Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


The sky is falling!

The United States is about to knock over the first domino and start the nuclear proliferation chain reaction in the Middle East. With the region at war, the argument goes, the American attempt to negotiate with Iran over its previous nuclear weapons work (and current nuclear infrastructure) is painfully naïve, and portends a future of nuclear-armed states. This new nuclear future, we are led to believe, will begin in Saudi Arabia; be followed by a Turkish nuclear weapons program; include a Hashemite bomb in Jordan; and end with Cairo dusting off those Nasser era plans for nuclear weapons (Hey, with Sisi going full Nasser on us, perhaps he may approach China about purchasing a weapon.)

One problem with this argument: It is at odds with all that we know about nonproliferation decision-making and, at least in the case of Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt, is near impossible, given their choices about nuclear financing. The region is a mess. A total mess. But proliferation is – thank god – not something that should dominate the debate. In fact it misses the point entirely. Folks concerned with nuclear issues in the Middle East should certainly keep an eye on proliferation concerns, but should focus on a more serious issue: nuclear safety.

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I have a new column at about the 1987 Institute for Defense Analyses report,  IDA Memorandum, Report M-317 Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations.

The report is now widely available online, but copies have been floating around for years.  The picture atop the post is my copy. (You can tell the provenance of any copy by the upper right hand corner which notes “Copy 2 of 5 copies” and so on.)

In the column, I didn’t have space to point out how many times this document has already been mentioned in the press.  I do here.

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The circus continues! In Obama’s America, the truth is revealed! The US helped with Israel’s H-Bomb. But wait, there’s more! To punish Bibi Netanyahu, our Muslim Brotherhood lovin’ president released a declassified a report detailing said cooperation with Israel on nuclear weapon, thus indirectly confirming for the first time Israel’s nuclear program. Scandal, right?

Not really. It turns out that the prestigious news organizations that have reported on this “news” – Iran’s Press TV, Russia Today, The Nation,, and the Weekly Standard – failed to read the never classified document. The study is about missile defense; the Strategic Defense Initiative to be more specific. What does this have to do with nuclear weapons? Edward Teller’s Project Excalibur, or a nuclear pumped X-Ray Laser to shoot down Soviet ICBMs in flight. It goes boom!

To find out more about this story, tune in to the latest podcast.

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I’m deviating from my original plan to blog primarily on open source resources to talk about an issue I usually shy away from. It’s easy to be pigeonholed as the WOMAN rather than the expert. I also like to compartmentalize my work and home life. In a venue where I’m teaching people to use open source analysis, I don’t want to invite attention to my family. Too many women get their lives ruined on the Internet these days.

Last, I hope nobody thinks these comments are meant to undermine friends and colleagues. There’s just a hot pink elephant in the room. Let’s talk about it. Read Full Story →


Catherine here.  For the past year, Jeffrey and I have been looking at China’s Korla Missile Test Complex in Xinjiang, which is where we believe China conducts test launches of its hit-to-kill interceptor.  Jeffrey put up a brief post about part of the site in August, after China conducted a missile defense test this summer on July 24, 2014. The US State Department characterized the event as an anti-satellite test, but Jeffrey likes to point out that it’s better to call it a hit-to-kill test.  What it kills isn’t so important.

In this test, as well as tests on January 11, 2010 and January 27, 2013, China has reportedly launched the HTK interceptor, usually called the SC-19 in the US press, from a site near Korla (库尔勒市), in Xinjiang province.  A possible test occurred on September 25, 2010, but was not officially acknowledged. In that past, China used a CSS-11 missile launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center as a target. (Side note, the US intelligence community calls Jiuquan “Shuangchengzi”, which is where the SC in in SC-19 comes from.)

We can now say with high confidence, based on some open-source research, many things about the Korla MTC including the location of many of its assets, that it is subordinate to the General Armaments Department (GAD) and the location of a number of previous missile defense tests.

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Another rare interview with our wet and muddy guest contributor, Chauncey Gardiner:

MK: Chauncey, I love it when you get down and dirty.

CG: Mucking the ponds.

MK: What’s your technique?

CG: Work around the gooey masses of frog eggs. Remove leaves by hand in the shallows. Use the pole and net for deeper ledges. Scrape the mud and pull up soggy leaves. Throw back the salamanders.

MK: Sounds like heavy lifting.

CG: Compared to what? Cleaning up the muck in Washington? There are no salamanders on Capitol Hill.

MK: Not good vote-getters.

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Greetings ACW readers! I’m Catherine Dill, the newest contributor around here.

I am a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. I dabble in research and training related to all sorts of things, but I spend most of my time looking at nonproliferation and arms control in East Asia, open source analysis for nonproliferation, and strategic trade controls.

I’m very pleased to be able to share some of my work with ACW’s readers. To begin my blogging tenure, I’ll give a short geoquiz à la Melissa Hanham.

I heard a rumor that Melissa’s geoquizzes haven’t been hard enough for some readers, so let’s see what I might be able to do about that. Post your answers in the comments section.

I recently went on a three-country trip. Over on twitter I gave two mini geoquizzes from the first two countries I visited (here and here, if you’re interested, #geolocatecatherine), but I didn’t have time to do one from the third. I’ll remedy that now.

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With negotiations between Iran and the E3/EU+3 coming down to the
wire, Aaron and Jeffrey talk about the circus surrounding the talks
including the false allegations about secret underground centrifuge
plants and nastygrams from members of Congress. Jeffrey has a newborn
and a head-cold, but called in anyway. Why? It’s another emergency

Jeffrey Lewis, “Why a ‘Bad’ Deal With Iran Is Better Than No Deal at
Foreign Policy, March 11, 2015

Jeffrey Lewis, “That Secret Iranian ‘Nuclear Facility’ You Just Found?
Not So Much,”
Foreign Policy, March 3, 2015

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Why on earth would Turkey prevent a NATO ally from prosecuting a suspected Iranian nuclear smuggler who had been arrested in Turkey? Police found that companies Hossein Tanideh controlled were used to camouflage exports of German goods to Iran in violation of a United Nations Security Council embargo on assistance to an Iranian reactor that could make weapons-grade plutonium.

When this mini-drama began unfolding in mid-2013 between Germany and Turkey over the fate of Tanideh, an Iranian government procurement agent who landed in pre-trial detention in Istanbul in January 2013, officials from one NATO country government told me, “we didn’t understand why sending [Tanideh] to Germany was causing so much trouble for Turkey.” Turkey finally instead released Tanideh from custody, and last month I gave some tentative answers here to explain why that happened, concerning a closely-held intelligence-sharing relationship between Turkey and Iran.

Since then, Turkish interlocutors have confirmed to me that Ankara last year permitted Tanideh to flee to Iran, and also that that decision followed from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s evolving and complex relationship with the Iranian regime.

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One of the best parts of my job at CNS is working with students. They come from all over the world, speak multiple languages, and are passionate about arms control. They are also digital natives who like problem solving, and will often chase a lead with Jeffrey and me just for the love of the work.

A few weeks ago Iran posted a Notice to Airmen for the area surrounding the Imam Khomeini Space Centre. NOTAMs are cumbersome to find and decode, so I was pleased when Alex Kynerd, a first year MA candidate, took it upon himself to write an explainer and map it out on Google Earth.

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