Stephen Walt Agrees With Me

On the Nuclear Posture Review. He goes on about more aspects of it than I did yesterday, but his conclusions in that area are very similar to mine.

Moreover, I find the elaborate scenarios that nuclear strategists dream up to justify new weapons to be both militarily and politically unrealistic. They tend to assume that complex military operations will go off without a hitch the very first time they are attempted (and in the crucible of a nuclear crisis), and they further assume that political leaders in the real world would be willing to order the slaughter of millions for something less than existential stakes. My main concern has been that some gullible politician would actually believe that one of these elaborate scenarios would actually work and might therefore be tempted to try it. Just as bad: An adversary might think the United States thought it could win such a war and might decide it had no choice but to try to hit it first.

I also find the obsession with matching capabilities at every rung of some hypothetical “escalation ladder” to be slightly absurd. Is it realistic to think that U.S. leaders defending vital interests against a possible Russian threat would be stymied because they didn’t have a capability that exactly mirrored whatever Russia had or was threatening to do? Would a top advisor really say to the president: “Oh dear, sir, Russia just threatened to attack with a nuclear weapon with a yield of 7.2 kilotons. We have lots of 5-kiloton bombs and lots of 11-kiloton bombs all ready to go, but if we use the little one, they’ll think we’re wimps, and if we use the big one, then the onus of escalation will be on us. I guess they’ve got us over the whing-whang, sir, and we’ll just have to do whatever Putin says. If only we had built more 7.2 kiloton bombs than they did!

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Levels of Deterrence

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) mentions some variant of “deter” 279 times. Deterrence is supposedly what today’s nuclear arsenals are about. The idea is that we have enough nuclear weapons so that if an enemy attacked us, we could still destroy them. That standoff, established after the nearly world-ending Cuban Missile Crisis, seems to have worked. Or it’s possible that the reason for no nuclear war in the past 56 years is that nations recognize that destroying the world is in nobody’s interests. Read More

Links – February 9, 2018

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would like eventually to enrich uranium. They also want to buy nuclear reactors. How should the agreements around those reactors be structured?

Russia hasn’t disposed of 34 tons of plutonium. It’s our fault.

How America Could Accidentally Push Russia into a Nuclear War. The Nuclear Posture Review gets Russia wrong.

Russian scientists at Sarov, Russia’s equivalent to Los Alamos, arrested for mining bitcoins. 

The education of Kim Jong-Un. Long read on North Korea’s leader, with bonus on how to think about intelligence analysis.

Here’s what war with North Korea would look like. A full-blown war with North Korea wouldn’t be as bad as you think. It would be much, much worse. Long read.

What if North Korea had won the Korean War?

Gene Sharp, Global Guru of Nonviolent Resistance, Dies at 90.

Beautiful jellyfish and radiolarians. (Top graphic from here.)

 

‘Tis The Season

For another war, because why not? The ones the last Republican President started are going so well.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that he was ready to start talks with North Korea without precondition. “We’ll talk about the weather if you like,” he said. He omitted the part about their having to give up their nuclear weapons and missiles first. But then his own spokesperson undercut him.

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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.

 

 

 

 

The Nuclear Chain of Command

Donald Trump has been musing about nuclear war since the 1980s, and now he’s bringing our fears to life with his tweets against North Korea. Also, playing the role of a decisive and serious executive, he told the military back in July that he wanted to increase the US’s arsenal of nuclear weapons back to the maximum we had during the Cold War. That seems to have been the trigger for Rex Tillerson to call him a moron. Tillerson wasn’t wrong.

As always with Trump, it’s a good idea to have the facts before us. So here are some.

A president launches nuclear missiles via an electronic briefcase (“the football”) that is always at his side, carried by a service member at the O4-O5 level. That’s a major – lieutenant colonel or lieutenant commander – commander. The services rotate, and both male and female service members have been in this role. One of them made the news back in the spring of this year when he allowed Mar-a-Lago patrons to take selfies with him. Their role is to be unobtrusive and to follow orders. Read More

Links – May 23, 2017

Russia has been violating the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, but the United States won’t say exactly what the violation is. The INF Treaty prohibits intermediate-range missiles with nuclear warheads. Back in the 1980s, both the US and Russia had such missiles aimed at each other in Europe. The problem with missiles like this is that there is no warning time whatsoever, and thus a heavy motive to strike the other party first. James Action suggests a strategy for getting the treaty back on track. Top photo from here: Soviet inspectors and their American escorts standing among dismantled Pershing II missiles in Colorado as other missile components are destroyed nearby under the INF Treaty, January 1989. Read More