Monthly Archives: June 2009

A Timely Coincidence

Just a day or two ago, Chinese and American defense officials agreed to hold “talks on avoiding”: “military incidents at sea”: That’s great timing, since the new issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is out, including an article by yours truly that recommends the U.S. and China hold talks on… avoiding military incidents at sea. And also some other stuff besides.

Subscribers — or those willing to pay per article — can “read it here”:

Yes, “this was well-planned”:

Nuclear Status Anxiety

Thanks to the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party,* suddenly there’s a debate in Britain about “whether to retain nuclear weapons”:, in the form of a follow-on strategic submarine program. (The “PONI blog”: has the story covered.)

Making the “case against disarmament”: in _The Times_ is one Sash Tusa, whose case, while illogical, is interesting:

bq. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France) achieved their positions by being the victors of the Second World War. But they now retain those seats only thanks to their possession of credible nuclear deterrents. It’s not about GDP, hospitals, improvements in child poverty or school league tables: abandon the deterrent and, sooner or later, Britain loses its seat.

Now, how exactly does that work? Does the IAEA come along take the Security Council seat away? The Tooth Fairy, maybe?

The Security Council is not the S&P 500. Those contestants with veto power cannot be voted off the island.

But the factual truth pales before the psychological truth, whose implications go well beyond Britain. In this realm, nukes = status. It’s the “Alpha Dog”: principle. If I can thrash you at will, then you have to be nice to me at all times, whereas I’m under no such compulsion. This makes me Somebody and you Nobody.

It would be understandably tough for any country to bow its head before fiscal, political, or other realities that might impinge on maintaining this sacred symbol of national manhood. The _psychological_ realities are just so powerful that it’s remarkable that the thing has ever been done. Unilateral disarmament is tantamount to national self-abasement. That it has taken place in the context of “regime capitulation”: is perhaps not so surprising.

There’s something almost childish about this, but mass politics does have a lot to do with emotions. Disarmament is the _other_ nuclear taboo.

*Britain’s perennial third party, out of power since 1922.

Silly Season Goes to War

It must be that time of year already: Silly Season, when precious newspaper real estate gets clogged with giddy nothings.

The “Wall Street Journal”: and the “New York Times”: each dispatched a West Coast correspondent to sunny Hawaii, the better to gauge public anxiety about an imminent missile attack from North Korea. Amazingly, everyone out there seems pretty much unfazed. Must be the “laid-back culture.” Hope you enjoyed the trip, guys.

(Maybe they just needed to work harder. The Associated Press “found some hysterics”: Why couldn’t two of our nation’s top publications?)

So where do they get this stuff? I’ll tell you where: “Yomiuri Shimbun”:, by way of the “Associated Press”: That, and a momentary suspension of critical faculties. One didn’t have to read that story too closely to notice that it was perhaps not the brightest moment in the history of Japanese journalism.

Yeah. North Korea’s going to attack America. With two missiles. That’ll be interesting.

I guess it was irresistible. _Armageddon in Paradise!_

Man up, people. It’s a missile test, for crying out loud.

p=. *Annals of Threat Magnification*

In fairness to -the junketeers and their editors- our intrepid news sleuths, the Secretary of Defense made it sound like he was “taking the threat seriously”:

bq.. Dr. Gates, I wondered what you thought about the report that North Korea might shoot a ballistic missile toward Hawaii, if you thought there was any accuracy to that. And if that was to occur, would that be a situation where the U.S. would use its missile defense system, to eliminate that test?

SEC. GATES: Well, we’re obviously watching the situation in the North, with respect to missile launches, very closely. And we do have some concerns, if they were to launch a missile to the (sic – east), in the direction of Hawaii.

I’ve directed the deployment again of THAAD missiles to Hawaii. And the SBX Radar has deployed, away from Hawaii, to provide support. Based on my visit to Fort Greely, the ground-based interceptors are clearly in a position to take action.

So without telegraphing what we will do, I would just say, we are — I think we are in a good position, should it become necessary to protect American territory.

p. (The President has lately gotten in on “this game”:, too.)

Let’s just say that this course of action appears to reflect a superabundance of caution. Looking at it another way, since we’ve built the systems, what would be the point of not deploying them? But what really interests me is the word “again,” as in, “I’ve directed the deployment again of THAAD missiles to Hawaii.”

One shouldn’t make too much of a single word. Gates could have misspoken, or his comments could have been erroneously transcribed. But it sounds like this isn’t the first time. Should we conclude that THAAD was first temporarily deployed in anticipation of the April 2009 Unha-2 launch?

The first THAAD battery was “formally activated”: back at Ft. Bliss, Texas, in May 2008, but we don’t know where it normally operates. Some THAAD testing has “taken place in Hawaii”:

Update: The “Honolulu Star-Bulletin”: has more details.

p=. *A Live Intercept Test?*

Regardless of where North Korea’s missiles fly, if anyone is really thinking of trying out missile defense systems on them — whether to make a point, or just to see what they can do — I would not recommend it. Right now, it’s North Korea’s strategy to ratchet up tensions, and America’s strategy to “act like a responsible adult”: THAAD is not a toy. Still less is GMD.

Fortunately, though, I don’t think that the concerns that apply to “North American”: “GMD scenarios”: apply to Pacific GMD scenarios. Put your mind at rest.

“Musical bonus”:

An Irrelevant Point About Iran’s Election

After the last week’s extraordinary events, the following is irrelevant, but it might be worth stating regardless.

It’s been said here and there that Mir-Hossein Moussavi would have been no more enlightened in foreign relations — including the nuclear issue — than the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This “otherwise perceptive and enlightening article”: went so far as to say that Ahmadinejad would be _better_ able to repair relations with the West. (Better able, maybe. At all interested? He’s got a funny way of showing it.)

Common sense indicates that virtually anyone would be better than Ahmadinejad. The Obama Administration’s approach during Iran’s campaign season made sense: neither to “shake a fist”: nor to extend an embrace. This approach avoided validating Ahmadinejad during the campaign. The failure of his “let-them-eat-yellowcake politics”: seems all too clear now.

p=. *Half a Loaf is Better Than None*

Setting aside the nuances of “the suspension issue”: and focusing just on outcomes, there are two issues at stake, broadly speaking:

* Will the nuclear fuel cycle continue to be operated in Iran?

* What sort of safeguards will be in place?

The safeguards issue includes monitoring against diversion at declared sites (notably the enrichment plant at Natanz) and detection of undeclared sites and activities (by such means as the adoption of the Additional Protocol). I’m simplifying a bit, that that’s the basic picture.

In my view, at least, the safeguards issue is of the essence. Consider what would be more reassuring: Shutting down Natanz while keeping the IAEA confined to a handful of declared sites? Or continuing to operate Natanz, while giving inspectors considerably expanded access? Again, that’s a simplification, but it gives the outlines of the picture.

Bearing that in mind, Ahmadinejad has shown no signs of relenting on either issue. (Here’s the latest on “Natanz”: Whereas Moussavi, who campaigned on improving Iran’s foreign relations, has “expressed willingness to negotiate on safeguards”:

bq.. How would you remove tensions then?

Progress in nuclear technology and its peaceful use is the right of all countries and nations. This is what we have painfully achieved with our own efforts. No one will retreat. But we have to see what solutions or in other words what guarantees can be found to verify the non-diversion of the programme into nuclear weapons.

What kind of solutions?

They can be reached in technical negotiations.

p. This is not a small difference. But it seems like a moot point now. The present crisis has gone well beyond who occupies the Iranian presidency.

Something Nice About the News Media

No mere blogger ever risked his/her/its neck like “some correspondents do”:

Something to remember.

Update. Yes, “neck”: I didn’t intend that, but it seems to fit.

*Paul Adds:*

Indeed…another reason why blogs will not supplant traditional media outlets, unless, of course, those outlets end the role of foreign correspondents.

Blog Thought

Blogs aid news reporting, but likely will not/ought not supplant traditional news outlets. They have, however, made progress in marginalizing the established punditocracy.

Yes, I am reduced to being meta this morning.

*Josh adds:*

To elaborate on Paul’s comment a bit, there is potential for symbiosis with news reporting in the traditional outlets, however long they’re still with us. A specialized blog like this one can contribute to the accuracy and sophistication of the “coverage”: it also “feeds upon”: Failing that, it’s also good for “cursing”: the “darkness”:

In Paul’s case, of course, it’s just not meta, but “death”: “meta”:

Hats Off to Pinkston and Crail

Like “everyone else”:, I’ve been reading (or at least skimming) Daniel Pinkston’s trio of new reports on North Korea.

Only now do I notice this “March 31, 2009 report”: in anticipation of the long-range rocket launch of early April. (You have to register to read the whole thing.) Of special interest: he picked up on the legal maneuvering in real time:

bq. On 12 March, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) declared that it had acceded to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty) and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.9 The DPRK also notified the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that it planned to launch the satellite sometime during the period 4-8 April 2009.10 The Outer Space Treaty stipulates that all nations have the right to the peaceful exploration of outer space “without discrimination of any kind”, and – as noted in the next section below – the DPRK does seem to have a genuine interest in establishing a space-launch capability.

And it goes on from there. Here I was, thinking myself so clever for “picking up on the same thing after the fact”:

It turns out that you can learn an awful lot if you’re willing to slog through the daily drivel at KCNA. “Like this here”: It’s a dirty job, so we should at least pay attention to those willing to do it. Hats are off.

Yeah, yeah, nobody wears hats anymore, but the sentiment is the same.

Update: The title of this post has been updated. Here’s what Peter Crail “wrote about this subject”: (shortly before the launch) in Arms Control Today:

bq. The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also declared March 12 that Pyongyang acceded to two international instruments on the civilian use of outer space: the Outer Space Treaty and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Diplomatic sources contacted by Arms Control Today in March indicated that North Korea only acceded to the latter and informed Russia, a depository for the Outer Space Treaty, that it was adhering to that accord.

*Paul Adds:*

Josh is known for his hat collection, but doesn’t want to brag.

For NK’s Next Act: A Two-Fer?

There are “reports”: that North Korea may be getting set for not one but two long-range missile tests. We may be in for some impressive fireworks.

Discussion of further nuclear tests in the near future still seems a bit speculative.

Collision at Sea

A few days ago, “CNN reported”: that a Chinese submarine had collided with the towed sonar array of a USN destroyer.

The “AP now reports”: confirmation of the incident by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The American side has “yet to acknowledge it”:, according to _Stars & Stripes_.

Perhaps now would be a good time to start U.S.-Chinese talks on an incidents-at-sea agreement. Before the PLA Navy* sends nuclear weapons out to sea, that is.


“X-posted to ACW”: See the “comments at ACW”:

*PLA Navy (or PLAN) = “People’s Liberation Army Navy”:

The “WSJ”: and “AP”: report that U.S. and Chinese defense officials have agreed to discussions on avoiding military incidents at sea. The talks will start in July.