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I have long wanted Allen Thomson to take up blogging.  Allen is one of those old guys — you know, the kind who have forgotten more than you’ll ever know, but aren’t well known from the DC rubber chicken circuit or hanging out in various cable TV green rooms.

If you’re smart, you run stuff by people like Allen, a former intelligence analyst who prepares these little dossiers based on open source information.  He’s latest one is pretty amazing.

Allen has been documenting China’s construction of targets in the Gobi desert for anti-ship missiles:

In the course of a search for possible target areas for the failed Chinese hypersonic glide vehicle test of 2014-08-07 (*), it came to light that two and possibly three areas which appear intended to test antiship weapons recently became identifiable in an area of China previously known to have weapons targets. Although no connection could be made with the hypersonic test, the areas , arbitrarily designated A, B and C, seem to have intrinsic interest and are documented here.

Any further information concerning them would be greatly appreciated. Please email it to thomsona [at] flash.net and indicate whether the sender wishes to be acknowledged in possible future versions of this document.

You should read the whole document, entitled Appearance of Apparent Antiship Missile Targets in Gobi Test Areas during 2013, but here are the comparisons to whet your interest:

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The best definition of the “action-reaction” syndrome was provided by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara during a deeply conflicted speech before United Press International editors and publishers on September 18, 1967. McNamara used this occasion to rail against the nuclear arms race while endorsing a limited ballistic missile defense, ostensibly against China. [Aspiring wonks: to understand why McNamara would deliver a speech undermining his recommended course of action, check out Mort Halperin’s essay, “The Decision to Deploy the ABM: Bureaucratic and Domestic Politics in the Johnson Administration” in the October 1972 issue of World Politics.]

Here are the key passages:

There is a kind of mad momentum intrinsic to the development of all new nuclear weaponry. If a weapon system works – and works well – there is strong pressure from many directions to procure and deploy the weapon out of all proportion to the prudent level required…

What is essential to understand here is that the Soviet Union and the United States mutually influence one another’s strategic plans.

Whatever be their intentions, whatever be our intentions, actions – or even realistically potential actions – on either side relating to the build-up of nuclear forces, be they either offensive or defensive weapons, necessarily trigger reactions on the other side.

It is precisely this action-reaction phenomenon that fuels an arms race.

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Norms are standards of proper or acceptable behavior. They establish expectations and clarify misbehavior, thereby helping to isolate, limit, and sanction bad behavior. Without norms, there are no norm-breakers. They can be codified in treaties and other legal instruments, or they can be less formal, such as those embedded in international codes of conduct. When less-formal norms become customary international practice, they gain standing in international law.

Norms can be particularly helpful when they encourage transparency, because transparency measures can lead to important negotiating breakthroughs. Extraordinary treaties that drastically reduced nuclear forces between the United States and the Soviet Union were enabled by a slightly regarded, multilateral agreement in 1983 in which the Kremlin permitted foreign observers to attend conventional military exercises.

Not everyone will sign up to norms right away, and there will always be outliers. Even so, norms can discourage unwanted behavior, even by holdouts — but not for die-hard outliers. The speed and effectiveness of norm building depends on the attitudes and actions of major powers, not outliers. The most reluctant major power is usually China.

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AS James Acton, Catherine Dill and I prepared our “Crashing Tiger, Hidden Hotspring” post, one of my students, Philippe Mauger, made a number of important observations including offering a possible identification of the rocket engine found among the debris. I asked Philippe to write up some of his observations.

Hypersonic loose ends
A short addendum to the “Crashing Tiger, Hidden Hotspring” piece.

Philippe Mauger

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Did Vladimir Putin just threaten the West with nuclear weapons? Could nuclear weapons be used in Europe? What is Russia’s nuclear doctrine? Does a nuclear balance make the world safe for conventional war?

Today, Aaron and Jeffrey talk about Russia’s nuclear weapons and the recent chatter about them in Moscow.

Jeffrey and Aaron discussed a number of articles during the podcast:

Jeffrey Lewis, “The Sources of Putin’s Conduct,” Foreign Policy, July 15, 2014.

Пятая колонка, kasparov.org, August 8, 2014.

Meeting with members of political parties represented in the State Dumа, August 14, 2014.

Vladimir Putin visits the Seliger 2014 10th National Youth Forum, August 29, 2014.

Anne Applebaum, “War in Europe is not a Hysterical Idea,” The Washington Post, August, 29, 2014.

Jeffrey Lewis, “A Boy and His Toys,” Foreign Policy, September 5, 2014.

As always, you can subscribe to the (now better sounding) Arms Control Wonk Podcast on iTunes.

 
 

Don’t miss our podcast on the failed Chinese and US hypersonic launches!

Analyzing China’s August 7, 2014 Hypersonic Glider Test

James Acton, Catherine Dill and Jeffrey Lewis

September 3, 2014

By a lake in an Inner Mongolian desert, about 200 km south-east of Ordos—the oft-described ghost city that hosted the Miss World contest in 2012—lies a Chinese resort called the Bulong Hu Hot Springs Resort (布龙湖温泉度假区). On August 7, at about 11am, tourists in the resort were presumably doing what tourists at a lake-side spa do. Maybe a young couple from Beijing was soaking in the hot springs, enjoying a luxurious end to a hot and dusty trek around Inner Mongolia. Perhaps a retiree from Ordos, bored of watching Miss World highlights on Good Morning Ordos, was enjoying the relative excitement of fishing on the lake. Maybe a shepherd was grazing his sheep in the cultivated land just outside the resort. What we can safely assume is that none of them knew what was, almost literally, about to hit them.

The noise—a thundering crash—must have been the first terrifying indication of what had happened. Fortunately, we don’t have to speculate about what they saw because some of them photographed it: huge clouds of red smoke billowing up from the desert. Someone even got near enough to the crash site to take photos of it. Even to his or her (presumably) untrained eye, it must have been clear that the debris littering the area was from some sort of a rocket.

These cell phone images appeared online almost immediately. However, they seem to have been suppressed and quickly vanished from the Chinese websites where they first appeared.  But this is the internet, so nothing can be deleted.

Almost immediately, Chinese internet sources connected the rocket with a test of what the Pentagon calls the WU-14—a hypersonic glider, launched by a rocket, that China is known to have tested at least once before, in January 2014. (Technically, the term “WU-14” probably refers to the whole package of booster and glider, but it’s become the glider’s de-facto name).

Bill Gertz, of the Washington Free Beacon, picked up on these rumors and on, August 19, published a somewhat alarmist article, which appears to have been largely based on Chinese internet sources—although he also reported that two anonymous U.S. officials had confirmed that the test did involve the WU-14. Three days later, the South China Morning Post reported that the test was a failure. Chinese internet sources had said the same thing but Gertz did not, implying that such debris was to be expected.

It turns out that there is a wealth of open-source information about the August 7 test. It has allowed us to find the exact location of the crash site, and to make several important observations about what happened that day in a remote part of Inner Mongolia: the WU-14 hypersonic vehicle was almost certainly tested, but the test was probably a failure. More generally, our analysis indicates that the Chinese hypersonic glider program is probably significantly less ambitious than the U.S. Advanced Hypersonic Weapon—a U.S. hypersonic glider that was tested 18 days after the WU-14 and also failed.

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Arms control has boom-and-bust cycles. We’re now going through very tough times. They remind me of the Carter administration. As Yogi Berra has said, it feels like déjà vu all over again – only Obama’s challenges are more severe. This time, instead of a sclerotic Kremlin leadership bungling into Afghanistan – the graveyard of great power follies – Obama faces a brazen Kremlin leader who seeks to upend the post-Cold War order on NATO’s doorstep.

In tough times, it’s good to remember this timeline: eight years after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty. I don’t expect another reversal of this magnitude in my lifetime, but I do expect U.S.-Russian relations to stabilize eventually. The challenge now is to respond effectively to adversity, to reassure friends and allies, to minimize losses, and to position ourselves for future gains.

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What is the status of China’s and the United States’ hypersonic weapons programs? What can open source tell us about China’s most recent rest? What happened at Kodiak Island? Are hypersonic weapons destabilizing? And why were Jeffrey and James searching for resorts in Mongolia?

Today, Jeffrey and Aaron speak with James Acton, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, about hypersonic weapons.

Jeffrey, Aaron, and James discussed a number of articles and tweets during the podcast:

James Acton, “Silver Bullet: Asking the Right Questions about Prompt Global Strike,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2013.

James Acton, “The Arms Race Goes Hypersonic,” Foreign Policy, January 30, 2014.

James Acton, “Target?,” Foreign Policy, May 6, 2014.

Drew Herman, “Failed Rocket Launch in Kodiak Under Investigation,” August 26, 2014.

As always, you can subscribe to the (now better sounding) Arms Control Wonk Podcast on iTunes.

 
 

For the second year in a row, a PSA regarding the Isodarco conference!

Isodarco
since 1966
Italian Pugwash Group
International School on Disarmament and Research on Conflicts
28th Winter Course on:
“GLOBAL NUCLEAR GOVERNANCE: ACTORS, POLICIES AND ISSUES”
ANDALO (TRENTO) – ITALY    -    7 – 14 January 2015
Directors of the Course: Paolo Foradori (School of International Studies, University of Trento, Italy)
Tariq Rauf (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Sweden)

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Our nuclear future would take a significant turn for the worse if Beijing and New Delhi begin to mimic Cold War thinking about the utility of nuclear weapons. So far, they haven’t. New Delhi waited 24 years in between nuclear tests, and Beijing took about as long to begin sea trials of second-generation ballistic missile-carrying submarines. Both have issued “No First Use” declarations, focused on economic metrics of national influence, and generally dealt with nuclear deterrence in ways that are hard for Washington and Moscow to comprehend. Their parallel nuclear postures are all the more remarkable because they have fought a limited war over a longstanding border dispute. Can the uncommon strategic constraint of these two rising powers continue? Important tests lie ahead, like those facing Washington and Moscow in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

One test will be whether China, and then India decide to place multiple warheads atop their new long-range ballistic missiles. Given the small number of nuclear powered SSBNs China plans to build, the small number of ballistic missiles they can carry, and concerns about the effectiveness of U.S. anti-submarine warfare capabilities, it would not be surprising if Beijing moved toward multiple maneuverable or independently-targetable warheads at sea. And if at sea, then perhaps on land. With more warheads, plus improved guidance capabilities, counterforce options could become more interesting. A second test is whether China and India will go beyond technology demonstrations toward limited ballistic missile defense deployments.

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