November 10, 2006
DefenseTech notes that
the wonks at the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Federation of American Scientists have teamed up to make a Google Earth map of the nearly nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal.The map can be viewed on GoogleMaps here, or can be downloaded for GoogleEarth (which is itself free) here. [I prefer the GoogleEarth version, as it is less cluttered with other place names].
The satellite map - drawn from this Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists study -- "offers a fresh accounting of the extensive U.S. nuclear inventory, and its dynamic graphics let site users 'fly' onscreen across a sprawling network of military facilities in 12 states and in Europe," a press release reads.
One of the sites is the Pantex facility, outside Amarillo, TX. Robert Kaplan visited Pantex in the mid-1990s and wrote about the experience in his book An Empire Wilderness: Travels Into America's Future. He is escorted throughout the facility, and has an opportunity to interview four of the workers who disassemble nuclear weapons. Here's the Pantex facility . . .
. . . about which, Kaplan said this:
Say what you will about the logic, or illogic, of being able to destroy human civilization many times over; or about the cancer-causing radioactivity that the U.S. nuclear weapons program inflicted on its own citizens in the 1950s and after; or about other abuses that may have occurred over the decades. Still, never before in history, certainly not under any of the great bureaucratic despotisms of ancient Egypt of China, not in Aztec Mexico, not even in the vast death apparatuses of Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany, has so much destructive power been overseen so seamlessly and politely, with press tours given to any journalist who bothers to phone in advance and can prove American citizenship.
Will the United States be around as long as these weapons exist and the plutonium cores remain lethal? Even after hundreds of years, some sort of government bureaucracy will be necessary to furnish maps of their underground locations. Even if science discovers a way to remove all the radioactivity instantly, that process, too, would require rigid government oversight. Moreover, the possibility that the coming century will see the elimination of nuclear weapons is unlikely: "Nations prefer familiar uncertainties to thoroughly unfamiliar leaps in the dark," said Hard professor Stanley Hoffman. Can the city council of Amarillo or even the state of Texas be trusted to oversee Pantex? I think not. That is the conundrum. The collapse of distances and the increasing interconnectedness of the world economy argue against the permanence of Washington. The visit to Pantex made it clear to me that the future (if there is to be one) will depend on the transformation of the federal government into an as-yet-undiscovered alloy -- a far more flexible, lightweight version of itself -- so as to appear almost invisible, even as it retains the power to oversee not only nuclear weapons but, for example, ever-scarce water resources. Whether this is likely, who can say?
If Kaplan's musings are relevant to the United States, then one begins to see the smallest glimpse of the future problems that the nuclear programs of regimes such as North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran will cause us. What of nuclear storage facilities that are but a few dozen miles from Waziristan right now? What of North Korean facilities for which there is no government map or diagram?
In Iraq I once witnessed the accidental eruption of a large ammunition storage facility. It spanned acres and acres of hard, cracked dirt, with bunkers spaced here and there. Inside each one, remarkably cool given the outside temperature, were row upon row of Soviet-era munitions of all kinds: mortar and artillery shells, land mines, rockets for various purposes, ad infinitum. There were dozens of such bunkers. I had the opportunity to visit this area one day and did so. Even though on a battalion staff, I liked to go see the places where our Marine engineers would be working, so I'd know what I was talking about when they sent updates and so forth.
One morning around 9am, I was sitting at my desk doing regular stuff when the ammo point, at least two or so miles away, began to explode. As senior officers raced toward the site to check on our folks, I ran to the roof of my building to see what was happening. The entire site was going up. Even from a two-mile distance, I could feel the heat from the blasts.
After returning to the US, I realized when the IEDs started that it was sites like the one I had visited that were providing much of the materiel.
What sorts of IEDs will come out of Pakistan's ammo dumps if Musharraf's regime ever falls? Or from Yongbyon, should Kim depart the scene?
Kaplan says, "Even after hundreds of years, some sort of government bureaucracy will be necessary to furnish maps of their underground locations," and speaks of "the transformation of the federal government into an as-yet-undiscovered alloy -- a far more flexible, lightweight version of itself -- so as to appear almost invisible, even as it retains the power to oversee . . . nuclear weapons."
Yet perhaps this post itself hints at what the answer might truly be. Today, those who stumble upon the Federation of American Scientists page, or DefenseTech, or this blog, can find a GoogleMap of the locations of all American nuclear stockpiles. What might be available to such surfers in 5 years? Or 10? Is it not possible that instead of a government bureaucracy that serves as the caretaker and guardian of such knowledge, perhaps instead some other form of human organization -- something more organic, spontaneously ordered, and resilient -- will take its place?
November 2, 2006
The Final Surprise: El-Baradei Strikes Again
The New York has launched its final, pre-weekend October Surprise of the silly season. An article entitled U.S. Web Archive Is Said to Reveal a Nuclear Guide has just been posted on its site, and is getting the all caps, red text treatment from the Drudge Report. The article alleges that the US archive of seized Iraqi documents, released on the internet in March of 2006, contained some documents with detailed plans for the construction of nuclear weapons.
The documents, roughly a dozen in number, contain charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that nuclear experts who have viewed them say go beyond what is available on the Internet and in other public forums. For instance, the papers give detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs.The Times is careful to note that these plans were from before the first Gulf War.
But in recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.The alarm was raised by the IAEA, according to the Times.
In September, the Web site began posting the nuclear documents, and some soon raised concerns. On Sept. 12, it posted a document it called “Progress of Iraqi nuclear program circa 1995.” That description is potentially misleading since the research occurred years earlier.
The Iraqi document is marked “Draft FFCD Version 3 (20.12.95),” meaning it was preparatory for the “Full, Final, Complete Disclosure” that Iraq made to United Nations inspectors in March 1996. The document carries three diagrams showing cross sections of bomb cores, and their diameters.
On Sept. 20, the site posted a much larger document, “Summary of technical achievements of Iraq’s former nuclear program.” It runs to 51 pages, 18 focusing on the development of Iraq’s bomb design. Topics included physical theory, the atomic core and high-explosive experiments. By early October, diplomats and officials said, United Nations arms inspectors in New York and their counterparts in Vienna were alarmed and discussing what to do.
The diplomats "were alarmed and discussing what to do." It seems obvious, does it not, to pick up the phone and call your nearest American colleague and tell him he's got an anarchist's cookbook up on his internet? Certainly no government official who expects to keep his job would sit on such information? If, as the Times notes, the documents in question were only a dozen or so in number, then would it not take the retasking of a couple of translators and perhaps 6 hours of time from a nuclear physicist to determine if the documents in question are what the diplomats suspected them to be?
Or does one sit on this information for a few weeks, instead picking up the phone to the New York Times, and craft yet another October Surprise?
It's not impossible. In fact, it happened before -- two years ago, with the same agency! The IAEA, that is. The IAEA played a big part in the last October Surprise by the New York Times -- the aptly named Al Qaqaa story, now safely ensconced behind the TimesSelect firewall. The abstract notes, "International Atomic Energy Agency warned of danger of these explosives before war . . ."
There is one other aspect of the Times story that seems strange. The documents in question are described by -- surprise! -- an anonymous intelligence official, like this:
A senior American intelligence official who deals routinely with atomic issues said the documents showed “where the Iraqis failed and how to get around the failures.” The documents, he added, could perhaps help Iran or other nations making a serious effort to develop nuclear arms, but probably not terrorists or poorly equipped states. The official, who requested anonymity because of his agency’s rules against public comment, called the papers “a road map that helps you get from point A to point B, but only if you already have a car.”Doesn't this buttress the argument that Saddam could easily have restarted his nuclear weapons program if the sanctions regime collapsed? If the Arabic documents can show Iran's scientists how to get around failures, then surely they could show Iraq's?
Another question: why were the nuke documents only begun to be released in September and earlier October? Where were they until then?
Tomorrow will be yet another interesting day in the silly season.
October 17, 2006
Collapses and Coups
The world should not be surprised by a Chinese-sponsored coup in North Korea.
Consider two assumptions: first, that of all the countries surrounding North Korea, China by far possesses the most levers of influence. It shares a long border with North Korea; provides food aid and other types of logistics support to North Korea; has a treaty with North Korea, calling it a "friend"; has a shared ideological background; has cooperated on some military matters; and so forth. Not only that, but because of all of these relationships, the Chinese are in a much better position than the other neighbors to have a clear read on exactly what is going on inside the North; what the status of the military is; who in the leadership might be tired of Kim; and so forth.
The second assumption is that there are many possible futures for the crisis. These beg the question: which will be more beneficial to China, and therefore, which might China attempt to foster?
October 11, 2006
A Nuclear Leviathan in the Pacific
Westhawk argues that the biggest loser of North Korea's nuclear test is China.
China remains by far the biggest loser from North Korea’s actions. America’s security alliances with Japan and South Korea will become more important and these bonds will be strengthened. Japan, now led by the unapologetic nationalist Shinzo Abe, will scrap any remaining restraints on its military doctrine and will invest in an offensive military strike capability. Japan could also very quickly become a nuclear weapons state itself, something that could occur after further provocations.Joe Katzman argues at WindsofChange that the focus should not be on North Korea, but on China:
The truth is that North Korea is an irrelevant bit player in this whole drama. The real player here is China. They have helped North Korea at every step, and North Korea's regime cannot survive at all without their ongoing food and fuel aid. Kim Jong-Il's nuclear plans may be slightly inconvenient to the Chinese - just not not inconvenient enough to derail a strategy that still promises net plusses to those pursuing it within China's dictatorship.Both of them think that the best way to influence China, and thereby to influence North Korea, is to make it clear that Japan, South Korea, and possibly even Taiwan, will be encouraged or given tacit approval by the US to strengthen their militaries.
The U.S. and its allies in the region will be forced to bypass an ineffectual China when formulating their security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific theater. And this will result in a strengthening American-led, anti-Chinese alliance in the region. This is exactly opposite the outcome China wished to see occur.And Katzman:
In other words, China won't move unless its current strategy is seen to cost them, big-time.David Frum, former Bush speechwriter, takes a similar tack, in an article in the New York Times (here via AEI):
The biggest cost, and the only one that will be real to them in any sense, is to have Kim Jong-Il's nuclear detonation result in parallel nuclear proliferation among the nearby states China wishes to dominate/ bully. That would be a foreign policy disaster for the Chinese, and would cause the current architects of China's North Korea policy to be buried along with their policy. Which, as we noted earlier, is the only kind of policy education that works in a system like theirs.
A new approach is needed. America has three key strategic goals in the wake of the North Korean nuclear test. The first is to enhance the security of those American allies most directly threatened by North Korean nuclear weapons: Japan and South Korea.Frum offers a four part plan for dealing with the crisis and accomplishing his three steps [emphasis added]:
The second is to exact a price from North Korea for its nuclear program severe enough to frighten Iran and any other rogue regimes considering following the North Korean path.
The last is to punish China. North Korea could not have completed its bomb if China, which provides the country an immense amount of food and energy aid, had strongly opposed it. Apparently, Beijing sees some potential gain in the uncertainty that North Korea's status brings. If China can engage in such conduct cost-free, what will deter Russia from aiding the Iranian nuclear program, or Pakistan someday aiding a Saudi or Egyptian one?
Step up the development and deployment of existing missile defense systems.Commentary
[ . . . ]
End humanitarian aid to North Korea and pressure South Korea to do the same.
[ . . . ]
Invite Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to join NATO--and even invite Taiwan to send observers to NATO meetings.
[ . . . ]
Encourage Japan to renounce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and create its own nuclear deterrent.
What Frum proposes would most certainly punish China, but how much punishment is too much? Consider the panoply of security architectures that have comprised the US alliance system in the Pacific. The US has a security treaty with Japan. It has similar agreements with South Korea. It has guarantees, explicit and otherwise, with Taiwan. The US used to have an alliance with Australia and New Zealand called ANZUS; but New Zealand protested the stationing of nuclear weapons or nuclear ships in its ports in the 1980s, forcing the US to come to refer to New Zealand as a "friend, not an ally." The alliance with Australia on the other hand, is one of the strongest that the US maintains.
At the same time, each of these countries has dramatically differing relations with each other. Australia maintains an alliance with New Zealand. Japan has no security relationship with South Korea, though it has offered to help defend Taiwan from China. A diagram of the existing security relationships might look like the following. I've included all alliances as arrows, whereas other lesser defense partnerships are lines without arrows. All of the US relationships are included; not all of those between the other countries are:
September 25, 2006
David Frum and Containment
David Frum, former speechwriter for the Bush Administration, has made an argument in two separate places that the Bush team is not preparing at all to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, and is instead "acquiescing" to their desires.
Frum first made the case last week in his blog at National Review:
1) Any prudent war planner has to assume that the rulers of Iran will strike back . . .Then he seconded these emotions with a piece in Canada's National Post (via AEI), arguing that the Bush Administration is preparing for a campaign of containment against Iran:
2) Despite the accusations of America's critics, the United States does not bomb other countries out of a clear blue sky . . .
3) Nor has there been diplomacy outside the UN . . .
4) Finally, through Washington there echoes the hushed sound of back doors being opened to quiet negotiations . . .
Iran is going nuclear. Sanctions will not be imposed. The U.S. hesitates to strike. And the Bush administration's new big idea will not work. Brace yourselves.
In his post at NRO, Frum mentions that perhaps the real goal is a deal. If this is true, then the Bush administration can't be faulted for its pursuit, no matter how unlikely it seems. For while there is a certain clamoring in the right for action against Iran, there is at the same time little substantive discussion of the fact that such action will be the beginning of what could be a very large war, and while justified and perhaps necessary, it will not be clean and simple by any means. If a favorable outcome -- a non-nuclear Iran -- can be obtained without the use of force, then by all means, let's do it.
But if not, then we are in for a very interesting next few years, as a nuclear Iran is a prospect no sane and serious individual should be willing to entertain lightly.
What might a policy of "containment" look like vs Iran? A glimpse was perhaps provided earlier this year in an article in the Times of London on the Proliferation Security Initiative:
A PROGRAMME of covert action against nuclear and missile traffic to North Korea and Iran is to be intensified after last week’s missile tests by the North Korean regime.From the perspective painted here, the Proliferation Security Initiative seems to be two things: both a good picture of what "containment" against another rogue nuclear power resembles, and a race against the clock to make sure that it does not sell or pass nuclear material to other states or non-states.
Intelligence agencies, navies and air forces from at least 13 nations are quietly co-operating in a “secret war” against Pyongyang and Tehran.
It has so far involved interceptions of North Korean ships at sea, US agents prowling the waterfronts in Taiwan, multinational naval and air surveillance missions out of Singapore, investigators poring over the books of dubious banks in the former Portuguese colony of Macau and a fleet of planes and ships eavesdropping on the “hermit kingdom” in the waters north of Japan . . .
The United States and its allies are now preoccupied by what Kim might do with the trump card in his arsenal — his stockpile of plutonium for nuclear bombs.
“The real danger is that the North Koreans could sell their plutonium to another rogue state — read Iran — or to terrorists,” said a western diplomat who has served in Pyongyang. American officials fear Iran is negotiating to buy plutonium from North Korea in a move that would confound the international effort to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.
The prospect of such a sale is “the next big thing”, said a western diplomat involved with the issue. The White House commissioned an intelligence study on the risk last December but drew no firm conclusions.
Iran is a much larger and more powerful entity than North Korea, and more strategically located to boot. If the picture above is an accurate portrayal of a containment strategy, one must ask how much more difficult such a strategy would be if aimed at Iran.
Furthermore, one must not be too hasty in comparing such strategies to those used against the Soviet Union. A central part of that doctrine, as we all know, was mutually-assured destruction. Attack us and we will destroy you, though we may well be destroyed in the process, to paraphrase.
Is it possible some new doctrine of offensive use of nuclear weapons might apply to situations in which states are likely to sell nuclear materials or pass them to proxies? How might such a doctrine be formulated? If containment is truly to be the policy of the US, then it should have such a strict expression of offensive capability as one of its key platforms.
Such are the dilemmas we'll be facing if Iran becomes a nuclear power.
September 15, 2006
Interesting New Contracts at Intrade
In the past few days, the online prediction market Intrade has doubled its number of contracts for both US or Israeli strikes against Iran and for the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. The actual contracts can't be pointed to, so you'll have to go there and poke around a bit to find them.
This probably reflects a desire on the part of the Intrade folks to keep on top of these events, rather than any unusual movements in those markets.
July 11, 2006
Kimi Ga Yo 2
I contacted a good friend, a Brit who lives in Japan, and has lived there for years, to see if he could do a bit of on-the-ground pulse-taking about national sentiment toward the North Koreans. Here's his response:
I asked my class (9 people 7 women 2 guys, aged 28-40He always has an interesting take on things. "Basically the rise of China is scaring the s*** out of the old boys club because they know what their fathers did and they know the Chinese haven't forgotten." That might be the key line right there.
all training to be serious translators so the upper
edge of the "internationalized/educated" community)
the following questions:
Do you think North Korea is a serious threat? 9 said
Do you think Japan should apply economic sanctions? 7
yes 2 no
Will NK's image decline further in Japan because of
this? 9 yes.
The fact that none of them could conjure a coherent
opinion tells you how deeply this has registered on
the Japanese conciousness.
There's no getting round it nationalism is on the rise
in Japan among the only sector that counts, the very
small no of men who run the country. Current foreign
minister Aso is a good example of these (not so) new
nationalists but their main cheerleader is the Gov of
Tokyo, Ishihara. Virulent nationalism is muted but the
old tradition of passive-aggressive nationalism is very
much alive. Basically the rise of China is scaring the
s*** out of the old boys club because they know what
their fathers did and they know the Chinese haven't
Recent NK events
In Japan the tests come on the coat tails of the
reunion (in NK, completely controlled by the NK govt)
of a kidnapped south Korean who was married to
Japanese kidnap victim Yokota Megumi with his family.
During the reunion a number of incongruent statements
by the man and the daughter he had with Megumi further
illustrated that the NKs still aren't telling the
truth about her. NK has been caught in a number of
balatant lies (including sending burnt remains back to Japan
claiming that they were her ("She committed suicide"), when
DNA tests proved otherwise.) Your average Japanese
person rightly feels aggrevied by the NK kidnappings,
their continued stonewalling and, less mentioned in
the press, the Japanese govt's unwillingness to get
involved in an issue it denied until the NKs admitted
it and forced them to. NK's stock couldn't really be
any lower in Japan.
The tests: Media and Security
The media reaction was predictable and although not
muted not nearly as bad as when the NKs shot that
missile over the country in 1998. There's a sense of
resignation and "there they go again". The main reason
people aren't worried is that although the Japanese
moan endlessly about the US troops in Japan they know
they are protected in any extreme situation by the US,
it's a media event not a security crisis. There's no
chance in hell any young Japanese will have to fight
or die at any point in the near future and they know
it. People are quite open about recognizing the US
One thing to mention in your blog is that the Japanese never renounced war,
MacArthur did and imposed it on them and it's stayed in
the constitution largely because it has suited Japan's
interests to have it there, not because it is popular.
One short sharp international incident (Japan's 911)
and in a fit of victimhood the nationalist
opportunists will throw it out the window before you
can say "Sushi".
What interests me is Japanese attempts to "impose
international sanctions" on NK in the UN. Strikes me
as pointless window dressing for Japanese domestic
consumption, typical meaningless ritualism of the kind
Japanese politicians love. What Japan unilaterally can
do is restrict trade/remittances to NK from Japan. T
hat would be the real test of their resolve. I'll be very
surprised if they do it.
June 21, 2006
The Reasons We're Only Learning About the 500 Shells Now . . .
The announcement by Senator Santorum that the US has uncovered over 500 sarin and mustard gas chemical artillery rounds comes as quite an interesting development and deserves a bit of thought. The obvious question is: why are we only learning of this now?
The details of the revelation itself are telling: Sen. Santorum revealed in his interview with Hugh Hewitt that he first learned of this information some 10 weeks ago, and has been working on getting a sanitized, declassified version of the existence of these shells released since then. He learned via a tip, and after his own efforts came to naught, he implored upon Rep. Hoekstra to do what he could as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Soon enough, a sanitized version of the document in question, describing the shells, was produced. To hear Santorum tell the story, he nearly immediately held a press conference.
Someone has been sitting on this information for awhile. Why? Here are four scenarios:
1. Sources and Methods: The discovery of the shells was kept under wraps because of the sources and methods used to find them. This could mean both technical means or human information. Moreover, the fact of the shells' very existence might have necessitated security. If there are 500, there may be more, and there are many who would like to get their hands on them. I'll be the first to testify that Iraq has more ammunition depots than Texas has barbecue. They may still be in the process of discovery today.
2. CIA = CYA Perhaps the CIA was underplaying the existence of the shells to cover its own poor estimates of Iraq's capabilities? This explanation is less plausible to me. According to Santorum, the report comes from the National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC to the military. This is not part of the CIA. Unless I'm mistaken, and I hope a military reader will correct me if so, NGIC is a DoD facility, run and mainly staffed by the Army, but serving all services. If memory serves, Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel regularly train and take classes at NGIC, and much of what they learn there (how to defuse nukes, for a made-for-tv example) is understandably classified. It makes sense that any chemical munitions discovered would be tallied, and probably even examined in the field, by NGIC; NGIC, after all, would be in charge of promulgating procedures for the handling of shells if more were discovered in the future.
On the other hand, the stonewalling of Santorum came from the DNI, John Negroponte. He's the man who runs everything, CIA, NGIC and other DoD intelligence agencies, supposedly. So he is the one to ask about this scenario . . .
3. Covert Action It's always impossible to tell with such things, and absolutely futile to speculate, but there is the chance that some recovered shells have been used in covert action operations by the US. Many people in the world would like to have chemical artillery shells; why not put them up for sale and see who comes a-knockin? Or perhaps there's an underground railroad leading out of Iraq for these things; who's on the other end of it, and was it set up by the former regime, or just entrepreneurs?
I mention these possibilities only because they are worth mentioning. To think though that the US might have conceived of such covert action, and then succeeded in executing it, is to assume a level of competence within our clandestine services that seems unlikely. There's no way to prove or disprove this scenario. And that's all I'll say about that.
They Don't Know What They Know If this scenario is true, someone will be reading the paper in the morning and saying, "Oh yeah . . . I guess chemical artillery rounds kind of are WMD, huh?" The government is large. It is unwieldy. It doesn't always talk to itself. RIght hand, meet the left hand.
Whatever the explanation, it'll get interesting. The key is: did the White House know about them? The answer to that question will go a long way toward figuring out which of the above scenarios might be correct.
February 23, 2006
Has war with Iran begun already?
Back in January, I said:
Here's what I expect in the next 12 months.Is it possible that the Iranians have begun their campaign of terror, but with as much deniability as possible? Let's discuss.
-There will be airstrikes upon Iranian facilities by either the US or Israel.
-There will be catastrophic, if not cataclysmic, terror attacks in various parts of the Middle East, sponsored by Iran or its proxies; The Gulf States, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq are potential targets.
I'm not going to make any definitive statements of causality. Either of the above two events may happen before the other. What happens after those two is anyone's guess. But I think they are both coming, and coming faster than we may all expect.
As far as terrorism and its relationship to a state, Iran presents a different set of circumstances than either Iraq or Afghanistan. Al Qaeda's raid on the eastern seaboard on 9/11 was an act of a transnational terror organization with sanctuary within a state. Afghanistan was a totally willing host to Al Qaeda's parasitic organization. Nevertheless, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were still different organizations, with different goals, intents, and motivations, complementary though they might have been.
In Iraq, terror organizations have yet a different relationship with the state. There they exist as something more akin to a cancer, feeding off the ideological and organizational remnants of the Hussein regime, and attacking the host -- the new Iraqi state, founded in the period of 2004-2005.
But what if terrorism is not just a tactic, or an organization separate from its host state? What if instead, terrorism is part and parcel of the state, and not just a tactic, but key to the national security strategy of a state? What if its institutions are not just cooperative with those of a given state, but nearly completely reliant upon it, even to the point of serving as its proxy?
Something akin to this last scenario describes the relationship of Iran to terrorist outfits, whether Hezbollah, its own internal security organizations, or its Pasdaran officers who have made mischief in all parts of the Muslim world at some point or another. Let us then posit that terrorism in some form is an integral part of Iran's foreign policy.
Allow a slilght digression on the nature of terrorism itself. As much as Al Qaeda or its brethren may wish to inflict massive casualties within the West and the US especially, terrorism is just as much about, well, terrorizing a given audience or constituency. That is to say, even though many forms of it might inflict significant casualties, the ultimate goal is influence. It is meant to change minds. When its perpetrators are known, and terror acts are overt, it might be categorized within that type of operation that the West would know as a "show of force." When its origins are not known, or if it is perhaps not even clear that a certain event has a single human agency behind it, then it seeks other forms of influence -- perhaps to change mindsets or affect policy. In some cases, it might even overlap or be confused with covert action, one of the purposes of which is to affect or change policy without any public knowledge of agency or origin.
The US response to 9/11 -- transformation of two states, and an unremitting pursuit of Al Qaeda in all its forms -- would seem to suggest that overt terrorism does not influence the US in a productive manner. Any organization or state that used terror solely for the purpose of a "show of force" would be looking down the business end of the US military's arsenal with little delay. This is not to suggest that spectacular attacks won't be pursued, just that they might now be most useful only for their destructive power.
But the second kind of terrorism -- deniable, covert, and meant to influence -- might take on a whole new importance. These kinds of attacks might be meant to embarrass the West, harrass it, sow discord among its nations, or alternately (and perhaps not simultaneously) unify the Muslim world against it. What might some of these actions look lilke? Well, perhaps "spontaneous" demonstrations in dozens of countries about something published four months previously in an obscure news organ would fit the bill. Or, perhaps a massive terror attack upon a key Shia shrine, which has thus far not been claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, could fit into this category as well.
When considered in the light of the long history of Iran with terror, as both its sponsor and its exporter, one wonders if Iran has begun a new campaign in its quest to achieve nuclear power status with no real objection from the rest of the world. Much of the below has been stated in other venues, but consider each of these points afresh:
-the cartoon controversy did not really begin until after the IAEA had referred Iran to the security council.
-the current chairmanship of the IAEA is held by Denmark.
-some of the worst violence was in Syria, a state where the government controls association, and which is allied with Iran.
And as far as the mosque destruction goes:
-no particular group has claimed responsibility.
-conventional wisdom, correct or not, holds that this act has created one of the highest states of tension in Iraq in some time.
Have these acts been effective in influencing the West? The cartoon controversy might have united the West a bit, but it might have united the Muslim world much more. The mosque destruction is a bit too recent to judge.
One wonders though: how does the US public's reaction to the UAE port deal relate to the cartoon riots? One commentator today (can't find the link) mentioned that it is the reaction of the US public to distrust this transaction when they see that their own government was not forthright enough in supporting Denmark.
One can speculate all night on whether the above two acts are related and how. There are other explanations. Coincidence is one of the easiest.
But all of this raises a larger point: when Americans envision war, we imagine large scale military assaults and operations to neutralize targets, not covert and deniable violence on behalf of influencing public attitudes. Yet this blind spot is exactly what Iran excels at performing, and exactly what vexes Secretary Rumsfeld so much as he laments today in the LA Times:
Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we -- our government, the media or our society in general -- have not.I believe our war with Iran has begun.
Consider that violent extremists have established "media relations committees" and have proved to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to break the collective will of free people.
Strategypage today has a list of "Ten Signs that the United States is about to Bomb Iran." These are things to look for that will indicate an imminent strike by the US, movements of units and materiel and such that intelligence analysts would examine.
Iran is playing quite a different game than us. It seeks a campaign of influence, of which terrorism and rioting might be key components. Iran's campaign needs no top ten signs to detect it. If the period before it was referred to the Security Council might have been called the "diplomatic phase," it is now in the "influence phase," which might last for a long time, and mean no further escalation is necessary. There may be no start or stop, there may be no formal military action, there may be no overt Iranian involvement, but war with Iran will likely look like a series of events, inexplicable and spontaneous, yet which frustrate our aims.
It is a well-crafted strategy really, as it seeks the seams in our defenses. It undermines our cultural assumptions (wars must be declared at a given point, ended at a given point, and fought by uniformed military forces on "battlefields") and even some of our societal organizational seams (media institutions are not part of the governments that fight wars, but are separate, and beheld to different standards).
For those who think I might be some sort of conspiracy nut, consider: a key part of influence is opportunism. I'm not implying that Iran knew the cartoons would be published, or even was behind the Danish imam who first started circulating them. But when you see an opening you seize it. Iran may have had nothing to do with the destruction of the golden mosque, but this doesn't stop Ahmadinejad from fanning the flames of popular emotion by blaming the US or Israel.
Welcome to warfare in the 21st century. What will be next?
UPDATE: Hat-tip to Instapundit for the Strategypage bit. Also, for this piece by Michael Novak:
Naturally, the West is feeling guilty about the cartoons, and chillingly intimidated by the “Muslim reaction”—more exactly, by the contrived, heavily stimulated, long-contained, and deliberately timed demonstrations of focused political outrage against them—while failing to pay serious attention to the truly huge event that started off this week with a great boom.I guess I'm not the only one . . .
That event, I have a hunch, might well be followed by another shocker fairly soon.
For the stakes for Iran—its nuclear future—and for Syria—its safety from within—and for the future of Hamas in Palestine, could scarcely be higher than they are just now. The most organized radical forces are poised to act in great concert. The moment is crucial for their future prospects.
February 18, 2006
The Saddam Tapes and the Intelligence Summit
The Intelligence Summit, a "non-partisan, non-profit, educational forum", is taking place this weekend in the Washington, D.C. environs. Another blogger, Kobayashi Maru
, is there and I just spoke with him on the phone. He had some highlights from this morning's speaker, John Tierney, who discussed the tapes of Saddam Hussein recently released to ABC, and subject of a story on Nightline.
Here are some points Tierney made this morning. Take from them what you will:
-Only 4% of the tapes have been analyzed
-The tapes contain the voices of senior Iraqi scientists, meeting with Saddam. Many of these scientists' identities were completely unknown to UNSCOM. Tierney implied that they were being hidden and were never interviewed in the search for WMD in Iraq.
-References are made on the tapes to "plasma programs" of some kind, which Tierney took to mean that Iraq was attempting to manufacture hydrogen bombs first, rather than more simple nukes.
-It is clear from Saddam's tone of voice, and his laughter on the tapes, that he was supremely confident that he had UNSCOM completely running around in circles and utterly confused insitutionally as to what he was actually doing.
Other speakers in the tapes share the same view.
-Tariq Aziz is not just a diplomat at arm's length on the tapes, but is very highly valued by Saddam. At one point, Saddam tells him that when they win the fight against the Americans, Aziz will write the book about it. (Readers with a sense of irony may enjoy knowing that US troops occupied Aziz's home in the spring of 2003. A detailed account of this may be found in The March Up by Bing West and Ray Smith.)
-Many speakers on the tape punctuate their remarks with references to Allah, God's will, etc etc. Tierney points out that Saddam never stops them, corrects them, or discourages them from using such pious language. This may be meaningless, as such expressions are common in the Arab world. But they seem to speak to the notion that Saddam would never cooperate with Islamists.
-Tierney implies that in one portion of the tape, Tariq Aziz makes the case that a biological weapons attack would be more difficult to blame on Iraq than a nuclear attack. Tierney then mentions that the anthrax attacks in 2001 were in some part blamed on personnel at Fort Detrick.
-Another speaker, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jack Shaw, has restated his case that the Russians helped move Iraqi WMD materials to Syria, and have even helped move some of them back to Iraq, and that many places in Iraq where they might be have still not been thoroughly investigated. He makes the case that the US wants to keep a lid on this in exchange for Russian cooperation with Iran in the future. Shaw also implies that some of these allegations have been corroborated by Ukrainian intelligence agencies.
So that's some highlights from today at the Intelligence Summit. Take what you will from them. Are they true? Who knows? But they're certainly interesting.
Based on my interpretation of the list of speakers at the conference, I think it probably succeeds as a non-partisan forum. Looks like quite a number of different backgrounds and viewpoints are present.
January 15, 2006
Diplomatic History is Taking Place Even As We Speak
In addition to the much-publicized diplomatic shuffling between the US and the EU, there are other meetings taking place which happen much less frequently, or at all, and which seem to indicate that momentous events behind the scenes, the contents of which we might only speculate upon, are at hand.
Syria's Assad made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia last week.
The answer to all three might be Iran, or it might not. What is scary is that the answer could be Iran. In short, while Iraq was largely diplomatically, economically, militarily and otherwise isolated from the rest of the world before 2003, Iran is only slightly so today. While Iraq's contacts with the west were abundant via the Oil-for-Food scandal, those contacts were still scandalous. Iran is linked to the economies of Russia & China, has relationships with North Korea, Pakistan, even France, Germany, and the UK.
The relationships which Iran possess do not sum up to a coalition. But they are there nonetheless, making the Iran nut even harder to crack, and the price for miscalculation ever higher.
A History of the Modern World, by R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton:
The Austrian government was determined to make an end to the South Slav separatism that was gnawing its empire to pieces. It decided to crush the independence of Serbia, the nucleus of South Slav agitation, though not to annex it, since there were now thought to be too many Slavs within the emprie already. The Austrian government consulted the German, to see how far it might go with the support of its ally. The Germans, issuing their famous "blank check," encouraged the Austrians to be firm. The Austrians, thus reassured, dispatched a drastic ultimatum to Serbia, demanding among other things that Austrian officials be permitted to collaborate in investigating and punishing the perpetrators of the assassination. The Serbs counted on Russian support, even to the point of war, judging that Russia could not again yield in a Balkan crisis, for the third time in six years, without losing its influence in the Balkans altogether. The Russians in turn counted on France; and France, terrified at the possibility of being some day caught alone in a war with Germany, and determined to keep Russia as an ally at any cost, in effect gave a blank check to Russia. The Serbs rejected the critical item in the Austrian ultimatum as an infringement on Serbian sovereignty, and Austria thereupon declared war upon Serbia. Russia prepared to defend Serbia and hence to fight Austria. Expecting that Austria would be joined by Germany, Russia rashly mobilized its army ono the German as well as the Austrian frontier. Since the power which first mobilized had all the advantages of a rapid offensive, the German government demanded an end to the Russian mobilization on its border and, receiving no answer, declared war on Russia on August 1, 1914. Convinced that France would in any case enter the war on the side of Russia, Germany also declared war on France on August 3rd.
The German decisions were posited on a reckless hope that Great Britain might not enter the war at all . . . The German plan to crush France quickly was such that it could succeed only by crossing Belgium. When the Belgians protested, the Germans invaded anyway, violating the treaty of 1839 which had guaranteed Belgian neutrality. England declared war on Germany on August 4th . . .
As for Russia and Austria, they were both tottering empires. Especially after 1900, the tsarist regime suffered from endemic revolutionism, and the Hapsburg empire from chronic nationalistic agitation. Authorities in both empires became desperate. Like the Serbs, they had little to lose and were therefore reckless. It was Russia that drew France and hence England into war in 1914, and Austria that drew in Germany. Seen in this light, the tragedy of 1914 is that the most backward or politically bankrupt parts of Europe, through the alliance system, dragged the more advanced parts automatically into ruin.
It is not useful to draw analogies among the power relationships, the rising or falling states, or the alliances of 1914 to those that exist today. We live in a new world. But it is useful to consider the enormous complexity of the world then and now, and to realize that complexity offers both opportunities for the art of the deal to thrive, and for miscalculation to lead to utter ruin.
We are blessed to live in the "interesting times" of the old Chinese proverb . . .
September 7, 2005
Imagining the Insanely Possible
Gerard Van der Leun's post on a nuclear blast in the US spurs a look at popular perceptions of nuclear holocausts, as conceived during the Cold War. What lessons might be drawn for today?
After reviewing the film The Day After, and re-reading the book Alas, Babylon, it becomes clear that the glaring assumption of these apocalyptic tales is the utter stupidity of any party so foolish to believe anything positive could come from a nuclear exchange, or a nuclear blast. Only incredible stupidity, or accident, or a misreading of intentions, could result in a nuclear exchange, for the aftermath would render all imputed political or territorial gains completely meaningless. This meme -- of recklessness or mistake as the only possible precursor to nuclear war -- raises itself time and time and time again in Cold War nuclear literature.
Alas, Babylon is the 1959 classic of a small fictional town in Florida, Fort Repose, and how its residents survive a nuclear holocaust that has left the entire nation decimated. The protagonist is Randy Bragg, a local Korean war vet who has spent his time since knocking about, trying to figure out what to do with his life. His brother is Colonel Mark Bragg, a senior intelligence officer at the Strategic Air Command in Nebraska. One day Mark meets Randy at a nearby airfield and explains his theory that the Russians believe the timing is right for a first strike. He gives Randy a check for $5000 and sends his wife and children to stay with Randy. Then he returns to his post.
The actual war begins with a mistake in the Mediterranean:
Quite often, the flood of history is undammed or diverted by the character and actions of one man. In this case the man was not an official in Washington, of the Admiral commanding Task Group 6.7, or even the Captain, or Air Group Commander of Saratoga. The man was Ensign James Cobb, nicknamed Peewee, the youngest and smallest pilot in Fighter Squadron 44 . . .Peewee disobeys regulations and chases a Russian observation plane into Syrian airspace and fires a Sidewinder missile at it, which instead heads for the industrial complex at the port of Latakia, beginning a chain reaction which spreads throughout the port. It is an accidental act of war and it is just enough to start the Russians on their path of nuclear annihilation. . . Thus the mistake/stupidity meme is evident.
In The Day After, an ABC TV movie broadcast in 1983, a nuclear exchange between the USSR and the US takes place after an exchange of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe first. The film builds very slowly to this crescendo and the airbursts over American cities happen about an hour in. It is rumored that while watching this part of the film, President Reagan wept. After his screening, he sent suggestions for editing the film to the director. I must admit that the sight of mushroom clouds over Lawrence, Kansas is downright unnerving. For 1983, the special effects are very good. ABC even set up toll free hotlines after the film's airing for viewers who were deeply disturbed by the film.
The presumptions of the insanity of nuclear war that permeate the film are evident both in quotes within it, and in the public reaction afterward. As Jason Robards' character, Dr. Russell Oakes, is about to go into surgery after the blast, in a makeshift hospital, he has this exchange with another doctor:
Dr. Russell Oakes: I wonder who was spared? I wonder if New York, Paris, Moscow... are just like Kansas City now?This theme rears its head again in the discussion after the movie was shown on TV. William Buckley debates Carl Sagan, and the scene is described thus:
Dr. Landowska: There is a rumor that they are evacuating Moscow. There are people even leaving Kansas City because of the missile base. Now I ask you: To where does one go from Kansas City? The Yukon? Tahiti? We are not talking about Hiroshima anymore. Hiroshima was... was peanuts!
Dr. Russell Oakes: What's going on? Do you have any idea what's going on in this world?
Dr. Landowska: Yeah. Stupidity... has a habit of getting its way.
Immediately after the film's original broadcast, it was followed by a special news program, featuring a live discussion between scientist Dr. Carl Sagan (who opposed the use of nuclear weapons) and Conservative writer William F. Buckley Jr. (who promoted the concept of "nuclear deterrence"). It was during this heated discussion, aired live on network television, where Dr. Sagan introduced the world to the concept of "nuclear winter" and made his famous analogy, equating the nuclear arms race with "two men standing waist deep in gasoline; one with three matches, the other with five".Here again the notion that only insane men would ever resort to the use of nuclear weapons is manifest again.
These ideas are so prevalent in Cold War nuclear texts that they result in a corollary: since only insane individuals would launch a nuclear war, and the consequences for humanity would be so dire . . . only an inhuman intelligence would consider nuclear war as a policy option. Thus we have movies like WarGames, in which a young Matthew Broderick convinces NORAD's computer that he is launching missiles at it, and prompting a response. And of course, The Terminator series, in which one of the first decisions of self-realizing artificial computer intelligence is the nuclear extermination of the human race.
Again and again these ideas permeate our popular culture. In the film version of Arthur C. Clarke's 2010, when Jupiter implodes on itself and becomes a dwarf star, the Soviet premier and the American president both look up at the sky and decide the back down from a burgeoning confrontation. After all, only madness would lead to a nuclear catastrophe.
The effects of these assumptions and mentalities on diplomacy in our current war are not easy to miss. In scenarios of mutually assured destruction, the idea that stupidity and recklessness will lead to catastrophe can easily morph into the notion that all actions are risks which should not be taken -- thus the very nature of the "Cold" war itself, cold only because it was too risky to be "hot." Diplomacy, careful hiding of one's moves, and silent games of cat and mouse, whether by spies or nuclear submarines, become the norm.
Yet does this way of conceiving of a mortal enemy hold any sway at all vis a vis Al Qaeda? Is it proper to assume that only the insane, or the inhumane, would willingly risk a nuclear war with the United States? Sadly, from Al Qaeda's own statements, we know that they possess the desire, and our efforts therefore are exerted in preventing them from attaining the ability to detonate a nuclear weapon in the US.
How different now to conceive of circumstances in which a given party might willingly and gladly use a nuclear weapon – it inverts the tables somewhat from avoidance and accident to those of prevention, pre-emption, and fierce acts of non-proliferation. Deterrence ceases to be effective.
Even though we know these things -- that somewhere, whether in tthe unruled regions of Pakistan, or elsewhere, someone right now is plotting mayhem of which we can not imagine -- one wonders how much the stupidity/insanity/mistake memes of the Cold War affect our preparations and national security imaginations at the highest levels . . .
UPDATE: Of course, the events leading to a nuclear holocaust are only the first parts of these texts. The rest are about the efforts of the survivors to save themselves. In the aftermath of Katrina in the US, many have begun thinking on these issues. One interesting resource I discovered is SurvivalBlog.com.
May 5, 2005
Pre-emption, Deterrence, or what?
An article in Reason, "All Nukes Are Good Nukes: Can the U.S. cobble together a new deterrence for a new world?" leads us to believe that US combatant commanders may be given wide latitude in the employment of nuclear weapons:
Now as a result, the U.S. is reworking its nuclear doctrine to persuade non-nuclear states that getting nukes is not a reasonable course of action. Via an updated Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, U.S. theater commanders may soon get tacit, preemptive approval to use nukes against any foe who seems poised to use nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons against U.S. forces. In other words, the new big booming message will be: Fight a conventional war you are sure to lose, or we'll nuke you and not even think very hard about it before we do.Going to the source article, we learn
The U.S. military is considering allowing regional combatant commanders to request presidential approval for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against possible attacks with weapons of mass destruction on the United States or its allies, according to a draft nuclear operations paper.If this is true, it will be a fundamental shift in the civil-military relationships of nuclear strategy, and shows that the doctrine of pre-emption is far from dead, even if pre-emptive invasions have been discredited in Iraq.
The March 15 paper, drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is titled "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations," providing "guidelines for the joint employment of forces in nuclear operations . . . for the employment of U.S. nuclear forces, command and control relationships, and weapons effect considerations."
"There are numerous nonstate organizations (terrorist, criminal) and about 30 nations with WMD programs, including many regional states," the paper says in recommending that commanders in the Pacific and other theaters be given an option of pre-emptive strikes against "rogue" states and terrorists and "request presidential approval for use of nuclear weapons" under set conditions.
Pat Buchanan writes in RealClearPolitics of the presumptive failure of pre-emptive war:
Under it, we invaded Iraq. To our eternal embarrassment, we found Iraq had none of "the world's most dangerous weapons." But our invasion did concentrate the minds of Tehran's mullahs and Kim Jong Il, the surviving twins of the axis-of-evil triplets.Buchanan has always been on the realist-isolationist wing of US politics, and he is true to form here:
Kim reacted by withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, kicking out U.N. inspectors, pulling the plutonium rods out of his Yongbyon reactor and cobbling together an atom bomb. Iran appears to have ratcheted up its program for enriching uranium.
With a threat of retaliation, we deterred a nuclear-armed Stalin and Mao Zedong. And neither Kim Jong Il nor the Iranian mullahs has ever attacked us. Though both detest us, they fear us. If nonproliferation fails us, not to worry, deterrence still works.But does deterrence still work? For all the press that missing Russian nukes, or lax security at Russian nuke facilites gets, one must wonder if deterrence was completely effective: certainly it prevented a nuclear exchange between rival powers. But those nukes are still out there, and can be sold, traded, or stolen.
Moreover, particularly in the case of North Korea, for every story about its nuclear program, there is another one like this one, from December: Cell Phones Spark 'Communication Revolution' in N.K.
In reality, the introduction of Chinese mobile communication technology to the reclusive state has helped pierce through its Iron Curtain and break down a regime that insulates itself through isolating citizens, renting families apart and curbing the spread of information.In other words, if Russian nukes are hard to account for now, North Korean nukes will be equally so if that regime fails to hold itself together. Perhaps even more so, given advances in the ability of people to move goods around the world in the past 15 years. So perhaps deterrence will work if you can guarantee that the states on the opposing end will always be around . . . but what if those states fail?
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Philip C Bobbitt, who has served as a nuclear strategist, warned of the futures of such proliferated states as North Korea, Iran, or Iraq, and what they mean for traditional concepts of deterrence:
Those who believe that the status quo can be indefinitely extended through inspections, then, have an obligation to tell us how the inspectors would prevent Saddam Hussein from buying a weapon from, say, North Korea which would be a rather dramatic change in the status quo.Bobbitt has written extensively on nuclear strategy and details the concepts of deterrence, compellance, and assurance, in the Introduction of his masterpiece, The Shield of Achilles:
Supporters of an indefinite inspectors' presence focus on large weapons like missile launchers that they say we will be able to detect . . . But are they also considering that in the future we might have to detect and capture weapons no larger than a case of beer?
. . . I recognize that we are running a terrible risk if we put Saddam Hussein's back against the wall. But unless we are willing to eventually grant him a free hand in the Persian Gulf, he is bound to act in a way that will put his back against the wall in the future after he does acquire nuclear weapons. At that point, however, the United States would have a significantly diminished capacity to prevent his aggression. One certainly cannot imagine an operation like Desert Storm if Iraq were to acquire nuclear warheads and accurate missiles.
Deterrence is more problematic, however, when the calculations on which ir relies become more complex, or when these calculations are cloude by cultural differences and varying attitudes toward risk, or when the facts on which such calculations depend are uncertain or colored by wishful thinking. In other words, the idea of deterrence is itself so much a part of human nature that it can be applied only as it is affected by the various fallacies and shortcomings to which human nature is prey.Bobbitt also warns of the dangers of continuing
to think and plan as though the stable relations that attended the possessors of weapons of mass destruction in the Cold War are somehow intrinsic to such weapons.And finally,
A failure to take seriously the new strategic environment can have costly consequences in the domestic theater as well. Should the use of a weapon of mass destruction occur, the state in which this happens will undergo a crisis in its constitutional order. How it prepares for this crisis will determine the fate of its society, not only its sheer survival, but the conditions of that survival. Some societies may become police states in an effort to protect themselves; some may disintegrate because they cannot agree on how to protect themselves.All the old ideas, whether deterrence, compellance, assurance, or even pre-emption, linger in the air as the final breaths of a world that no longer exists. All is new and our solutions to proliferation must be equally novel.