Links – March 30, 2018

Three similar op-eds about the unified expulsions of Russian diplomats, from Kadri Liik, Shashank Joshi, and Mark Galeotti. Bottom line: In the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Vladimir Putin has supplied the last straw so that other world leaders will not tolerate his attempts at deniability, which are no longer plausible.

One of the reasons that this broad rebuke has a good chance to influence Russia is that Putin would like to rebrand Russia as a great power, but he’s having difficulty doing so. Read More

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!

Read More

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

Nuclear Policy In The Trump Administration

A couple of weeks ago, the administration released its Nuclear Posture Review. All administrations like to put their stamp on policy. The last review was in 2010.

There are lots of things in this one to talk about, and many articles out there about them. I’ve been trying lately to stand back from the trees and look at the forest. So, as a former project manager, some of the first questions I come up with have to do with budgets and timelines. Things like resource availability and scheduling. I wrote that up for Physics Today.

Short version: Looks to me like they can’t do what they want with the resources they’ve got. Plus it will take a decade or more to build the nukes they want, so maybe diplomacy can achieve our ends faster.

 

Cross-posted at Balloon Juice.

 

Links – January 23, 2018

Ursula LeGuin has died.

A balanced look at Donald Trump, totalitarianism, and American resilienceAbandoning Science Advice: One Year in, the Trump Administration Is Sidelining Science Advisory Committees.

The Hawaii alert was an accident. The dread it inspired wasn’t.

How homicide charges for two skippers will shake up the entire Navy.

Database: the 270 people connected to the Trump-Russia probes.

North Korea’s Goals are Limited: It couldn’t Absorb South Korea even if it Won a WarBest Advice for Policymakers on “Bloody Nose” Strike against North Korea: It’s Illegal.

Europe Must Fight to Preserve the Iran Deal.

Dmitri Trenin has strong words on Russia’s adventure in Ukraine.

U.S. tests nuclear power system to sustain astronauts on Mars. Top photo of the Kilopower system from this article.

Links – December 26, 2017

Missile defense isn’t going to save us from North Korea. In the top June 1, 2009, photo, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, center, gets briefed on interceptor missiles at Ft. Greely, Alaska. The missiles carry a nonexplosive “kill vehicle” that is supposed to intercept and destroy enemy ballistic missiles in space. (John Wagner / Associated Press)

We are not “running out of time” on North Korea, as National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster likes to say. Here’s why.

A status report on North Korea’s nuclear programRead More

Weekend Links – November 11, 2017

With Trump today saying that he’ll take Vladimir Putin’s word over that of the US intelligence agencies, here’s a reminder of how Republicans used to talk about Russia and the Soviet Union.

Ruthenium-106, an isotope used in cancer therapy, was detected over Europe in September. The distribution measured suggests it came from the Mayak plant in Russia, where nuclear fuel is reprocessed. The amounts over Europe were not dangerous and have mostly gone below detection limits. Read More

Halloween Links

On Donald Trump and Russia: One of the better timelines I’ve seen derived from the Manafort/Gates indictments and the Papadopoulos plea. Profiles of people you will be hearing more about:

More than 90 American nuclear scientists say that we need to keep the Iran nuclear deal in place. An Iranian analyst says that Donald Trump requested a meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations meeting in September, but Rouhani turned him down. This has not been confirmed, but it’s something to watch for. Update (11/1/17): Confirmed by the State DepartmentRegime change probably wouldn’t end Iran’s nuclear program. Read More

Links – September 21, 2017

Kori Schake was an official in George W. Bush’s Department of Defense. Here’s her analysis of Donald Trump’s speech at the United Nations. Another good analysis by Mira Rapp-Hooper. And by Thomas Wright.  The transcript of Trump’s speech.

Rex Tillerson’s “Redesign Overview” slides for the State Department.  “He took the job and made it smaller”: how Rex Tillerson failed the State Department.

The history of US nuclear weapons in South Korea.

One of North Korea’s key diplomats, someone for the US to engage. Top photo: North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2016.

Excellent defense of the Iran nuclear deal from two people who helped negotiate it. There are many articles on the Iran nuclear deal and why we should stay in it. This one is among the best.