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

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Posts Tagged ‘weapons’

Ratifying The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Arms Control Association Vs. The National Review

Posted by K.E. White on June 22, 2011

The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is back in the news, with some hoping the Obama administration—preferably before possibly losing re-election and thus losing a good arms-control partner—will push the Senate to ratify the treaty.

But after reading two opposing points of view (check out the dueling ACA and TNR editorials), it seems this debate really comes down to two disagreements:

(1) both sides just are operating under very different assumptions and factual assessments,

Or (2) this all comes down to one question:  whether it’s a good deal to trust other nations won’t test in return for the United States not testing.

Yes, the National Review makes arguments about not detecting nuclear tests, and the need to keep our arsenal up-to-date.  But as Daryl G. Kimball at ACA points out, the U.S. has the technology now to detect the test we would likely be looking for; and indirectly argues that the non-proliferation regime would be strengthened (read:  we could push India and Pakistan into the agreement, and sop future nuclear aspirants); and, finally, our nuclear stock-pile is good for decades without testing.

And while The National Review does not refute these arguments, and their underlying analysis, it seems there’s a more implicit thesis:  (1) this treaty won’t factor into other nation’s decisions to test or not; and (2) what happens in 20 years?  If everyone knows the U.S. will break the treaty the minute is become necessary, how much binding force will it have?  (Admittedly, all treaties suffer from this; but at least encourage patterns of behavior and predictability that allow nations to adjust their strategic plans).

That’s why I like Jake Wilson’s blog at Heritage that concludes:

Nuclear weapons testing is essential for keeping the U.S. stockpile safe, secure, and reliable in the years ahead. Ratifying the CTBT would be detrimental to U.S. national security interests, as 30 countries around the world rely on the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. These countries would be incentivized to develop their own nuclear weapons capabilities if the United States were perceived as weak and its nuclear weapons unreliable.

This is what the debate comes down to:  a simple disagreement into the motivations of countries.  I personally find this analysis shallow.  The greatest motivator to countries to acquire weapons is, I believe, fear that they will be held hostage to a country’s technological wizardry (e.g. North Korea and Iran had no reason to forego getting a nuke after being labeled part of the ‘axis of evil’.).  And, in any case, is not the world reaching a point where shifting flows in global finance and diminishing technology costs will make nuclear weapons available to any nation determined to get them?

If I’m right (and that is a big ‘if’), it then seems the proper course of U.S. action is to show nations nuclear weapons won’t achieve their strategic aims.  Best way to do that: show the world you don’t need further testing to meet your strategic aims.

But my worldview is more concerned with preventing low-budget, small nuclear aspirants—aka more Irans, Indias, and Pakistans—from causing regional headaches, not worries over Russia or China suddenly out-nuking us in some absurdist ‘Strangelove’ scenario.

But, in any case, both the ACA and TNR editorials duck this fundamental disagreement.  Instead, they recite or debunk old talking points.  It’s not that, especially the ACA analysis isn’t well-mapped and thorough, but instead missing what may actually be swaying the vote of particular Senators.

Posted in CTBT | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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.”

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

Blog-on-Blog: Boot-ing Gates Push for Weapon Systems Cuts

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

A Boston Globe article reveals that Defense Secretary Gates will be pushing Congress to cut certain weapons programs. The report comes after it was announced Gates would skip a NATO summit to focus on the defense budget.

A Boston Globe article reveals that Defense Secretary Gates will be pushing Congress to cut certain weapon programs. The report comes after it was announced Gates would skip a NATO summit “to focus on the defense budget.”

Max Boot comes out against Defense Secretary Gates emerging plans to cut weapon programs, as reported in today’s Boston Globe.

From the Globe report:

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the officials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said.

Now Max Boot over at Contentions criticizes this report for not being critical of the cuts. Now the piece does assume that certain weapon programs are wasteful. But Boot doesn’t seek to illuminate this debate with facts, instead  he uses a nice combo-punch of strategic anxiety and economic pragmatism: “But can we really afford to cut our acquisition programs at a time when we are fighting two wars and when major rivals such as China and Russia are pursuing aggressive programs of military expansion? And why, at a time of deepening recession, do we want to throw thousands of highly skilled defense-industry employees out of work?”

But absent in his entry is any defense of the programs Boot wishes to protect. In fact, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld singled out the F-22 for the chopping block in 2002. And here’s a Brookings article defending another Rumsfeld-favored weapons program cut.

The Brookings opinion peice illustrates just how difficult it is  to cut weapons spending:

But no secretary of Defense, even a popular wartime leader like Rumsfeld, can easily kill weapons that a military service and Congress strongly support. Just ask Dick Cheney, who tried to kill the Marine Corps Osprey aircraft a decade ago.

While secretaries of Defense and presidents do run wars, they have no greater control over the Pentagon budget than Congress, which has the constitutional responsibility to raise and equip armies and navies.

Largely for these reasons, the Clinton administration did not seek to cancel large weapons programs, and, until the Crusader, Secretary Rumsfeld had not tried to do so himself.

Now there might be honest disagreements over the merits of certain weapon systems the military should fund. But critics must do more than absurdly argue that any weapon systems—whether it works or not—holds inherent value. It’s doubtful simply spending (even) more will result in greater security.

Especially when one considers this March 2008 GAO report reviewing the DoD’s aquisition program and 72 individual weapons programs. It’s findings–presented here in greatly condensed form–paint a worrisome picture:

Of the 72 weapon programs we assessed this year, no program had proceeded through system development meeting the best practices standards for mature technologies, stable design, and mature production processes—all prerequisites for achieving planned cost, schedule, and performance outcomes.

The results of our analysis indicate that DOD programs continue to be suboptimal and that the lack of knowledge at key junctures of system development continues to be a major cause of these outcomes. The final result is lost buying power and opportunities to recapitalize the force. 

Arguments that consider all weapon programs spending sacroscant are rhetorical pitfalls: they promise only to blur facts, inject partisanship, encourage waste, and–most troubling–avoid sober discussions about what will and will not promote American security and protect the lives of America’s servicemen and women. 

Update 4:18 pm:

GAO chimes in again, as reported in today’s NYTimes:

A top government oversight official told the House Budget committee today that the Pentagon’s weapons acquisition process is “fragmented and broken,” creating cost overruns close to $300 billion with little oversight.

“Major weapon programs continue to cost more, take longer, and deliver fewer quantities and capabilities than originally planned,” said Michael J. Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office. Often, he added, Pentagon officials are “rarely held accountable for poor decisions or poor program outcomes.”

Posted in Robert Gates | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Are Pakistan’s Nukes Safe? Four Viewpoints

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

Pakistan is entering yet another period of political unrest. But should we worry about Pakistani loose nukes? The answer to that question rests on two critical outcomes: Is Pakistan’s security system durable enough to withstand political chaos? And how entrenched are Islamic radicals in Pakistan command-and-control apparatus?

IAEA Chief El Baradei worries over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal as he talks to Al Hayat:

I felt a great deal of anxiety over the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Similarly, when for over a year I dealt with the Iranian nuclear case, I repeatedly warned against the use of force and reminded that we still had a lot of time for diplomatic solutions. We should not think of military solutions in the Iranian crisis or in any other crisis until we have exhausted all diplomatic solutions and are left with nothing but the military solution as a last resort. For now, we are still far from this.

When it comes to the Iranian issue, I continuously fear that the aftermath of any new war in the Middle East and the Islamic world, will not be in Iran which the world fears will have a nuclear bomb ten years from now. What I really fear is the aftermath in Pakistan, a troubled country with too many problems, an Islamic state that interacts with the Islamic world. I fear that an anarchic or radical regime will take over this nation which has up to 30 or 40 nuclear weapons. I fear more that a radical group in Pakistan or Afghanistan will acquire a nuclear weapon.

Pakistan’s foreign office was quick to respond to his concerns. From The Dawn:

“His remarks ignore the fact that the strategic assets of Pakistan are fully secure and under multi-layered safeguards and controls exercised by the National Command Authority,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said at his weekly press briefing. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei was quoted by pan-Arab Daily Al Hayat as saying in an interview: “I fear that chaos… or an extremist regime could take root in that country which has 30 to 40 warheads.”

The spokesman said Pakistan was a responsible nuclear weapon state. “Our nuclear weapons are as secure as that of any other nuclear weapon state. We, therefore, believe that statements expressing concerns about their safety and security are unwarranted and irresponsible.”

George Perkovick, a Senior Associate at Carnegie Institute, seems to agree. From his NPR radio interview:

“The military controls Pakistan. The thing the military cares most about is nuclear weapons so nuclear weapons are the most secure entity in Pakistan,” Perkovich said.

“What I’ve been worried about for years is not the nuclear weapons, it’s the domestic situation … the real worry, it’s the future of politics,” he said.

But Trudy Rubin espouses an opposing viewpoint:

The professional qualifications of the top security official were impressive. The system he described was complex and substantial. Counterintelligence on weapons security now comes directly to the top security official, not routed via other intelligence agencies, some of which have had past connections with jihadis.

OK, I said, let’s suppose the Pakistani security system works. But in a time of political uncertainty, could someone with Islamist sympathies take over the entire system? “The Taliban or al-Qaida are in no position to take over the central government and thereby the National Command Authority,” came back the swift answer. This is probably true.

The problem is that Pakistan is entering uncharted political waters. Under President Pervez Musharraf, the military has been ambivalent about taking on Pakistani militants and has become demoralized by losses sustained in jihadi attacks. No political leader except Ms. Bhutto has spelled out clearly that this is now Pakistan‘s war, not a proxy war for American interests.

The greatest fear of U.S. experts on Pakistan‘s nuclear security is that disgruntled insiders could penetrate the security system. I want to believe that the Pakistani security system can weed out bad actors before they get their hands on fissile material. But can we be sure?

Posted in Al Hayat, El Baradei, George Perkovick, IAEA, Mohammad Sadiq, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Trudy Rubin | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »