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

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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

START’s Tactical Short-Coming: New START’s Silence on Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Posted by K.E. White on April 5, 2010

David E. Hoffman highlights one short-coming of the new START treaty:  its silence on tactical nuclear weapons.

Hoffman’s Foreign Policy article quickly reviews the history of tactical nuclear weapons (surprise:  nuclear watermelons were around in the 1950s).  He then outlines the scale of this nuclear omission, before highlighting a way forward on this troublesome nuclear front.

But just how important are tactical nukes to Obama’s new START treaty?

First it might be useful to look at the history of U.S.-Russian arms control agreements.  If Obama’s ‘New START’ treaty navigates the Senate, it would resurrect a moribund treaty system.  Whatever its shortcomings, simply putting arms control back on the map represents a huge—and as of yet unrealized—accomplishment.

Second, as Hoffman concedes, no treaty has dealt with these pesky weapons.  So Obama’s—and apparently Russia’s—desire to tackle this topic constitutes a grounds for nuclear optimism.

And when it comes to the international significance of ‘New START’, tactical weapons aren’t the name of the game.  Iran and North Korea represent the gravest threats to the established nuclear order.  There the worry is not over tactical nukes, but conventional nuclear weapons.  Reaffirming a commitment to cut nuclear weapons provides Russia and America a trust-building exercise, and helps America’s ability to build international support around a new wave of sanctions against Iran.  Obama’s START shortcoming won’t derail his nuclear security summit this month, nor allow Iran to turn the NPT conference into a battle between nuclear haves and have-nots.

From Hoffman’s article:

The United States is believed to have about 200 tactical nukes in Europe, all of them B61 free-fall gravity bombs to be used with U.S. and allied tactical aircraft, out of 500 total tactical nukes in the active U.S. arsenal. The Russians are estimated to have about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, several hundred in the European part of the country and the remainder in central storage sites.

These smaller warheads have never been covered by a specific treaty, nor are they subject to the kind of verification that is used to prevent cheating in the agreements covering the long-range or strategic weapons, including the nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. What’s more, they are relics of a bygone era, with no military usefulness. There is no longer a Warsaw Pact or a Soviet Union threatening a massive invasion across the Fulda Gap that would have to be stopped with a last-ditch decision to fire off the battlefield nukes.

The United States and others have been reluctant to unilaterally withdraw the weapons, which are believed to be based in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Turkey. Before any arms-control negotiation could get underway, NATO would have to come up with a common position. And others have pointed out that the concept of extended deterrence — the U.S. nuclear umbrella — can be achieved with longer-range weapons and does not rely on the tactical nukes.

An even bigger question mark is whether Russia would be willing to reduce its pile of small nuclear weapons. Probably not any time soon. The expansion of NATO to its borders has left Russia wary, while its conventional or non-nuclear military forces are weaker than in the past. And Russian leaders are alarmed at the long-range precision-guided conventional weapons under development by the United States. Russia has demanded that the United States pull back all the tactical weapons in Europe to its national territory — as Russia has already done — before considering any negotiations.

Pavel Podvig, a physicist and research associate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, points out that the new Russian military doctrine doesn’t include any specific mission for tactical nuclear weapons. “Of course, nobody in Russia is ready to get rid of them just yet, but it does indicate that the Russians realize that the utility of these weapons is highly questionable, even if they aren’t ready to publicly admit it,” he wrote recently. Podvig made a practical suggestion for moving in phases: Both the United States and Russia would first move all tactical nukes to a central storage facility deep within their national territory, then later deal with verification, transparency, and ultimately elimination.

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News Note: Sole Survivor of Both Atomic Blasts Dies

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

Tsutomu Yamaguchi—the Beckettian survivor of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings—passed away Monday at the age of 93. The Guardian offers this report.

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Is A Spy Tripping Up the India-Pakistan Peace Process?

Posted by K.E. White on December 23, 2009

Has a Pakistani James Bond, with a US cover job, derailed India-Pakistan relations?

David Coleman Hedley recently arrested for aiding in in last year’s Mumbai attacks (time-line available here), has not helped peace talks between India and Pakistan:

An American with a Pakistani father serves as an agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency. He is covertly trained by the Pakistani army, and is also an operative of the Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. He has a Moroccan wife and many stiletto-heeled girlfriends from Bollywood. After his arrest by U.S. authorities, Indian officials discover that he was given a long-term business visa for India. After his capture in early October, his papers mysteriously go missing from the Indian consulate in Chicago.

The tale of the alleged double agent David Coleman Headley, also known as Daood Sayed Gilani, is now in the middle of a very real investigation by the FBI and at the center of a diplomatic maelstrom that is blowing from Washington to New Delhi.

He is charged with six counts of criminal conspiracy in a case filed in federal court in Chicago. The case names him as a key architect of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Indian authorities also say Headley traveled seamlessly between borders, investigating further sites to attack.

The official investigation and daily exposes appearing in the Indian media have aided in further destabilizing relations between India and Pakistan. But the FBI’s handling of the Headley case, and reports that it has attempted to keep Headley away from Indian investigators, have also fueled suspicion toward the United States, seen here for decades as a Pakistan ally.

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Australian-Japanese Report Provides General Overview of Disarmament & Nonproliferation Issues

Posted by K.E. White on December 21, 2009

A new report provides detailed and wide-ranging recommendations to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. Sponsored by the Japanese and Australian governments, the report seeks to influence ongoing preparations for the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty next summer.

The report also comes before a nuclear security summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama next April.

Without a chance to read it, for now I’ll offer this critique from Greg Sheridan at The Australian:

In its political analysis, the report often seems to exist in a kind of parallel universe, where all states pay attention to the UN and do just as they’re told and all disagreements are solved by negotiation. That may be a laudable end, but pretending the world is like that does not help policy-makers take sensible decisions.

More generally, he argues that nuclear disarmament will be possible when even the prospect of major war is unthinkable. Well, yes, I suppose if you’ve achieved total world peace you may be able to negotiate nuclear weapons away. But for the next 1000 years or so we’ll still have to grapple with them.

Evans is very taken with the idea that all states possessing nuclear weapons should declare that their only purpose for having them is to deter other nations from attacking them or their allies with nukes. Yet he recognises that the “no first use” declaration of the old Soviet Union was “almost universally dismissed as purely a propaganda exercise”, and that similar statements by other powers are greeted with cynicism. Therefore, he says, “it may be better to settle in the first instance for a different formulation of essentially the same idea”. That, sadly, just about sums up this report: a different formulation of some very tired and unrealistic ideas.

The report is often very confusing. It states baldly that the problems of North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs can be solved by negotiation, without the slightest evidence of this being true. Evans states that the Iran situation looks unlikely “to be resolved by the further application of coercive sanctions”.

The report takes the mistaken standard international left line against national missile defence, even while asserting that theatre missile defence is a good thing, and acknowledging that you can’t really distinguish one from the other. And on and on. This report serves certain bureaucratic and even political ends. It does nothing for nuclear disarmament.

And Sheridan isn’t alone. This Times of India article expresses India’s frustration with the report.

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America’s Durable Nuclear Deterrent?

Posted by K.E. White on December 19, 2009

A new report quashes concerns over the effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent. The report, released by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, reviews America’s nuclear forces and those of other nuclear-armed nations. Its thesis: America’s nuclear dominance continues even with other nations pursuing modernization programs. Conclusion: There’s no need for the US to pursue a robust nuclear modernization program.

Why is this important? Recently 41 senators made their support for a new START treaty with Russia dependent on US plans for nuclear modernization. Treaty ratification requires 67 votes in the US Senate.

Two sections from the report merit specific mention. First is its review of America’s current nuclear forces and modernization efforts:

  • America deploys 2,200 strategic warheads, and has 2,00 warheads in reserve
  • America deploys 00 tactical warheads
  • Life extension programs are now underway for submarine and land-based long-range missiles
  • The nuclear testing moratorium has not stopped the W76 warhead from being fitted “with a new arming, firing and fusing mechanism”
  • A new fleet of nuclear submarines are now being researched with construction slated from 2019

The report then reviews the nuclear forces of other nations, and finds their modernization programs no threat to the United States. It then concludes:

Nonetheless, some still argue that if Washington doesn’t pursue a more robust modernization program, the United States will send the signal that it doesn’t take nuclear deterrence seriously. These concerns are mistaken. First, the United States clearly isn’t allowing its nuclear deterrent to deteriorate: Due to remarkable advances in stockpile stewardship capabilities and life-extension efforts, the U.S. nuclear stockpile and its supporting infrastructure remain the most sophisticated and modern in the world. U.S. delivery systems are mo:re deadly and more accurate than they were during the Cold War. Both the defense secretary and the energy secretary annually certify the reliability of U.S. warheads, even though Washington conducted its last nuclear test 17 years ago. Numerous studies have concluded that the explosive cores in U.S. warheads will remain reliable for many, many years. Plus according to a September report PDF from the JASON scientific advisory group, “Lifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence by using approaches similar to those employed in [life-extension programs] to date.”

Second, Washington continues to spend huge sums of money on its nuclear forces. A recent study calculated that the United States devoted at least $29.1 billion to its nuclear forces and operational support in fiscal year 2008, including more than $6 billion for the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

So those who continue to argue that Washington doesn’t show enough interest in modernizing its nuclear weapons should be forced to answer a simple question: If given the choice, would they trade the U.S. nuclear arsenal for the Russian or Chinese nuclear arsenals? Clearly, the answer is no. The appropriate mission for U.S. nuclear weapons is deterrence. And the U.S. arsenal of more than 5,000 nuclear weapons has the capacity to deter any threat regardless of how many resources Russia, China, and/or any other country devote to modernizing their arsenals.

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Israel Complicates Obama’s Planned Summit on Combating Nuclear Terrorism

Posted by K.E. White on August 11, 2009

Politico leads with a diplomatic piece exploring President Barack Obama’s goal to jump-start multilateral discussion on nuclear security; specifically the difficulties Israel presents to any future  summit on nuclear terrorism prevention.

Side-notes—Obama has yet to visit Israel; former Bush administration U.N. ambassador John Bolton offers this up to The WSJ:

Relations between the U.S. and Israel are more strained now than at any time since the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. Mr. Gates’s message for Israel not to act on Iran, and the U.S. pressure he brought to bear, highlight the weight of Israel’s lonely burden.

Striking Iran’s nuclear program will not be precipitous or poorly thought out. Israel’s attack, if it happens, will have followed enormously difficult deliberation over terrible imponderables, and years of patiently waiting on innumerable failed diplomatic efforts. Absent Israeli action, prepare for a nuclear Iran.

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Sizing Up Ahmadinejad’s Post-Crackdown Global Standing

Posted by K.E. White on July 15, 2009

Can Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be the leading Western critic after Iran’s brutal post-election crackdown?

The Christian Science Monitor’s Liam Stack explores the issue in light of Ahmadinejad’s attendace at this week’s Non-Aligned Movement sumit in Eygpt.

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IAEA: Meeting to Pick ElBaradei’s Successor Highlights Discord

Posted by K.E. White on July 2, 2009

Outgoing IAEA Director-Genereal Mohamed ElBaradei still has no successor, and with no clear front-runner deadlock appears a real possibility. Earlier today the IAEA held a straw poll that cut the field down to two. Unfortunately, the two remaining candidates—Japanese Yukiya Amano and South African Abdul Samad Minty—already faced off in March, neither obtaining the two-thirds majority necessary for winning.

The remaining candidates for IAEA Director-General, Yukiya Amano and Abdul Samad Minty. (Reposted from

The remaining candidates for IAEA Director-General, Yukiya Amano and Abdul Samad Minty. (Reposted from

The eventual victor not only faces nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran, but will have to tackle past proposals for an international fuel bank meant to spur peaceful nuclear technology to non-nuclear states. The conflict: control over the facilities, and concern that such a plan may place more nations on the cusp of nuclear weapons production.

From Reuters coverage of today’s IAEA straw poll:

Amano, Japan’s ambassador to the Vienna-based IAEA, took 20 votes, his South African counterpart Abdul Samad Minty 10 votes with Echavarri, who heads the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s nuclear branch, getting five.

The board was to proceed with up to six further rounds of balloting in the closed-door gathering, if needed, to produce a successor to Director-General and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who retires in November after 12 years in office.

But many diplomats were doubtful that Amano or South African rival Abdul Samad Minty would be able to muster a decisive majority because their support was split along lines of rich and poor nations who disagree on future IAEA priorities.

“I see a deadlock as the most likely (outcome). Unless Amano can pull something very big out of the hat,” another EU diplomat said on the eve of Thursday’s election. “The Minty camp is in reality a ‘block-Amano’ camp, so I don’t see them shifting.”

Rich countries want the IAEA to get tougher on cases of suspected nuclear proliferation such as Iran and Syria. Poor nations want more time and resources devoted to providing them with sensitive nuclear technology for peaceful uses.

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America and Pakistan: Uncertain Nuclear Security Cooperation

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

The Center for American Progress has just released this survey on Nuclear Security Ties between the United States and Pakistan from 2000-2009. The main message seems to be, ‘Thumbs up Obamaland!’ But the survey gives no evaluation of the administration’s–admittedly clandestine–policies, nor does it offer any fresh insights into securing Pakistani nuclear materials. (Correction: It does recommend against “well-publicized” questioning of Pakistan’s ability to secure its nuclear materials)

The most pertinent part of the report comes in its concluding paragraphs:

In any event, cooperation between the two countries on enhancing the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal appears to continue. There are recent reports that secret talks took place in May 2009 between Energy and State Department officials and their Pakistani counterparts on expanding cooperation. The United States has reportedly continued to provide additional training and detection technology for Pakistani ports, airports, and border crossings. Major initiatives considered in recent talks reportedly include shipment of Pakistani highly enriched uranium fuel to the United States for disposal and a plan to destroy risky radioactive materials. Pakistan, however, denies the talks have occurred. Pakistan has also reportedly requested assistance with redirection programs for retired scientists. The United States was apparently noncommittal.

President Obama has said that “we have confidence that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe.” The United States has a fundamental national security interest in ensuring that this remains the case, and it should seek to sustain its cooperation with Pakistan. Achieving this objective will require the United States to avoid aggressive and well-publicized rhetoric questioning the competence of the Pakistani military to manage its own nuclear assets, and continued behind-the-scenes negotiations with military and civilian leaders in Pakistan to share technology and advice consistent with U.S. law and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.

But the survey gives a solid history of nuclear security ties between Pakistan and the United States. This makes it an excellent compliment to this May 2009 Stratfor report: the report fleshes out the tensions that define this area of cooperation; details Pakistan’s nuclear command-and-control system; and, finally, discusses how nuclear security fits into other US objectives in the region:

The view within the U.S. intelligence community is that there is simply no sound way to independently assess the workings of the systems with any great certainty. Obviously, for reasons of national security and sovereignty, the Pakistanis will try to keep the system as opaque as possible. This means Washington has to rely on what it is hearing from Islamabad about control over its nuclear facilities, and on unilaterally obtaining information from third-party intelligence sources and intelligence-sharing with other countries, such as India.

Given the history of security concerns in Pakistan and the problematic relationship between the Bush administration and the Musharraf regime in the context of the jihadist war, Washington has a significant trust issue with Islamabad. The issue is not that Islamabad is providing false assurances; rather, it has to do with the fluidity of the situation in a country in which the government itself cannot be completely certain that all its moving parts are in synch. Even if the reality is that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are secure from any intrusion by a nonstate actor, one cannot be sure that this is the case.

The United States works very closely with India on the issue of Pakistan’s nuclear security. New Delhi is a key source of intelligence on the status of that security, and a good — albeit imperfect — measure of valid concern is the degree to which India is worried about it, since it stands the greatest risk of being targeted by Pakistan-based nukes. And although India continues to underscore the threat it faces from Pakistan-based militants, it remains comfortable with Pakistan’s nuclear command-and-control infrastructure. This would explain to a considerable degree the current U.S. comfort level. In the past week, following media coverage of Pakistan’s nuclear security, several senior U.S. officials — Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus — all said Islamabad’s nuclear sites were secure.

The public discourse over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is part of an issue much wider than simply the country’s nuclear security or the Taliban threat to Islamabad. The Obama administration is in the process of downgrading expectations about the war in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. There is a growing realization within the White House that the counterinsurgency successes in Iraq are unlikely to be replicated in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Therefore, the emerging objective in southwest Asia is not to defeat the Taliban, but to neutralize al Qaeda prime and help Pakistan ensure that its nuclear sites remain secure. The Obama administration’s strategy to deal with the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to be able to demonstrate success on these two fronts, which are the most immediate of concerns regarding U.S. national security.

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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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