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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Krepon’

Students and Penny-Pinchers of the (Nuclear Wonk) World Unite: Michael Krepon’s Excellent Summer Reading List

Posted by K.E. White on July 7, 2011

Naturally, I’m plugging the recommendations of my pat professor (and eminent nuclear scholar), Michael Krepon–aka the’s  éminence grise.

And Krepon’s list primarily consists of free and easily accessible PDF attachments.  Students and penny-pinchers of the (nuclear wonk) world unite!

Added plus: is perhaps one of the best designed blogs around.

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Pakistan’s Nuclear (In)security: Fact or Fiction?

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

Fears over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal have flooded the wires. But how real is this threat?

NPR’s May 6th report paints a worrisome, but not catastrophic picture, of Pakistan’s nukes: stating that the arsenal is secure, but as long as extremists operate in and control more of Pakistan, the risk of theft becomes more likely.

Steven R. David considers the nuclear threat from Pakistan more dangerous than the Cuban missile crisis. He views Pakistan’s refusal to add US-manufactured safety devices and divulge, combined with the real possibility that the Pakistani military and government collapse, makes shoring up Pakistan’s civilian government and command-and-control procedures an American foreign policy imperative.

(Note: I believe David’s article betrays a facile reading of history regarding today’s Pakistan vs. yesterday’s Cuba. Vasili Alexandrovich Arkipov’s, Russian submarine B-59’s second captain, voted against the use of nuclear weapons even though in the face of intense U.S. depth-charging. Arkipov’s dissent from his ship’s captain and chief political officer “saved the world from a nuclear cataclysm.” [Michael Krepon’s Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb, page 36])

But Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at Center for American Progress, urges caution. He points to various reasons why the fear of the army collapsing, cooperating with extremists or the Pakistani state collapsing are overblown.

Korb’s key points:

  • “the Pakistani military, which numbers about 1 million soldiers, has enough brute force to prevent the Taliban from breaking out of the rural areas of the frontier provinces and into the heart of Pakistan
  • “It’s also important to note that Islamabad’s intelligence service, or ISI, which has been a renegade operation for nearly two decades, has been brought under the army’s control.
  • the Pakistani Army is composed mostly of Punjabis, and the Taliban insurgents are entirely Pashtun. Therefore, the army won’t let these insurgents, who they see as outsiders, take control of the heart of Pakistan (as opposed to the frontier areas) or the nuclear weapons.
  • The Pakistani Army jealously guards its reputation. In fact, it places a higher priority on its reputation and its interest than that of the country.”

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The Costs of Love: Building Off PONI’s Response to ‘Learning to Love the Bomb’

Posted by K.E. White on March 24, 2009

K.E. White builds on PONI’s recent discussion of Adam B. Lowther’s recent editorial ‘Learning to Love The Bomb’. Here he suggests there is a middle ground between the two extremes Lowther presents as America’s choices on nuclear policy: dominance or abolition. Instead, looking to Michael Krepon’s recent book ‘Better Safe Than Sorry,’ White contends there is a middle ground between nuclear dominance and abolition: one where nuclear weapon states cooperative to minimize the dangers of nuclear accidents and exchanges, and work assiduously against nuclear proliferation.

PONI recently explored Adam Lowther’s article ‘Learning to Love the Bomb,’ where Lowther argued against unilateral cuts to America’s nuclear arsenal. While PONI problematized Lowther’s arguments against nuclear abolition, but does get to the central weakness of Lowther’s editorial. Lowther insists on a bifurcated approach to America’s nuclear policy: either America seeks nuclear dominance or weak-kneed nuclear abolition. But there is a middle ground between these choices, one that recognizes the incomplete security afforded by nuclear weapons and the risk that America nuclear dominance may very well set off a new era of nuclear proliferation.

In carving out this middle ground, I am heavily indebted to a book I recently completed—Michael Krepon’s recent book, ‘Better Safe Than Sorry’. There Krepon explores nuclear weapon history, the history of arms-controls and lays out a framework of Cooperative Threat Reduction to minimize nuclear dangers.

Lowther’s argument will be reviewed over three categories: the role played by nuclear weapons over the last 60+ years, the current state of America’s nuclear arsenal and, finally, contrasting the nuclear futures of dominance vs. cooperative threat reduction.

i.                    Nuclear History 

Lowther underplays the danger of accidents involving nuclear weapons. His ‘proof’ that nuclear weapons aren’t dangerous is that no nuclear or radiological device has been set-off since the nuclear detonations closing out WWII. 

a.        Russia and America did have a very close call: the Cuban Missile crisis. Most people would consider going back to that era unacceptable. Also America has had a history of nuclear accidents: a warhead crashing into the sea and another falling in the continental United States. All this is to say, that America and Russia were fortunate to get through the Cold War without a nuclear exchange or accidental detonation. Such a result was not predetermined, and reflected a period of decades through which the United States and the Soviet Union matured their diplomatic relations–and had good luck. 

b.       Today nine countries possess nuclear weapons. As this number increases, so too would the risk of accidental detonation or nuclear exchange. The United States and the Soviet Union were ‘ideal’ nuclear competitors: both spent huge sums of money producing and protecting their nuclear arsenal, and were internally stable. Can one say this about North Korea or Iran? 

c.        Lowther presents an inverted measure of nuclear success. The absence of a single nuclear detonation or accident is ‘proof’ of nuclear stability. But he does not concede the inverse: that a single successful detonation or nuclear accident is, to many, an unacceptable occurrence. Never having a nuclear detonation is not success; reducing that possibility in the present and future is success. Lowther simply proves America’s nuclear approach has been sufficient, not ideal or even the best approach towards international security. 

ii.                    America’s Nuclear Arsenal Today 

a.        Lowther gives credit to past arms control agreements and American nuclear policy without showing that the world has changed. Yes, America has cut its nuclear arsenal. But at the same time decisions over redesigning nuclear warheads or investigating nuclear-tipped bunker-buster bombs would signal a growing American nuclear policy, not reducing.

b.       While America does not fly 24-7 nuclear missions, it still holds nuclear-weapons on hair-trigger alert. In 15 minutes America—and Russia—could launch thousands of nuclear weapons. Is this really required for American or Russian security?

c.        America’s nuclear decisions impact the calculus of other nation’s nuclear policies. If America modernizes or grows its arsenal, other nations (nuclear and non-nuclear) would react. At the very least, America failing to limit its nuclear-weapons umbrella undercuts the very diplomatic support needed to reverse the Iranian nuclear program.

iii.                 The Problems With Nuclear Dominance

Lowther pushes America policymakers to maximize any advantage it has over nuclear weapons, aka pursue nuclear dominance. This logic suggests that America can only find security in arming itself. Yet one may suggest that the utility of nuclear weapons—at least for the world’s current nuclear powers—are limited. No nation can afford nuclear war. And at the same time conventional weapons have the ability to decapitate the regime of a nation in a single precision strike.  It seems our competition with China and Russia is not really well-served by nuclear weapons stockpiles, but rather in avoiding these costly decisions and working together to limit nuclear proliferation to other nations. 

History has show that the nuclear dimension to nation-state relations is a key component to overall relations between nuclear states.  When nations use a ‘go it alone’ approach on nuclear weapons, not only do relations with other nations suffer—it tends to cause ‘nuclear’ reactions that undercut the goal of limiting nuclear proliferation. For example, recent reports that the Obama administration would consider pulling back on a missile shield in Eastern Europe will return for Russian assistance with the Iranian nuclear program. This diplomatic development shows 1) nuclear dominance does not stop nuclear proliferation and 2) that nuclear cooperation can advance international security far better than nuclear weapons. 

Lowther presents America’s nuclear weapons policy in a vaccum. In so doing, Lowther refuses to admit the complicated and crosscrossing issues involved America’s nuclear deterrent. A hypothetical: If the United States modernizes its nuclear arsenal, its likely not only that China and Russia will follow–but that relations will be strained. This, as a result, then impacts others dimensions of our nuclear policy: whether that clamping down dangerous materials, insisting on nuclear inspections or stopping nations from developing nuclear weapons.

As the world’s largest holder of nuclear weapons predominant nuclear power*, America’s nuclear choices  heavily shapes the nuclear dimension of our international system.


Lowther constructs a straw-man against a rational approach to nuclear weapons in America. The United States can conclude agreements that minimize the danger of nuclear terrorism, a  nuclear weapons exchange or nuclear accidents.

Such a approach does not sacrifice America’s nuclear deterrent; such an approach, in fact, fosters the cooperation needed to 1) limit nuclear weapons proliferation and 2) keep nuclear materials out of terrorist hands.

Again, there is a middle-ground to Lowther’s nuclear dominance and sudden nuclear abolition: cooperative nuclear policy between nuclear nations. Nuclear proliferation is the greatest threat to global security. Defending a bloated nuclear arsenal and alienating possible counter-proliferation partners does nothing to minimize that threat. 

*Correction: Russia, not the United States, holds the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons. But America clearly enjoys a predominant nuclear deterrent. From the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review: “Russia maintains the most formidable nuclear forces, aside from the United States, and substantial, if less impressive, conventional capabilities. There now are, however, no ideological sources of conflict with Moscow, as there were during the Cold War. The United States seeks a more cooperative relationship with Russia and a move away from the balance-of-terror policy framework, which by definition is an expression of mutual distrust and hostility. As a. result, a [nuclear strike] contingency involving Russia, while plausible, is not expected.” (p. 17) 

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Michael Krepon’s ‘Better Safe Than Sorry’ Makes The Economist

Posted by K.E. White on February 12, 2009

Picture of Michael Krepon

The Economist gives a glowing summary of Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb, by Michael Krepon–“one of America’s most sensible specialists in nuclear-risk reduction”.

Michael Krepon is co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center. He also teaches politics at the University of Virginia, where I had the pleasure to be one of his students. 

From the book review:

Mr Krepon picks out five principles from the cold war that can still apply in lesser but still dangerous circumstances today: deterrence (an irrational set of theories that, ironically, grew out of attempts to think seriously about the bomb); conventional military strength; containment; diplomatic engagement; and, one useful result of all of the above, a readiness on both sides to engage in arms control. An equal achievement was the durability of the nuclear non-proliferation regime: most governments took the rational decision in seemingly irrational times that nuclear abstinence was the safest route to security.

It was the combination that counted: a lesson forgotten after the September 11th 2001 attacks, when George Bush sought America’s safety at first, not in diplomacy, containment and the judicious use of preventive strikes, but in military dominance and a disdain for diplomacy as a strategy. It was this new sort of “better safe than sorry” approach, whatever intelligence mistakes were made over Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, that led Mr Bush to launch the world’s first preventive war for non-proliferation.

America’s new president is ready to re-engage on arms control, argue for still more radical weapons cuts and make “zero” the guiding thought of his nuclear policy. But Mr Krepon, a radical but no dove, counsels caution: zero may yet prove a better guide for the journey than a destination. Disarmament, like nuclear abstinence in the first nuclear age, has to be a rational calculation, not an act of faith; impatience can be the enemy of radicalism. Much, he argues, will depend on how those five key principles are now applied to Iran, whose nuclear ambitions are the greatest challenge to stability in the second nuclear age.

Purchase the book via Amazon here, and read his recent article Does Threat Reduction Require Threat Inflation here. A Proliferation Press review is on its way.

Posted in Nuclear Deterrence, Nuclear Weapons | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Michael Krepon & Shuja Nawaz discuss India-Pakistan Relations After Last Week’s Terrorist Attacks on PBS

Posted by K.E. White on December 2, 2008

Below is the transcript from tonight’s NewsHour discussion of India-Pakistan relations days after the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center, and Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within, offer a refreshingly nuanced discussion about the challenges facing Pakistan, India and America after last week’s deadly events. Ray Suarez moderates the discussion.

One can listen to the program here, but reading the transcript—which includes helpful hyperlink resources—may help flesh-out the discussion.


  • Pakistan’s military stress in combating terrorist groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas
  • Pakistan’s past links—through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Service—to the group thought responsible for the India attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba
  • India’s frustrating position: facing public pressure for decisive action, but all options in front of it—full scale military movement in Pakistan, a limited military response, or air-strikes against terrorist bases in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir—have serious drawbacks
  • America’s delicate role as mediator. On the one hand, the United States must stand with India—a critical new partner in the region, with whom a nuclear deal was just approved. On the other hand, Pakistan—a domestically turbulent nuclear power—plays a critical role in battling Al Qaeda and other terrorists along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Below is the transcript from the NewsHour segment:

Ray Suarez: “Michael Krepon, today India pointed to Pakistan and said it is demanding strong action against those who perpetrated this action. What does that mean? What can Pakistan do at this point?”

read full transcript here

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Michael Krepon On US-India Nuclear Deal: The “clear legislative intent of the Congress has been subverted”

Posted by proliferationpresswm on September 18, 2008

A solid interview with Michael Krepon, Co-founder, The Henry L. Stimson Center for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Two sections to highlight:

  • The government of India has been very clear in saying that the suspension of fuel supplies at its power plants would be grounds for removing Indian facilities from the IAEA safeguards agreement. What this means is, quite simply, that in the event of a resumption of Indian testing, French and Russian suppliers of fuel will argue very strenuously that fuel supplies should continue because otherwise safeguards will be removed—and there will be no consensus in the NSG. So the clear legislative intent of the Congress has been subverted by the Bush administration’s dealings with both the IAEA and the NSG.
  • Another interesting question is whether or not the government of Israel will seek exemptions from the typical rules of nuclear commerce, not necessarily for power plants, but perhaps for desalinization plants, that’s another possibility. I think the ramifications of an Israeli attempt to get exemptions from nuclear controls are worth considering. 

The interview succinctly shows the flaws with the nuclear pact, while fleshing out its the political and commercial consequences.

Posted in Diplomacy, Michael Krepon, Nuclear, U.S. India Nuclear Deal, WMD | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Accessing America’s Pakistan Policy and Pakistan’s Future: Stimson Co-Founder Michael Krepon Chimes In

Posted by K.E. White on January 10, 2008

Michael KreponPakistan has parliamentary elections slated for February.

Below are the thoughts of Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center and lecturer at the University of Virginia. First are selections from his recent Bloomberg interview, followed by a Stimson Center compilation of an earlier NewsHour interview.

The interview and report paint a very pessimistic outlook—perhaps trying to jolt new thinking from a White House administration now firmly in its days of twilight.

On elections:

“I honestly don’t think this is a great idea. But it’s the Bush administration’s position and Musharraf is going to go ahead.”

On Musharraf:

“My feeling Mike is that Mushaffaf is now such a big part of the problem is that he can’t be part of the solution…He’s not part of the solution.”

On a way forward:

“I don’t think that’s [another military strong-man] going to work at this point, Mike. Mike if I ruled the world and if I somehow could help Pakistan get through this, I think they way to do it is through a non-partisan government of national unity…[I]n the meantime, the country is going to be more unstable.”

Krepon criticizes the Bush administration’s Pakistan strategy in this Stimson Center statement:

The United States needs Pakistan, and Pakistan needs the United States. If the forces of extremism prevail in Pakistan, its relations with all of its neighbors – Iran, Afghanistan and India – will become inflamed. The US and NATO military effort in Afghanistan will become much harder. The export of terrorism would grow significantly, and it would not just be confined to Pakistan’s immediate neighbors. Most importantly, the disposition of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, which may well be larger than many suppose, would be in question.

It was profoundly unwise for the Bush administration to attempt to midwife a partnership agreement between Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. A core assumption behind this effort – that Musharraf remains essential in any transition strategy for
Pakistan’s future – is mistaken. When a military strongman in Pakistan produces a big mess, the strongman doesn’t clean up the mess. Instead, he leaves the stage to allow others to clean up the mess. It is therefore essential that the United States proceed wisely during the troubled times that Pakistan now finds itself in.

Washington’s call for elections under Musharraf’s rule also reflects the core assumption that Musharraf remains essential in any transition strategy. Because this assumption is so flawed, and because the election period and its aftermath are likely to be so contentious and violent, the destabilization of Pakistan will likely grow.

Three agendas will dominate the upcoming election campaign and beyond. Musharraf’s agenda will be to manipulate the polling results to try to produce a pliable government. If this is not possible, he will, at a minimum, seek to prevent opposition majorities that are so large that they can force him from office. The major political parties – Benazir’s Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – have the exact opposite agenda. They will seek such overwhelming support at the polls that rigging will be obvious and will become added reason for Musharraf to leave. To whatever extent these parties achieve representation in the National Assembly, they will join forces to seek Musharraf’s departure. The third agenda belongs to al Qaeda and other extremist groups in
Pakistan. They will seek to destabilize the country and the electoral process by political assassinations and other acts of violence.

The upcoming elections under Musharraf’s tainted presidency offer this grim outlook. The best that can be said for the ragged period that lies ahead is that it will hasten his departure.

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