Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk

 

I’ve got a new column coming out on the allegation that Iran has a covert enrichment site in the Tehran suburbs called “Lavizan-3.”  Along with Paul-Anton Krüger, I tracked down someone who actually visited the site recently. It is precisely what Iran says it is: a facility to make identification documents. NCRI is full of it.

Anyway, my friend Phil Baxter, a PhD student interested in open source work, put together a little rundown of the claims.  I found it really useful, not least because it confirmed a bunch of things I thought but was too lazy to write down.  So, here is Phil’s analysis.

The Lavizan-3 Site

Phillip Baxter

On Tuesday, the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran announced that Iran had been hiding yet another nuclear-related facility. This time, in the heart of Tehran. The facility, known as the Lavizan-3 for the neighborhood in which it resides, is officially operated by Matiran Company and is used to process passports and identity cards. Unofficially, it is claimed to conduct illicit uranium enrichment using advanced centrifuges deep underground.

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The negotiating endgame with Iran is upon us. The Obama administration had no choice but to hold fast to the March 31st deadline, allowing further time only to add detail if a framework agreement can be reached. Restiveness on Capitol Hill is growing and Republican support is hard to detect. Extending these talks once again would whip up stronger opposition in Congress without providing any additional leverage on Iran’s Supreme Leader to make concessions. A firm deadline is needed to finalize an agreement that effectively constrains Iran’s bomb-making capabilities in verifiable ways.

Supporters and opponents of trying to reach an agreement with Iran have tried to move the goalposts for an acceptable agreement as the negotiations have progressed. U.N. Security Council resolutions beginning in 2006 have demanded that Iran suspend its enrichment program. The Government of Israel, vocal domestic critics, and Members of Congress who oppose an agreement now insist that Iran have no enrichment capability whatsoever. For its part, the Obama administration and its negotiating partners have shifted from suspension to allowing enrichment under observable constraints.

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Nuclear postures matter. They frame requirements, add to or detract from stability, and can affect outcomes when deterrence fails, which happens more than expected. Vipin Narang covers this ground in his masterful new book, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (2014). Finally, we have a book on proliferation that is rooted in the discipline of Political Science with persuasive explanatory powers and great analytical value. Vipin’s book has one chapter that only Political Scientists can relate to, but the rest is highly accessible.

Most of the deterrence literature spawned by the Cold War has little applicability to newer entrants into the nuclear club. For example, we can’t tell from this literature what nuclear posture newcomers will chose, and why. Vipin offers three basic choices: (1) assured retaliation; (2) catalytic (a posture designed to prompt the intervention of a patron); and (3) asymmetrical escalation. At present, India and China have adopted assured retaliation. South Africa, Israel, and Pakistan initially chose catalytic postures. France, and now Pakistan, adheres to asymmetrical escalation. Vipin concludes that an assured retaliation posture doesn’t fare well when paired up against asymmetrical escalation.

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As fate would have it, I will be in DC for a talk about my new IISS Adelphi book, Paper Tigers: China’s Nuclear Posture. (IISS is being unbelievably civil about the fact that I am doing the talk at another institution.)

The talk is at 11:30 am-1:00 pm on Friday, February 27, 2015 , at the George Washington University (1957 E Street NW) . RSVP here.

I need to hurry back ASAP for family reasons, but will be around on Friday night.  Since the talk falls painfully close to my 40th birthday, I’ll be heading with some friends to the Big Hunt for a few beers after work (5-ish until late-ish) in a desperate effort to, however briefly, recapture my long lost youth.  If you’d like to see that trainwreck, I’d be delighted to let you buy me a beer and laugh at me as a fall down.

 
 

Two months from now in New York, cabinet-level officials from 189 countries will read out national statements filled to the brim with resolve to combat the spread of nuclear arms, as they do every five years when the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is reviewed by its member states.

The NPT imposes legally binding obligations on its parties. These include putting peaceful-use nuclear materials under safeguards, and not manufacturing nuclear weapons. But there are other things that constitute good nonproliferation behavior that the NPT does not require. When governments don’t do those things, it is often because internal conflicts arise at the level of national government decision-making–especially when more than one policy goal competes for supremacy, and when perceived strategic interests are at stake.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the United States became increasingly annoyed by two Turkish companies that were supplying power inverters for Pakistan’s uranium enrichment program. After having requested Turkey for ten years without avail to halt this trade, in 1988 U.S. President Ronald Reagan personally raised it with Turkey’s President, Kenan Evren. But after that tete-a-tete another decade passed before Turkey snuffed out the assistance to Pakistan. For Ankara, the bottom line then was that Pakistan was a critical bilateral partner–and more important than Turkey’s nonproliferation interest in this instance.

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What follows is a post I originally wrote for my personal blog, Turkey Wonk. The article touches on a lot of the issues Jeffrey and I have talked about in recent podcasts, so I thought I would share it with the Arms Conrol Wonk crowd. Enjoy.

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I am confused. This morning, Anadolu Agency reported that Turkey’s Defense Minster, Ismet Yilmaz, wrote in response to a parliamentary question about Turkey’s missile defense tender that Turkey’s future system will “not be integrated” with NATO’s missile defense system.

Here is the tweet:

Reuters picked up on the story and wrote the following:

Turkey will go ahead with plans to order a $3.4-billion missile defense system from China, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said, despite U.S. and NATO concerns over security and compatibility of weaponry. Yilmaz said in a written response to a parliamentary question published on Thursday that Ankara will use the long-range system without integrating it with NATO’s system.  Turkey originally awarded the tender to China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp in 2013, prompting U.S. and NATO officials to say the deal could raise questions over security. Turkey later said it was in talks with France on the issue, but Yilmaz said no new bids had been received. ”The project will be financed with foreign financing. Work on assessing the bids has been completed and no new official bid was received,” the minister said.

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One paradox of nuclear deterrence has always been that whatever utility the Bomb provides is lost once the nuclear threshold is crossed, however large or small the boom. There is no bigger blunderbuss than a nuclear weapon atop a long-range missile. Smaller-yield message-senders have been created in the form of tactical nuclear weapons, but any advantageous battlefield use of nuclear weapons against a similarly armed foe requires heroic assumptions. Basic nuclear deterrence is measured by non-use. The derived benefits of “strengthening” deterrence by means of more discriminating or improved methods of delivery have been completely conjectural.

How much of a deterrent is a weapon that hasn’t been used on battlefields for almost 70 years? Deterrence strategists object to this formulation. They argue that, even without mushroom clouds, the Bomb has leveraged favorable outcomes in diplomacy, crises and wars.  These arguments do not withstand close scrutiny. The Bomb has indeed energized diplomacy to defuse crises – after exacerbating them. It has also reinforced the common sense of major powers not to fight full-blown conventional wars. Beyond reinforcing caution, the Bomb’s suasion is limited. It can’t override bad national decisions, local circumstances, and differentials in commitment to achieve preferred outcomes. The Bomb hasn’t proven its worth when nuclear-armed states square off against non-nuclear-weapon states, as is evident by a painfully long track record of conventional wars, limited wars, proxy wars and unconventional wars.

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In 1958, the US Air Force lost a nuclear weapon off the coast of Georgia, near Tybee Island.  The weapon is thought to be irretrievably lost, despite a brief glimmer of hope in 2004.

So, I was pretty surprised to see a story claiming that a Canadian couple found it on a diving holiday.  But it’s not true.

Barbara Johnson of the World News Daily has a completely fictitious story about a Canadian couple finding the Tybee bomb on a diving holiday. Let’s be super clear: This story is complete and total bullshit.  Although, you know, you might have guessed that from the author’s bio: ”A former pornstar, she has rapidly reached the summit in her new profession thanks to her good looks and ‘social” skills.’” Her recent body of work includes stories like “California Man Gets 25-Pound Penile Implant to Become Pornstar.”

I’ve archived the story so you don’t have to give Ms. Johnson your clicks or worry about her deleting the post or its tell-tale pictures. It’s easy to establish the story is fake, using a reverse image search.

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Its cold in Moscow. On a chilly day in a hotel overlooking Red Square, Boston Globe reported “the Russians informed the Americans that they were refusing any more US help protecting their largest stockpiles of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from being stolen or sold on the black market.” How bad is it? Well, things are bad after Russia circumvented Ukraine’s state sovereignty. Today Jeffrey and Aaron discuss the cancellation of US-Russian cooperation programs. To lighten the mood, Jeffrey and Aaron call Dr. Bethany Goldblum, the Founder and Director of the Nuclear Policy Working Group at UC Berkeley, to talk about her efforts to train the next generation of nuclear security experts.

Links:

 
 

The Iranian nuclear negotiations are among the most volatile arms control and international affairs topics in the news today, with commentators predicting success or failure in equal measure.  Additionally, the current sanctions fight in Congress could have far-reaching implications regardless of whether or not Iran and the P5+1 reach a solution.  Therefore, the event The Endgame: Success or Failure in Iran Nuclear Talks (hosted by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy in mid-January) was particularly informative.  Ambassador Barbara Bodine moderated a panel consisting of Robin Wright, Paul Pillar, and Ambassador Bill Luers.  Luers and Pillar are on the board of directors of The Iran Project (one can find their reports here).

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