South Carolina’s Expensive Pit Plant

Dan Leone is indefatigable in deciphering the DOE/NNSA* budget and congressional hearings on it. He does not disappoint.

He speculates that the cost of repurposing the MOX facility in South Carolina into a pit factory is so enormous that it is impacting the budget for maintenance. Having been the chair of the Buildings and Grounds committee for the Board of Trustees of a small college, I can say that this is a politically easy decision. It’s easy to ignore maintenance until roofs start leaking. DOE goes through these cycles every few years.

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Reporter: Deterrence Didn’t Work. Biden: Do You Know What You’re Talking About

Eena Ruffini of CBS News tried a gotcha on President Joe Biden in his press conference at NATO. “Deterrence didn’t work,” she declared. This is an alternative formulation for “Putin attacked Ukraine for no reason recognized in international law.” The advantage for a reporter is that it puts responsibility on Biden and the United States. Biden was not put on the back foot, however. He has been studying the political side of nuclear weapons since before Ruffini was born.

Ruffini’s question was the last, and Biden had noted he was running out of time. His answer was necessarily short and missed a lot. Richard Nephew expanded on the sanctions side of Biden’s answer. I’ll expand on deterrence.

“Deterrence” is a word that is almost always used badly, including by the military. It’s a difficult word. It means to convince another not to attack by preparations for that attack. It refers to the mental state of one party, influenced by the actions of another. Its meaning has slid from that interaction to the influencing actions by themselves When a reporter says “Deterrence didn’t work,” she is talking about something intended to deter. She probably could not say what specific measures those are.

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I’m finding it hard to write lately because there are so many shockingly bad takes. Twitter provides a continuing flutter of them, like this morning’s wet snowflakes, and points to worse op-eds. It’s mostly the war, but the decisions to declare the pandemic over contribute.

Dan Nexon tweeted last week that all discussions of whether NATO should have embiggened are discussions of priors. So are discussions of possible nuclear weapon use and many other things. Last week we had the no-fly zone. Yesterday got the week off to a masculine start with discussions of impotence and muscularity in US foreign policy. Mainly from old white men, and that’s consistent with my priors as well as theirs.

The question of nuclear weapons, on the battlefield or otherwise, keeps coming up. A number of disappointed (and poorly informed) people keep asking why Russia isn’t deterred from attacking Ukraine but the US is deterred from attacking Russia if nuclear weapons exist, which slides into the mistaken idea that Ukraine once had a full-up nuclear arsenal or (Russian propaganda warning) is building one now. I’ve dealt with that here.

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Those Ukrainian Public Health Laboratories

The way the US has been repeating warnings every few days about possible chemical or biological attacks by Russia suggests to me that they continue to intercept intelligence that this is a real possibility. It’s not clear what combination of things might happen – a straightforward attack by Russia on Ukrainian military or civilians, a false-flag attack, or a sabotage event, say of a railroad tank car full of ammonia, and attributed to Ukraine.

Or the purpose of the warnings could be to undermine the Russian claims that Ukrainian laboratories are developing chemical and biological warfare agents. Or a combination.

Deciphering the likely intelligence behind the warnings is more difficult than the Sovietology of who stood next to whom to review the May Day parades.

Russian propaganda calls the laboratories Pentagon-funded. That’s partly true. How that happened goes back to the breakup of the Soviet Union. It’s a great story that hasn’t been told well, and I can present only a small part here.

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Information Warfare – March 14, 2022

The US information war slowed down a couple of weeks ago, and Russia hastened to fill the space with claims about Ukrainian laboratories developing chemical and biological weapons. This dovetailed with some of the many claims made by the Q cult and also those pushing the idea that SARS-CoV-2 virus escaped from a laboratory. All that was needed was to transferthe claim from China to Ukraine.

It was a good choice for Russia and almost took off. Glenn Greenwald and Tulsi Gabbard are still pushing it. But it’s been refuted a number of times, including in the United Nations Security Council, and seems to be dying down.

US government sources are speculating that Russia was pumping the biolabs story in preparation for a chemical weapons attack of their own that they would attribute to the Ukrainians, which may well be true. But chemical weapons are marginally useful in war; biological weapons have never been developed to that point. Speaking of them, however, can damage civilian morale.

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Tom Nichols Calls Out Masculinist Identitarian Politics

Tom Nichols and I see the world differently, but he’s managed to produce an insightful Twitter thread, which I summarize below. Of course, he probably won’t agree with what I’m going to say about it.

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War Without Violence

Tonight’s bright idea from Congress via Fox has a long ancestry.

Sadly, uttering the words “no-fly zone” does not make anything happen and in fact requires, um, kinetic actions like bombing aircraft defenses and shooting planes out of the sky. So yes, let us find invisible waves to do that without the blood.

It draws on the tradition of the electromagnetic pulse – even mentioned as a possibility! The electromagnetic pulse that a rogue nation could use to fry all the electronics in the continental United States.

Or the Iron Dome that protects Israel.

And Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, mocked as Star Wars.

A cousin is the directed microwave weapon that is believed to cause Havana Syndrome.

Some of these are real, some aren’t. Some are a blend. What they have in common is action at a distance, effect removed from cause.

This is what Carol Cohn called technostrategic abstraction, the use of words that are cleansed of any sense of violence to describe violent actions. Even the word “kinetic,” marked above, refers to shooting and killing. I have seen “fires” recently used by the military to describe artillery barrages.

Technostrategic abstraction now brings members of Congress and some reporters to the point where they believe that actions of war can occur without violence.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant Attack

Thursday night (March 3) I was about to make my usual move to the living room to read dead-tree magazines and books with the cats, and a black and white, hard-to-decipher livecam picture showed up on my Twitter feed. A firefight at Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant!

I am in touch with a loose network of people with skills to interpret these reports, and we went into action. First thing was to figure out where the camera was at the plant and what we were looking at. Get a map of the plant. Figure out what we were seeing on the video and if it was genuine.

Twitter was panicking, as so often happens when anything happens with nuclear reactors or radiation mentioned, so I wanted to get out whatever information I could as fast as I could. Others were doing the same.

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