Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk

 

The most important post-Cold War initiative to reduce nuclear dangers undertaken by the United States has come to a quiet, unceremonious end. Cooperative threat reduction programs to secure loose nukes and reduce surplus force structure in the remnants of the former Soviet Union were the crowning achievements of the distinguished legislative careers of Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. These programs became necessary and possible only when Moscow was a supplicant and when Washington was generous to a battered rival. Think of a Marshall Plan narrowly tailored to weapons of mass destruction and disruption, and think of recovery in terms of preventing proliferation and nuclear terrorism – and you have the essence of the Nunn-Lugar initiatives.

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No, it’s not a rocket.

An Israeli television station has published a number of satellite images of a launch pad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center near Semnan in Iran that purport to show a new Iranian missile.

One problem: It’s not a rocket.

A simple understanding of how the launch pad works quickly demonstrates that the object in the image cannot be a missile.  It is an architectural element on the gantry, possibly an elevator.

I love satellite photographs, but you have to interpret them in context. It’s important to model the whole facility and understand how it operates. Otherwise, you make big mistakes.

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Some time ago, I came across a funny story — did you know Taiwan tried to disguise cruise missile deployments as delivery trucks?  Guess how well it worked?  Well, you’re reading about it here, aren’t you?

The story was actually reported in near real time in Taiwan.  But I’ve never see a full write up of the cruise missile and the deployment fiasco.  So, I thought I’d write the rare blog post and do a podcast.

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What’s up with Taiwan’s cruise missile program? What in the world compelled the Taiwanese government to deploy the HF-2E in poorly disguised civilian trucks? And how cool is it that Taiwan displayed the HF-2E’s engine?

To get to the bottom of Taiwan’s cruise missile program, Aaron and Jeffrey speak with Dennis Gormley, the author of Missile Contagion and A Low Visibility Force Multiplier, about the proliferation of cruise missiles, the lack of an effective cruise missile defense, and Taiwan’s efforts to date.

 
 

Above: Monument to the Chagai (or Chaghi) Hills nuclear test site, Faizabad Interchange, Islamabad, Pakistan.

What benefits are conferred by nuclear weapons? Do they provide status? Not like in the past. North Korea and Pakistan haven’t gained status by having the Bomb. Instead, they have become more worrisome countries. Do they alleviate security concerns? Possessing nuclear weapons against a similarly-armed foe or against an adversary with stronger conventional capabilities provides a sense of deterrence, dissuasion, and national assurance. To give the Bomb its due, during the Cold War, nuclear weapons helped keep border skirmishes limited between major powers, fostered cautionary behavior in severe crises, and reinforced a natural disinclination to engage in large-scale conventional wars. These were – and remain — significant accomplishments.

But the Bomb always promises more than it delivers. Possessing the Bomb, even in significant numbers, has not deterred limited border clashes between nuclear-armed states, conventional wars with non-nuclear-weapon states, punishing proxy wars and severe crises. The Bomb isn’t stabilizing; it exacerbates security dilemmas and can engender risk taking as well as caution. The Bomb promises advances in security that are quickly undercut by countermeasures taken by wary adversaries.

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We love Serial. But what does it have to with arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament – nothing, really. So why talk about it? Geospatial analysis, of course.

No, really!

Today, Jeffrey and Aaron speak with Susan Simpson, an associate at the Volkov Law Group (and an expert in national security law), about geospatial analysis and how it relates to the Serial podcast.

The View From LL2 | Thoughts on law, economics, and all things slightly geeky. – Susan’s blog

 
 

Secretary of State John Kerry is headed for the subcontinent, where his most important messages will be delivered in private and his public remarks will be as bland as possible. That’s how the game is played. Don’t expect U.S. officials to say much in public about nuclear issues or the pathways to confrontation and conflict between India and Pakistan. Press releases and public statements are designed to avoid unnecessary controversies. Since even minor instances of public candor raise hackles, U.S. public diplomacy consists of whispers and indirect messages.

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As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to count blessings and announce the winners of ACW’s year-end contest to name movie titles and creatures related to the Bomb.

The arms-control business is a notoriously glass-half-full/half-empty enterprise. In the spirit of the season, let’s acknowledge some positives. The stock values of nuclear weapons for major powers continued to fall after another year without mushroom clouds and nuclear testing. Vladimir Putin spent large sums modernizing his nuclear arsenal and flexing muscle while Russia’s economy tanked. Another year has passed without the explosion of a dirty bomb. Also a year of curtailed Iranian centrifuge enrichment programs – not nearly enough for some, but more than skeptics had reason to expect. A year in which India and Pakistan did not have a crisis. A year in which the framework for strategic arms reductions remained in place, despite Ukraine and Crimea. A year when Bashar al-Assad gave up much of his chemical arsenal — safely removed from a war zone. A year in which norms for arms trade have been codified. They will be broken, but it’s a start. Not such a bad year, after all.

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Update: The “read more” link should work – The Wonktern

Even for a nation accustomed to severe trials, what happened in Peshawar on December 16th was unbearable. Pakistani children, mostly belonging to military families, along with their teachers, were gunned down with automatic weapons held by nihilists posing as religious zealots. Another ring of Dante’s Inferno reached — beyond murdering health care workers trying to inoculate children from polio.

Conspiracies occlude reality in Pakistan. Zealots still given air time tell viewers not to believe the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s press release admitting responsibility for slaughter. Also disregard the group photos of stalwart child-killers. Apologists continue to say it was because of the Americans. Or the drone strikes. Or the Indians, Israelis, Uzbeks, or Arabs. At least Imran Khan, the most popular politician in Pakistan at present, and a former apologist for the TTP, has now pinned responsibility where it belongs. As has Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Party.

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The space debris problem continues to grow as diplomats move at a snail’s pace to take remedial steps. Every piece of space debris about the size of a marble is a lethal weapon, traveling with the approximate energy of a one-ton safe dropped from a five-story building. Anything struck by a debris fragment this size will create a new mutating, lethal debris field. NASA’s Donald J. Kessler co-authored a seminal article in 1978 [Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 83, no. A6, June 1, 1978] which forecast that pin-ball effects created by successive collisions would eventually make low Earth orbit unsustainable for space operations.

Wake-up calls abound. The indispensable industry trade weekly, Space News, reports in its October 6th issue that space-faring nations are doing a “mediocre job,” especially in low Earth orbit, of respecting voluntary guidelines on debris mitigation endorsed by the United Nations in 2007 after almost two decades of deliberation by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordinating Committee, a consortium of space agencies from almost all major space-faring nations. A study by the French space agency, CNES, concluded that 40 percent of the satellites and rocket bodies launched from 2000-2012 will not meet voluntary guidelines.

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