NuclearWarhead

What nobody is saying about the cheating missileers

Their perception that they’ve been relegated to an armed-forces version of Siberia is only the tip of the iceberg.

NuclearWarheadRobert Burns of the Associated Press has been the point man on the ongoing story of the U.S. nuclear launch force’s shortcomings. In one recent development, “missileers” at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana are alleged to have cheated on a proficiency exam. Subsequently, reports Global Security Newswire, about half of them

… have had their launch certifications taken away and been pulled off alert duty.… Of the more than 90 launch officers currently implicated in the cheating scandal, 40 missileers were believed directly involved in the misconduct, which involved sharing exam answers by text message. Others allegedly tolerated or facilitated the incidents. Continue reading

Dimona Nuclear Reactor 1968

Ever wonder exactly why the U.S. keeps Israel’s nuclear secret?

Hint: it’s not just the Israel lobby.

Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor, c. 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, c. 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

In a piece titled The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal at the Guardian, Julian Borger writes about how Israel began its nuclear-weapons program.

The list of nations that secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or who turned a blind eye to its theft [more on that down-post ― RW], include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation: the US, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway. Continue reading

NuclearWarhead

Secretary of the Air Force tries to show nuclear missile force some love

The United States nuclear missile force has been beset by a series of issues that Robert Burns of the Associated Press, who has been the lead dog on this ongoing story, describes as the “deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections,” and “breakdowns in training.” The latest, as you may have heard, is cheating by the “missileers” on proficiency exams. There’s been much handwringing on the part of the command, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who wondered aloud: “Do they get bored?” he asked. No doubt; also, as Burns explains:

Nuclear missile duty has lost its luster in an era dominated by other security threats. It’s rarely the career path of first choice for young officers.

They can see the writing on the wall. Nuclear weapons may be a century away from being abolished. But in this year’s Omnibus Spending Bill, six percent of funding was cut from what the National Nuclear Security Administration asked for warhead research, development, production, and related activities. Continue reading

Arak

The Iran nuclear intelligence well was poisoned from the start

Gareth Porter reveals how Western intelligence believed the procurements of an Iranian university were proof of nuclear-weapons research.

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

The sources of enmity between Iran and the United States are legion. In 1953, when Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh (also spelled Mossadegh) sought to make Iran a democracy and nationalize the oil industry, which was owned by British corporations, the United States helped plan and execute a coup. Then, in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter allowed the just-deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment, Iranian revolutionaries took U.S. embassy staff hostage. But, after 9/11, in a gesture of good will, Iran collected hundreds of Arabs who crossed the border from Afghanistan, deported them, and supplied copies of their passports to the United States. Iran also provided assistance overthrowing the Taliban and establishing the Karzai government in Afghanistan. Continue reading

Iran's Arak nuclear enrichment facility

U.S. determined to re-freeze thaw in relations with Iran

Iran's Arak nuclear enrichment facility

Iran’s Arak nuclear enrichment facility

It was only supposed to be Iran’s uranium enrichment progress that was frozen after talks with Iran last month. But now, acting in bad faith by violating the spirit of the Geneva deal between the G5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran, the United States seems to be doing its level best to re-freeze the recent thaw in relations between the G5+1 and Iran. If you’ll bear with me for a final sub-Arctic-temperature metaphor, the United States has frozen the assets of (reports the Jerusalem Post) “companies and individuals engaged in transactions on behalf of other companies that the United States previously designated under the sanctions.” Continue reading

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Republicans want it both ways with treaties

They alternately disdain and demand them.

In a new report for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Usha Sahay and Kingston Reif cite President Obama’s June 19 speech in Berlin. The President announced his intentions to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal an additional 1,000 or more warheads below the level required by the New START treaty. When he stated that these cuts could either be “pursued through formal agreements” ― treaties ― or “parallel voluntary measures,” 24 Republican senators immediately wrote him to the effect that “any further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only be conducted through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.” Continue reading

The fallacy of nuclear deterrence, chapter 238

A prominent psychiatrist and author unearthed yet another flaw in the principle of nuclear deterrence.

I posted recently about a 1985 article in Political Psychology titled “Toward a Collective Psychopathology of the Nuclear Arms Competition” by John E. Mack, the American psychiatrist and Harvard Medical professor.* Another insight of his runs something like this.

To make “the intention to kill off the bulk of the population” of the enemy in nuclear war morally able, the enemy that’s “created” (or demonized, as we might call it today) by the acceptable, the United States must be ― drum roll, please ― “monstrous to a degree virtually not experienced among the peoples of the human race.” Whether or not deterrence worked in preventing another world war, it’s apparent that many in the Soviet Union perceived the United States as ready and able to launch a first strike as it had in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Continue reading

Einstein Oppenheimer

One of the many ways Nazis shot themselves in the foot by persecuting Jews

Apparently Hitler seems to have forgotten that eliminating Jews would cause a crippling brain drain from Germany.

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project.

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project.

There are many parallels between Hitler and Stalin. On the personal level, they both liked to conduct all-night meetings. On a more critical level, the purge of the Red Army command that Stalin carried out before World War II in order to consolidate his hold on power left the Red Army ill equipped to handle Hitler’s invasion.

While Hitler didn’t order his army command, aside from those who tried to assassinate him, executed, he regularly demoted generals (only later to often promote them again). Continue reading

Courtesy DIA Historical Collection

Nuclear weapons’ lofty safety standards often go unmet

 Courtesy DIA Historical Collection


Courtesy DIA Historical Collection

Nuclear war hawks forget to factor human error into their national-security equation.

In a blog post for his site Defusing the Nuclear Threat, Martin Hellman quoted from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent speech honoring Gen. Robert Kehler, the outgoing chief of STRATCOM, the military command in charge of nuclear weapons, and cyber- and space warfare. “Perfection must be the standard for our nuclear forces,” Hagel said at one point. At another: “there is no room for error.”

Hellman is a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford and one of the inventors of the technology that secures credit card transactions on the Internet. Continue reading

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

We forget that deterrence doesn’t need to be nuclear

As a principle and practice, deterrence existed long before nuclear weapons.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The logic of deterrence is irrefutable to most, especially when applied to nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, its effectiveness is questioned by everyone from disarmament activists to revisionist historians ― some of whom maintain that other factors constrained the United States and the U.S.S.R. from attacking each other during the Cold War ― to nuclear-weapons advocates. Among the last are those who assert that deterrence is of little value against a state such as Iran in the event that it were to acquire nuclear weapons. Apocalyptic clerics, they allege, would supposedly martyr their country rather than back down from a nuclear standoff, thus necessitating, at some point, a preemptive strike. Continue reading

Three Stooges

When it comes to nuclear weapons, austerity has a silver lining

Three Stooges

Just because something is embedded doesn’t mean it can’t be excised.

“Omne trium perfectum” goes the Latin saying — “everything which comes in threes is perfect.” Let’s see: the spiritual perfection of the Holy Trinity, the cinematic perfection  of the Three Stooges, and … the nuclear triad. Those dubious that the Three Stooges help prove the rule are advised to reserve the bulk of their doubt for that third leg.

In September the Cato Institute (a year after wresting some measure of independence from key founders the Koch brothers) issued a report written by Benjamin H. Friedman, Christopher A. Preble and Matt Fay titled The End of Overkill? Reassessing U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy. Continue reading

Lifton, Robert Jay

Steven Pinker’s “Better Angels” ignores demons that lie dormant

Steven Pinker maintains the world is less violent than ever. Robert Jay Lifton? Not so much.

Robert Jay Lifton. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Robert Jay Lifton. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In this month’s Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (behind a paywall), esteemed atrocity authority Robert Jay Lifton addresses the “emerging school of thought” that “contends that the world is becoming increasingly safe.” For example he singles out Steven Pinker, who, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature (Viking, 2011), maintains that the world is considerably less violent than ever before.

Professor Lifton writes:

The peaceable-world claim is deeply misleading in its failure to confront a revolution in the technology of killing and the increasing capacity for detached slaughter or numbed technological violence.

This author was happy to have his own reservations about that school of thought seconded by someone as esteemed and knowledgeable as Professor Lifton. He elaborates by recalling an interview with a Hiroshima survivor.

I was left with a powerful image: “One plane, one bomb, one city.” That image has deeply influenced my perception of our vulnerability to products of technology that are called weapons, but can more accurately be termed instruments of genocide.”

The author of The Nazi Doctors (Basic Books, 1988) then writes about the numbing processes that are adopted by those who carry out mass killings and concludes:

Drones are the epitome of numbed technological violence, perhaps even a caricature of it in their increasing replacement of human beings.

Viewed from another angle, violence is kinetic energy: action, bodies in – no matter to what end – motion. Its incidence has declined in recent years. (Recall that during World War II, each day an average of over 50,000 people were killed or died from the effects of the war.) But that’s an illusion in an age when, from a remove, our civilian and military leadership are countenancing violence that’s in not a kinetic state, but its opposite: potential energy.

Nuclear weapons, for example, are like a drawn bow, especially when they’re on high alert. Their potential, once realized, would dwarf all the kinetic energy expended in the violence of the past.

BantheBomb

Has nuclear disarmament outlived its shelf life?

Between the end of the Cold War and a president perceived as an architect of disarmament, nuclear weapons have lost their status as an “existential threat.”

BantheBombFrom the Partial Test-Ban and nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties through Reykjavík in the eighties to START I in 1991, arms control was beginning to look like it might corral nuclear proliferation by other countries and on our own soil. Instead, institutional blockades have slowed its pace while the nuclear-industrial complex has found a rhythm that it’s capable of keeping up for the long haul.

Worse, those of us advocating for disarmament can’t help but be prone to thoughts that we’re fighting yesterday’s fight. Some of us who advocate disarmament feel as if we’re viewed like figures from others eras who fought for unions, and women’s and civil rights. Those are battles perceived as long since won, however much those three causes remain under assault via attacks, respectively, on collective bargaining, abortion, and voter identification.

Alternately, viewed in today’s context, it’s as if we’re trying to organize our workplace when most of our co-workers, though ill-paid, have bought into the prevailing mood of contempt for unions. Or it’s like we’re trying to introduce a defined benefit plan (pension) into our workplace, when the horse of the defined contribution plan (401[k]) has long since left the barn.

Other reasons beside the slow pace of both arms control and disarmament (for which their advocates can be forgiven if it sometimes makes them feel like relics) are:

1. Much of the public believes that nuclear weapons are under control. We think:

a. The end of the Cold War meant a significant downgrade in the threat level.

b. A disarmament-friendly president is on the case.

c. As existential issues go, it’s been surpassed by an economy that seems increasingly like a house of cards waiting for the first ill wind to blow it down ­­– ­­ which might well result from another issue that seems to be more pressing than nuclear weapons: global warming.

2. Nuclear weapons have been around for 70 years and, aside from their use in World War II for which they were ostensibly intended, none have been used since. Maybe the world is a more rational place than we thought and they’re working as intended in the service of…

3. Deterrence, whose sheer logic is irrefutable to most and thus almost impossible to root out.

Nevertheless, it’s ironic that the hottest weapon in the world (over 180 million degrees plus) can’t crack the “What’s Hot, What’s Not” list of issues. At its peak in the late sixties, the U.S. nuclear arsenal numbered over 30,000 warheads. Its numbers are much reduced, but as of July of this year, according to the Arms Control Center, it still comprises 1,950 deployed strategic (the big ones) weapons and 7,700 undeployed strategic, as well as tactical (so-called battlefield nukes), weapons. Russia’s numbers, meanwhile, stand at 1,800 and 8,500, respectively.

Worse, according to a Ploughshares Fund report in September 2012, over the next decade, “The United States Government is on track to spend approximately $640 billion … on nuclear weapons and related programs [which includes] all costs associated with nuclear weapons production, operation, maintenance, clean up, and defense, as well as the prevention of nuclear proliferation.”

One can be forgiven for suspecting that, like a company downsizing, the United States and Russia have used reducing the numbers as a way to retrench and fortify the industry in perpetuity.

Nukes Are Off Our Radar (Well, Not Literally)

The sketch that follows is bound to make disarmament activists feel even older than they are – and newcomers to the field even more like outliers than they already might. You’ll recall that in July 2012 three members of Transform Now Plowshares broke into the Y12 nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where they staged a demonstration. Convicted of damaging a national defense facility, they face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced on September 23. One, Sister Megan Rice, was 82 at the time of the incident and her co-defendants, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, were 63 and 57, respectively.

To the surprise and delight of anti-nukes advocates, the Washington Post pulled out all the stops a week before the trial was concluded with a lushly illustrated feature article. At one point author Dan Zak reported on the three meeting with young members of a progressive Christian group. He describes Sister Megan (as she’s known) “chatting with music student Chris Hickman.”

“I know nothing about the anti-nuclear movement,” Hickman tells her. “I was born in ’92, and it’s kind of an afterthought for my generation.”

True, the nature of the Transform Now Plowshares three action may be representative of an earlier generation of activists. But disarmament activists today can’t help but experience the young man’s comment as a blow to the gut.

Paralleling how nuclear weapons have slid completely off the radar of much of the public today is how they appear to be losing favor in the military. At about the same time as the Transform Now Plowshares trial, Robert Burns of the Associated Press reported:

The Air Force stripped an unprecedented 17 officers of their authority to control — and, if necessary, launch — nuclear missiles after a string of unpublicized failings, including a remarkably dim review of their unit’s launch skills.

By way of explanation, Bruce Blair, the co-founder of Global Zero and one-time launch control officer, told Burns:

“The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War’s end over 20 years ago. … Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force’s culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles.”

In a follow-up article, Burns wrote:

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley … acknowledged in congressional testimony that he worries that talk of further shrinking the nation’s nuclear force is having a “corrosive effect” on his troops. [And] Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said at the same congressional hearing that it’s understandable that young missile officers may be demoralized by the realization that theirs is a shrinking field.

Blair, consulted for this article as well, elaborated on his remarks in the earlier article.

“This dead-end career is not the result of shrinking nuclear arsenals, but rather because the Cold War ended decades ago and because so few senior commander jobs exist within the missile specialty. … Most crews can’t wait to transfer out of missiles into faster-track careers such as space operations, but the Air Force doesn’t make it easy.”

Or as Christopher Ford, now Republican Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, wrote in 2010:

Already, for instance, it would appear that the gradual [reduction] of the perceived importance of nuclear missions within the U.S. military — and the degree to which nuclear specialties have gone from being considered a badge of elite distinction to a career backwater relative to “real” warfighting or exotic emerging arenas such as outer space and cyberspace — has helped produce a more accident-prone culture in the nuclear components of the U.S. military.

This applies to civilian jobs in the national nuclear laboratories as well. For a Huffington Post piece I wrote in 2011 titled Nuclear Weapons Just Not Sexy Anymore, I quoted chemist Cheryl Rofer of Nuclear Diner about her experience working at Los Alamos National Laboratory:

Per nuclear weapons work… we saw that people in their 30′s were leaving and other people were not accepting positions when offered. From what I have heard — the reasons are: [Los Alamos] has moved from a place of high technology, pushing-edge science, creative thinking and engagement — to compliance [meeting regulatory requirements] and not on performance.

Another individual who worked there and who preferred to remain anonymous offered an additional reason.

When they moved the lab to private contractors they put in place a fee-based performance contract… based upon meeting environmental and safety and security [and] the way [they're] paid is to have the least amount of mistakes and what is the best way to get the least amount of mistakes — to do the least amount of work.

Though it’s from 2003, this San Francisco Chronicle article brings us full circle back to the young man who spoke with Sister Megan.

Bruce Goodwin [the head of the weapons program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory] admits he often meets with puzzled stares when he tells young people he designs nuclear bombs for a living and tries to recruit promising scientists, as though he had emerged from an outdated science fiction fantasy.

“People will say to us, ‘My God, you still work on nuclear weapons?’” said Goodwin. … “I would say, ‘Yes, we do.’ But it is still a surprise.”

“It has become more difficult over the past 10 years to attract the right people.”

But it’s not just that young officers and designers no longer see nuclear weapons as a promising career choice, the military command is becoming disaffected with their actual utility for “warfighting.” Earlier this year, in the New York Times, David Sanger wrote (emphasis added):

… White House officials are looking at a cut that would take the arsenal of deployed weapons to just above 1,000. [The President] “believes that we can make pretty radical reductions — and save a lot of money — without compromising American security in the second term. And the Joint Chiefs have signed off on that concept.”

The Air Force is actually okay with reducing our nuclear arsenal? In a 2008 article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists titled “The U.S. Air Force’s indifference toward nuclear weapons” (behind a pay wall), Lawrence Korb explained why he believes the U.S. military “sees this large nuclear stockpile as an albatross around its neck.”

From its creation as a separate service at the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force was first among equals amid the nation’s three military departments and four armed services [due] primarily to its leading role in developing and deploying strategic nuclear weapons. … But with the Soviet Union’s collapse. … Strategic nuclear deterrence was no longer seen as central to U.S. security and the attention and resources of … the air force began to flow toward traditional air missions. Rather than the Bomber Barons, the air force in the post-Cold War era was led by the Fighter Mafia.”

Nukes are just no fun anymore. Why, you can’t even set the damned things off in tests. Besides, now that fighters are, to some extent, being replaced by drones, it only makes sense for the Air Force to be drawn to acquiring weapons such as Prompt Global Strike of which it can make actual use instead of nuclear weapons, which just stand around looking scary. In 2012 at Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman wrote:

Instances in which the White House might someday order a non-nuclear rapid [Prompt Global] strike could include a sudden move by China toward destroying a U.S. or allied communications satellite by rocket or laser; a North Korean ballistic missile being readied for launch against a neighboring U.S. ally; or a potential adversary’s nuclear warhead observed being mated with a delivery system.

… “For me, all of those are probably important; all of those have a scenario that go with them, that [make] you go, ‘Gee, I wish I had a tool like this,’” said [Gen. James Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff].

Swap “tool” for “toy” and you get a better idea.

Nuclear Weapons Are No Longer the Bogeyman of First Resort

Furthermore, nuclear weapons, seldom featured in films or books anymore as the agent of doom of choice, seem to have lost their power to shock. They were once the theme of a number of board games, from “Nuclear War” to “Nuclear Armageddon” to “First Strike.” But, near as I can tell, not since the British “DEFCON,” released in 2006, have they driven the plot of a video game. Especially telling, nuclear-weapons programs – once replete with terms such as vertical erector launchers, thrust-to-weight ratios, soft lay downs, deep penetration, and spasm attacks – no longer capture the imaginations of men and boys as expressions of macho and the warrior mentality, or as revenge fantasies.1

You could even make the case that the plague du jour – zombies (a preposterous monster if ever there was one) – have replaced them in the imagination of many of us as the threat du jour. In part, no doubt, that’s because, over the course of the almost 70 years that we’ve been living them, they’ve never been used. As with the little boy who cried wolf, we’ve heard one alarm too many and now tune those sounding them about nuclear weapons out. Also – aside from zombies – death by threats such as EMPs to autonomous drones have become more delicious to ponder.

In fact, what’s actually old are not only nuclear weapons, but the Cold War mentality critical to keeping them lodged in our defense budget where they continue to breed. Far from diverting attention from global warming and the ongoing financial crisis, both issues could be the beneficiaries of a new era of international cooperation that achieving disarmament could herald. Furthermore, we’d be free of fears that nuclear war could be the straw that broke the environment’s back. Also, while some of it will certainly by siphoned off for other defense programs, the rest of the funds saved by eliminating nuclear weapons could be applied to social programs and reducing the national debt.

In other words, rather than turn a deaf ear to disarmament advocates as if they’re old and in the way, recognize that nuclear weapons are for fighting yesterday’s battles with yesterday’s weapons.

1Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals, Carol Cohn, Within and Without: Women, Gender, and Theory. Summer, 1987 (Jstor, behind a paywall).

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

B61

U.S. tactical nuclear weapons more an irritant than deterrent

Is Pakistan a country that might, as opposed to the United States, actually find tactical nuclear weapons useful?

B61You’ve heard of planned obsolescence — tactical nuclear weapons are a case of deferred obsolescence: a weapon that has long ago worn out its welcome in the U.S. arsenal. On June 6, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Steve Andreasen, a consultant for the Nuclear Threat Initiative, wrote:

Throughout the Cold War, thousands of tactical nuclear weapons — short-range nuclear artillery shells, missiles and bombs — were deployed by the United States to deter the Soviets from exploiting their advantages in Europe to mount a lightning attack. … After the Soviet Union collapsed, President George H. W. Bush ordered the return of almost all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, leaving only a few hundred air-delivered gravity bombs — the B61 — in European bunkers.

… Politically, however, there are still voices that argue that even a bomb with no military utility is “reassuring” to certain allies, and that storing this artifact in European bunkers and maintaining allied aircraft capable of dropping this bomb is a valuable demonstration of NATO “burden sharing.” Moreover, these proponents are prepared to pay — or rather, have the U.S. pay — $10 billion to modernize and store the B61.

But to a state such as Pakistan, tactical nuclear weapons present an exciting new addition to their arsenal for which they may have big plans. At his Foreign Policy blog Best Defense, Tom Ricks interviews Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration. He said that Pakistan is

“… now are looking at tactical nuclear weapons.” [Their fear, Armitage said, is that if there is another Mumbai-like attack, India will respond with a corps-sized attack on Pakistan.] “Tactical nukes is what you’d use against a corps.” [This might provoke India to escalate further.] “But Pakistan would say that its tactical nukes would deter that.” [Brackets are Ricks’s.]

In a recent post titled Would Pakistan Respond to India’s Use of Conventional Weapons With Tactical Nukes?, I excerpted the Times of India’s Indrani Bagchi, who quoted Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board. The latter said that Pakistan (according to Indian policymakers) hopes, by developing tactical nuclear weapons,

“ … to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation to … cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack on Mumbai. What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. … This is nothing short of nuclear blackmail.”

What Pakistan is “signaling” to me is that it doesn’t want to feel compelled to stay the hand of its Islamist militants, who it’s long viewed as its wild card. (That’s making the generous assumption that the army and/or ISI won’t be complicit in a future militant attack on India.) Instead, Pakistan is making contingency plans for the retaliation from India that it expects. But, is the luxury of keeping militants around worth developing and maintaining tactical nukes to clean up their messes? That’s some skewed calculus.

To give you an example of the problems this created, consider Ricks’s remark “This might provoke India to escalate further.” Saran says (emphasis added):

“India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective. … “A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level.”

In other words, not only wouldn’t India be deterred from retaliating by Pakistan’s tactical – once called “battlefield” – nukes, it would retaliate with strategic – your garden-variety, apocalyptic – nukes! This whole business is riddled with opportunities for miscommunication that could result in an all-out nuclear war. In October 2012, George Perkovich explained in a Stimson Center report, about which I posted a month later.

Many worry about Islamist militants acquiring proprietorship of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. But the greater risk, according to Perkovich, is the confusion that India experiences in situations such as when its parliament was attacked in New Delhi in 2001 and during the Mumbai 2008 assault. Thus the nuclear deterrence model, which, according to conventional thinking, worked for the United States and Russia, may not be universally applicable. Why?

Perkovich writes that, “when it comes to … initiating and managing warfare between nuclear-armed states, it is generally assumed that a tight, coherent line of authority” is S.O.P. Otherwise “the implications for deterrence stability are profound.”

For example, if

… India is attacked by [Islamist militants] emanating from Pakistan and with ties to Pakistani intelligence services, [India] naturally infers that such actions represent the intentions and policies of Pakistani authorities. … If Pakistan does not … detain and prosecute the perpetrators … pressure mounts for India to demonstrate through force that it will [retaliate].

Perkovich presents this scenario.

For example, while India could perceive that the terrorist attacks it attributes to Pakistan signal Pakistani aggressiveness, Pakistani leaders [may only have intended the] initial terrorist attacks as a signal that the Pakistani state does not seek a wider conflict but [merely seeks] to press India to make political accommodations, in Kashmir or more broadly.

… This signaling process becomes all the more difficult and precarious if the Pakistani leaders who are presumed to be the authors of Pakistan’s signals and actions deny that the [terrorists] actually do manifest the policies of the state.

In that case …

Indian leaders then face a highly unstable dilemma. They could act as if the initial violence reflects the intentions of Pakistan’s chain of command, and send … signals of retaliatory action according to normal models of deterrence.

But this might only confuse Pakistan. Perkovich explains (emphasis added).

… if Pakistani leaders believe or claim that the perpetrators were not carrying out state policies, and India does escalate, Pakistani leaders will feel that India is the aggressor.

It becomes obvious that not knowing on whose authority an Islamist extremist attack on India was mounted

… produces dangerous confusion and ambiguity that interfere in the management of deterrence. Who is sending signals through violence that is perceived to be emanating from the state and/or its territory? What is being signaled?

In the end

… disunity erodes the rationality on which deterrence is predicated.

Returning to Ms. Bagchi and tactical nukes, she writes that another reason Pakistan developed them is

… to keep its weapons from being confiscated or neutralized by the US, a fear that has grown in the Pakistani establishment in the wake of the operation against Osama bin Laden.

In a recent ebook, historian Agha Humayun Amin, a former major in the Pakistani Tank Corps, confirms this.

The Pakistani military perception right from 2001 was that the USA was a threat for Pakistan’s nuclear program and US arrival in Afghanistan had more to do with Pakistan and less with the Taliban. Therefore the Taliban had to be supported. As long as the Americans were busy with the Taliban, Pakistan or Pakistani nuclear assets were safe.

Or, reports Elaine Grossman for the National Journal (emphasis added):

“When the U.S. says that they are worried about the security [of] Pakistan’s nuclear arms, it means it fears that these might fall in the hands of such elements as the extremist Taliban,” said a commentary published by Pakistan’s Frontier Post in late 2011. “However, when [former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood] Qureshi says so, he means that these are in danger of being whisked away by the U.S. armed forces.”

Update on the B61 from Arms Control Now:

But today (June 27), the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut funding for the B61 by $168 million, or 30 percent below the request, to $369 million.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

missile-defense

Republicans perpetuate myths to keep Cold War alive

Republicans oppose U.S. cooperation with Russia on NATO missile defense.

MissileDefenseIn a Reuters blog post titled Why Russia won’t deal on NATO missile defense, Yousaf Butt of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies writes that, to “allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has invited Russia to participate in [a missile defense] system, helping NATO guard against Iran.”

But, reported the Associated Press in May:

Republicans … trying to block Obama administration overtures to Russia on missile defense [are] proposing a measure that would bar the administration from sharing classified missile defense data with Russia.

That would undercut a path that arms control advocates have urged to restart nuclear talks, which have been set back by a missile defense dispute.

Dr. Butt elaborates.

Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), former chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, and other House Republican leaders have said that if the Obama administration hands over to Moscow technical data on the missile defense interceptors — as the White House has proposed — then this could persuade Moscow that the system is not targeting Russian missiles.

So while the administration has insisted it doesn’t intend to target Russia, the House Armed Services Committee leadership appears nostalgic for the Cold War — and wants to use the system against the Russians. Is it any wonder Moscow remains skeptical?

Let’s backtrack. Missile defense systems, such as the NATO system in which the United States is inviting Russia to take part, are, writes Dr. Butt

… known to have serious technological flaws. … Why would Russia want to cooperate on an expensive system that does not work — especially against a threat from Iran and North Korea, which Russia discounts?

Russia may reject two-thirds of the equation – that Iran and North Korea are threats and that missile defense would even be effective against them – but still finds it convenient to act as if missile defense is directed at Russian ICBMs. Never mind that Russia would become privy to the truth of NATO’s motives if it cooperated.

Please don’t misconstrue this as my approval of missile defense in any way, shape or form. The recent news that an East Coast installation was proposed for Fort Drum – 300 miles from where we live in New York State — brought it home to me. But it seems as if we survived a near-miss.

[A] letter from the leader of the Missile Defense Agency to the Senate Armed Services Committee could be a big roadblock. In it, Vice Admiral James D. Syring writes, “There is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site.”

Dr. Butt then asks:

If Iran or North Korea could so easily circumvent this vaunted missile defense system, why are the Russians (and Chinese) so up in arms against it?

The answer is simple: Russian and Chinese military planners — like those at the Pentagon — are paid to be paranoid. They must assume the worst-case scenario. Which, in this case, means they must treat a missile system as being highly effective —  even when it isn’t.

Or they treat missile defense as if it might be effective in the future.

Russian and Chinese analysts might also be worried about the potential for a major expansion in defensive missile arsenals; technical changes in the systems (such as nuclear-tipped interceptors); and the diversity and scale of sensor systems that are being brought online to support the system.

Republicans seek to turn Russian paranoia to their advantage by shamelessly perpetuating the myth that missile defense is directed against Russian ICBMs. To refresh your memories, remember, too, that missile defense is notorious for destabilizing nuclear deterrence. (Another disclaimer: optimizing nuclear deterrence is of no concern to me personally.)

By theoretically being able to halt an enemy’s first strike in its tracks, it makes the attacker’s remaining nukes vulnerable to a retaliatory strike by the state that was attacked. In other words, missile defense encourages other nuclear states to build more nuclear weapons and delivery systems. They would compensate for both those that would be shot down by missile defense and those destroyed in a retaliatory attack by the state that was attacked.

Missile defense continues to serve a useful purpose. No, not protecting the United States and Europe. But as the gift that never stops giving to keep the Cold War alive and money flowing into a white elephant as destructive to the economy as it is to our national defense.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

Nuclear missile wing’s “sagging morale” has an upside

Its personnel may be depressed, but at least they’re not launching nuclear weapons.

MinotFollowing up on his story of the17 launch crew members of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., who were removed from active duty, Robert Burns of the Associated Press reports:

Officers with a finger on the trigger of the Air Force’s most powerful nuclear missiles are complaining of a wide array of morale-sapping pressures, according to internal emails obtained by The Associated Press.

… Key themes among the complaints include working under “poor leadership” and being stuck in “dead-end careers” in nuclear weapons, one email said. … The complaints also said there was a need for more experienced missile officers, a less arduous work schedule and “leaders who will listen.”

Taken together, the complaints suggest sagging morale in arguably the most sensitive segment of the American military.

Obviously, in

… the nuclear missile business, morale is not a trivial matter. Mental state is treated as a vital sign — like physical health, criminal record and technical knowhow — that must be monitored to indicate whether an individual is fit to be trusted with weapons of such destructive power.

Revisiting a key reason for “sagging morale”

… the shrinking role and size of the U.S. nuclear force and, consequently, a reduced sense of purpose among launch crews who do 24-hour shifts in control centers buried deep below ground.

Bear in mind, says Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists in a quote:

“You can’t take away the fact that the mission they sit and wait for” — to launch a nuclear attack — “is very unlikely to ever happen,”

Catch the implication? Apparently, what the sensitive psyches of “missileers” require to feel needed is the opportunity to start the launch sequence for any or all of the 150 nuclear-armed ICBMs they control at Minot.

In other words, when it comes to their mental health, wouldn’t we rather have missileers “sit in a hole in the Midwest and wait for nothing” (in Kristensen’s words) – no matter how depressed — than be cheerful sociopaths waiting for a chance to light up the world?

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Expand nuclear weapons programs to protect missileers’ tender psyches

Nuclear missile officers’ jobs weigh heavy on them but not for the reasons you’d think.

On May 8 we posted about an article by Robert Burns of the Associated Press, in which he reported that the Air Force removed authority to control – and launch – nuclear missiles from 17 officers of the 91st Missile Wing in Minot, North Dakota after they were given a poor review for a series of mistakes.

In a follow-up piece, Burns asks Is There a Morale Crisis in the US Nuclear Force? He reports:

Inside the missile launch capsules, so called because of their pill-like shape, two officers stand watch, authorized to turn the keys enabled by secret launch codes if the presidential order ever comes. … Publicly, the Air Force insists that its missileers, as they are known within the service, are capable, trustworthy and committed. But Air Force Secretary Michael Donley also acknowledged in congressional testimony that he worries that talk of further shrinking the nation’s nuclear force is having a “corrosive effect” on his troops.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said at the same congressional hearing that it’s understandable that young missile officers may be demoralized by the realization that theirs is a shrinking field.

“You say, ‘My goodness, there’s only three (missile wings in the entire Air Force). There’s no opportunity there,’” Welsh said. “That’s actually not the case, but that’s the view when you’re in one of those units.”

While “That’s actually not the case” might be true technically, any opportunity may just be a higher rank and more responsibility in a field that’s, nevertheless, “shrinking.” (Not fast enough to our liking!)

Though it may not be exactly what they mean, one could be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that Secretary Donley and Gen. Welsh are recommending expanding our nuclear-weapons program to prevent missileers from growing discouraged and help them keep their heads in the game.

I know what you’re thinking: would that their jobs oppressed them because the fate of the world lies on whether or not they push a button. (Or toggle a series of switches or whatever.) But, hey, you’ve got to be pretty hard-hearted towards missileers and their sensitive psyches to deprive them of more nukes.

Burns reports on the real reason for their bleak career prospects (emphasis added).

Bruce Blair, a former missile launch officer and now a national security scholar at Princeton University, said Friday that morale has dropped in part because the ICBM mission that originated in 1959, deterring the Soviet Union from attacking the U.S. or Europe, is less compelling than it was generations ago.

“This dead-end career is not the result of shrinking nuclear arsenals, but rather because the Cold War ended decades ago and because so few senior commander jobs exist within the missile specialty,” Blair said. “Most crews can’t wait to transfer out of missiles into faster-track careers such as space operations, but the Air Force doesn’t make it easy.”

While they wait for those transfers, maybe the Air Force can take a cue from “the missile launch capsules, so called because of their pill-like shape” and dole out Prozac to their missileers. It’s a lot cheaper and less risky than expanding our nuclear-weapons program to boost their morale.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

Spirit of boondoggle departs quashed Los Alamos project, finds new one to possess

The construction of an expensive new plutonium pit facility has been abandoned. Will it be replaced a collection of smaller buildings?

Thanks in large part to lawsuits filed by the Los Alamos Study Group, last year the Obama administration halted the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The research for which it was earmarked was  on plutonium pits, which is where the chain reaction of a nuclear weapons occurs. Even if you believe in nuclear weapons, the need for new pits is nonexistent because they’re noted for their longevity.

How difficult it is to discontinue researching and manufacturing plutonium pits is a microcosm for how the nuclear weapons-industrial complex itself endures. In February at Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman reported that, without the CMRR-NF, Los Alamos would

… instead permanently parcel out work to an array of smaller buildings. [The] institution’s director said. … “I’m concerned that in the current fiscal crisis, it may no longer be practical to plan and build very large-scale nuclear facilities,” Charles McMillan, who heads the New Mexico research site, said at a three-day conference on nuclear deterrence in Arlington, Va. “A new path forward is needed.”

On May 7, a Los Alamos Study Group [LASG] press release stated:

After more than a year since a halt to new funding was announced for [the CMRR-NF], a few details about the latest plan to construct a large-scale “pit” factory complex have begun to emerge.

Note that McMillan’s use of the phrase “very large-scale nuclear facilities” referred to the two main buildings of the planned CMRR-NF. The complex that LASG refers to is smaller buildings, as Ms. Grossman reported. More from the press release:

It is now clear that the “interim” “plutonium sustainment” plan [in lieu of the CMRR-NF – RW] of last year is but the first part of a much larger, multibillion dollar plan spanning approximately two decades, which could easily exceed CMRR-NF in final scope, cost, and possibly in size.

The new plan aims not just to replace the capabilities once envisioned for … CMRR-NF but also to supplement or replace some the most dangerous and demanding capabilities of LANL’s large main plutonium facility.

This year’s plan is certainly much larger than the … “interim” plan … in pit production capacity, physical scale, environmental disruption, cost, and duration [and] includes everything in the “interim plan” plus construction of underground laboratory and production “modules” connected by “tunnels” to the [large main plutonium facility].

Furthermore, states LASG Director Greg Mello:

“There are as yet no firm mission requirements, no project definition, no total estimated cost, no requested line item, no analysis of alternatives, no environmental impact statement [EIS], and no schedule for this project. Despite these deficiencies, despite wasting $500 M and ten years on the last plan, and despite NNSA’s abysmal management record, the agency now claims that hundreds of millions of dollars must be spent each year, starting right now, to get this ‘non-project project’ going.”

Mello then hints at how difficult it is to put the nail in the coffin of these projects. Like monsters or slashers in horror movies, they have a discouraging habit of rising up like phoenixes just when you think you’ve killed them dead.

“No U.S. warhead requires new pits, so none of this is about maintaining warheads. Pit aging is not even mentioned in the April 8 letter as a driver for this project.”

What purpose would new plutonium pits serve then? From the press release again.

The need for new pit production is tied to these two proposed Life Extension Projects (LEPs), which congressional and administration officials have described to us as, essentially, new warheads:

• A proposed W78/W88 “interoperable” Air Force/Navy warhead for land-based and sea-based missiles. Depending on the design chosen and the size of the “build,” [it] might require pit production.

• The proposed “Long-Range Stand-Off” (LRSO) missile warhead [which] too might require pit production.

The spirit of boondoggle flees the dying host of one project, only to seek out another to possess. We can never truly drive a stake may never be drive into nuclear weapons until the Unholy Trinity of waste, pork, and campaign financing is exorcised from the body politic.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

Would Pakistan respond to India’s use of conventional weapons with nukes?

Theoretically Pakistan is poised to respond to Indian military retaliation for a terrorist strike with tactical nukes.

It’s debatable how much nuclear weapons add to national security. But what’s undeniable is that they add layer upon layer of complexity, sprinkled with convoluted and even counterintuitive thinking (such as how missile defense systems are seen as an offensive act), to national defense. By way of example, on April 30, in the Times of India, Indrani Bagchi, wrote:

India will retaliate massively even if Pakistan uses tactical nuclear weapons against it. [It] will protect its security interests by retaliating to a “smaller” tactical attack in exactly the same manner as it would respond to a “big” strategic attack.

Two questions immediately arise.

1. Why did Pakistan develop tactical nuclear weapons?

2. Why would India respond disproportionately to the use of what’s often referred to as “battlefield” nuclear weapons? (Not to diminish their power or, by any means, condone a state’s possession of them.)

First, we’ll quote Ms. Bagchi, who quotes Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board. Speaking for nuclear-weapons policymakers in New Delhi, Mr. Saran “placed India’s nuclear posture in perspective in the context of recent developments, notably the ‘jihadist edge’ that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability have acquired.” (No, jihadis haven’t – yet anyway – insinuated themselves inside Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program.)

Answering question one, Saran said that Pakistan hopes (according to Indian policymakers), by developing tactical nuclear weapons,

“ … to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation to … cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack on Mumbai. What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. … This is nothing short of nuclear blackmail.”

You can see how nuclear weapons have the power to cloud men’s minds. Pakistan (if the Indian policymakers are correct) thinks that it can keep India from retaliating to yet another terrorist attack. With the same dearth of commonsense that Pakistan exhibits in the above passage (if true), India then declares that it won’t just retaliate with tactical nukes, but with strategic nuclear weapons.

Never mind that the best way to keep India from retaliating is, obviously, to refrain from attacking. Of course, that beggars the question of whether Pakistan can keep its militants from attacking India (except for when it wants them, too).

Providing an answer to question two, Saran says (emphasis added):

“India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective.”

Re what’s emphasized: ever notice how often bravado and black humor intersect? To buttress his argument, Saran claims:

“A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level.”

In any event, another answer to question one may exist. Ms. Bagchi writes that Pakistan may – also? primarily? – have developed tactical nuclear weapons

… to keep its weapons from being confiscated or neutralized by the US, a fear that has grown in the Pakistani establishment in the wake of the operation against Osama bin Laden.

Western policymakers might be inclined to shoot down this line of thinking as a conspiracy theory. But, as historian Agha Humayun Amin, a former major in the Pakistani Tank Corps, writes in a recent ebook

The Pakistani military perception right from 2001 was that the USA was a threat for Pakistan’s nuclear program and US arrival in Afghanistan had more to do with Pakistan and less with the Taliban. Therefore the Taliban had to be supported. As long as the Americans were busy with the Taliban, Pakistan or Pakistani nuclear assets were safe.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Minot’s launch control fail: Reason #532 why nuclear deterrence is a fragile foundation for peace

To concerns about human error in nuclear launch control add moodiness.

Robert Burns of the Associated Press reports that the Air Force removed authority to control – and launch – nuclear missiles from 17 officers of the 91st Missile Wing in Minot, North Dakota after they were given a poor review for a series of mistakes.

The tip-off to trouble was a March inspection, which earned the equivalent of a “D” grade when tested on its mastery of Minuteman III missile launch operations. … In addition to the 17, possible disciplinary action is pending against one other officer at Minot who investigators found had purposefully broken a missile safety rule in an unspecified act that could have compromised the secret codes that enable the launching of missiles. [Emphasis added.]

Human error when on nuclear launch duty is serious enough. But willfulness only further increases the degree of difficulty of managing nuclear risk.

You could tell it was bad. The deputy commander of the 91st Missile Wing, Burns reports, wrote in an email:

“We are breaking you down, and we will build from the ground up. … It takes real leaders to lead through a crisis and we are, in fact, in a crisis right now.”

He told his subordinates, “You must continue to turn over the rocks and find the rot.”

The deputy commander’s name, by the way, is General Jack D. Ripper, I mean, Lt. Col. Jay Folds. But what exactly turns these officers into slackers? Burns asked Bruce Blair, the co-founder of Global Zero and one-time launch control officer.

“The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War’s end over 20 years ago. … Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force’s culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles.”

In other words, they’re sulking. But how can the Air Force maintain a nuclear command without officers who aren’t immune from making mistakes or obsessing over their stalled careers? By replacing them with robots! Hey, “smart,” autonomous drones are starting to seem inevitable. Why not adapt them to nuclear launch control?

Of course, that would be Reason Number 533 Why Nuclear Deterrence Is a Fragile Foundation for Peace.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.