Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk

 

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.

Read Full Story →

 
 

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.

Read Full Story →

 
 

Why did North Korea just test two Scud missiles? Was North Korea responding to the US-South Korean military exercise? Does the pairing of conventional and unconventional missiles pose a unique challenge for military planners in the future?

Today, Jeffrey and Aaron talk North Korea’s missile tests, the Dear Leader’s burlesque style approach to propaganda pictures, and the stability/instability paradox.

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

Jeffrey Lewis, “Smerch or Toksa,” Arms Control Wonk, June 29, 2014.

Scott LaFoy, “June 29th Hwasong-6 Imagery,” Rice & Iron, July 4, 2014.

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

 

 

 
 

Harry here.  It’s official, I will be in DC (in the flesh!) between July 9th and 19th!  I plan on attending the Generation Prague conference, along with several other Think Tank and State Dept hosted events.

However, events don’t take up the whole day.  Therefore, I would be more than willing to meet any individuals who are in the DC area during my stay there.  If you would like to contact me directly, or email Jeffrey at jeffrey AT armscontrolwonk.com.

[Folks, please take some time to meet Harry if you can.  He's done such a great job writing "For Your Reading Pleasure" and is eager to learn about our field. -- Jeffrey]

 
 

Horse cavalry gave way mechanized warfare, and tank armies are giving way to drone warfare. Drones flourish where national sovereignty is weak and international borders are extremely permeable. Since it’s not a good idea for Washington to set precedents it does not want others to follow, greater care relating to US drone strikes is warranted. Two studies on this subject were released last week. Their recommendations clarify the value of trying to devise international standards on the use of drone warfare and the difficulty of doing so.

Read Full Story →

 
 

Well, I am off to Paris.  But before I go, I want to mention something that is puzzling me.

You undoubtedly noticed that Rodong Sinum (Korean|English) carried a story about Kim Jong Un attending test launches of ”newly developed ultra-precision tactical guided missiles.” The story contained three not very helpful images.

According to Yonhap, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff official said something that doesn’t make any sense to me:

“Their range is some 190 kilometers, and we are now looking into exactly what type of rockets North Korea fired,” a JCS official said, noting that the North’s 300-millimeter multiple rocket launcher KN-09 has a similar range.

Another news site quotes  Yonhap quoting an official saying “Our analysis of its trajectory and other details led us to believe that what North Korea fired off yesterday was the 300-millimeter multiple-rocket launchers. North Korea appears to test-fire them to extend its range further.” US officials were more circumspect, stating in public that they were “still evaluating the available information to identify the exact type of projectile” and privately telling Barbara Starr the rocket was not new.

If the rocket really traveled 190 km, it is not a 300 mm artillery rocket.  The natural comparisons for such a rocket, which North Korea is developing are the Russian BM-30 Smerch, a Chinese knock-off, or Pakistani Hatf IX/Nasr.  All three of these systems have a range more like 60 km.

On the other hand, a 600 mm missile like the US ATACMs or Russian SS-21 Tochka might reach that range. (The SS-21C tops out at 120 km, but it could be range-extended.)  North Korea started testing and deploying an indigenous SS-21 in 2006 and 2007.  Two leaked cables (NSFW!) contain the text of papers that the US circulated about MTCR members describing the missile as “a new solid propellant SRBM based on the SS-21 SRBM. This new missile – called the Toksa by the United States — has a range of 120 km with a payload as large as 500 kg.”  (I think we are teasing them with Toksa/Tochka.) North Korea paraded the Toksa in 2012. The provenance of the Toksa is unclear.  Dan Pinkston notes there are both reports suggesting either Russia or Syria is the source of North Korea’s SS-21s.

Based on the images released by North Korea, we can tell the test involved a solid-fueled rocket– solid-fuels produce bright and smoky plumes like the one you see — but that’s all.

Unfortunately, the image of the rocket is too blurry to determine whether it is a BM-30 or an SS-21.  Also, one image contains what may be tarp-covered launchers in the background, but again they are too blurry to identify.

At some level, it doesn’t matter.  North Korea is developing both BM-30 and SS-21 clones, to say nothing of anti-ship cruise missiles like the Kh-35.  It’s possible the range is “90-100″ kilometers not 190 kilometers.  Then it’s a Smerch.  If its 190 km, then I think its more likely a Toksa.

A related note.  South Korean media reports continue to describe the new 300 mm MLRS rocket as the KN-09.  The US has released exactly one slide that suggested the KN-09 was a coastal defense cruise missile, not an artillery rocket. It would be very nice if someone in Dayton or Huntsville could let us know the proper designations for these missiles. (Of course, people make mistakes.  One of the leaked cables describes the Toksa as a “modified Silkworm” which is bizarre.)

For now, I am just going to use the Russian designations like BM-30 Smerch, SS-21 Tochka/Toksa, and Kh-35 preceded by “North Korean.”

 
 

Are cruise missiles proliferating? Are the North Koreans in the cruise missile business? How has open source helped analysts track cruise missile proliferation?

Today, Jeffrey and Aaron discuss North Korea’s latest youtube sensation, Dennis Gormley’s Missile Contagion, and the likelihood of cruise missile proliferation.

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

Jeffrey Lewis, “Translating a Noun into a Verb Pyongyang Style: The Case of North Korea’s New Cruise Missile,” 38North, June 16, 2014.

Jeffrey Lewis, “When A Cruise Missile Is Just A Cruise Missile,” 38North, June 19, 2014.

Dennis Gormley, Missile Contagion: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security.

Jeffrey Lewis, “Cruise Missile Proliferation,” Arms Control Wonk, August 27, 2014.

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

 
 

One of the nice things about the silliness that ensued following my pair of articles for 38North on the North Korean Kh-35 is that I discovered a bunch of new people doing open source work.  We’ve known about the Arkenstone, Open Source IMINT, RAJ47, Michael Madden and others forever, but I am happy to come across Scott LaFoy, Andrew Haggard and the Oryx Blog among others.  (Oh, the perils of a list.  I’ve surely ommitted someone worthy of inclusion.)

Having just finished a talk at Wilton Park on the promise of open source analysis, I am delighted that the field is thriving so well.  Along those lines, I’ve asked  Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans from the Oryx Blog to contribute a guest post.

They wondered if anyone was interested in North Korean anti-tank missile showing up in the Middle East. Me me me!  Although I am nuclear guy, it is important to remember that AQ Khan forged a lot of early business ties selling conventional armaments, including anti-tank weapons, around the world.  North Korea’s arms trade is pretty interesting, even the conventional bits.

So, you should totally read this post.  Then check out  Oryx Blog. And marvel, for a moment, at the information feast this modern world provides the open source analyst.

North Korean anti-tank missiles in the Middle East

Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

North Korea, well known for its ballistic missile programme, depends on its foreign relations to provide currency that allows the regime to maintain control over the country. Exports of ballistic missile and even nuclear technology to countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iran and Myanmar have been much reported and draw a lot of attention from international observers. However, aside from delivering both conventional and strategic weaponry to sovereign states around the world, it appears North Korean anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) are now also showing up in the hands of what have been branded as terrorist organizations by the USA, a development which shows a broadening involvement of the DPRK in the arms trafficking market.

Read Full Story →

 
 

Princeton has a proposal that would allow Iran to transition, over time, to more capable centrifuges operated in a multilateral framework.  There have been responses by ISIS (David Albright, not the terrorist group!) and Mark Fitzpatrick at IISS. My colleague at Monterey Institute, Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, has decided to add his two cents in a guest post.

Comments on the Princeton Group Proposal for the Two-Stage Strategy for Iran

Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress

The Current Dead-Lock

It is important to remember the historic progress that made since January under the JPOA between the P5+1 and Iran and the Frameworks for Cooperation that followed between the IAEA and Iran.

Read Full Story →

 
 

How has open source impacted arms control and nonproliferation research? How has work done by the likes of Eliot Higgins impacted our understanding of the conflict in Syria? How have other scholars used open source to enhance their research?

Today, Jeffrey and Aaron discuss open source, their own work with satellite imagery, and how that has helped advance their own research interests in Asia, Turkey, and the Middle East.

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

Aaron Stein, “Locating the Turkish Convoy: Analyzing the ISIS Youtube Video,” Turkey Wonk, April 25, 2014.

Aaron Stein, “Creating a Timeline: The Turkish Convoy to the Suleyman Shah Tomb,” Turkey Wonk, May 5, 2014.

Aaron Stein, “The AKP’s Election Strategy: Controlling the Corruption Narrative,” Turkey Wonk, February 27, 2014.

Jeffrey Lewis, Melissa Hanham, and Amber Lee, ”That Ain’t My Truck: Where North Korea Assembled Its Chinese Transporter-Erector-Launchers,” 38 North, February 3, 2014.

Wilton Park, WMD verification: global capacity challenges (WP1256), June 9th-11th, 2014.

Catherine Dill and Jeffrey Lewis, “Suspect Defense Facility in Myanmar,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, May 9, 2014.

Jeffrey Lewis, “Keep us in the Loop,” Foreign Policy, September 5, 2013.

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