Links – November 20, 2015

Alexei Arbatov considers the possibilities of nuclear war between Russia and the United States. It sounds like Putin’s “strike first” comment made Arbatov wonder if Putin intended that for nuclear war. He decides not, but, I think, not entirely convincingly. This is one of the issues the United States and Russia need to talk about.

Russia’s economic problems are causing it to open six of its closed cities. If the “What if the terrorists get a bomb?” crowd want something to worry about, they could look at this. Photo from here – cooling towers in, I think, Zheleznogorsk, but I could be wrong.

Putin’s motives in Syria are not those of the United States. And maybe not the same as Iran’s either. This is only part of the complexity of putting together a coalition against ISIS. Putin is grandstanding in his call for such a coalition. As far as the US is concerned, there already is a coalition. Stay tuned.

Paul Pillar describes the criticism of President Obama’s Syria policy. But this paragraph could be used over and over again in so many venues.

This latter criticism is partly a matter of the usual reflexive rhetorical attacks with a heavy partisan tinge, which seem to have become especially habitual when aimed at the current president. But there is an additional dynamic that comes into play no matter who is in the White House and that produces a bias in the Washington discourse in favor of more rather than less use of military force, notwithstanding the notice that may be taken from time to time of the public’s lack of appetite for getting involved in another costly ground war. This dynamic partly comes out of the tendency to look at any problem overseas as not only a U.S. problem but also a problem the United States ought to be able to solve, and thus a black mark on whoever happens to be U.S. president. It comes as well from the false equating of doing something visible and forceful with the solving of a problem. There also are false equations between the use of military force and being tough, and between being tough and exercising leadership. There is the further luxury in opposition of being able to carp and criticize without the responsibility of implementing a policy that will actually improve matters. All of these patterns are accentuated at times of high emotional reaction to salient, jarring events, which is why they are especially apparent now in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Overconfidence and the war in Syria.

Long read: The Doomsday Scam, by C.J. Chivers. This is the definitive article on red mercury.

Another long read: The domestic and international politics of Japan’s plutonium stocks.

And yet another long read: The latest IAEA report on Iran. Iran is moving ahead with taking out centrifuges and other parts of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

US nonproliferation leaders support MOX plant. I wish we could move ahead straightforwardly with one option or another. The repeated stop-and-goes, since the beginning of the program in the 1990s, are expensive and morale draining, for progress in both nonproliferation and nuclear power.

The waste materials from mining are an immense environmental problem, and mining companies have historically been irresponsible in their management. Now Brazil has experienced a major break in dams holding back these wastes.

Almost every Friday, Brian Whitmore releases an hour-long podcast about Russia. Here’s last week’s. Today’s should be out in a few hours.