Proliferation Press

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

Posts Tagged ‘PONI’

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: Obama’s Missile Defense Shift

Posted by K.E. White on September 18, 2009

Nukes of Hazard and PONI offer fresh analysis on Obama’s bold move to scrape missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Both blogs show how the move isn’t that drastic. Nukes of Hazard emphasizes that Poland and the Czech Republic face no greater susceptibility to Russian aggression owing to Obama’s missile shield shift. PONI, on the other hand, emphasizes the alternate methods America holds to provide missile security to Poland and the Czech Republic. Both are, in effect, saying ‘chill out’ to critics who see Obama’s shift as abandoning Eastern Europe to menacing Russian designs. (And so is the White House, releasing their four-phase plan for European missile defense)

While I agree with tboth blogs, neither pay much attention to the greatest consequence of Obama’s missile shield shift. The Bush administration pursued a policy of nuclear dominance, pushing for American arms superiority as the best way to promote American security. The Bush White House viewed other powers security interests chiefly determined by their own needs, not contingent on US actions. As such any attempt to scale back nuclear superiority only put American security in the untrustworthy hands of nuclear rivals.

Obama has—to some degree—rejected nuclear dominance as a workable approach to America’s security concerns. Instead he seems to see cooperation with nuclear rivals like Russia and China key to preventing further nuclear proliferation and WMD terrorism. As such, placing bounds on America’s power projection—to allay Chinese and Russian security concerns—is actually in the interest of the United States. Why? Because we can’t have it all: without convincing—i.e. brokering a deal—with other nuclear powers (read: China and Russia) to isolate nations (read: Iran and North Korea) pursuing nuclear programs, stopping these nuclear aspirants will be impossible.

Now, of course, Obama isn’t ushering in complete restrictions on America’s nuclear hand. (Just like Bush didn’t simply reject international cooperation, as shown by PSI) Obama still supports the US-India nuclear deal, and is still willing to push back on creeping Russian influence in Eastern Europe. But he is making it clear certain U.S. actions are off the table.

Will this foster great power cooperation on today’s global dangers? Or merely be used to scale back American influence while yielding no progress towards nonproliferation? Only time will tell.

From Nukes of Hazard:

While supporters of the European proposal are attempting to characterize the Obama administration’s decision as a sign of a slackening U.S. commitment to Eastern European allies or NATO, this is false. First, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen labeled the Obama administration’s decision “a positive first step.” The U.S. relationship with its NATO allies is crucial for European security, restraining Russian aggressiveness, and retaining support for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States is not abandoning missile defense in Europe; it is restructuring capabilities to better counter threats that currently exist.

Second, while Poland and the Czech Republic sought the system in order to secure U.S. support in the face of recent Russian assertiveness, the system was not designed, and the Bush administration reiterated over and over again that it was not intended, to defend these countries against Russia. The United States pledged earlier this year to provide Poland with a Patriot missile battery that will help defend against Russia. The United States also has agreed in recent years to provide Poland and the Czech Republic with F-16 fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles, a sign of Washington’s commitment to their security.

And from PONI, who just unveiled a snazzy new website:

Therefore, the effect of Obama’s decision on our alliance commitments is still up in the air.  If Russia becomes more assertive and bullies our allies (as described in the Reuters article above), without any response from the US, then certainly, our commitment to defending allies will be questioned.  However, if Obama takes other actions to show that the US is committed to the defense of Eastern European allies, it could easily reverse the perception.  This won’t be an easy task…

US commitments to reestablish assurance are underway.  First, Obama’s speech mentioned that the US would continue to work on advancing NATO missile defenses. In the future, this could include NATO capabilities placed in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic.  Second, the United States is not withdrawing all missile defense systems…

According to Lukasz Kulesa of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, these are the types of commitments that the US has to make to assure Poland that we are committed to their defense:

From the perspective of Central Europe’s, the greatest danger…would be to create the impression that NATO has somehow gone soft where its primary function of defending the territories of the member states is concerned…Therefore, such a move it is – if it is agreed within the alliance, would probably need to be somehow balanced by a set of decisions giving credible reassurances on the value of Article V…it’s about putting the physical infrastructure of the alliance within the member state…some of the allies would most probably expect the United States to increase its presence on their territory, though not necessarily by building new bases or new installation. I think the arrangements might be made between Poland and the United States on the nonpermanent deployment of the Patriots anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems in Poland… is an example of such an approach of seeking additional U.S. presence

Kulsea also argues that shifting control of missile defense to NATO could reduce the stigma attached to the system and reduce Russian objections.

The US could make similar commitment [Patriot anti-aircraft] to the Czech Republic or explore other options such as NATO exercises or temporary deployments of US troops that would provide tangible evidence of our commitment to their defense.

The point is that there are still options for assurance.  Obama is already starting to make commitments to make up for the “scrapped” installations.  In the next few weeks and months, Obama must continue to take concrete steps.  The US will need to make other tangible commitments and prevent Russian bullying.  If Obama follows this course, the US will appear as resolved as ever.

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Critical Mass: News from Around the Web

Posted by K.E. White on June 30, 2009

BBCNews on-line reports on the stifled diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program. Interesting highlight: “Currently [Iran] is under inspection by the IAEA, which has stated that there has been no diversion of inspected materials to any secret programme.”

Still dealing with the AQ Khan Network: Switzerland destroys nuclear documents from the illicit nuclear ring.

The Taliban have abrogated all peace deals with Pakistan. And C. Christine Fair insists that the key to stability in Iraq is an effective Pakistani police-force: “[T]he army can’t fix what ails the nation…The army’s past and recent track record in clearing and holding territory is not encouraging.”

Reuters probes China’s rhetorical shift on North Korea. Don’t expect any big policy changes, but China could be laying the ground work for bigger changes down the road: “…the overt expression of disenchantment suggests the Chinese government wants to prepare public opinion for harsher policies toward a country long lauded as a plucky communist friend.”

PONI launches Fissile Material—and today’s round-up is a must-read. Particular thanks for highlighting former UN inspector Charles A. Duelfer’s editorial on weapons inspections and the nuclear dilemmas of North Korea and Iran: “From the experience in Iraq, we have seen the ability of the international community to hide behind inspectors in some circumstances and to expect too much from them in others.”

Peter Wehner slams Obama for contradictory responses to developments in Honduras and Iran.

And check out Foreign Policy’s 2009 Failed State Index.

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Proliferation Press Round-Up: Cheney and Obama Butt Heads Over Torture and GITMO; PONI Gives START its Due; Obama Signs US-UAE Nuclear Deal; China Modernizes Its Nuclear Arsenal

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

P. Press verdict: With these considerable monitoring stipulations attached, DeThomas’ practicality wins out. While it would be preferable to grant American nuclear technology assistance by a generalizable formula applicable to all nations and keep all dangerous nuclear technology out of the Middle East, these are unrealistic policy positions.  With the NPT conference approaching and Iran’s continued nuclear defiance, strong inducements exist for America to showcase its commitment to assisting the peaceful spread of nuclear technology—especially to nations in the Middle East.

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News From Around The Web: Being ‘frank’ with Frank Gaffney, Japan’s Nuke Itch, US-Russia Nuke Cooperation, Nuclear Abolition and What About the Trash?

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

Is Japan inching closer to nuclear weapons? Review their nuclear policy here.

PONI (politely) slams Frank Gaffney’s alarmist opt-ed against Obamaland nuclear policy. My attempt to build on PONI’s first critique:

What Gaffney calls ‘cold war nostalgia’ (Obama calls for eventual [i.e. in his life-time] nuclear abolition &cutting US-Russian nuclear stockpiles) is a response to the failed Bush administration policy of nuclear dominance. At this critical period-with Iran and North Korea both push the NPT to irrelevance-a comprehensive view (ie that looks at the role current nuclear stockpiles and nulcear policies have on nuclear proliferation) towards nuclear weapons is necessary. It’s exactly because a handshake between Russia and America no longer defines arms control that Obamaland is trying to resurrect a counterproliferation norm.

Worse case scenario: The attempt fails; and America reverts to dominance or mitigates proliferation fall-out. This out-come seems well worth a chance at preventing an Iranian bomb and mounting stockpiles in North Korea.

Yale lecturer Jonathan Schell goes over Obama’s nuclear speech, and lays out the case for nuclear abolition.

Jeffrey Lewis and Meri Lugo answer this critical question: where do nuclear weapons go to die?

Another shout-out to PONI: Debate on Obama’s goal of nuclear abolition.

And Robert Zarate reviews US-Russian nuclear cooperation and make recommendations for the way forward. One recommendation, in particular, deserves note:

Given that tomorrow’s nuclear threats are likely to arise in war-prone regions roiled by today’s nonproliferation failures, the U.S. should work with Russia, France, Japan, Germany and other key nuclear suppliers to build consensus on what should be the new “model” for civil nuclear cooperation in the Middle East, East Asia, and elsewhere. As NPEC executive director Henry Sokolski has argued, the proposed U.S.-UAE civil nuclear cooperative agreement provides an opportunity for creating greater consensus on these issues. In the version of the agreement that is publicly available, the UAE says it will voluntary forgo enrichment and reprocessing activities (ENR), and the U.S. says it reserves the right to terminate the nuclear cooperation if the UAE does pursue ENR. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the agreement in January 2009 as “a powerful and timely model for the world and the region.” But if this agreement is to be the new “model” for war-prone regions, then the U.S. should make the ENR disavowal unambiguously legally binding and completely verifiable, and its termination of nuclear cooperation in the event of an ENR violation more automatic. And…the U.S. should ensure that France, Japan, Russia and other nuclear suppliers are willing to fully support this tougher model.

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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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PONI Responds to Agruments Against Nuclear Abolition

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

PONI offers a very valuable posting on this Boston Globe editorial arguing against nuclear arms reduction. In the Globe article, Dr. Adam B. Lowther concludes:

The truth is nuclear weapons remain a fundamental aspect of our national security. Without them, the American people will face greater, not less, danger and adversaries willing to exploit our perceived weakness. Arbitrarily shrinking the nuclear arsenal by an additional 50 percent may not be a wise idea. It certainly deserves careful thought.

PONI offers a nice rejoinder. Good reading for anyone who wants a quick primier to nuclear policy debates.

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