Chinese Spy Balloon Over The US

A Chinese spy balloon has been spotted over Montana. NORAD says they saw it before that, and it was probably launched from China. It’s at an altitude above that of commercial flights, which probably means above 50,000 feet, but it can be seen from those flights, according to reports. There are a few videos that claim to be of the balloon, but who knows, and some of them are of the moon, which is in its gibbous phase, so it’s a nice roundish thing in a blue sky.

Most likely, NORAD hasn’t shot it down because it looks like a surveillance vehicle, rather than weapon-equipped, regardless of the jokers (I’ve only seen jokers so far on this subject) who are shouting “EMP”! Montana suggests that the subject of surveillance has to do with our missile silos in that part of the country, and the balloon is most likely designed to pick up signals. Satellites can do the optical job quite nicely.

Read More

The Volga-Don Canal Connects the Caspian Sea And The Sea Of Azov

Kazakhstan is isolated from the world’s oceans, but borders the Caspian Sea on its west. The Soviet Union completed the Volga-Don Canal in 1952 to allow shipping between the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Azov, the northeastern arm of the Black Sea that connects through the Kerch Strait, across which Russia built a recently damaged bridge to occupied Crimea. From there, Kazakhstani ships can reach the Mediterranean.

Russia has recently granted Kazakhstan permission to use the Volga-Don Canal for its commercial ships, which will be carrying mainly Chinese goods. Those two countries now have an interest in keeping the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait open.

A shorter route has been proposed (red line on map), but it’s not clear when that could be built.

Sergei Prokofiev wrote the tone poem The Meeting of the Volga and the Don to celebrate its completion. The Wikipedia article is worth reading.

The header image is the Volga-Don Canal in Volgograd, from the Wikipedia article.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Time For Some Debunking

From South China Morning Post, attributed to Twitter

Looks like nuclear misinformation is flaring up again in the news stream. I can’t debunk it all – much of it contains too little fact for that. But I can say why I think some of these things are improbable.

The big story is in the South China Morning Post: Chinese scientists plan ‘disposable’ nuclear reactor for long-range torpedo.

Let me say that the idea of a disposable nuclear reactor, even with quote marks, strikes me as improbable.

The Chinese researchers are proposing a mini version of the Russian Poseidon unmanned submarine – the world’s first known underwater drone powered by nuclear energy.

Ah, okay! Vaporware!

We have not yet seen a prototype of the fearsome Poseidon, touted by Vladimir Putin as being able to cause a radioactive tidal wave along the entire US East Coast. Nor any signs of its development. I have long been dubious of this and the nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile, which was at least tested and killed a number of its developers.

Read More

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Now that we are out of Afghanistan and have declared the Forever Wars over, a number of people are eagerly pushing their favorites for the next war.

Alexander Lukashenka, who lost Belarus’s election for president but doesn’t want to go, is causing trouble on his borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia by forcing refugees from the Middle East across those borders. Belarus has restricted the flow of oil to Poland.

Lukashenka’s neighbor to the east, Vladimir Putin, backs him warily because Belarus is one of Russia’s few allies. On the other hand, Lukashenka has defied Putin in the past. His latest move to restrict the flow of oil to Poland may or may not be backed by the Kremlin. Putin has been increasing troop strength near the eastern part of Ukraine, where he has kept a shooting war going since 2014. It’s unlikely that he is preparing for a broader invasion – that would require holding additional territory and thus more military resources. But it’s not clear what he’s about.

Read More

China’s New Missile System

In August or July, China tested a missile (or rocket) system that may be a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) or maybe something else. I’m not a missile expert, so I have no opinions on what it is, but I know some missile experts whom I will quote.

The exact nature of what was tested is unclear – the term “hypersonic” is being tossed around, but that has been unclear for some time. ICBMs are hypersonic (traveling faster than sound) when they re-enter the atmosphere. The newer vehicles that are given that name are different in being maneuverable. The confusion suggests that we need to clarify what the threat is and use names related to that. But multisyllabic words that are almost understandable are a staple for convincing Congress to spend more on weapons.

Read More

Chinese Nuclear Silos

[Disclosure: Jeffrey Lewis has been a friend for years, and we have consulted each other on many things. Our political views are similar, but he has a punchier way of expressing them.]

There’s a lot that can be said about the discovery of 120 silos for nuclear missiles and the current state of relations with China, but I don’t have time right now, so a few highlights only.

Read More

Links – June 1, 2018

Kim Jong Un doesn’t want American businesspeople running all over his country. He wants sanctions lifted. It’s always a bad idea not to understand what your negotiating partner wants. This article is from a few days ago, but it’s a good summary of Japan’s and China’s concerns.

Background on Kim Yong Chol, who delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Donald Trump. Kim Yong Chol is at center in the photo.

To nobody’s surprise, it looks like North Korea pulled everything that might have any technical use out of the Punggye-ri test site before they sealed the entrances to the tunnels. Photos of the destruction. Before and after overhead imagesSiegfried Hecker thinks it is a positive move.

Comprehensive historical database of North Korea’s nuclear program from Hecker and his co-workers at CISAC. From that history, Hecker predicts it will take 15 years to denuclearize North Korea. The Institute for Science and International Security thinks it will take much less time, but they forego verification for the first 18 months. This is odd, because they are among the most vocal proponents of unlimited inspections in Iran.

Will toughness on Iran help Trump with North Korea? Here are three reasons to doubt it.

New book: The Future of Nuclear Power in China, by Mark Hibbs.

Long Read: We are going to need truth and reconciliation commissions, or something like them, after Trump. Here is one way that might be done.

 

Links – January 5, 2018

Happy New Year! Twenty years ago today, I came back to work after the holiday to find a faxed invitation that began my Estonian adventure. Top photo: The marker for the Sillamäe tailings pond cleanup, 2011.

Demonstrations continue in Iran. Donald Trump is determined to tweet about them. As usual, his tweets are not helpful but rather inciting. Here’s an article by two people on opposite sides with respect to the nuclear agreement. Here are some good suggestions from (gasp!) a Republican. How to ensure that Iran never starts reprocessing. Read More

Links – December 17, 2017

I don’t usually link to big news stories, thinking you’ve probably already seen them, but if you haven’t read this Washington Post story about Donald Trump’s feelings about Russian interference in the 2016 election, you are missing something. The article is framed around Trump’s unwillingness to accept the idea that his win might have had any other factors than his great charisma. I can see why the authors and editors might have done this to preserve some unity in a very complex story, but it is hard to believe that Trump’s ego is the only factor in play.

The secret history of the Russian consulate in San Francisco. Top photo of the roof of the consulate, with its multiple antennas. Read More

Links – December 11, 2017

How a war with North Korea might play out. The price of war with North Korea. Excellent long-read backgrounder from Jeffrey Lewis on the history and strategy of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (photo from here). More background, and denial by US of facts on the ground. The reentry vehicle on the North Korean ICBM.

According to this, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that North Korea is ready to talk. That’s from Friday. I haven’t seen any followup.

Bad Idea: Resuming Nuclear Testing.

The looming end of the INF Treaty.

Eerik-Niiles Kross: Estonia’s James Bond.

Comparing China’s situation to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1991.