Monthly Archives: September 2011

T Schelling on Nuclear Terrorism

I heard Thomas Schelling discuss nuclear terrorism at a New America Foundation event last October, but haven’t been able to find a transcript of the event. So I was happy to discover “this piece”: by Dr. Schelling on that subject.

As he explains:

bq.. In 1982 I published an “article”: that began, “Sometime in the 1980’s an organization that is not a national government may acquire a few nuclear weapons. If not in the 1980’s, then in the 1990’s.”

I hedged about the 80’s but sounded pretty firm about the 90’s. It’s now the 2010’s, twenty-nine years later, and there has been no nuclear terrorism nor any acquisition of such weapons by any terrorist organization that we know of; and I think we’d know by now. I don’t know of anyone—and I knew many colleagues knowledgeable on the subject—who thought my expectations outlandish. Something needs to be explained!

p. His explanation is an interesting one; a PhD student to whom I described it replied, “So he’s saying it’s a market failure.”

That, for me, is the most striking part of the argument. Schelling writes:

bq. Imagine that you have succeeded in stealing a Picasso insured for many millions of dollars, and you know that there are people willing to pay several millions for it: *how do you find your customer?* You cannot put a want ad in the New York Times.

Read the whole thing…I especially like this paragraph:

bq. a “supplier” and a “customer” representing the terrorist organization may meet in a public place, each with a few unrecognizable body guards, to consummate the deal. At that point *I fantasize that the seller and the buyer recognize each other, one is from the CIA and the other from the Israeli Mossad. Each is engaged in a “sting” operation, and they shake hands and go back to work.*

Label: Nuclear-Weapon State, Part II

Regarding “this post”: from yesterday, a reader notes that “threshold state” is the best term for a state like Iran. I tend to agree…I wasn’t thinking too much about a proper term, so I’m glad for the advice.

Additionally, Stephen Schwartz weighed in with a “comment”: in which he cited “this piece”: from the NPR. That article reminded me that former IAEA DG ElBaradei used the term “virtual nuclear-weapon state” – the same term that “ISIS used”: – way back when.

I would note that a term like “de facto nuclear-weapon state” is, in my view, best suited for a state like India, which has nuclear weapons but isn’t a recognized nuclear-weapon state by the NPT.

Label: Nuclear-Weapon State

Greg Jones’ recent “description of”: Iran as a “de facto nuclear weapon state” inspired me to think about the problem with using that term casually. David Albright and Andrea Stricker’s “description”: of Iran as a “virtual nuclear weapons state” might be a bit better, but I think it suffers from the same problem: it’s not a term of art and, therefore, has limited analytic value.

Article IX of the NPT:

bq. For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear-weapon State is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967.

I know that the authors to which I linked understand the above. And I’m not quite sure what the correct term for a country like Iran should be. But finding something more precise may be in order. Iran obviously doesn’t meet the Article IX definition; a nuclear-armed Iran still wouldn’t meet it. Since it’s hard to equate a state with nuclear weapons to one without such weapons, I really can’t think of a good reason to use the term other than to gain attention.

Incidentally, the international community has gone to some effort to maintain the distinction between the legitimate nuclear weapons states and other states with nuclear weapons.

For example, “UNSCR 1172”: stated that, despite their 1998 nuclear tests, neither India nor Pakistan could “have the status of a nuclear-weapon State.”
And the 2005 RevCon “final document”: similarly stated that those tests did “not in any way confer a nuclear-weapon State status or any special status whatsoever.”

“The 2010 NPT RevCon final document”: said the same thing about North Korea and its nuclear tests.

Clarity is good. I guess that’s my point.

*Update “here:*”:

Report on the Barksdale Crew

Goodness. Via “Danger Room,”: we learn that the blog “In from the Cold”: obtained “a report”: about a 2007 Limited Nuclear Surety Inspection of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB.

I can’t speak to In From the Cold’s discussion of whether the 2BW deserved the “Satisfactory” grade granted by the inspectors, but the post accurately describes some of the report’s more lurid details:

bq.. According to evaluators, the first attempt at aircraft generation was terminated after 14 hours, due to problems with weapons handling trailers and generators.

A second try at aircraft generations also failed. The exercise was initially delayed (due to uneven pavement under the B-52 weapons bay), prompting a relocation of the aircraft. As the exercise continued, crews experienced more equipment problems. The second attempt was finally halted at the 15-hour point, when “critical faults” were discovered during post-load checks.

During the next attempt, the 2nd BW attempted to generate two aircraft. The third B-52 was rejected due to a critical fault during post-load checks. Ground crews managed to generate the fourth bomber, but not before another equipment problem (with a lift arm) required a weapons demate/mate.

All told, Barksdale personnel spent more than 30 hours generating a single nuclear-capable aircraft.

p. There are other interesting items in the report; it’s well worth your time.

Apologies to _The Wire_…

NSA 9/11 Docs and WMD II

As I wrote a “couple of days ago,”: “The National Security Archive posted some declassified documents on Sept 11. Most of them have nothing to do with WMD, but there are a couple of exceptions.”

This one is a “November 2001 memo”: from then-SecState Powell to President Bush about a forthcoming meeting between Bush and then-Pakistani President Musharraf. None of the issues described in the memo will be new to those who follow Pakistan, but I think the part regarding proliferation is historically interesting.

Recounting an October meeting he had with Musharraf, Powell wrote that he had told the Pakistani president that “lifting the nuclear-related sanctions ” on “9/22/01”: “did not signal a lessening of our concerns or a green light to further nuclear or missile procurements.” Given Pakistan’s advances in its nuclear weapons and missile programs, I’m not sure how much of Powell’s message was heeded.

It appears, however, that the main US concern at that point was proliferation _from_ Pakistan. Powell wrote that “we need to stress the importance of exercising restraint and terminating any onward proliferation.” He also told Bush that

bq. In Islamabad, I raised our proliferation concerns, [redacted] with Musharraf.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to fill in that blank, but I’m still curious.

Fox AQK Network Docs

Jeffrey has been good enough to “post”: the Khan network documents from “this report”: by Fox News, thereby saving me the trouble and providing some good commentary to boot. He also “asked”: about the whereabouts of documents which have apparently formed the basis for other related news stories.

NSA 9/11 Docs and WMD

The National Security Archive “posted some declassified documents”: on Sept 11. Most of them have nothing to do with WMD, but there are a couple of exceptions.

“This one”: is a 9/30/01 memo for the President from then-SecDef Rumsfeld. The memo is about the aims of U.S. military action post- the 2001 attacks. Right near the end, it states

bq. The regimes of such [terrorist-supporting] States should see that it will be fatal to host terrorists who attack the U.S. as was done on September 11. If the war does not significantly change the world’s political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim. There is value in being clear on the order of magnitude of the necessary change.

The memo goes on to list some goals that the United States should “envision,” one of them being “dismantlement or destruction of WMD capabilities in [redacted] and [redacted].” Everyone can fill in their own blanks, I suppose.

Happy Sunday.