Farewell. The Flying Pig Has Left The Building.

Steve Hynd, August 16, 2012

After four years on the Typepad site, eight years total blogging, Newshoggers is closing it's doors today. We've been coasting the last year or so, with many of us moving on to bigger projects (Hey, Eric!) or simply running out of blogging enthusiasm, and it's time to give the old flying pig a rest.

We've done okay over those eight years, although never being quite PC enough to gain wider acceptance from the partisan "party right or wrong" crowds. We like to think we moved political conversations a little, on the ever-present wish to rush to war with Iran, on the need for a real Left that isn't licking corporatist Dem boots every cycle, on America's foreign misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. We like to think we made a small difference while writing under that flying pig banner. We did pretty good for a bunch with no ties to big-party apparatuses or think tanks.

Those eight years of blogging will still exist. Because we're ending this typepad account, we've been archiving the typepad blog here. And the original blogger archive is still here. There will still be new content from the old 'hoggers crew too. Ron writes for The Moderate Voice, I post at The Agonist and Eric Martin's lucid foreign policy thoughts can be read at Democracy Arsenal.

I'd like to thank all our regular commenters, readers and the other bloggers who regularly linked to our posts over the years to agree or disagree. You all made writing for 'hoggers an amazingly fun and stimulating experience.

Thank you very much.

Note: This is an archive copy of Newshoggers. Most of the pictures are gone but the words are all here. There may be some occasional new content, John may do some posts and Ron will cross post some of his contributions to The Moderate Voice so check back.


Showing posts with label nuclear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nuclear. Show all posts

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Could "Virtual Deterrence" Actually Increase the Chances of Nuclear War?

By Russ Wellen

Virtual deterrence, while not new, has gained some currency in recent years as a means to both avert nuclear war and expedite nuclear disarmament. "Virtual," in this instance, means abolishing nuclear weapons, which the United States maintains primarily to deter, or prevent, other states from attacking us with theirs. Instead, only the know-how and production capacity (as well as the fuel) to reconstitute them would be retained in case of a perceived national security emergency.

In its inability to signal a true commitment to nuclear disarmament, virtual deterrence is hardly ideal. But it sounds like a step in the right direction, right? In fact, the sad irony is that divesting ourselves of the hardware and retaining only the knowledge might actually increase the risks of nuclear war. Worse, it might hasten it.

In a paper that the Hudson Institute published in November titled Nuclear Weapons Reconstitution and its Discontents: Challenges of "Weaponless Deterrence", fellows Christopher Ford explains why as well as anybody. First, though, let's deal with a questionable claim he makes first.

The logic of reconstitution would seem to presuppose what the disarmament community often takes as axiomatic, but what is in fact a highly contested issue -- namely, that the only use of nuclear weapons is in fact for deterring the use of similar weapons by others.

He also alluded to this in a recent talk he gave on nuclear deterrence.

Discussions of nuclear deterrence, in some quarters, tend to presuppose what the disarmament community often takes as axiomatic, but which is, in fact, a highly questionable claim -- namely, that the only use of nuclear weapons is in fact for deterring the use of other nuclear weapons by others. This is a seductive idea [which seems] to offer a kind of "fast-track" to nuclear disarmament. . . . because nuclear deterrence is assumed not really to "touch" any of the other structures of our lives, it could simply be lifted up and tossed away. [But if] nuclear weapons turn out to be entangled in various ways with broader security or other issues . . . it is much harder to imagine them being surgically excised, and nuclear deterrence so cleanly disposed of.

Among the ways in which nuclear weapons are entangled in broader security is deterring the use of not only nuclear weapons, but a larger conventional army, a service nuclear weapons ostensibly performed during the Cold War in Europe versus the massive Red Army. Also, states seek to proliferate for reasons other than national security, such as prestige. Besides, like a national airline, it's just what a state often thinks it should do to show it's arrived on the international scene.

Nevertheless, it's a mistake to assert that disarmament advocates believe that deterrence is the only use of nuclear weapons. More likely, they were originally inspired to take up the cause and, for the most part, still are by the fear that states will use nuclear weapons offensively. It's hawks and realpolitik types who have homed in on deterrence.

In recent years replacement of the phrase "nuclear weapons" with "our nuclear deterrent" has become commonplace. It's as if not only is deterrence the primary reason that nuclear weapons are maintained by the United States, but nukes have no actual use in fighting a war. This phenomenon can be seen in the title of the most recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Schultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn (the Four Horsemen of the Un-Apocalypse): How to Protect Our Nuclear Deterrent.

I've been unsuccessful in discovering who "re-branded" nuclear weapons thusly. But this kind of "messaging" is an attempt to convey the notion that instead of the principal threat to life on earth (along with global warming), nuclear weapons actually make us safe.

We'll return now to how virtual deterrence can make us less safe. In his talk, Christopher Ford cites nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling, who expressed a concern that, if nuclear weapons are de-mobilized

. . . "every responsible government must consider that other responsible governments will mobilize their nuclear weapons base as soon as war erupts, or as soon as war appears likely." As a result, "there will be at least covert frantic efforts . . . to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible." Worse yet, there might be incentives for the country that acquired nuclear weapons first actually to use them preemptively. . . . employing a temporary monopoly upon nuclear weaponry. . . . in order to halt its opponent's analogous rush toward nuclear armament.

In short, Schelling

. . . suggests that a world without nuclear weapons would become one in which many countries "would have hair-trigger mobilization plans to rebuild nuclear weapons. . . . The urge to preempt would dominate; whoever gets the first few weapons will coerce or preempt. It would be a nervous world."

Hawks and realpolitikers both discount disarmament because the road to it is filled with potholes or, if it were a healthcare policy, gaps in coverage. But, even if one believes that proceeding down that path is more of a risk than retaining nuclear weapons, the balance of power that deterrence supposedly affords is an illusion. States that aspire to nuclear weapons aside, some that possess them, such as North Korea, Pakistan, and perhaps Israel, haven't given up the notion that they're just as essential for their offensive, first-strike capability than for deterrence.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Forces Opposed to Dangerous, Extravagant Nuke Project Get Day in Court

By Russ Wellen

If you're not a regular reader, you may be surprised to learn the federal government seeks to ram through a new nuclear facility that's intolerable on a number of counts.

1. Its intended purpose is to build plutonium pits -- the living, breathing heart of a nuclear weapons, where the chain reaction occurs. In other words, mad science at its most extreme.

2. Its projected cost is greater than all the work done on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico during World War II.

3. The land the building will occupy is seismically, uh, challenged.

Before proceeding, I'll wait until you get over your spell of cognitive dissonance. Yes, this is what passes for disarmament in the Age of Obama. The Albuquerque Journal provided an overview about the Los Alamos National Lab project.

Federal officials want to push ahead with a proposed Los Alamos plutonium laboratory despite soaring cost estimates and questions about seismic safety, according to a new analysis released late Friday afternoon. But the study stops short of answering key questions about how best to build a structure capable of withstanding a major earthquake at the site.

The National Nuclear Security Administration [NNSA] study also brushes aside critics who argue that new understanding of earthquake dangers and . . . the resulting rising construction costs require a re-evaluation of whether the project as currently planned should go forward. . . . The most recent version of the replacement plan would cost an estimated $3.7 billion to $5.8 billion, according to a National Nuclear Security Administration report to Congress in December. That is a four- to sevenfold increase of the estimated price just four years ago.

"NNSA and Los Alamos Lab arrogantly think they can proceed with a blank check from the taxpayers for this gold-plated project," [Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico] said in a statement Friday evening. 

Another New Mexico nuclear watchdog group, the Los Alamos Study Group, is about to present its long-gestating lawsuit against the NNSA and the Department of Energy. In his latest newsletter, executive Director Greg Mello explains.

At 9:00 am Wednesday April 27th, in the Brazos Courtroom . . . of the Federal Courthouse . . . Albuquerque, the Honorable Judge Judith Herrera will hear arguments from the Los Alamos Study Group and the federal defendants -- the Department of Energy . . . and the [NNSA] over whether final design of the proposed huge plutonium facility in Los Alamos -- called the "Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility" (CMRR-NF) -- should be halted pending analysis of alternatives to the project.

The two opposing motions:

. . . whether a) to throw out the Study Group's lawsuit, from the defendants; or b) temporarily pause the project, i.e. grant a "preliminary injunction," in order to give the court the opportunity to hear evidence on the Study Group's contention that the project cannot proceed without a valid, new environmental impact statement (EIS).

Mello continues.

Recently, Everet Beckner, NNSA's Assistant Administrator for Defense Programs during the George W. Bush Administration . . . said that not pausing CMRR-NF to consider the implications of the Japanese nuclear crisis would be a mistake.  He has particularly pointed out the dangers of a fire in the proposed . . . plutonium storage facility [in the event of an earthquake], a possibility which LANS, the Bechtel-led corporation that manages Los Alamos, has said it hopes to make impossible -- and therefore need not be analyzed.

However, LANS has also

. . . admitted that the safety of the . . . plutonium facility [as it currently stands] is more problematic than understood to date due to structural deficiencies in the building. [The] need for . . . structural renovation raise new questions about the practicality of proceeding with everything at once. 

It seems the NNSA may have bitten off more than it can chew. I'll break down the relevant paragraph of the LASG newsletter into bullet points. 

  • existing and planned new programs in the building, including new pit production and industrial-scale production of plutonium dioxide for mixed-oxide (MOX) reactor fuel

  • the production of additional kinds of plutonium pits and in much larger numbers than before

  • while also trying to fix the building in fundamental ways

  • while also undertaking a giant construction project immediately adjacent to the facility 

  • not to mention several "smaller" projects (in the $50-$300 million range) that NNSA hopes to start nearby as well.

Mello sums up:

We now know that this site is subject to seismic shocks twice as great as those experienced at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The full implications of LANL's challenging geographic situation are only slowly being assimilated by the federal bureaucracy and contractor community. Both DOE and NNSA operate with an almost unbelievable "culture of optimism," as defendants themselves name the problem. 

All too often, the better part of optimism is denial, in this case, on the part of the federal government about the dangers and the eye-popping cost of work proposed for Los Alamos.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Imagine Disarmament and Nonproliferation Talks That Reward the State With More Nukes

By Russ Wellen

Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation are based in part on the premise that if the states with the most nuclear weapons dial down their numbers that those with fewer will do the same. Just as important, states without nuclear weapons will no longer be tempted to develop them. Sounds like a simple matter of leadership, right?

But today, not only conservatives, but generic realists, make the case that whether or not the United States makes significant strides toward global zero is of no concern whatsoever to states aching to scratch the nuclear itch. It's explained as well as anywhere in a 2009 paper for the Hudson Institute by Christopher Ford titled Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation, and the "Credibility Thesis".

Personally, I cast my lot with those who call for global zero. But I can't help suspecting that conservatives and sundry, self-styled realists are correct when they claim that states that seem to aspire to nuclear weapons -- Iran, Syria, and Burma, for instance -- aren't impressed with disarmament. It's as if disarmament were an acquired taste.

Even more oblivious to calls for global zero are most of those states that acquired nuclear weapons without signing nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. The fourth, though, India, might respond to disarmament leadership on the part of the United States and Russia. As might another which signed the NPT, but, more and more is portrayed as a rival to the United States -- China, of course.

But Lavina Lee, author of a foreign policy briefing published by the Cato Institute in February titled Beyond Symbolism? The U.S. Nuclear Disarmament Agenda and Its Implications for Chinese and Indian Nuclear Policy, isn't so sure.

The Obama administration has elevated nuclear disarmament to the center of its nuclear agenda through the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [among other things, and] expects that its professed goal of "getting to zero" has symbolic value and will encourage reciprocity in terms of disarmament and nuclear arms control by other nuclear weapons states, as well as cooperation on measures to limit nuclear proliferation. [But in] the case of the two rising powers of Asia -- China and India -- it is highly questionable whether either of these expectations will be met.
For its part, while
China has already responded favorably to the new START treaty [but it] is likely to be viewed in Beijing as merely a first, tentative step toward global zero. . . . In China's view, the United States and Russia, as "the two countries possessing the largest nuclear arsenals, bear >em>special and primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament" [Ambassador Li Baodong speaking] and should "further drastically reduce their nuclear arsenals."
Specifically, writes Ms. Lee
Given that the United States currently has 5,113 warheads in its nuclear stockpile . . . and China's nuclear capabilities are estimated at around 240 . . . it is unlikely that the Chinese will believe that the New START treaty has created anywhere near the "necessary conditions" to enable China to begin force reductions of its own.
Worse, from China's point of view (ostensibly anyway)
. . . given President Obama�s own admission that global zero is unlikely to be achieved in his lifetime, the Chinese have cause to question whether the United States and Russia will voluntarily relinquish their nuclear superiority any time soon. Under these circumstances, the United States will be waiting a long time for any Chinese reciprocity on nuclear force reductions.
Along with the token cuts in New START and U.S. adherence to missile defense, neither is the $85 billion that President Obama has committed to the nuclear weapons industry in the United States over the next decade likely lost on China. For India's part, since it doesn't loom as a supposed threat to the United States, it
. . . has little reason to view the continuing strategic nuclear superiority of the United States and Russia as a security threat. However, in keeping with its moral and political stance against nuclear weapons [say what? -- RW]. . . . Prime Minister Singh, while welcoming the New START agreement also called on "all states with substantial nuclear arsenals to further accelerate this process by making deeper cuts that will lead to meaningful disarmament."
But professing to support disarmament and putting the onus on the U.S. and Russia to show leadership is somewhat disingenuous on the part of India when what really determines its willingness to disarm lay elsewhere. Ms. Lee explains.
The greatest influence over when India will begin nuclear force reductions remains . . . its nuclear armed regional competitors, China and Pakistan. . . . Any commitments India is likely to make on nuclear force reductions will be linked to both of these states doing the same.
Besides, Ms. Lee writes [emphasis added]:
The bottom line is that the short-term national security interests of both China and India are likely to have greater influence over the level of [disarmament] reciprocity that will be forthcoming [from them], given that global zero is still aspirational and the United States continues to maintain a high level of nuclear superiority.
Which means
. . . there are real opportunity costs associated with elevating disarmament to the center of U.S. nuclear diplomacy. Of concern here is the risk that that the United States will offer much with respect to nuclear disarmament and get little in return. In particular, placing emphasis on disarmament could inadvertently provide both states, especially China, with a reason to condition progress toward nuclear proliferation goals on even greater force reductions by the United States. . . . Linking disarmament to nonproliferation may have had symbolic value but may ironically have the effect of reducing U.S. leverage in achieving nonproliferation goals that are more immediately pressing and achievable. Because the United States has more to lose in getting to zero -- if that goal is achievable at all -- than either China or India, it would not be wise for America to dissipate its advantages without gaining significant concessions in return.
Even though I routinely read this kind of material for fun (alas, no profit), I found it necessary to read that paragraph over and over to worry some sense from it. With regards to the italicized sentence, why does the United States finds itself in a position to "offer much"? Because it has many more nuclear weapons to divest itself of than China. Thus, Ms. Lee advises the United States not "to dissipate its advantages" in weapons numbers "without gaining significant concessions in return." Those would include requiring China to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and join in creating a treaty on fissile material treaty before the United States agrees to give up a certain number of weapons.

The problem with maintaining that since China doesn't have the same approximate number of weapons to count down as the United States and Russia does, it must substitute agreeing to Western treaties is immediately apparent. In effect, it punishes China for its "failure" to have built as large a nuclear arsenal as those of the United States and Russia and for not having as many weapons to dicker down.

How shortsighted of China to have limited its arsenal when it should have foreseen the day when it would be required to reciprocally roll back its weapons with the United States and Russia! In effect, no matter how worthy a goal treaty ratification may be, handicapping a state for its head start in the disarmament race (if you can call a course that will likely require generations to negotiate a race) is no way to promote either disarmament or nonproliferation.

In the end, Ms. Lee's advice to extract concessions from China before we agree to disarm is yet another attempt by right and other realists to put the nonproliferation cart before the disarmament horse when traditionally disarmament was expected to lead the way.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Thanks to Fukushima Light Shed on U.S. Nuclear Facility Located on a Volcano

By Russ Wellen

The light shining on the safety of nuclear energy as a result of the Japanese nuclear crisis has been of such powerful wattage that it's even flushing safety issues with nuclear weapons labs and manufacturing facilities out of hiding. Roger Snodgrass reports for the Santa Fe New Mexican.

On Friday, President Barack Obama asked the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review the safety of American nuclear power plants. . . . At Los Alamos National Laboratory, nuclear safety issues have been complicated with seismic concerns, as geological studies have uncovered an increasingly precarious underground structure.
Los Alamos, of course, is the national lab in New Mexico created for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. Still a work in progress after all these years, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility is being built to the tune of a cool $4.3 billion. That's six times the cost (adjusted for inflation) of the division of the Manhattan Project that was based in Los Alamos.

The CMRR will be used to increase the capacity to produce plutonium "pits," which is where a nuclear weapon's chain reaction occurs. If that doesn't sound like disarmament, you're right. Funding for the project by the Obama administration was intended, in part, to win Republican votes for the ratification of New START. But, in terms of pure disarmament, it not only cancels out New START, it ensures the health of the nuclear-industrial complex for many years.

Snodgrass writes:

Everet Beckner . . . formerly a high-ranking official in the National Nuclear Security Administration during the Bush administration, called Friday for a pause in the design work underway [at the CMRR. He said] "the earthquake event in Japan was outside the current window of expectations because it was larger than a thousand-year event. . . . Maybe that isn't enough of a margin."
Turns out that at
. . . Los Alamos National Laboratory [LANL], nuclear safety issues have been complicated with seismic concerns, as geological studies have uncovered an increasingly precarious underground structure. . . . in the late 1990s [faults were] found to run near and even beneath some LANL nuclear facilities. . . . A survey found a number of LANL buildings to be at considerable risk of earthquake-induced collapse.
But this information
. . . was not immediately applied to building siting and design . . . . "When they set up Los Alamos initially, they didn't care about these things. They were looking for an isolated site," said [Greg] Mello [of the Los Alamos Study Group], who has studied seismic issues at the lab since 1996. . . . "Since then, many people have questioned the wisdom of putting a plutonium processing facility and now a nuclear pit manufacturing facility on the side of a volcano."
In fact, when it comes to locating such facilities on the side of a volcano in an area prone to seismic activity, there's no wisdom whatsoever to question.

In fact, when it comes to locating such facilities on the side of a volcano in an area prone to seismic activity, there's no wisdom whatsoever to question.

Meanwhile, at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Washington is using the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant's "seismic vulnerability" as one of the reasons "to build a new Uranium Processing Facility, which is projected to cost as much as�$6.5 billion�and won't be available for at least another decade," reports�Frank Munger�in the�Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Despite millions of dollars spent on upgrades, the 60-year-old production hub at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant remains seismically vulnerable and could be severely damaged or disabled by a major earthquake. Sections of the 9212 complex, where bomb-grade uranium is processed, were built during World War II, and a federal spokesman�at Y-12 said it's not possible to bring the old facility up to today�s seismic standards.
The road not taken: the plant's seismic vulnerability could just as easily have been used as an excuse not to build a new uranium processing facility at Oak Ridge -- or anywhere.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nuclear Disarmament Would Make U.S. Undisputed Arms Champ

By Russ Wellen

The Interpreter, the blog for Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy, is hosting a debate on whether or not nuclear deterrence is still relevant (assuming it ever was). In his contribution, George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace made an extraordinary statement.

US interest in nuclear disarmament stems from the perception that a world without nuclear weapons would give it a greater advantage against others that might threaten it or its allies.�The others -- particularly China, Russia and North Korea -- recognize this! They see the Obama agenda as a means of strengthening the US advantage.�Hence they (and Pakistan) are likely to impede nuclear disarmament.�How does this weaken extended nuclear deterrence?
By "stems from," Perkovich seems to be saying that the elimination of nuclear weapons allows the indisputable supremacy of U.S. conventional weapons to assume pride of place in global security. Without the great equalizer of nuclear weapons, the United States, with all its might, would no longer be liable to ransom by an "irrational actor" -- from a North Korean dictator to a terrorist group -- possessing only one or two nuclear weapons while the United States still retains thousands.

Let's be charitable and assume that by "stems from," Perkovich doesn't rule out other motivations the United States might have for seeking the abolition of nuclear weapons -- like exponentially reducing the number of people it might lose in an attack. (Sorry, just don't have the time to comb through his writings to confirm that). But, considering his position in the mainstream arms control world, Perkovich's cynicism is eye-opening.

Yet, when it comes to nuclear disarmament, there are even more cynical depths to which one can sink. As is apparent to those who read him, this author believes that what passes for disarmament -- for example, New START -- is actually a smokescreen behind which the U.S. nuclear weapons program is retrenching for the long haul.

I believe that the eyes of China, Russia, North Korea, and especially Iran are also open to U.S. intentions. They're troubled by more than the notion that the United States seeks to abolish nuclear weapons because it makes states with nominal nuclear arsenals (if any can be referred to as such) theoretically equal to the larger, more "rational" nuclear-weapon states. Even more disturbing to them is the sight of a United States that talks a good game about disarmament but plans to spend $180 billion over the next decade on its nuclear industrial complex.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Does the Taboo Against the Use of Nuclear Weapons Only Increase Their Allure?

By Russ Wellen

It's only natural that highly charged words find themselves coupled with the word "nuclear." It's almost as if they're attracted by a magnetic force. Three examples spring to mind.

Holocaust: Most frequently, of course, it's used in reference to the slaughter of Jews in World War II. When appended to "nuclear," it describes an earth ravaged to within an inch of its life by nuclear war.

Apartheid: Originally, as we all know, it was the word for segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1993. When preceded by "nuclear," it describes the perception of some states without nuclear weapons that those in possession of same are keeping them (as well as nuclear energy) for themselves. And yes, it is singularly sleazy, to link the word "apartheid" with nuclear weapons.

The first two phenomena are obviously less than fortuitous. The third word, in contrast, falls on the sunnier side of the street. "Taboo," from the Tongan tabu, is a ban or an inhibition born of a social custom and/or deep-seated revulsion. But plant "nuclear" before it and, along with deterrence (as conventional wisdom has it), it becomes, in the words of Nina Tannenwald, author of The Nuclear Taboo, a "normative prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons." (Norm -- "a standard, model, or pattern regarded as typical" according to a popular web dictionary -- is another word often heard in connection with a state's possession or lack thereof of nuclear weapons. Not as charged as the other three words, it doesn't qualify for inclusion in our list.)

In the fall of 2010, the Buddhist publication SGI Quarterly asked Ms. Tannenwald how the taboo developed.

I identify three primary factors: First is a global grassroots antinuclear weapons movement which made it impossible to think about nuclear weapons as just another weapon; the second element was antinuclear politics at the United Nations; and a third element was strategic pressures and the risks of escalation. I might add a fourth element, which is the conscience of individual leaders who really felt that nuclear weapons were morally repugnant and that we had to do something to delegitimize them. So, when you look at how this taboo arose--the change from 1945, when it was assumed that nuclear weapons would be used in war like any other weapons, to today, when nuclear weapons use by states is almost unthinkable--it reflects both morality and self-interest. That is, you have a convergence of realist interest and the moral interest--the sense that these are unacceptable, morally abhorrent weapons--and that creates a fairly large constituency, perhaps larger than we have had for a long time, for actually moving toward abolition.
While Ms. Tannenwald views the taboo as an agent of disarmament, the case can also be made that, by definition, taboos have a limited shelf life. For example, in the West, the veil has been lifted from topics that societal consensus once deemed unfit for discussion -- such as alcoholism, depression, homosexuality, and divorce.

The near-taboo on a wholesale U.S. intervention in foreign countries that had been in effect since the Vietnam War was superseded by the perceived threat of Islamist terrorism. In fact, it vanished into thin air as the United States committed significant numbers of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing like a perceived threat to make a taboo seem like little more than a social nicety.

The West frets about states such as North Korea and Iran developing nuclear-weapons arsenals. On the other hand, many in the field of international relations hold that when a state that heretofore has been rash in its foreign-policy decisions becomes nuclear-weaponized, it becomes a "rational actor." But if another kind of actor -- the non-state variety such as al Qaeda -- were the beneficiary of nuclear weapons, would its new status impel it to think like a state, or, in its case, a caliphate?

Chances are, steeped in taboos as Islamic extremists are, they wouldn't seek to take pleasure in breaking one. Even though fatwas have been issued against the use of nuclear weapons, it's likely that Islamic extremists would simply fail to acknowledge the existence of a taboo on the use of nuclear weapons. No, they wouldn't reflexively incinerate the infidels. Instead, they'd probably hold the West hostage to demands such as rolling Israel's boundaries back to before the 1967 War and a removal of all Western armed forces from the Middle East.

We're under the gun: we need to make use of the nuclear taboo as a springboard to disarmament before its expiration date. But there exists another nuclear taboo -- against discussing in polite company the death and destruction caused by nuclear weapons. If we could do away with that we'd be in a better position to be heard and expand disarmament's core constituency.

We could then take advantage of the convergence about which Ms. Tannenwald speaks, between those motivated by realist, and those by ethical, concerns. There's still time to beat those who have no respect for the nuclear taboo to the punch and knock out nuclear weapons before they take us out.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is "It's Not Fair" a Mature Response to Being Denied Nuclear Weapons?

By Russ Wellen

As recently as last month, the term "nuclear apartheid," in all its unsavoriness, reared its ugly head again. Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency denounced the IAEA's approval of a plan for a nuclear fuel bank as "nuclear apartheid" (because of the implied infringement on a state's own nuclear fuel production). For his part, back in 2005 President Ahmadinejad said of nuclear technology, "We're against 'nuclear apartheid,' which means some have the right to possess it, use the fuel, and then sell it to another country for 10 times its value."

When applied to nuclear weapons, the phrase may have been first used by Jaswant Singh, an adviser on defense and foreign affairs to former Prime Minister Vajpayee. In a 1998 Foreign Affairs article titled Against Nuclear Apartheid, he spoke out against nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) enforcement of a regime that, in effect, permits United Nations Security Council states to reserve nuclear weapons for themselves.

When we recall that the term "apartheid" originally referred to legalized segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1993 and, by implication, the noble struggle to roll it back in the name of equal rights, we recoil at using it to refer to matters nuclear, especially weapons programs.

Nevertheless, applying the principle of equal rights to nuclear weapons is an issue to states that aspire to develop nuclear-weapons program. Singh made that crystal clear when, in defense of India's 1998 nuclear tests, he wrote, "India's nuclear policy remains firmly committed to a basic tenet: that the country's national security in a world of nuclear proliferation lies either in global disarmament or in exercise of the principle of equal and legitimate security for all."

On the surface, it's tough to argue with his premise: a nuclear-weapons program for any state that feels the need for one -- or none for any states. What's overlooked, though, is that the NPT came into force in 1970 after the UN Security Council permanent members (the United States, the Soviet Union, the Republic of China, England, and France) had already developed nuclear weapons programs. Unstated is the assumption that had the NPT been drawn up before the dawn of nuclear weapons, it might have prevented their development.

The NPT was an attempt to make the best of a bad situation by capping the number of nuclear states at five while guaranteeing all other states that signed the treaty access to nuclear energy, as well as obligating the nuclear states to gradually disarm (though some feel it only requires that they negotiate "in good faith," not actually disarm). What the non-nuclear states are witness to today is obstacle after obstacle being placed before a state, such as Iran, that signed the NPT and claims that it seeks to develop nuclear energy absent an allied weapons program.

Furthermore, those treaty members that possess weapons seem to be making no substantive steps to divest themselves of them. Does anyone really believe it escapes Iran's notice that New START, the token weapons reductions of which were primarily intended as a confidence-building measure for Russia, was ratified by the United States while it also committed to spend $185 billion on nuclear weapons over the next decade?

But isn't a state such as Iran being disingenuous when it cries nuclear injustice? practitioners of realpolitik, isn't that jejeune? After all, as Shane Maddock wrote in his 2010 book Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present, John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Eisenhower, said, "In the past higher civilizations have always maintained their place against lower civilizations by devising more effective weapons." All's fair in love and war, right?

In a recent paper for the Hudson Institute, Haves and Have-Nots: Unfairness in Nuclear Weapons Possession, Christopher Ford, one of its senior fellows, writes that the unfairness argument is "a cynical rationalization for the destabilizing pursuit of dangerous capabilities." Regarding the NPT:

"Have nots" have surely always coveted powerful tools possessed by the "haves," or at least wished that the "haves" did not possess them. It seems . . . to be a curiously modern phenomenon . . . for non-possessors to articulate such . . . envy and resentment in the moral language of "unfairness," and to assume that this presumed injustice should motivate the "haves" to change their behavior.

Ford places the issue in historical perspective:

If iron had threatened to offer the Vikings an insuperable advantage, would the Skraelings [indigenous peoples of Greenland and Newfoundland -- RW] have been justified in developing a . . . resentment that demanded either the sharing of iron weaponry or Viking disarmament in the name of achieving a global "iron zero"?

More to the point, he writes:

. . . the destructively "special" character of nuclear weaponry cuts against the "unfairness critique" in that it is this very specialness that seems to rob the "have/have not" issue of its moral relevance. . . . No prior technology held the potential to destroy humanity, making nuclear weapons [along with other WMD, a unique phenomenon] to which the conventional "unfairness" critique simply does not very persuasively apply.

Driving the point home, Ford writes that the "existential questions. . . . . utterly swamp the conventional playground morality of unfair 'have/have not' competition.' . . . moreover, it stands to reason that an 'unfair' outcome that nonetheless staves off such horrors is a perfectly good solution." In policy speak: "Questions of stability are far more important than issues of asymmetric distribution."

Closing the circle, Ford points out that:

. . . the hollowness of the "unfairness" argument as applied to nuclear weapons [is itself an argument for the legitimacy] of nonproliferation even if complete nuclear disarmament cannot be achieved. . . . Indeed, I would submit that we lose our moral bearings if we allow "unfairness" arguments to distract us from what is really important here.

Back in 2008, left met right in, surprisingly, an editorial at the British socialist website Workers' Liberty.

The argument that Israel has nuclear weapons and therefore, in "fairness", so should the Arab states and Islamic powers like Iran is nonsense � an argument for the establishment in the region of a "nuclear balance of terror" such as that which existed between the USA and Russia for half a century.

It should be noted that card-carrying socialists, or progressives of any stripe, who espouse apportioning nuclear weapons should, by all rights, be stripped of their cards. To a true leftist, nothing, including injustice, justifies nuclear weapons.

So far, so good with the Workers' Liberty editorial writer. But one paragraph later he or she has fallen into a trap. See if it sounds familiar.

All this would be true whatever the character of the Iranian regime; but it is especially true given the nature of the regime that has ruled in Iran for thirty years. It is a clerical-fascist regime: its leaders are concerned more with their imaginary supernatural world than with this. It is not inconceivable that some of those at the heart of the Iranian state power might come to think of nuclear annihilation in the way that individual homicide bombers think of their own destruction in an explosion they themselves trigger � as a glorious and sure way to reach martyrdom and the martyrs' special place in Paradise.

As you can see, the author is compromising his or her socialist cred by repeating that element of the nuclear equal-rights argument that small states find most offensive. In other words, he or she asserts that only sane states -- "rational actors" -- need apply to develop weapons programs, or more accurately, retain the privilege of having their existing programs, developed outside the NPT, overlooked. Thus are Israel, India, and Pakistan (the sole claim of the last to rationality -- its status as a U.S. ally in The War on Terror -- rapidly eroding along with the structural integrity of its government) posed in opposition to Iran and North Korea.

As Jonathan Schell wrote:

The most dangerous illusion is that "we can hold on to nuclear weapons while at the same time stopping their proliferation to other countries. That is an absolutely unworkable proposition. It just cannot happen in the real world."

In the end, no matter the short term benefits to security, when the West severs the ties that bind disarmament to nonproliferation, it further undermines the trust of the developing world and long-term prospects for international security.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thanks to New START, You Too Can "Ride Out" a Nuclear Attack

By Russ Wellen

When you think of a nuclear treaty such as New START, a decrease in the number of nuclear weapons naturally comes to mind. While that's been true in the past, New START leaves the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia more or less intact. In March 2010 Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists explained at it Strategic Security Blog that:

. . . the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty [thanks to, in part, a] new counting rule that attributes one weapon to each bomber rather than the actual number of weapons assigned to them. [In fact, this] "fake" counting rule frees up a large pool of warhead spaces under the treaty limit that enable each country to deploy many more warheads than would otherwise be the case. . . . Indeed, the New START Treaty is not so much a nuclear�reductions�treaty as it is a verification�and�confidence building�treaty.
(As well as -- anyone familiar with my writing knows -- a mechanism by which Republicans squeezed an $85 billion commitment from the Obama administration to shore up the nuclear-industrial complex over the next decade.)

The confidence-building to which Kristensen alluded is an element of the treaty to which many conservatives objected. With nostalgia for the Cold War still running high among them, they bridled at the extent to which New START signified a "reset" in relations with Russia. Thus, with hawks always willing to poke a stick into the hive of U.S.-Russia relations, it's folly to think that just because the Cold War ended that we've been inoculated against nuclear war with Russia. Especially since the chances of an accident are greater than ever, as I explored in a previous post.

Not to worry, though -- we can always "ride out" a nuclear attack. Ride-out is one of the president's two options in the event of a nuclear attack, neither of which is declared policy, though. First, the other: launch-on-warning. In that scenario, as soon as it believes that it has detected nuclear weapons headed towards it soil, a state mounts a retaliatory strike. In another words, the attacked state isn't waiting around for the decisive confirmation -- which detonation on its soil constitutes -- that the alarm wasn't false.

Ride-out is waiting until struck before retaliating, to keep from responding to a false alarm. Besides, to do otherwise would violate the spirit of deterrence, which stands in opposition to a preemptive attack. Of course, you're wondering if the United States would be in a position to counterattack after the initial nuclear strike on its soil. Not only will our missile silos have been targeted but the nuclear command and control infrastructure.

In a recent paper for the Hudson Institute, Christopher Ford, one of its research fellows, addresses this.

. . . analysts [have] wondered for years whether it was even possible to ensure sufficient nuclear force and C3I [command and control] survivability in the face of the enormous nuclear barrages that were possible at the height of the Cold War. Desmond Ball and John D. Steinbrunner, for instance, argued in the early 1980s that such survivability was, for practical purposes, a fool's errand. . . . As the Soviets put more and more warheads on their missiles . . . it seemed increasingly likely that no such system would be able to survive a full-scale attack.
Back in 2004, writing for his Center for Defense Information, neither was Bruce Blair too sanguine about riding out a nuclear attack.
The option to "ride out" the onslaught and then take stock of the proper course of action exists only on paper. . . . The bias in favor of launch on electronic warning is so powerful that it would take enormously more presidential will to withhold an attack than to authorize it.
Military nuclear commanders designed the hardware and procedures of emergency decision-making to ensure that no president would actually deliberately opt to ride out a Soviet nuclear attack, even though U.S. nuclear policy [as stated above -- RW] endorsed second-strike retaliation � assured destruction � as the essential element of U.S. deterrent strategy. . . . They knew full well that the U.S. nuclear command system would collapse under the weight of such a Soviet first strike. . . . Riding out was not a practical choice in the real world, and so the operational system was geared so that presidential approval to unleash U.S. strategic forces before the first incoming Soviet missile reached America would be obtained.
But, in "today's post-Cold War context," writes Ford, C3I "survivability may be less Quixotic an aspiration." In other words, despite the incremental progress that New START represents, the number of nuclear weapons may now be low enough to enable us to ride out an attack. "It may now be possible," he explains, "for both sides to develop a credible 'ride-out' option � arguably for the first time in decades . . . simultaneously ensuring retaliation and reducing incentives to implement launch on warning."

The term "ride-out" implies a mutual decision about how many casualties are acceptable. Needless to say, no such consensus exists. One man's survival is another's "the living will envy the dead."

More from Ford: "Domestic U.S. civil defense preparations were . . . discontinued" at the height of the Cold War when arsenals were at their largest. The "Kennedy Administration had proposed an extensive civil defense program in 1961, but it soon became clear that most defensive measures could be far more easily and cheaply neutralized by the enemy than created in the first place."

Recently however, the Obama administration has revived the subject of surviving a nuclear attack if you're not at ground zero. On December 15, William Broad wrote in the New York Times:

The government has a surprising new message: Do not flee. Get inside any stable building and don't come out till officials say it's safe. The advice is based on recent scientific analyses showing that a nuclear attack is much more survivable if you immediately shield yourself from the lethal radiation that follows a blast, a simple tactic seen as saving hundreds of thousands of lives. . . .

Administration officials argue that the cold war created an unrealistic sense of fatalism about a terrorist nuclear attack. "It's more survivable than most people think," said an official.

That's if you hold to the prevailing doctrine that terrorists, not a nuclear state (the question of a state arming the terrorists aside), would be the likely source of an attack. The attack would presumably be a fraction of that mounted by a state such as Russia.

Whatever the case, the new emphasis on nuclear survival doesn't sit well with many. In an article for the Atlantic titled The Unexpected Return of Duck and Cover, Glenn Reynolds writes:

But now "duck and cover" is back, not as kitsch but once again as serious advice from the federal government. Faced with growing concerns about a nuclear attack on one or more major cities . . . authorities are once again looking to educate citizens about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. And that advice sounds a lot like what they were saying in my grandfather's day: Duck and cover.
False hope, in other words. At Truthout, Ira Chernus also scoffed at the notion.
The Obama administration wants us to learn to accept the prospect of a major American city destroyed. Its report never even mentions the possibility of averting disaster by changing the U.S. policies that enrage people, whether abroad or at home.
In other words, "negotiating with terrorists" frightens Washington even more than a nuclear attack on American soil.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Nuclear Weapons Just Not Sexy Anymore

By Russ Wellen

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.) Ford speculates on:

. . . the counter-intuitive possibility that progress since the end of the Cold War in reducing the perceived importance and strategic centrality of nuclear weapons and delivery systems [aka missiles -- RW], and the attention given them within the military hierarchy, may itself be increasing accident risks.
Say what? Ford explains.
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. [Such as] the incident in 2007 in which nuclear-armed cruise missiles were mistakenly loaded aboard a B-52 bomber and flown for several hours across the United States.
As hawks and Republican congresspersons are fond of reminding us, this phenomenon seems to apply to the fields of nuclear design and engineering as well. Much of the current workforce is approaching retirement and few young people seem interested in joining a field that seems like it's trending down. If, that is, you believe that New START is a disarmament treaty rather than a vehicle for ensuring the nuclear-weapons industry is funded to the tune of $180 billion over the next decade. In other words, pro-nuclear-weapons advocates have managed to secure the money; they just need bodies.

This passage from San Francisco Chronicle article, though dated (2003), captures the predicament.

Bruce Goodwin 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, the head of the weapons program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the East Bay. "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."

We solicited the perspective of one-time nuclear chemist Cheryl Rofer, who blogs at Phronesisaical. "My guess is that nuclear weapons are still a pretty exciting prospect for a certain subset of astrophysicists and engineers," she said. As long as they don't get wind of how frustrating working for the national laboratories such as Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Lawrence Livermore can be. Ms. Rofer explains.
Smothering of laboratory activity by safety and other regulations is part of it; the lab management culture is another. . . . Then there's simply a loss of direction, which has been happening since arms control set in and nobody bothered to think about how that should or would affect the national labs. I'm not talking about a simplistic "oh dear, they don't love our bombs any more" but a more pragmatic lack of guidance from the national security apparatus to the labs about where they should [then] be going. . . . That has finally been corrected with New START and the latest [Nuclear Posture Review], but too many problems have already set in for a quick recovery. Another problem is a shift in [Department of Energy] attitudes from collaboration with the labs to an insistence on "managing" them, even if the "managers" have no idea of what is needed. Finally, and perhaps most important, there's been a shift in the lab culture from more collaborative to more competitive among the scientists.
A friend, who has worked on nonproliferation initiatives and is now employed in the field of nuclear energy, weighs in next. This individual wishes to remain anonymous.
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. . . .

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.

Echoing Ms. Rofer, she adds:
The management and staff used to be a team � when I worked there I knew everyone in my management chain to the director. Now it's more . . . "us against them" . . . not so great for cutting edge science.
A disarmament advocate might react, "Great, they're hamstringing themselves in the labs. Works for me." In fact, my friend relates:
Some of the most interesting work is in nonproliferation � unfortunately with the loss of nuclear weapons capability it is significantly affecting the expertise needed for nonproliferation. The two go hand-in-hand.
In other words, the same, or similar, scientists and technicians needed to design and develop nuclear weapons are also needed to walk them back. She adds:
We ended up at Los Alamos with a large number of people doing nonproliferation work that had no technical backgrounds and it really showed in their analysis.
Meanwhile, writes Ford, about the military in words that could be equally applied to the science side:
. . . there would seem to be no intrinsic reason that a nuclear force could not remain doctrinally and institutionally "important," superlatively trained and endlessly drilled, well-funded and supplied of state-of-the-art technology, and prized as an "elite" service, even if it shrinks to a small size. Nevertheless, ensuring such continued care, attention, and high-reliability operational effectiveness is apparently not easy, nor is it likely to be anything but expensive.
Nuclear weapons just needs its brand polished. In the end, though, the most natural form of disarmament of all might be attrition. What if they gave a nuclear-weapons program and nobody came?

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Does Prague Stop With START?

By Russ Wellen
"There's just been no talk about that right now, none whatsoever."

Thus spake John Kerry, who led the Senate campaign for New START ratification as reported by David Sanger of the New York Times when asked about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. At his famous Prague speech in April 2009 that buoyed the hopes of many in the disarmament community, President Obama said, among other things that he would seek U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (on nuclear-weapons testing).

Like many on the left we're usually less than sanguine about Sanger, with his tendency to bend to the prevailing winds, but this article is straightforward.

[New START] was initially envisioned as a speed bump on�President Obama's nuclear agenda, a modest reduction in nuclear forces that would enable him to tackle much harder issues on the way to his dream of eventually eliminating�nuclear weapons altogether.

It turned out to be a mountain. . . . his own aides acknowledge that the lesson of the battle over the treaty is that the political divide on national security is widening. . . . "If the Start treaty was this hard, you can only imagine how difficult the rest will be," said William J. Perry, a secretary of defense during the Clinton administration and one of the four former cold warriors who helped formulate the goal of a world without nuclear weapons that Mr. Obama has embraced.

Couple this with the $185 billion* for nuclear weapons which the Obama administration has proposed for 2011 (in part to win Republican votes for New START) and it's almost as if New START is the beginning of the end of the disarmament movement. Or at least of this second phase after the first phase of ban-the-bomb and nuclear freeze grassroots movements. In his recent paper for the Western States Legal foundation, The START Treaty and Disarmament: a Dilemma in Search of a Debate, Andrew Lichterman sheds some light on the current phase.
A recent U.S. Congressional Research Service catalog of U.S. arms control agreements begins with this statement: "Arms control and nonproliferation efforts are two of the tools that have occasionally been used to implement U.S. national security strategy." This reflects a far more realistic view of what arms control is than seems to prevail among NGO disarmament professionals today [most of whom] seem to have lost sight of the fact that. . . . arms control is little more than the pursuit of military advantage by diplomatic means. Working for disarmament, in contrast, means opposing destructive weaponry . . . without favoring the concerns of elites. . . .

Most who do [the] kind of professionalized interest group campaigning and advocacy [that passes for] disarmament work act as if this decline of civil society and the rise of an oligarchic politics . . . is inevitable, something to be adapted to rather than struggled against.

In July, at MRZine, Darwin BondGraham of the Los Alamos Study Group zeroed in on an example, the Ploughshares Fund, about which, he begins, "In spite of its name, Ploughshares' mission these days actually involves beating ploughs into swords."
Throughout the 1990s, but especially during the George W. Bush years, Ploughshares and its circle of foundations called the�Peace and Security Funders Group�increasingly narrowed the range of acceptable anti-nuclear activism, while simultaneously ghettoizing the field so that the work of various NGOs became less and less applicable to social justice and economic development issues, and increasingly focused on abstract global problems and hypotheticals, such as the possible use of nuclear weapons. In the process, discussions of the injustices of the global political economy and how nuclear weapons fit into it were silenced. Anti-nuclear activism became increasingly specialized, boring, and disconnected from issues that affect people's everyday lives. Arms control eclipsed abolition as the rallying cry. [Emphasis added.]
Back to Lichterman:
No disarmament movements capable of having even the kind of modest effects of the very large, visible Cold War-era anti-nuclear movements exist today. . . . Most who do [the] kind of professionalized interest group campaigning and advocacy prevalent in. . . . disarmament work act as if [the] decline of civil society and the rise of an oligarchic politics . . . is inevitable, something to be adapted to rather than struggled against.
What's to replace the current era of the disarmament specialist?
The requisite vision and analysis of cause and effect will not be developed in conversations among ambitious policy professionals with an eye to what moves them up the career ladder in Washington D.C. [Meanwhile, in] those instances [in the past] where pressure from disarmament movements may have played a significant role in obtaining arms control treaties, there was far more going on than lobbying campaigns backing the treaties. Instead, there were large movements with far more sweeping demands, from those who called for Banning the Bomb . . . to the international peace and disarmament movements of the 1980's [both of which] were intertwined . . . with other social movements.

Rebuilding such movements will require. . . . . a redirection of resources away from centers of corporate, political, and military power down to where the rest of us live, starting over again in the long hard task of building movements that can give us power and voice.

*$85 billion is for nuclear weapons R&D; $100 billion is for delivery systems over the same period. (Thanks to Andrew Lichterman for enlightening me.)

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Torture and the Ticking Time Bomb (Read: Nuclear) Scenario

By Russ Wellen

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.

In fact, such a movie, was made by Australian director Gregor Jordan, but, apparently deemed unfit for theatrical release, it went straight to video. One viewer wrote of The Unthinkable: "Glib, pretentious and cynical, this is both unpleasant and insufferable." But this viewer found it thought-provoking.

The film's plot differs from the shopworn scenario in that the perpetrators are fewer: one man -- an Anglo former member of special operations forces with nuclear knowledge turned radical Islamist. But the number of bombs is greater: three, says Yusuf, aka Stephen Arthur Younger. To back up his threat if his as yet unspecified demands aren't met, he films himself with what he claims to be a nuclear bomb, complete with a timer that has been set.

Younger, played by Welsh actor Michael Sheen, soon allows himself to be captured in Los Angeles, presumably to enhance the platform from which he will attempt to get his demands met. Brought to what appears to be an evacuated school, he's handed over to black ops torturer Henry Humphries. Known as "H," he's played by Samuel Jackson, compelling as always and, in fact, underplaying what could be easily be an over-the-top role. H's foil is Helen Brody, played by Carrie-Ann Moss, of the FBI, which prides itself on getting results without torture.

The phrase "torture porn" has been invoked to describe The Unthinkable. True, it features plenty of tasering and, as well, severed fingertips are shown. But when it comes to atrocity exhibitions, it's not in the same league as, say (the author imagines without actually seeing), the Hostel series.

One scene, though, shocks, but -- handled without gore -- only because it's unexpected. Without revealing its nature (because -- spoiler alert, as they say -- I'm about to give away the rest of the movie), I'll note that, to the discerning viewer, it supplants the question of torture momentarily. But torture returns to the foreground when the meaning of the movie's title, The Unthinkable, reveals itself.

Try to imagine torture at its most degraded and demented. Dental drilling a la The Marathon Man? Bringing harm to the sexual organs? No, think who, not what. When Younger, with his special forces training, proves impervious to torture on his person, H calls for his children to be brought to the site.

H believes that Younger has foreseen every contingency. In fact, Younger had expected his family to be out of harm's way on a plane to Saudi Arabia, but his Muslim wife and children were denied visas. (Small flaw in the plot: The last thing Saudi Arabia, particularly in light of recent efforts to root out al Qaeda in its midst, would want is to welcome the family of a nuclear terrorist in its midst. It would likely have extradited Younger's family to the United States -- or what remained of it after the nuclear explosions. Younger should have known this.)

When his children are escorted into the interrogation room, Younger becomes distraught and gives up the locations of a bomb in Los Angeles, as well as in New York City. (Authorities had already located one in Dallas.) The officials at the interrogation site allow themselves to hope that the threat is winding down. However, H remains suspicious that, even in his reduced state, Younger has something up his sleeve. Then H realizes that not all the missing enriched uranium from Russia that Younger used to make his bombs hasn't been accounted for in the three known bombs. Enough remains for Younger to have manufactured a fourth bomb. (Another flaw in the plot: authorities just might have noticed that little detail.)

When Brody refuses to return the children to the interrogation room, H, apparently grandstanding, unstraps Younger and informs him that he's free. But Younger manages to get hold of a sidearm and skills himself. FBI agent Brody leads Younger's children out of the site and the film ends. It seems anti-climactic and an alternate ending for the movie was created, providing, from the account I read, no more satisfaction on the surface. But was it necessary to depict the last bomb detonating most likely in middle America?

Aside from ending the torture and eliminating the risk that he might crack and give up the last bomb, what did Younger achieve by shooting himself? In fact, by giving up the location of the Los Angeles bomb, he removed his children from harm's way. Also, because he's dead, information can't be extracted from him by torturing his children.

After the movie ends, you make an accounting: who was right -- those pro or those against torture? Let's do the math. The FBI discovered one bomb (25% of the threat), torture produced two bombs (50%), and one fell through the cracks. The argument, however, can be made that if Younger were still alive he'd be even more likely to give up that last bomb to ensure the safety of his children. Let's then rate torture 75% successful.

True, it's insidious that watching The Unthinkable left this viewer more interested in calculating a score for torture than debating whether it was justified. To reiterate, the sui generis-ness of the scenario seems to make approving torture in this situation as free of ethical concerns as killing zombies. Or am I just making an excuse for myself?

This question was explored in 2006 and again in 2008 by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explored this question. First, though, its disclaimer:

It is important to stress here that the kind of scenario under discussion remains that of the one-off case of torture in an emergency situation; what is not under consideration in this section is legalised, or otherwise institutionalised, torture.
The treatise proper begins:
. . . The central claim of the proponents of "practical moral absolutes" seems to be [that] ticking bomb scenarios, such as our above-described terrorist case � and other relevant one-off emergencies in which torture seems to be justified � have not, and will not, happen. . . . [But] it is not simply a philosopher's fanciful example.
To outline the justification:
(1) The police reasonably believe that torturing the terrorist will probably save thousands of innocent lives; (2) the police know that there is no other way to save those lives; (3) the threat to life is imminent; (4) the thousands about to be murdered are innocent � the terrorist has no good, let alone decisive, justificatory moral reason for murdering them [as if one could possibly exist -- RW].
. . . the terrorist is in the process of completing his . . . action of murdering thousands of innocent people. . . . the terrorist is more akin to someone in the process of murdering an innocent person, and refusing to refrain from doing so. [Emphasis added.]
In other words, another individual in the act of murder might be shot by the police. Still:
. . . someone might hold that killing is an absolute moral wrong, i.e., killing anyone � no matter how guilty � is never morally justified. This view is consistent with holding that torture is an absolute moral wrong, i.e. torturing anyone � no matter how guilty � is never morally justified. However, the price of consistency is very high.
Moral absolutism takes consistency to its extreme like, say, nuclear weapons takes killing to its extreme. Both push past the point of absurdity. In the end:
. . . it is difficult to see how torturing (but not killing) the guilty terrorist and saving the lives of thousands could be morally worse than refraining from torturing him and allowing him to murder thousands.
To repeat, the scenario may be too unique to have practical value.

In a postscript, The Unthinkable features a moment that has all the trappings of an inside joke. The demands that Younger finally reveals require the president to announce a cessation of support for what he calls�puppet governments in Middle Eastern countries and a withdrawal of American troops from the Middle East. The president's man responds to Brody and H that that he can't report the demands to the president since it's a declared policy of the United States to refuse to negotiate with terrorist. This viewer's response? Go Younger!

In fact, the sympathy director Jordan invokes in us for a nuclear terrorist is even more insidious than making it easy for us to accept torture.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Are Nonproliferation and Disarmament, Once Joined at the Hip, Headed for Divorce?

By Russ Wellen

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.)

Yet many maintain that Article VI does not, in fact, commit nuclear-weapons states to a long-term divestment of those weapons. Christopher Ford of the Hudson Institute outlined this position as well as anybody in a Nonproliferation Review article that he wrote shortly after he left the Bush administration as its lead negotiator on the NPT. Negotiations toward that end in themselves, he wrote, are sufficient for a state to be in compliance with Article VI. In the years since, such as in a recent piece for his website, New Paradigms Forum, titled Disarmament Versus Nonproliferation?, he's written about how nonproliferation doesn't necessarily follow in the wake of disarmament.

For those who are believers in what I call the "credibility thesis" -- that is, the idea that a lack of progress in demonstrating disarmament "credibility" is the main "missing ingredient" that has helped ensure that the post-Cold War world has seen so little progress in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons -- this must have been a disheartening year.�. . . as I have outlined elsewhere, our disarmament push seems to have won us no real progress.
Before we address if and why it was a "disheartening year," we'll note that the "elsewhere" Ford outlined our lack of nonproliferation progress is yet another piece he wrote titled Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation, and the "Credibility Thesis". It reads, in part:
First, [the credibility thesis] explicitly assumes that the commitment of the NWS [nuclear weapons states] to the ideal of disarmament lacks credibility, and implicitly assumes that the United States is both the most important locus of the problem and the key to its resolution. Second, it assumes that if this disarmament "credibility gap" is closed, it will be possible to meet today's proliferation threats much more effectively and with a much wider base of diplomatic support. [But the] postulated "catalytic effect" of disarmament progress in support of nonproliferation policy is usually described as being an indirect effect, and rightly so. With good reason, few people seriously argue that countries such as Iran and North Korea seek nuclear weapons simply because the United States or other NWS possess such devices themselves, and that proliferators' interest in such devices would accordingly diminish if only the United States reduced its arsenal further. It is sometimes alleged in disarmament circles that NWS possession of nuclear weapons, merely by making them "legitimate," encourages proliferation.
In the recent New Paradigms Forum piece, he wonders . . .
Where, one might ask, is the credibility-derived "payoff" in nonproliferation cooperation for U.S. progress and leadership in this field to date? And what reason do we have to believe, in its absence, that such a payoff will materialize in the future?
This usage of the term "credibility" is almost unique to Ford. The only other instance we found was by Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee, who, last spring, referred to a credibility gap between President Obama's disarmament vows and his actions. To put it another way, Gerson doesn't seem to believe that the United States is showing sufficient disarmament leadership, or setting a strong enough example, in following the letter of the law of Article VI, to convince states desirous of nuclear weapons that their covetousness is misplaced. He represents the view of not only much of the disarmament community, but the Non-Aligned Movement (an organization of states not aligned with major power blocs).

Ford acknowledges those agents in the recent article.

There will surely be those who will argue that the credibility thesis has yet�truly�to be tested -- that is, who will chalk up the world's failure to unite in solving all these problems to our failure to do more, and more quickly, in moving toward "zero."� A global united front in support of vigorous nonproliferation would�really have materialized, it will be said, if we had only done more�to disarm.
It must be acknowledged that not only does Ford understand disarmament advocates like few other conservatives, but, odds are, his judgment is sound when he asserts that whether or not we disarm has no bearing whatsoever on the plans of states that hope to acquire or develop nuclear weapons. Still, it behooves us to look at the issue from the vantage point of a small nation, to which 50 nuclear weapons is the stuff of daydreams. The 1,500 to which new START binds Russia and the United States (if ratified by the Senate, which looks less and less likely since the elections) still constitutes an arsenal unimaginable in its immensity.

Furthermore, to the "street" in those nations, the idea that not only can't you have nuclear weapons when others do, but that the nation with the most nukes is leading the call to deprive you of any, not only violates your sense of fair play at its most fundamental level, but is capable of inducing outright cognitive dissonance. In addition, while, deep down, the nation's statesmen likely share those sentiments, they may also feel that the reading of Article IV alluded to above is, at worst, counterintuitive; at best, legalistic.

That kind of hairsplitting scarcely becomes a superpower-slash-world leader in disarmament. Besides, as Jonathan Schell says, the most dangerous illusion is that "we can hold on to nuclear weapons while at the same time stopping their proliferation to other countries. That is an absolutely unworkable proposition. It just cannot happen in the real world."

What's more, attempting to enforce nonproliferation while you still retain 1,500 weapons plus for your personal deterrence is yet another reminder to a small nation of its second-class citizenship as a state. After all, prestige might even be the better part of nuclear aspiration. (Note to nuclear-weapons states: when it comes to throwing small states off the nuclear scent, sharing research in such cutting-edge areas as nanotechnology might, when combined with disarmament, work synergistic wonders.)

On top of everything else we've come up with an ingenious force multiplier for our hypocrisy -- the $80 billion Obama has committed to nuclear modernization over the next decade to win Republican Senate votes to raitfy START. We vastly underestimate Tehran if we think this is lost on the mullahs. In fact, they can be forgiven for perceiving new START as a smoke screen (however thin) for what really is more of a strategic retrenchment in our commitment to nuclear weapons than a rejection of them. Nothing says we're into nuclear weapons for the long haul better than watered-down treaties and the compromises we make to secure them.

Still, there's no denying the legitimacy of the conservative argument that the urgency of nonproliferation precludes waiting around for substantive disarmament which, if it's actually happening, seems to be unfolding over a timetable spanning generations. But proliferation, with nuclear Big Brother -- the International Atomic Energy Association -- looking over the shoulder of states like Iran, while the nuclear black market is a shadow of what it once was, is proceeding at a glacial pace as well. One reason that the American public is skeptical that Iran isn't close to developing nuclear weapons is that it can't understand what's taking a large state so long to get up to speed on a 60-year old technology.

Of course, nonproliferation can be enforced much more quickly than disarmament can be generated -- by attacking the offending state. But the military road to absolute nonproliferation is closed, in the case of Iran, for instance, because social norms on the part of the United States prevent it from mounting a massive enough attack (read: high civilian casualties) to keep Iran's nuclear program from rising from the ashes -- and, this time, unfettered by international constraints it would now disdain. Thus disarmament moves not much more slowly than nonproliferation.

Whether or not disarmament discourages proliferation is immaterial -- it's our only recourse. Besides, does anybody think the time will come when small states will actually pass the United States on the up nuclear escalator while it's on the down escalator to disarmament? The United States would push the emergency shut-off button to disarmament in a heartbeat.

In the end, what the chorus of the Cahn-Van Heusen song reminds us about love and marriage can also be applied to nonproliferation and disarmament: "Try, try, try to separate them, it's an illusion."

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Opposition to New START Pits Republicans Against Traditional Allies

By Russ Wellen

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.

But, let's view national security through the lens of conventional thinking and see how Republican opposition to New START looks. Oddly, Republicans have been less concerned about the actual numbers of deployed warheads reduced than with counting technicalities which they feel leaves Russia at an advantage. Aside from that, at first glance, opposition to New START is consistent with Republican values because it:

  • Demonstrates continued belief in the importance of nuclear weapons to national security.
  • In an effort to keep the Cold War view of Russia-United States relations alive, it stays Washington's hand as it edges ever closer to the Russia "reset" button.
We didn't include "because it stands in opposition to the Democrats" since the reflexive obstructionism with which Republicans in the House and Senate respond to Democrat's initiatives is of comparatively recent vintage, dating back to the Gingrich revolution. About Republican opposition to New START Paul Krugman wrote: "if sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it." You've no doubt seen or heard many New START supporters make that argument. In that vein, what follows are responses to Republicans who operate under the assumption that they make up the national-security party.

If continuing without on-site inspection of Russian nuclear weapons, which expired with old START a year ago, is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then vote no on New START. Rebuffed on New START, Moscow might consider rescinding its support for the latest U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran and, as well, change its mind about that air defense system it had cancelled on behalf of U.S.-Russia relations. If that's your idea of a sound national-security strategy, then, please, vote no. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the National Jewish Democratic Council favor ratification of New START for the same reason. If threatening Israeli national security is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then don't hesitate to vote no.

Despite Republican objections to New START on the grounds that it impedes missile defense, the administration has not only inserted language into the treaty's preamble to keep it from interfering with missile defense, but seeks $700 million more for missile defense in 2011. If using that as a pretext to oppose New START is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then vote no.

If a rebuffed Russia deciding to disallow U.S. and NATO from continuing to use its territory and airspace as a supply route to Afghanistan is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then vote no. If throwing away an opportunity to strengthen Russian President Medvedev's hand at home at the expense of the more autocratic Russian Prime Minister�Vladimir Putin is your idea of a sound national-security strategy, then vote no.

Under the Nunn-Lugar Umbrella Agreement, the United States and Russia have agreed to continue the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program for decommissioning WMD from the former Soviet Union states while ratification of the New START Treaty is pursued. But Senator Lugar himself said that "it is unlikely that Moscow would sustain cooperative efforts indefinitely without the New START Treaty coming into force." If endangering Nunn-Lugar is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then, by all means, vote no.

In the end, Republican strategy on New START may not turn out to be refusing to ratify New START, but, deficit hawks or no, extorting every last penny it can from the Obama administration for nuclear modernization before finally voting yes. We briefly interrupt this expose of the Republicans idea of a sound national-security policy to advise them that, if this is your idea of sound fiscal policy, then vote yes.

In the end, Republican balking at ratification of New START may be strictly in the service of helping to ensure a Republican victory in the next presidential election. They will then be free to engage in that other form of obstructionism so dear to them -- an aversion to treaties in general. The ratification process for New START is yet more confirmation that the Republican party, as it's currently constructed, is constitutionally incapable of conceding that the rival party has anything at all of merit to offer. Furthermore, when their actions run counter to not only the consensus view on national security, but their own, it's apparent that what they once referred to as "creative destruction" has less to do with politics than with breaking toys. Clearly, calling in in the social sciences in an attempt to make sense of their behavior is a course of action that's long overdue.

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Front Line of Disarmament: Blocking a Nuclear Facility Six Times the Cost of the Manhattan Project

By Russ Wellen

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.

The CMRR, writes Greg Mello in a press release, "was marketed to Congress as a $350 million building [but] has grown to an estimated $4.3 billion." The "per square foot of useful space has grown to�more than 100 times�what [Los Alamos's] existing plutonium facility cost in 1978, in constant dollars [adjusted for inflation]."

How, you're probably wondering, in these economic times, could we be embarking on an endeavor more vast than the Manhattan Project? If we were, shouldn't it be, instead of weapons, a flagship form of alternative energy?

Cognitive dissonance on our part aside, over the years, LASG devised a plan with the help of a law firm. Under the National Environmental Policy Act they filed suit to stop all funding for and work on the CMRR until a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was prepared. Nor is this just a legal maneuver: a new EIS is sorely needed.

"The Los Alamos Study Group," reads the the original suit for an EIS (apologies for yet more abbreviations), "alleges that the DOE [Department of Energy] and NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] have violated the National Environmental Protection Act [NEPA] by preparing to construct [the CMRR] without an applicable [EIS]. . . . NNSA wrote an EIS for an earlier version of the facility in 2003. At that time the facility was to cost one-tenth as much, use one-fiftieth as much concrete, take one-fourth the time to build, and entail far fewer environmental impacts.

In fact:

Many of the project's difficulties can be traced to just a few major causes. . . . Changes . . . helped drive the proposed facility underground [not figuratively, literally] -- into a thick stratum of loose volcanic ash which cannot support it. [Especially since the] magnitude and frequency of earthquakes expected at the site has increased dramatically, requiring much heavier construction.
Said construction would entail (emphasis added):
� A new excavated depth of 125 feet . . . and replacement of an entire geologic stratum beneath the building with 225,000 cubic yards of concrete and grout;
� . . . 29-fold increases . . . in structural concrete and steel;
� Greatly increased total acreage, sprawling over many technical areas at LANL;
� Anywhere from 20,000 to 110,000 heavy truck trips to and from Los Alamos County;
� A decade-long construction schedule, up from less than 3 years
Bear in mind that the United States already has "approximately 24,000 . . . tested, stockpiled pits for each delivery system" and "these pits last essentially forever." LASG "believes there are many simpler, cheaper, faster, less risky, and less environmentally damaging alternatives to [the CMRR, which] let alone any other . . . is poorly justified from the nuclear deterrence perspective."

Has LASG's strategy proven effective? On November 15 Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor reported (emphasis added):

The National Nuclear Security Administration has suspended all procurements related to the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility while the agency updates the environmental analysis of the multi-billion-dollar facility. . . . The move . . . could jeopardize the laboratory's plans to complete work . . . for the project in 2011. . . .

Spurred in part by a push from New Mexico nuclear watchdogs including an ongoing lawsuit by the Los Alamo Study Group -- the NNSA announced in September that it was preparing a Supplemental [EIS] for the CMRR. [Said Supplemental] hasn't satisfied the Los Alamos Study Group, which is still pursuing its lawsuit and pushing for the NNSA to redo the EIS rather than simply update it. . . . But the [NNSA] study will also include an examination of the alternative of not building the project at all, but rather modifying the existing Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building.

The first highlighted phrase shows the effect that LASG is having on the NNSA. The second shows how pragmatic LASG's tactics are. Although total disarmament is its ultimate goal, it keeps its eye on the first line of defense: curbing expansion and waste at Los Alamos.

"The simple hallmark of good policy, is to spend less money"

I contacted Greg Mello and asked him to expand on LASG's strategy. To begin with, he states in one of his press releases:

CMRR . . . should not be desirable to weapons administrators because there are much better, less managerially risky, cheaper, and safer facility options for preserving U.S. nuclear weapons. [And we] have already developed a set of reasonable alternatives to this facility and anticipate working productively with the review team and with Congress.
I just wanted to hear Mello confirm in his own words that the underlying strategy behind the above statements is to walk the world back toward disarmament by working with the nuclear-industrial complex one step at a time. His reply, with my annotation and emphases, follows. Excuse the prejudicial statement, but let's hope that you find it as brimming with insight as I did.
Consider the matter from two perspectives: a) values, or timelessness, or eternity if you want to put it that way, or an ideal; and b) historical process, management reality, political decisions today, or realpolitik. [Most of our work] addresses both. We have to.

If we express only absolutist "positions" . . . we will play into the hands of the "antinuclear nuclearists,"* which is a militarist strategy designed in part to emphasize, or capitalize upon, an absence of realpolitik. We will be easily manipulated.

*Anti-nuclear nuclearism, as LASG defines it, is "a foreign and military policy that relies upon overwhelming U.S. power, including the nuclear arsenal, but makes rhetorical and even some substantive commitments to disarmament, however vaguely defined." Mello continues.
I think we must try to place ourselves in the position of those in government who make real decisions, and offer steps . . . to embody our values. . . . . We are not more pure than they are. . . . . They have a job to do and we have to help them or we are not doing our job.�. . .

At present, effective steps toward disarmament and effective steps toward more effective management of the nuclear enterprise can be the same. How? . . . NNSA believes it must modernize the arsenal, replace old weapons with newly-designed ones, and provide the capability for large-scale manufacturing. It is these goals which drive about one-third to half the existing budget, and all the budget increases proposed by Obama and demanded by Republicans. Wiping out these goals would wipe about about 60% of Los Alamos and most of Livermore.�Sandia would be affected much less, and the plants much less still.


Wiping out all this spending would bring us toward rationality overall and within NNSA.�We would [still] be dealing with an abusive, violent relative, to be sure, but he would not also be drunk.

Mello provides more little-known insights into the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Officially, NNSA has a goal of nuclear disarmament, since the [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] was signed and entered into force. . . . It also has a goal of nuclear weapons sustainment.�[Significantly, though, it] does not yet quite have a goal of modernization, but is sidling there. NNSA ignores the disarmament side of its mission. It could decrease the dissonance by construing its [supposed] deterrence goal [even] in a conservative manner. That would help disarmament a lot.

We find that all parties who want to understand us (as opposed to those who seek to harm us, which are unreachable anyway), from the hard-core abolitionists, of which we are one, to active weapons managers, understand all this pretty well and respect our attempt to reconcile God and man as it were.

The golden road right now, the simple hallmark of good policy, is to spend less money. This is almost an absolute good, as I see it.�Money spent equals the value of nuclear weapons in society,�mas o minus.�The chief distinguishing characteristic of the co-opted is that they want to build up in order to build down. They want to build up the [Nevada Test site] budget or the Pantex [nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly plant] budget in order to increase the rate of dismantlement, for example.

Wrong.�Dismantlement eats into [life extension programs], at present, which is just fine. That's how it should be.�It's a real tradeoff. Why decrease the pressure on NNSA to choose? They want to build new factories in New Mexico, increasing the budget "in the short run," while there are perfectly good facilities elsewhere.�Wrong. The Weapons Activities budget is far too big and should decrease monotonically. . . .

What is real is effectively symbolic. What is merely symbolic is not real. (A dictum of ours this year.)

So who is the audience, you will ask?�That has to sort itself out. The masses are powerless, uninterested, and disengaged, so -- not them.

Politically, I think we must all recognize that we cannot push what we ourselves need to do onto some posited others who will not ever act politically in any meaningful way, just a sort of "pretend" activity aimed at the next foundation grant, etc.�There is a huge difference between reaching to others politically, for actual, effective political action, and reaching to others for mere legitimization of an elite perspective, career, or institution.

Which, in the end, is why LASG has demonstrated proven effectiveness -- as opposed to impotence on the part of certain disarmament organizations to which he alludes in the preceding paragraph.

In LASG's November 23 press release, Mello describes the cost and scale of the CMRR as "a bellwether for our society. At those unprecedented prices something -- our society or the project -- has to break. . . . That's part of the point.The folks planning this thing at LANL know perfectly well the sorry state of federal finance. Nevertheless they are bending every effort to make sure the federal government is fully vested in this project�before�the full crisis hits. Their primary consideration is to make sure they, and the rest of nation's nuclear establishment, end up on top.�Social needs, renewable energy, avoiding climate catastrophe, and in final analysis human survival -- all these are expendable goals, just like they have always been in the nuclear bomb business."

First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.