and grounded on dubious legal reasoning.

It is unquestionable that GITMO, whatever its merits, hurt America’s image around the world. Why then is Rubin so quick to portray Obama’s move to close GITMO as simply a gimmick to get Left-leaning support on other issues? By dodging the issue of whether or not moving detainees from GITMO to a Super-Max prison has any impact on American security, this implication rests on unstated, if not flimsy, assumptions.

Having an unclear standard by which to hold onto detainees has clear dangers. So why when Obama outlines his desire to codify in law their continued detention–even if thise means indefinite detention without recourse to a federal or military court–does Rubin imply this as a cynical attempt at assuaging the Right? This has particular resonance when contrasted with the ad hoc and hasty basis by which the Bush White House released past detainees.

It’s easy to see where Rubin goes wrong within her own post: she uses another writer’s perception that Obama is appealing to a fractured middle ground between doves and hawks that may or may not support them as as proof that Obama has politicized/triangulated national security policy. But even that speculation, if right, fails to prove triangulation. Proving triangulation requires showing incoherent or ineffective policy coming out of the White House in response to opinion polls.

Now, admittedly, I have set a high bar. But it seems next to impossible  to even suggest this in regards to current Obama administration national security actions. Yes, decisions on whether or not to prosecute Bush administration officials and releasing certain detainee photographs have changed. But those changes do not seem the result of public or partisan pressure. They seemed, whether right or wrong, rooted within an evolving sense of what constituted the national interest. While this process can be messy, it’s understandable on issues where there is no readily apparent ‘correct’ course of action.

Furthermore, Bush White House terror prosecutions and detainee photographs do not repreesnt the core of yesterday’s Cheney-Obama debate. The main issues at play are: 1) where to treat and place current and future terror detainees and 2) whether or not to use advanced interrogation techniques on suspected or known terrorists.

On these two issues any charge of triangulation fails. (Note: by triangulation I mean creating policy out of incoherent or contradictory positions to manufacture a public mandate.) Obama started his administration by bucking against political pressure and an unsure public will in ordering the shutdown of GITMO, the cessation of advanced interrogation methods, and the designing of transparent system of detention and prosecution. In yesterday’s speech, after weeks of criticism by the Right and the failure to obtain Congressional funds to close GITMO, what did Obama do? He stuck to his guns.

This suggests a President more interested in forging a sound national security policy than worrying whether or not it is popular to stop certain tools to deliver that end (i.e. certain interrogation techniques and detainee transfers out of GITMO).

Yes, these policies require politics. Closing GITMO requires votes in Congress; ending torture policies demands a President who shows the public why this change is justified; and reconstituting military tribunals and maintaining long-term detentions require congressional action. In no way do these actions prove Rubin’s charge of “triangulation”.

But it’s hard to argue with Rubin on substance. Nowhere in Rubin’s posting is discussion over what makes up the current “national security debate” she considers so important. (I am left to assume this debate expands to detention policies, torture policies and GITMO policies, and not, for example, the US-UAE nuclear deal or current AfPak policy). By failing discuss these policies Rubin (whether by choice or shoddy rhetoric) fails to show whether or not Obama-desired policies help or hinder American security. Hence, Rubin cannot offer a set of policies Obama ‘should’ pursue but has abandoned in order to secure public approval.

But the above assumes Rubin’s post to be a reasoned and dispassionate critique of the Obama administration. Rubin’s final paragraph squashes any such illusion. There she compares Obama’s discussion and desired reform of Bush-era detention and interrogation techniques with the hypothetical case of a President going into war to quell domestic critics. This, on its face, stands as a grossly false comparison. And it only highlights Rubin’s refusal to engage in actual discussion–not to mention here comfort in passing flawed logic off as refined argument.

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Blog-on-Blog: About Jeffrey Goldberg Blog Bashing Roger Cohen

Posted by K.E. White on March 17, 2009

Summary: Let’s move on from debates over the character of the Iranian regime; it gets us no closer to the real questions: 1) how best to deter Iran from going nuclear and 2) if Iran develops nuclear weapons, how best to prevent catastrophe.

Yesterday Jeffrey Goldberg dedicated his Atlantic blog entry to exposing NYTimes columnist Roger Cohen’s shallow conception of the Iranian threat faced by Israel. You can read/watch the ‘Cohen evisceration’ here in full, but here’s boiled down version:

-Roger Cohen debated Rabbi David Wolpe; the topic: Iran and Israel

-Wolpe insists Cohen imagine a time when the balance of power between Iran and Israel flips: meaning when Iran has nuclear weapons/equal or greater conventional military capabilities. Add to this that Hamas and Hezbollah are Iran proxies, and thus would reap direct benefits from such strategic flip.

-Cohen waffles—says some things about stopping Iran from getting The Bomb. Audience laughs.

The problems with this semantic takedown (even if Contentions gives it kudos):

continue reading this post

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