Monthly Archives: November 2019

Wine and Nuclear Testing

I wrote about this a while back and it was one of my more popular posts.

The New Yorker had a piece which Patrick Radden Keefe explains several methods by which experts determine the age of a given bottle of wine.

Now, whatever else you want to say about nuclear-weapons testing, it apparently has given the world a couple of different ways to figure out if you got your money’s worth by dropping several grand on that bottle of whatever.

According to Keefe, a gentleman had the contents of a particular bottle carbon-dated in an effort to figure out whether he had been swindled. That’s where nuclear-testing came into play:

 All organic material contains the radioactive isotope carbon 14, which exhibits a predictable rate of decay; scientists can thus analyze the amount of the isotope in a bottle of wine in order to approximate its age. Carbon 14 has a long half-life, and carbon dating is relatively imprecise for evaluating objects that are several centuries old. But *nuclear atmospheric tests in the nineteen-fifties and sixties offer a benchmark of sorts, since levels of carbon 14 rise sharply during that period. In this case, the amounts of carbon 14 and of another isotope, tritium, were much higher than one would expect for two-hundred-year-old wine*, and the scientists concluded that the bottle contained a mixture of wines, nearly half of which dated to 1962 or later.

Similarly, Philippe Hubert, a French physicist, developed a method of determining the age of wine which also is related to nuke testing. Keefe writes that Hubert

had devised a method of testing the age of wine without opening the bottle. Hubert uses low-frequency gamma rays to detect the presence of the radioactive isotope cesium 137. Unlike carbon 14, cesium 137 is not naturally occurring; it is a direct result of nuclear fallout. A wine bottled before the advent of atmospheric nuclear testing contains no cesium 137, so the test yields no results for older wines. But if a wine does contain cesium 137 the short half-life of the isotope—thirty years—allows Hubert to make a more precise estimate of its age.

Carrot and Stick

I feel like re-upping this one.

I generally dislike metaphors when applied to policy discussions. They very rarely, and possibly never, illuminate more than they obfuscate. The “carrot and stick” metaphor used so often in nonproliferation discussions is especially poor for a few reasons, not least of which is that governments dislike being equated with farm animals. Moreover, as is the case with other metaphors, “carrot and stick” can be interpreted differently by different people.

As an illustrative example, I give you the great Malcolm Tucker (Warning: NSFW):

It’s a bit heavy on the negative incentives approach, particularly as compared to the metaphor’s typical use.

UK Deep Dive Iran Intel

It was about 13 years ago. Recall that the famous 2007 NIE followed a similar deep dive.

From the UK Iraq Inquiry a few years back:

TIM DOWSE: Although it was unusual then, it has become notquite standard practice, but much more common since,because we did, partly as a result of the Butler Review,establish a challenge team, and there were a series ofpapers over the next few years, none of them relevant toIraq,where we reviewed our judgements.We conducted a very major review,on the Iranian nuclearprogramme in, I think, 2006. That was, for fairly obviousreasons, because of the Iraqi experience. We wanted tolook at it, take a completely fresh look, and say: is thisreally for a military purpose?

Sondland v. Bolton

I haven’t seen anyone else mention this, though I may well have missed something. One often reads that John Bolton is a skilled bureaucratic warrior, but some details of this WP story suggest otherwise.

In addition to being circumvented by R Giuliani multiple times, Bolton apparently got rolled by G Sondland when it came to the 25 July meeting:

When the White House operator patched Trump through to Zelensky on the morning of July 25, it was despite attempts by Bolton to head off a call he worried would be a “disaster.” Bolton had sought to coach Trump earlier that morning, only to learn later that Sondland had secretly arranged a follow-up conversation and gotten the final word.

More on Greece and Ottawa

So after writing this, I thought I’d add another odd detail of Greece’s compliance with the Ottawa Convention. Specifically, Greece delayed destroying its APLs in part because of an unusual situation involving a Bulgarian subcontractor. According to a statement from a Greek diplomat, the government concluded a contract with Hellenic Defense Systems, which then subcontracted some of the work to VIDEX, the Bulgarian firm. There’s some background on the selection here.

Anyway, the Greek government cancelled the contract:

On 21 June 2010, Greece informed the Standing Committee on Stockpile Destruction that the agreement between the Greek Ministry of Defence and company selected to ensure the destruction of the Greek stockpile had been cancelled on 16 June 2010 due to non-fulfilment of the agreement as result of an industrial accident that took place on 3 February 2010. As a consequence Greece would be unable to complete the destruction of its stockpile by the end of 2010. Greece also indicated that given the situation, a more realistic timeline for completion would be early 2011 and that the Greek Ministry of Defence was proceeding rapidly to engage another company to do the work.

The Small Arms Survey 2013 has some details on the accident involving VIDEX.

Greece and Ottawa Convention

If one studies IR theory, as I did, one tends to miss things like this. OK, perhaps I ought not generalize, but you get the point. Essentially, Greece’s count of the number of APL’s that it had destroyed was inaccurate. Now, a number of experts have composed very serious texts about compliance with international agreements. But in this case, some person (or people) didn’t load a truck properly.

In 2014, the Third Review Conference of the Ottawa Convention took place in Maputo; the next RevCon will happen later this month. During the Third RevCon, there was some discussion of the reasons behind Greece’s failure to meet the convention’s date for destroying Athens’ APL stockpiles. The mines were actually destroyed in Bulgaria; part of this discussion involved a discrepancy between Greece and Bulgaria’s accounts of destroyed Greek APLs:

In its transparency report of 2010, Greece reported that as of 31 December 2009, 1,566,532 anti-personnel mines remained to be destroyed and that 615,362 mines had been transferred to Bulgaria for the purposes of destruction. Bulgarian authorities reported that between 15 December 2008 and 14 May 2010 a total of 614,882 Greek anti-personnel mines have been delivered and destroyed in Bulgaria.

That left 480 APLs unaccounted for. What happened? Well, someone F’d up:

On 20 June 2011, Greece informed the Standing Committee on Stockpile Destruction that the investigation identified that the discrepancy in numbers was due to an uneven distribution of mines during packaging for the shipment to Bulgaria and that the 480 were indeed stored in an ammunition warehouse of the Greek army.

I’m genuinely not taking the piss here. Sometimes the mundane is entertaining.