Nuclear weapons just not sexy anymore

The incarnation of “sexy,” that is, that cropped up a few years ago: exciting or trendy in a general, not erotic, way. That settled, let’s move on to a paper that Christopher Ford wrote for the Hudson Institute in which he weighs, in classic nuclear-strategist mode (bearing in mind that Hudson was founded by its most notorious example, Herman Kahn), the merits of launch on warning (LOW).

To refresh your memory, LOW refers to a nuclear state launching a retaliatory strike when it believes that it has detected nuclear weapons headed towards it soil. In another words, the attacked state isn’t waiting around for the decisive confirmation that detonation constitutes. Needless to say, accidents happen. (The most famous was in 1983 when Soviet ballistics officer Stanislav Petrov was brave enough to act on his judgment that an alarm supposedly informing him that the United States had launched a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union was false.) Continue reading

Canadian Embassy emails reveal Canadian, US lobbying on tar sands-derived oil

Recently released emails written by employees of the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC and other Canadian government workers show that the Embassy directly lobbied the Bush Administration and Congress in an attempt to influence regulations and legislation that could restrict exports of Alberta tar sands-derived bitumen and petroleum. The emails further reveal that the Bush Administration had asked the Canadian Embassy to lobby Congress and to use its influence with key oil companies to convince them to lobby on Canada’s – and the Bush Administration’s – behalf. Continue reading

The government’s checkbook too screwed up to audit, says GAO

You know the company’s in trouble when the auditor tells the company that its bookkeeper can’t manage the company’s finances, reconcile balance sheets among different departments, or prepare credible financial statements.

And you know it’s real trouble when the auditor can’t even do an audit and provide the company with a statement of its financial health — or ill health.

That’s what Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accounting Office, has told the federal government about its fiscal 2010 books: You’re in deep fiscal do-do. Said Dodaro:

Even though significant progress has been made since the enactment of key financial management reforms in the 1990s, our report on the U.S. government’s consolidated financial statement illustrates that much work remains to be done to improve federal financial management.

Apparently, the feds don’t know what to count, how to count it, and how to report the count.
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Torture and the ticking time bomb (read: nuclear) scenario

When the subject of torture in the abstract is broached, the conversation tends to wend its way toward the terrorist and the ticking time-bomb scenario. You know how it goes: a terrorist group announces that a nuclear bomb it’s planted in a major American city will be detonated unless its demands are met. One of its members is captured. Time to take off the shackles on torture and let ‘er rip, right?

However, when a scenario hinges on not only the ultimate weapon, but one set to go off at a time that’s both predetermined and rapidly approaching, it’s no longer a test case for torture. Instead the debate slips down a peg in hierarchy to one about torture under highly specific circumstances. The option often poised in counterpoint to torture — becoming intimate with the subject and winning his or her trust over repeated interrogation sessions — is removed because of the time constraints. The scenario, in other words, becomes tantamount to the plot device of a movie. Continue reading

Assange—Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts

The great Wikileaks dump has been interesting in any number of ways. I’ve learned a lot. It’s true that a number of commentators have said that this is all stuff we knew before, but I’m not sure that’s the case. There’s a whole raft of detail that now confirms what many of our intuitions were, and that’s a step forward. One thing that’s of paramount interest, I think, is that thus far no one has disputed any of the facts contained in the data dump.

This is good—facts are good things. For example, we now know that it’s a fact that the British government’s slavishness to the US embarrassed even the US government, and that Prince Andrew can be an oaf, but a highly amusing one, particularly about geography, and that the Vatican was upset that the Irish government didn’t intervene to stop the investigations into priest child abuse in the Irish Catholic Church, and that the US government actively tried to undermine the Kyoto agreement at the Copenhagen Climate talks. These are all things that if we didn’t know them to be facts, we could at least have intuited them as being likely—but it’s always nice to have your intuitions confirmed. Then there are some facts we didn’t know, like the fact that the US government pressured the Vatican to take the soft US line at Copenhagen, among others. I’m a financial analyst, and I like facts. That’s what makes transparency important. Continue reading

Are nonproliferation and disarmament, once joined at the hip, headed for divorce?

In the words of the old Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen song, as made famous by Frank Sinatra, nonproliferation and disarmament, like love and marriage, “go together like a horse and carriage.” Nonproliferation — preventing states that don’t currently possess nuclear weapons — works in tandem with disarmament — states with nuclear weapons divesting themselves of same. “You can’t have one without the other.” Right?

After all — continuing with the musical metaphor — that’s how the refrain goes in that old strain of a treaty, the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). Let’s all sing the sixth stanza (aka, article) together: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” (Actually, it would probably require a good rapper to do it justice.) Continue reading

Opposition to New START pits Republicans against traditional allies

It’s not just the Obama administration against which Republican senators under the guidance of Jon Kyl pit themselves when they oppose New START. In fact, perhaps bewitched by Tea Party-style incoherence, they’ve also placed themselves in the unlikely position of bucking the national defense establishment, to which traditionally they’ve been joined at the hip. New START, of course, enjoys the support of Secretary of Defense Gates and the Pentagon.

There’s no love lost on New START by this author, in part because its cuts are token, but, more to the point, because it’s come at too high a cost – a commitment to spend $86.2 billion on maintaining current operations of the nuclear weapons complex along with modernization of the stockpile and infrastructure. The Republicans and the Obama administration, in fact, are making it more and more difficult to pin the label “paranoid” on left-wing disarmament advocates who suspect New START is just a smokescreen that they’re both using to ensure that the nuclear weapons industry continues in perpetuity. Continue reading

The front line of disarmament: blocking a nuclear facility six times the cost of the Manhattan Project

That is, six times the cost of the division of the Manhattan Project (to develop nuclear weapons during World War II) that was based in New Mexico. The heart of it — what later became known as Los Alamos National Laboratory. Odds are, with the Cold War consigned to history, you couldn’t have imagined that a nuclear weapons facility of such immensity was still on the table.

Greg Mello is the executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG), which, since 1989, has been spearheading nuclear disarmament in New Mexico, and, consequently, the nation. Since 1999, it has concentrated on halting or, failing that, downsizing a building project at Los Alamos called the Chemical and Metallurgical Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR). The intended function of this facility is to increase the capacity to produce new plutonium pits. The actual site of the nuclear fission, they’re the beating heart of the warhead. Continue reading

Presidential candidates’ date with destiny: Ethanol subsidies expire Dec. 31

Sooner or later, they will all obediently troop to Iowa. Presidential wannabees of all stripes will march through diners and farms, pressing the flesh and taking the ethanol pledge. Flip-flops may occur, depending on whether someone is 1) leading in the polls, 2) trailing badly, 3) outside Iowa, or 4) speaking after the Iowa caucuses.

We need to support ethanol. Al Gore said that. In fact, he’s always saying that.

I support ethanol and I think it is a vital, a vital alternative energy source not only because of our dependency on foreign oil but its greenhouse gas reduction effects. John McCain said that in 2006.

But in a 2000 debate with George Bush, McCain said: We don’t need the subsidies and if it wasn’t for Iowa being the first caucus state no one on this stage would support ethanol. To which Bush replied: I support ethanol, I completely support ethanol, John. And I’d support it whether or not Iowa was first. But McCain elsewhere said this: Ethanol makes a lot of sense.
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Republican go-to guy on nukes keeps Obama administration twisting in the wind on New START

Along with Richard Lugar (R-IN), Jon Kyl, the Republican Senate whip from Arizona, is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (KY) go-to guy on nuclear issues. We wrote yesterday at Focal Points:

After Republicans picked up six seats in the Senate earlier this month, prospects for the passage of the new START began to diminish (not that this author minds). Barron YoungSmith at the New Republic writes that last week “chief of staff to Senator Bob Corker — a key vote on the treaty — said that it should not be considered during the lame-duck Congress, and the Republican Policy Committee released a memo urging a similar delay.”

Kyl is known as a staunch supporter of nuclear weapons who made his mark as a freshman senator in 1999 when he blew up passage of the Comprehensive (nuclear) Test Ban Treaty. But, writes YoungSmith in the article I cited yesterday, “bizarrely enough, he seems to want [new START] to go through.” I continued: Continue reading

Trains, planes, and government deals

China leads the world in solar cell manufacturingA reader responding to my last article pointed out that increasing exports means selling something overseas that we make here. In January 2004, after three years of the George W. Bush administration, manufacturing jobs stood at 14.3 million, down by 3 million jobs, or 17.5 percent from July 2000. Employment in manufacturing was at its lowest since 1950. In spite of this, the United States has remained the world’s largest manufacturer. What are we making? Airplanes. Boeings. Cessnas. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II will gross $323 billion in U.S. defense contracts alone in 2010, and Lockheed is also selling them to Israel for $96 million apiece. The UK will want some, too. They have Rolls Royce engines.

It’s pretty amazing that we need all these war birds 20 years after the Cold War ended. Continue reading

Republican Senate rejection of START could actually work in disarmament's favor

The New York Times saw fit to provide valuable op-ed space to John Bolton and John Yoo on November 9. You’d think the latter, especially, best known for providing the Bush administration with legal justification for torture, would be reluctant to show his face — or byline — in public again. In this instance Bolton and Yoo are turning their collective wisdom to the new START treaty. Continue reading

What if nuclear terrorism were just a mouse click away?

Excuse the sensationalistic head: the subject lends itself to hyperbole both because of its urgency and the imperative to draw reluctant readers. Of course, the “What if” doesn’t actually figure to materialize any time soon. Still, it hints at what a Pandora’s box the development of nuclear weapons has been for over six decades. Actually, it’s starting to look more like a clown car — an evil-clown car. Continue reading

Would sweeping disarmament on our part impress Iran?

When it chose to post We Can’t Stop Iran From Going Nuclear, So Stop Pretending That We Can, the New Republic no doubt thought it was a quintessentially moderate piece on U.S.-Iran relations. The author, Barry Gewen, an editor at the New York Times Book Review who sometimes writes about foreign affairs, writes:

Just about every major publication in America and England (and no doubt Israel as well) has contributed to the debate. All possible viewpoints and positions have been expressed. . . . Yet [as] someone who has reached the conclusion that military action against Iran would be a bad idea . . . I worry that the way the argument has been framed makes military action all but inevitable.

So far, it sounds like the article the New Republic had hoped for. After quoting writers and statesmen, Gewen writes, “Taken together, all these statements add up to a consensus that if sanctions don’t work, the U.S. or Israel will move to the next step and bomb Iran.” Continue reading

No mean feat: justifying Israel's nukes without acknowledging them

What’s it like to be one of the principal keepers of “The Worst-Kept Secret” (as Israel bomb historian Avner Cohen calls it in his new book)? David Danieli, the deputy director general and head of the policy division of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, was recently interviewed by Yossi Melman for Haaretz. Some background: at this year’s General Conference of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the Arab states, along with Iran, sought to pass a resolution calling for Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In the process, Israel would place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and, oh yeah, finally admit to possession of nuclear weapons. The resolution failed to pass as narrowly as it succeeded in passing last year (though obviously to little effect that time). First, Washington’s response. Continue reading

Cyberwarfare works on same premises as nuclear war

The computer worm Stuxnet didn’t exactly bore into the computers of workers in Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, whoever unleashed it — Israel or another state —  sprayed it indiscriminately like machine gun fire. John Markoff of the New York Times reports:

The most striking aspect of the fast-spreading malicious computer program — which has turned up in industrial programs around the world and which Iran said had appeared in the computers of workers in its nuclear project — may not have been how sophisticated it was, but rather how sloppy its creators were in letting a specifically aimed attack scatter randomly around the globe.

Thus, perhaps because of a perceived time crunch on the part of the creators, it created what Markoff called “collateral damage” as if it were a military attack. Now for a riddle: name the weapon which never causes collateral damage? Nuclear weapons. Civilians, of course, form the better part of their intended targeted and are in no sense of the word collateral. Continue reading

How does staying mum on Israel's nukes help the peace process?

It’s bad enough that Israel, along with North Korea, Pakistan, and India, maintains an unacknowledged nuclear arsenal outside the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). But, unlike the other three, which are all too happy to trumpet their possession of nukes to their neighbors and world, Israel continues to keep up the farcical, not to mention insulting, pretense that it’s nuke-free. Worse, the United States enables it in the ultimate game of don’t ask, don’t tell. Continue reading

Give me liberty or give me — the extinction of the human race?

At his website, New Paradigms Forum, Christopher Ford recently hosted an email colloquy on the subject of nuclear deterrence between staunch disarmament advocate Steven Leeper, chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, and himself. The position of Ford, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and chief negotiator of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons for the Bush administration, can perhaps best be described as counseling extreme caution in disarming while other states still seek to develop nuclear weapons programs.

Leeper, who writes, “I have very little contact with people who think the way you do, so I am genuinely interested in what you have to say,” sprays questions at Ford like a machine gun. But one evokes an elemental issue that seldom sees the light of day in dialogues about nuclear weapons. Breaking down his question into two parts, Leeper asks:

. . . which would be worse, for the whole world to be dominated by Russians, Chinese, communists, Muslims, Arabs and/or eco terrorists [not sure how that got in there -- RW] or for all human beings on Earth to die as a result of nuclear winter, radiation and/or environmental catastrophe? In this connection, have you ever believed it would be better to be dead than red? Continue reading

The Petraeus bait and switch maneuver

by Gareth Porter

In interviews in recent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus has been taking a line on what will happen in mid-2011 that challenges President Barack Obama’s intention to begin a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by that date. This new Petraeus line is the culmination of a brazen bait and switch maneuver on the war by the most powerful military commander in modern U.S. history.

It represents a new stage in the process by which Petraeus, abetted by his allies in the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, has appropriated much of the power over decisions on war policy that rightly belongs to the commander-in-chief. Continue reading

America vs. the Terrorists, 9/11/10: a status report, nine years on…

In September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger jets. They flew three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth was retaken by the passengers and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. These things we know. Since then, much has transpired. For example:

  • The US invaded Afghanistan, the nation that had harbored the terrorists and their mastermind, Osama bin Laden. The war has not been uniformly well managed and attempts to install a stable self-government have so far failed. Many experts argue that our efforts there have been woefully counterproductive. Continue reading