Proliferation Press

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

New America Foundation’s 6/29 Nuclear Weapons Event

Posted by K.E. White on June 20, 2011

New America will be hosting an interesting nuclear talk next Wednesday, with one of my favorite speakers Joe Cirincione.

Here’s more on the event, titled ‘Nuclear Weapons in a Changing World’:

The future of nuclear weapons is no longer an exclusively Russian or American affair. Nuclear powers like China, India, Israel, and Pakistan, and potentially Iran complicate the question of nuclear disarmament. How these countries view the strategic value of nuclear weapons now must be discussed along with the nuclear postures of the United States and Russia.

Please join Joseph Cirincione, author of a forthcoming American Strategy Program paper on American and Russian policy on nuclear weapons, MIT Professor Vipin Narang, and Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, for a stimulating discussion on the future of nuclear weapons.

And, for background, check out Mr. Cirincione’s 2007 C-Span Q&A on Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons.



Posted in New America Foundation | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Germany’s UN Security Council Strategy: Schöndorf & Kaim Give Their Two Cents

Posted by K.E. White on June 15, 2011

Stiftung Wissenchaft und Politik—or the German Institute for International Security Affairs—offers an excellent article discussing Germany’s role on the United Nations Security Council.  In it, Elisabeth Schöndorf and Markus Kaim ask two critical questions that’s worth anyone reflecting on:  what strategy should a country adopt when it is a UN Security Council Member, and why does it matter?

‘Big’ Picture Items:

Diplomatic Strategy and the U.N. Security Council:  Elisabeth Schöndorf and Markus Kaim premise their article (“Peace, Security, and Crisis Management”) on the need for Germany “to determine its priority objectives and to sharpen their strategic focus”—why do they really have to?  The authors pick out geographic areas—Africa and Afghanistan—and strengthening U.N.-NATO ties (but isn’t the real issue with NATO itself?).  But—really—would it not be better for Germany to focus on thematic issues, backed up by practical national and international steps forward?

For example, Afghanistan will wind down (or up) according to America’s watch, not Germany’s.  But, in keeping with Schöndorf & Kaim’s prediction of new crises and (possible) newly failed states, Germany may do well in helping the international community plan contingencies for the failures of States.  Such steps could be practical:  coordinating international responses for refugees; stepping up the ground-work for quick aid; and having sober discussions on w hat countries can and cannot offer in these situations.  This quiet diplomacy could lead to templates for the international community to respond not only to today’s crises, but tomorrow.

Finally, such a thematic approach looks ahead to new problems developing, maximizing Germany’s influence when it comes to the great strategic and military moves ‘big’ powers may make.

Also, Schöndorf & Kaim miss a vital issue plaguing international security:  battling the proliferation of WMD while assisting the world’s emerging economies energy needs.

The Importance of today’s U.N. Security Council

“The current council is probably the ‘strongest’ that has ever convened:  for the first time, all of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and the IBSA countries (India, Brazil and South Africa) and thus important regional powers are members, as are major troop contributors to UN missions, major donor states, and almost all of the members of the G8.  In addition, nine of the fifteen members of the Security Council for 2011/2012 are also members of the G20.”

This is a critical observation (even if BRIC should really be BIIC), and may be a golden moment for the United Nations Security Council to shows its ability to follow through on commitments.  Whether this is the Special Tribunal for Lebanon or Libya, it’s critical that emerging powers show that multilateral engagement—whatever its flaws—can foster peace, security, and development for all nations.

But this seems to foster Germany taking a thematic approach first; instead of replaying the same great power divides of past U.S.-led interventions in the Middle East.

The Lingering Question:  Isn’t Germany Impact Really on Changing Minds on Individual Votes, and Won’t German Diplomatic Relations Have More Effect?

One critical omission for the piece: isn’t the true measure of Germany’s Council influence whether it changes other Member’s votes?  And this will probably have more to do with bilateral relations than ‘grand strategy’ calculations.  Yet, any country must identify their vital interests, lest it goes to the mat over every Council vote.  But again, it seems a thematic approach would help more than country specific:  engaging with countries on general topics give more room to identify mutual interests than simply outlining region or country-specific goals.  And isn’t this especially the case when in one of these areas—Afghanistan—Germany will clearly be playing second fiddle to America’s strategic adjustments?

As a middle power, Germany has the luxury to not be bogged down in the ‘great power’ debates that so often cripple the Council.  Instead, it can map a truly long-term strategy that allows it to be the ‘indispensible facilitator’ when future disputes arise.

And that’s one luxury Germany should not squander.

Posted in Diplomacy, Germany, United Nations | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Nuclear Numbers Game: Global News Wire & Keith Payne’s Worry Over the U.S. Nuclear Umbrella

Posted by K.E. White on May 10, 2011

Global Security Newswire should really contextualize their sources.

In their May 9th piece on Obama’s push to cut the U.S. arsenal, the focus is on former Deputy Aassistant Defense Secretary Keith Payne’s testimony to a Congressional commission.  His main point:  be very wary of cutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal–

Washington provides “extended deterrence” to each of its 27 NATO allies as well as Australia, Japan and South Korea. By doing so, Washington promises to defend partner states with its nuclear arsenal in the event of an attack or the threat of one.

As of one year ago, the Pentagon had 5,113 strategic and tactical warheads in its commissioned nuclear arsenal (see GSN, May 4, 2010). The recently implemented New START pact requires both Russia and the United States to reduce their stocks of deployed long-range nuclear weapons to 1,550.

Payne said the commission heard from “senior voices” in Japan that “the threshold at which point they start to become very worried about the credibility of the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent is if the U.S. starts moving down to 1,000 nuclear warheads.”

“When we start looking at numbers that potentially go well below that, we will be potentially jeopardizing the credibility” of the nuclear umbrella in the eyes of U.S. allies, he said, without detailing the reasoning behind the criticality of the 1,000-weapon count.

Yet, as Fred Kaplan documented in a 2003 article, Payne is not exactly netural when it comes to nuclear assessments:

Payne is not a well-known figure, even in Washington policy circles. But he ought to be. He is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for “forces policy”—essentially, the Pentagon’s top civilian official assigned to the development, procurement, planning, and possible use of nuclear weapons.

For 20 years before he came to the Pentagon at the start of the George W. Bush administration, Payne was at the forefront of a small group of think-tank mavens—outspoken but, at the time, marginal—who argued not only that nuclear weapons were usable, but that nuclear war was, in a meaningful sense, winnable. He first made his mark with an article in the summer 1980 issue of Foreign Policy (written with fellow hawk Colin Gray) called “Victory Is Possible.” Among its pronouncements: “an intelligent United States offensive [nuclear] strategy, wedded to homeland defenses, should reduce U.S. casualties to approximately 20 million … a level compatible with national survival and recovery.” (As Gen. Buck Turgidson, the George C. Scott character in Dr. Strangelove, put it, “I’m not saying we won’t get our hair mussed up, but 10-20 million tops, depending on the breaks.”)

Payne was in his 20s, working for Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute, at the time he co-wrote the article, but anyone who would dismiss it as youthful extremism should look at a paper he wrote in January 2001, titled “Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control.” Payne wrote it as president of the National Institute for Public Policy, a conservative research organization in Fairfax, Va. The paper came out of a panel that included Payne’s old colleague Colin Gray, as well as Stephen J. Hadley (who is now Bush’s deputy national security adviser) and Stephen Cambone (now an assistant secretary of defense and a member of Rumsfeld’s inner circle).

The NIPP study was intended as that “coolly reasoned response,” written for the incoming administration. In it, Payne laid out a post-Cold War rationale for the continued deployment of thousands of nuclear weapons and the development of new, specially tailored nukes. Parts of the rationale were fairly routine: to deter a potentially resurgent and hostile Russia, to dissuade rogue regimes from trying to threaten to us, and so forth. But there were some eyebrow-raising parts as well. For instance, Payne noted that, in Operation Desert Storm, allied forces had a hard time finding and hitting Iraqi Scud missiles. In a future war, he wrote, “If the locations of dispersed mobile launchers cannot be determined with enough precision to permit pinpoint strikes, suspected deployment areas might be subjected to multiple nuclear strikes.”

Note the phrasing. It’s startling enough that Payne suggests attacking (even non-nuclear) mobile missiles with nukes. But he goes further, suggesting that we attack whole “areas” where mobile missiles are merely “suspected” to be deployed. And he suggests attacking these with “multiple” nuclear weapons. Payne also argues that nuclear weapons might be needed to destroy “deeply buried facilities … such as underground biological weapons facilities.” He leaves unanswered why simply disabling such a facility—which he admits can be done with conventional weapons—wouldn’t be good enough. He then says the need to destroy these sorts of targets means we cannot afford to make deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal but should instead continue to build new types of nuclear weapons.

Payne is an expert, and should be heard.  But quoting him without any of context fails to convey the concrete costs and benefits of Obama’s push to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

UAE and South Korean Nuclear Regulatory Bodies Sign Nuclear Implementing Agreement

Posted by K.E. White on March 15, 2011

The potentially devastating nuclear crisis in Japan isn’t putting off the UAE’s nuclear plans.

Building off their 2009 nuclear facilities production agreement, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and South Korea nuclear regulatory bodies today signed a nuclear cooperation agreement.  What does the agreement do? provides this answer:

Under this Implementing Arrangement between the two regulatory bodies, FANR and KINAC will exchange information, experience, staff and technology related to ensuring a peaceful nuclear programme under international non-proliferation obligations. It is based on a UAE-Republic of Korea Government-to-Government agreement signed in 2009.

In short, with the UAE having a Korean consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) to build four reactors, the UAE must development effective measures to track nuclear materials and secure these new faculties.

From The National:

“This is important in terms of the experience of the Korean regulator in regulating the Korean reactors and plants in Korea,” said Hamad al Kaabi, the UAE representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a global nuclear watchdog based in Vienna. “The goal is to develop capabilities.”

The UAE, like other nations in the region including Saudi Arabia, is counting on nuclear power to help meet growing electricity demand as well as free up oil and gas currently used for power generation to more lucrative uses, such as exports of petrochemicals. Abu Dhabi hopes nuclear power will provide a quarter of its of its electricity within the next decade.

Is the UAE ignoring the lessons of Japan’s current nuclear crisis?  Perhaps.  But, as James M. Acton argues at, nuclear energy is worth the risk if done prudently.  And part of responsible nuclear energy generation must be safely securing facilities from natural and man-made disasters, and preventing nuclear materials from slipping into the wrong hands.

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Two Upcoming WMD Events

Posted by K.E. White on March 10, 2011

Just a quick blurb to Washington D.C. readers:  The Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. will be holding a discussion on WMD threat reduction tomorrow.

And for all readers, tomorrow will also be the House Armed Services Committee’s hearing on the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the DoD agency responsible for reducing the threat to America and it’s allies from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.  The hearing will be available online.

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Global Zero’s Flawed Attempt at Being Relevant to America’s Young People

Posted by K.E. White on March 8, 2011

Valerie Plame pushes Global Zero, pleading for young people to jump on board with the group’s nonproliferation agenda.  A question for readers under 30:  do you spend your nights (a) wondering about how to achieve nuclear abolition, (b) your school debt/employment prospected, or (c) your next vacation destination–as funded by Mommy/Daddy dearest?

I’m guessing (b).

Writing for the Huffington Post, Valerie Plame endorses Global Zero–a group of over 300 political, faith, business, and military leaders worldwide “working for the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide.”  In fact, Plame–along with Jordan’s Queen Noor–will soon launch Women for Global Zero.

But I question the main thrust of her article:  her call on young people to join Global Zero’s call to action, which–coincidently–is the aim of Global Zero’s April 8-10 Global Zero D.C. Convention.  With gas hitting $4/gallon, and youth employment prospects as bright as a black hole, I’m thinking her intended audience–America’s ‘progressive’  youth–are more worried about the rent than nonproliferation.  But wait, the convention’s in DC–so with enough transportation-subsidization and swag, I’m sure they’ll get a good-sized group of whiny distinguished NYC/DC undergrads looking to score with one another.  Try holding the convention in Cleveland….actually wait:  do hold the convention in Cleveland–it’d be a welcome change of pace and, frankly, a small–but real–economic infusion to the city (that not only offers the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but a fantastic–and seldom crowded–international airport).

Don’t get me wrong, I wish Global Zero well.  But wouldn’t it be better to coalesce this movement with other groups advocating policies a bit more relevant to today’s political discourse?  How about teaming up with some liberal group for  cutting the federal budget responsibly, or even just teaming up with the well-established human rights and international justice movement.  But again, you’re not a ‘real’  group if you can’t throw your own ‘real’ convention.

Global Zero having a stand-alone convention is like me throwing my own surprise birthday party:  no matter how nice the decorations, my plead to be relevant only proves the opposite.

And it’s not like there aren’t better ways to spend the money.  How about sending accomplished speakers to graduate schools, law schools and undergraduate programs, and then link up interested young adults with opportunities to write or research on getting to global zero, diffusing other conflicts world-wide, and global development.  While there’s no big self-congratulatory party, in 5-10 years there will be a network of community leaders nationwide ready to push nonproliferation at a time when the American mind isn’t filled with fears of the double-dip, crushing debt, or Charlie Sheen’s latest antic.

But perhaps the convention will be a smash, proving to everyone–from the victims of the golden handcuffs to my hair-stylist Renee, that you’re not a zero if you’re in Global Zero.

Posted in Opinion | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Libya: The Nuclear Disaster That Wasn’t

Posted by K.E. White on March 5, 2011

Two articles show the huge dividends successful non-proliferation efforts offer to global security and stability.

First there’s David E. Sanger’s piece on the Libyan nuclear threat that never was:

“Imagine the possible nightmare if we had failed to remove the Libyan nuclear weapons program and their longer-range missile force,” said Robert Joseph, who played a central role in organizing the effort, in the months just after the invasion of Iraq.

And Joe Cirincione provides some helpful (and readable) wonkish background on the 2003 deal where Libya committed to ending their weapon’s program.

Posted in Nonproliferation | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

‘Yes, Prime Minister’ on the Cold War and M.A.D.

Posted by K.E. White on September 1, 2010

‘Yes, Prime Minister’ tackles the Cold War’s absurd nuclear logic.  Have the times truly changed?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mitt Romney Gets the New START Treaty Wrong

Posted by K.E. White on July 6, 2010

Mitt Romney excoriates the New START Treaty in today’s NYTimes.  But in arguing that the treaty jeopardizes American security, he notes treaty technicalities without accessing their actual impact.  In so doing, he gets the treaty wrong, needlessly politicizing U.S. foreign policy for partisan gain.

Romney’s chief charge?  New START impedes U.S. missile defense:

Whatever the reason for the treaty’s failings, it must not be ratified: The security of the United States is at stake. The only responsible course is for the Senate to demand and scrutinize the full diplomatic record underlying the treaty. Then it must insist that any linkage between the treaty and our missile defense system be eliminated. In a world where nuclear weapons are proliferating, America’s missile defense shield must not be compromised. As currently drafted, New START is a non-starter.

On this score Romney is technically correct, but misses the larger point.

Yes, there are limits on America’s missile shield development.  The Heritage Foundation and others point out the indirect limitation of U.S. missile defense within treaty.  From Baker Spring’s webmemo at Heritage:

This specific collection of restrictions pertains to test target missiles and their associated launchers and comes in addition to a general restriction imposed by language in New START’s preamble and a specific restriction in Article V that prohibits the conversion of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers into missile defense launchers.

As non-deployed launchers, these test target launchers are counted against the 800-unit limit on deployed and non-deployed launchers in Article II of the treaty. Similar to the missiles themselves, Article IV of New START restricts what kinds of facilities may host non-deployed launchers, where they may be located geographically, and transit time. Like non-deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, application of elimination or conversion procedures (leaving aside those addressed in Article V) and notification requirements could apply.

So yes, there are limitations.  But Steven Pifer at Brookings notes the mootness of this restriction (along with the NYTimes’s Peter Baker):

As for hard limits, the treaty contains only one regarding missile defense:  the United States would be barred from placing missile defense interceptors in ICBM silos or SLBM launchers.  That’s a constraint, but not one that will affect the U.S. missile defense program.  The Pentagon has no plans to put missile interceptors in ICBM or SLBM launchers; it would be cheaper to build new silos for missile defense interceptors than convert existing ICBM silos.

And events on the ground suggest Brooking’s is right.  Romney’s article omits continuing U.S. missile defense plans in Georgia.

Now are there flaws with the treaty?  Unquestionably.  But the treaty in no way sacrifices America’s development of missile defense.  On top of that, the treaty offers tangible benefits to American security.

Posted in New START Treaty | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Big Oil + Military Junta + N. Korea = Nuclear Burma?

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

First there are worries that North Korea has exported nuclear and missile technology to Burma, Iran and Syria.

And now there’s this report detailing a potential source for Burma’s alleged nuclear activities.

From the Korea Times:

Three oil companies, Total, Chevron and PTTEP, have provided Burma’s military junta with half of their revenue, worth nearly $5 billion earned from the Yadana Natural Gas Project, an environment watchdog claimed Monday.

If confirmed to be true, this suggests that part of the cash could have gone to North Korea which reportedly exported nuclear and weapons technology to Burma (Myanmar).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »