Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


Five years ago, President Barack Obama was preparing to deliver a speech in Prague calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Nongovernmental organizations, including the Stimson Center, helped with blueprints for getting to zero, and distinguished “formers” were lending their names to the cause. Now these initiatives seem like headlines from a bygone era. The pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons remains an essential complement to nuclear non-proliferation, but this quest cannot be divorced from international relations. President Obama continues to try to reduce nuclear dangers at Nuclear Security Summits and in negotiations with Iran, but progress comes grudgingly. The need of the hour is to prevent further backsliding, not to promote sweeping plans.

Read Full Story →


I’ve been mulling a post over the recent North Korean launches of Scud and now Nodong missiles, but I want to draw attention to a wrinkle that’s been neglected — North Korea’s new 300 mm artillery system.

Read Full Story →


A few disarmament posters by Robert Wout, better known as Opland.

Many of my colleagues are attending the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (My friend @MilesPomper is tweeting up a storm for #NSS2014.) It is normal for the assembled heads of government to bring “housegifts” — tangible accomplishments to improve nuclear security that will paint their countries in a positive light.

The opposite incentive is present too, as demonstrated by the Dutch group “Disarm.” (Can you figure out what they want?) Four activists broke into Volkel Airbase, posting pictures of shelters (original in Dutch) where US nuclear weapons are believed to be stored (see right). This is very similar to a series of intrusions several years ago at Kleine Brogel Airbase by a Belgian peace group. (1|2|3)

The incursions would seem to demonstrate the 2008 finding by the Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures that “most sites [in Europe where US nuclear weapons are stored] require significant additional resources to meet DoD security requirements.”

Read Full Story →


Yeah, that’s a weird title, huh?  Well, it’s a weird idea.  Bear with me.

Over the course of my writing, teaching and corresponding about China’s nuclear forces, I kept stumbling over the same question: Why does China insist on calling the Second Artillery, China’s nuclear-armed missile force, the “core force” for China’s deterrent?

Read Full Story →


There is something unsettling about seeing a Confederate flag fluttering above a nuclear test site.

No, this isn’t some alternate history where the South rises again, armed with nuclear weapons.  It’s a (cropped) image after the October 1964 Salmon shot — one of the pair of nuclear tests conducted in the Tatum Salt Dome in Mississippi.

Arms control wonks will know that the United States conducted a pair of tests to examine Albert Latter‘s notion that a state could “decouple” nuclear tests by conducting them in large chambers.  You will sometimes see a decoupling factor of 70 in salt — that comes directly from the Sterling shot inside the Salmon cavity. I don’t want to revisit the decoupling debate here, other than to note that the National Academies and others have  discussed decoupling at length.

Project Dribble is enjoying a resurgence because David Allen Burke has written a new history of Atomic Testing in Mississippi: Project Dribble and the Quest for Nuclear Weapons Treaty Verification in the Cold War Era.

Read Full Story →


Husain Haqqani has many detractors in Pakistan due to his shifting political allegiances and book publications. The thesis of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military (2005) is about a longstanding alliance of convenience between the Army and Pakistan’s religious parties “to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan and to put pressure on India,” which cemented the Army’s domestic dominance and policies with dire consequences. Husain treads lightly on the failings of Pakistan’s political class, which bid for the Army’s favors while accumulating wealth. Washington comes in for heavy criticism for backing military strongmen and for not making assistance conditional on behavioral change. Pakistan comes across as a “rentier state” – one that “lives off the rents of its strategic location” — yet another reason why this book did not receive rave reviews in Rawalpindi.

Payback came when Husain was forced out of his post as President Asif Zadari’s emissary to Washington. After the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, an orchestrated media campaign charged him of conspiring with a Pakistani-American living in Monaco to seek the Obama administration’s help to prevent an imaginary military coup attempt. Pakistan’s judicial system, which has difficulty prosecuting the perpetrators of mass-casualty attacks, quickly found sufficient evidence to launch judicial proceedings of treasonous behavior.

Husain is now back in the United States writing books. His latest, Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding, will add Pakistan’s diplomatic corps to his list of detractors. He has burned another bridge, this time with a historical narrative of Pakistan’s play book to secure US economic and military assistance. “Since 1947,” he argues, “dependence, deception, and defiance have characterized US-Pakistan relations. We sought US aid in return for promises we did not keep.” His sources – US archival material providing direct quotes and summaries of high-level exchanges, as well as personal recollections – are too detailed to be dismissed as anti-Pakistan propaganda.

Read Full Story →


Apologies for the nonexistent blogging as of late — I wrote a book! (More on that later.) Writing takes an enormous amount of time, which is to say pretty much every second that doesn’t involve chasing two tiny lunatics around the house. I also got sucked into a huge number of massive projects, none of which I have any funding for — Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, you name it. So, I’ve been busy.

But I am back. And I hope to start churning out new blog posts based on the past six months of intellectual “investment.” Here we go with the first one — the Hagap (하갑) Underground Facility in North Korea.

Read Full Story →


As the crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate, Russia and the West remain at a standstill, both sides gauging what responses further actions will elicit. Most of the coverage has been focused on the economic and political implications of the current situation.  However, the crisis has significant bearing on nuclear proliferation, both in the Euro-Slavic region and internationally.  The high volume of nuclear material that had been and still is located in the west of the former USSR makes an unstable Ukraine a possible locus for nuclear sales.  Additionally, the confrontation between Russia and the West in Ukraine may strengthen the Iranian position, potentially hampering any development of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action.

Ukraine has a tumultuous history with nuclear technology.  The Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred on Ukrainian territory, and while the graphite-moderated Chernobyl types have been (predictably) decommissioned, the Ukraine operates 15 pressurized water reactors with 14 Gigawatts (electrical) of generating capacity.  While a portion of the uranium ore is mined in the Ukraine, the fuel enrichment and fabrication is supplied by (surprise!) Russia.  Used fuel is stored, and hypothetically available to be reprocessed, in the Ukraine at reactor sites and in the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.” (Background information can be found here.)

Upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was home to the third-largest nuclear stockpile in the world, with 1,080 nuclear warheads on its soil, with delivery platforms ranging from ICBMs and bombers to tactical nuclear weapons.  In 1994, Ukraine voted to divest itself of its nuclear stockpile and either destroy or sell off its delivery systems, exchanging a large portion of its strategic bomber force with the Russian Federation to pay down its massive oil debt. Ukraine became a nuclear-weapons free state in June 1996.

Read Full Story →


Ironies abound. My work involves trying to prevent big explosions – something I’ve failed miserably at on the cellular level. I am a survivor of a stage-four lymphoma and a Gleason nine prostate cancer. (For those not into medical numerology, these are bad numbers.) Long ago, my boss on Capitol Hill succeeded in blocking the US Army from getting into the binary nerve gas business. Now I have joined the ranks of those who have benefitted from a different kind of chemical warfare.

While in an altered state under the influence of chemotherapy, I wrote a slim book of axioms to help me get through these treatments, adding quotes from heavy hitters to give my axioms greater heft. If you are dealing with a serious health crisis or know someone who is, this little book might be of use.

For now, the book and the accompanying artwork is available only to those who use Apple products. It can be found at the iTunes store.

The sales hook: For the price of a get-well card, you can help yourself or someone you love get well.

Read Full Story →


Russia and Iran are conferring about the supply of new nuclear power plants at the Bushehr site on the Persian Gulf. Iran operates one Russian reactor there and building more could contribute to a comprehensive agreement between the six powers and Iran.

Let’s be clear that so far there’s no hard and fast deal for new Russian reactors in Iran, and also that there should be no concern about Russian sanctions-busting related to new reactor construction that is clearly linked to a comprehensive agreement between the powers and Iran. A news report that grabbed some attention on March 12, claiming that “Russia has agreed” to build two more reactors came from Iranian media–not Russian sources. More nuanced accounts said Iran and Russia were still discussing a “draft agreement.”

If we take for granted that this discussion is for real–since vendor Rosatom has confirmed that its deputy director was in Tehran this week to to hold talks about it–then the critical question for the future negotiation between Iran and the six powers is whether Russia will supply the low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel–for new reactors but also for the first Bushehr unit when Iran’s current 10-year fuel contract with Russia expires.

After Russia and Iran agreed in 1992 to complete the first Bushehr reactor, a contract was signed committing Russia to supply all the fuel for the initial ten years of operation, and committing Iran to returning the spent fuel to Russia. The reactor began operating in 2011. There’s no contract yet for Iran’s procurement after the first ten years.

Read Full Story →