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The most practical lesson I learned at Generation Prague was to never show up 25 minutes early to a State Department event, as doors typically open 25 minutes after they are scheduled to do so.  My fellow compatriots and I endured 50 minutes of a coffee-less morning until finally, at 8:25, we were processed through security.  Thankfully, the conference inside made the wait worth it.

The list of speakers included Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chief of the UN Joint Mission in Syria Sigrid Kaag, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs Andrew Weber, former Lieutenant General and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Director Frank Klotz, Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, and STRATCOM commander Admiral Cecil Haney.

Aside from a few technical difficulties (such as Lieutenant General Klotz’s microphone not functioning until midway through his speech), the conference went off without a hitch.  It focused on innovation in national security, primarily via the application of technology and youth engagement using social media. Senator Murphy delivered a keynote address in which he emphasized the non-traditional nature of 21st century national security threats.  He argued that nuclear weapons overall have become a liability, due to the rapidly diminishing value of nuclear deterrence.  Cyber threats and small-scale crises neither require nor can be remedied by the blunt force a nuclear solution entails.  Additionally, the traditional concepts of deterrence theory cannot be as readily applied due to the rise of non-state actors, and the increasingly blurred distinction between sovereign nations, proxy organizations, and terrorist groups (e.g. ISIS).  Even when deterrence applies, such as with great powers like the Russian Federation, the cold war era approach to deterrence are no longer effective in areas like Eastern Europe, due to the shift away from traditional ground forces and greater reliance on quasi-covert operations.  Nevertheless, stated Senator Murphy, the threat of United States use of military force must be seen as a credible.

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What open source information is out there about the MH17 shootdown? Do the rebels have the Buk missile system that reportedly downed the aircraft? How has open source analysis helped analysts fact check the Kremlin’s claims about the shooting down of MH17? And what does all of this have to do with a billboard?

Today, Aaron and Jeffrey talk all things open source and the downing of MH17.

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

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Fellow ACW readers, can you recall a time when the world seemed more inflamed and disordered? Governed spaces are shrinking. Wild men lay waste. The dogs of war have been unleashed and peaceful settlements seem more distant than ever. “World Wars” and “splendid little wars” are historical phenomena. The twenty-first century has given us a profusion of messy wars with indeterminate endings. The biggest of the lot, in Afghanistan and Iraq, are likely to produce unending sorrows, setting a template that has spread widely.

Another Israeli offensive in Gaza has resulted in more than 550 killed so far – reportedly 75 per cent of them noncombatants — along with 25 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians. Sunnis are slaughtering Shia, and vice versa, across the Fertile Crescent. Iraq is a cauldron, Syria a slaughterhouse. A new Caliphate led by Osama bin Laden’s faithful has expelled Christians from Mosul and is at the gates of Baghdad. Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea. His thuggish surrogates in eastern Ukraine have been trained in the black arts of operating air defense batteries that can shoot down passenger jets. Deranged leaders of Boko Haram in Nigeria have seized young girls from schools, holding them for ransom. Iran’s religious supremo has publicly declared a future requirement for centrifuges capable of producing 190,000 separative work units. Once-promising negotiations for an Iranian nuclear deal now look cloudy. If a deal can still be struck, many on Capitol Hill will gear up to foil it.

Not all the news in bad. There has not been a flash point in the East or South China Sea over Beijing’s quest for energy security. Pakistan’s armed forces are engaged in a campaign to reclaim national authority along the Afghan border. Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are in decent shape. Pakistan and India are getting along passably well.

But here’s the rub: The good news is perishable. The bad news will be with us for a long time.

 
 

Jeffrey has penned an outstanding column “The Sources of Putin’s Conduct.” Jeffrey artfully—in his wonderfully irreverent style—painted a picture of Vladimir Vladimirovich’s motives. His diagnoses of Homo Sovieticus narcissism and endemic Russian paranoia hit the right points, from the Long Telegram to Putin’s time in Germany.  I give Jeffrey an “A” for his answer to the second “eternal Russian question”—Who is to blame? Putin is, of course.  But on the first eternal question—What must be done?—I do not agree with him.

As a long-time student of Russia, the only firm conclusion I ever developed was that Russia is a place of extremes.  When I first went to Russia many years ago, Russians could not show you their own borders on a map.  A friend tells a story of getting lost outside St. Petersburg.  When finding the map they used led them into a field with no road, an old Russian gentlemen explained “maps are meant to confuse German tank formations, not find your way around.” Read Full Story →

 
 

A friend and I have an ongoing debate about the reasons for the plague of partisan rancor now afflicting Washington in general and arms control in particular. For my friend, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) was the Rubicon. Before Obamacare, he points out that important domestic legislation received bipartisan support. These numbers back up his argument:

Social Security Act of 1935
Senate:
60 Democrats yes; 16 Republicans yes
1 Democrats no; 5 Republicans no
House:
284 Democrats yes; 81 Republicans yes
15 Democrats no; 15 Republicans no

Civil Rights Act of 1964
Senate:
46 Democrats yes; 27 Republicans yes
21 Democrats no; 6 Republicans no
House:
152 Democrats yes; 138 Republicans yes
96 Democrats no; 34 Republicans no

Affordable Care Act
Senate:
58 Democrats yes; 2 Independents yes; 0 Republicans yes
0 Democrats no; 39 Republicans no
House:
219 Democrats yes; 0 Republicans yes
34 Democrats no; 178 Republicans no

After the White House and the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill rammed through Obamacare, my friend believes that Republican Members of Congress resolved not to work with President Obama. In my view, the absence of bipartisanship predates the battles over health care, reflecting quarter-century-long trends within the Republican Party and deepening divisions within the country at large.

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Has the focus on the unlikely possibility of a nuclear-armed Japan distracted from more important policy challenges that threaten the shared interests of the United States and Japan in arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation? Should policymakers take Japanese “nut-jobs” seriously? How has the domino theory of proliferation hindered more serious discussions about nuclear issues in allied states? And finally, how do Aaron and Jeffrey manage to live “glamorous jet-setting life-styles” while working as wonks (and thereby receiving “wonk style” salaries)?

Tune in to find out.

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

Jeffrey Lewis, “If Japan Wanted to Build a Nuclear Bomb it Would be Awesome at it,” Foreign Policy, June 26, 2014.

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

 
 

This is a guest post on behalf of ACW reader and occasional contributor Chris Camp.

The first Atomic bombs, Trinity, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, hold an outsized place in our perceptions of what a nuclear weapon should be.  Certainly they were notable as the first bombs, the only ones used in anger, and the most famous devices in a subject shrouded in secrecy, but times have moved on while perceptions largely have not.  When we talk about cars people don’t think of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, when we discuss airplanes the Wright Flyer isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, yet when you mention an atomic bomb odds are that one of the WWII devices is what people will think of.

This perception came up on Arms Control Wonk in an article on the 1973 Yom Kippur war by Avner Cohen in which he states:

[I]t is plausible that on the eve of the 1973 War Israel had a small nuclear inventory of weapons, say, between ten to twenty first-generation fission (PU) weapons (roughly, Nagasaki-type). One could speculate further that most of the inventory was in the form of aerial bombs (probably configured for the Mirage) and some were early prototypes of missile warheads for the Jericho I (which in October 1973 was apparently not yet operational).

This led to a discussion on what the Israeli arsenal might have actually looked like and whether a “Nagasaki type” bomb was in fact a reasonable assumption for a fledgling nuclear weapons state in 1973.

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This is a guest post on behalf of ACW reader and occasional contributor Chris Camp.

Everyone knows that there are basically two paths to a bomb, right?

You either build a bunch of centrifuges and enrich uranium to 93% or you build a few reactors and extract plutonium from the spent fuel.  If you’re old enough, you might also mention gaseous diffusion as an alternative to centrifuges, but once again pretty much no one does that anymore.  This common understanding has led to certain materials and technologies being watched very carefully to detect proliferation.  For example, fluorine compatible seals, special bearings, and maraging steel tubes all point to centrifuges, while someone attempting to obtain ultra high purity graphite and Tributyl-phosphate points to a plutonium program.  All of these items have other uses of course, but they serve as “tripwires” for potential proliferation.

While everyone knows the standard routes to the bomb, history is littered with other paths that have been tried and either rejected or overtaken by more efficient systems.    However, like the title says, just because these technologies are antiquated doesn’t mean they don’t work and couldn’t pop up again in someone’s nuclear program.

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Underground at Anhalter Bahnhof and waiting for the S2 train a couple of mornings ago,  a reporter rang me up to talk about Iran.

He had read this piece written a few days before, in which I had run down why the Russians had become increasingly perturbed in recent months about Iran’s claim that it needed to enrich and fabricate fuel for its Bushehr-1 reactor. Based on what Russian sources have told me since November, I’m nearly certain that vendor Rosatom has no real desire to permit Iran to make this fuel anytime soon, regardless of my encouragement back in the beginning of 2013 that Russia and other powers negotiating with Iran seriously think about that long-term option.

The journalist, Jonathan Tirone of Bloomberg, roped me into a discussion (by this time I was coasting on the S-Bahn through Berlin-Zehlendorf) about whether Iran, in lieu of fabricating fuel for Bushehr, could scratch its itch by enriching some uranium and shipping it off to Russia to be fabricated into fuel for the reactor.

That conversation contributed to this story which Tirone’s editors sent out on the wire later the same day. Going beyond the point that everyone and his uncle had noticed the day before–that the Iranians were openly using separative work units (SWU) instead of the number of centrifuges as a benchmark in framing their “practical needs” to enrich uranium–the piece established that, in principle, a gambit could be thought up permitting Iran to enrich some fuel for its power reactors, as I had suggested 18 months ago.

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We at the Stimson Center are celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary this year. A quarter-century ago, the Cold War was receding at a rapid pace and the Soviet Union was in its last stages of decomposition. Washington and Moscow were on course to reduce their nuclear arsenals by previously unthinkable percentages. It was, in other words, a perfect time to start a think tank. Co-founder Barry Blechman and I were steeped in the practices of strategic arms control. What would we – and the Stimson Center – do now?

After huddling with funders, two new programming initiatives took shape. Barry would convene wise veterans of the Cold War to revive the notion of seeking the complete elimination of nuclear weapons; I would carry the “toolbox” of confidence-building and nuclear risk-reduction measures that helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot to troubled regions. My game plan was to offer countries wishing to avoid dangerous nuclear competitions a menu of choices that could be suitably adapted to fit regional circumstances.

Initially, Stimson convened workshops on CBMs in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India and Pakistan. The need for Stimson programming to promote nuclear-related CBMs in the Southern Cone melted away with the advent of civilian governments. And back in the early 1990s, Stimson was stretched too thin to sustain CBM programming in the Middle East.

In contrast, it was easy to establish comparative programming advantage in South Asia. Very few foreign NGOs were active in the region, and none were involved in programming that addressed the dangers inherent in covert Pakistani and Indian nuclear programs. My early field trips were spent listening, learning, and rebutting arguments that CBMs weren’t needed. Back then, the counter-arguments were that these measures were a Western imposition and that India and Pakistan were too sensible to engage in a nuclear arms competition. The Line of Control dividing Kashmir was a long way away from the Fulda Gap.

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