Just Say No

This story got buried under the news of Andrew McCabe’s firing on Friday, but it’s important if we want to elect people who can bring about responsible government. That starts now, as we move toward November’s elections.

You know those cute little quizzes that are supposed to tell you something about who you are? Which movie star are you? Are you a cat or a dog person? What is your color? So much fun to compare with what you think of yourself and with your friends’ results. In fact, you could share on Facebook and urge your friends to see what their favorite color was. Those quizzes asked you to share most of your Facebook data before you could play.

You may have been contributing data to Cambridge Analytica’s work to help elect Donald Trump. Read More

Making Sense Of That Nuclear Deal With Saudi Arabia

The United States is trying to develop a nuclear cooperation agreement (123 agreement) with Saudi Arabia. The stories (another) focus on whether such an agreement would limit Saudi Arabia’s access to uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, two technologies that can produce materials for nuclear weapons.

Let’s look at two other factors. 1) Although Saudi Arabia has had big ambitions for nuclear power, starting from sixteen reactors and now down to two, it is not clear that they can afford those reactors and have no administrative support for them. 2) Westinghouse, the company being pushed by the United States, is in no position to build those reactors. 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!

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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

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 – February 1, 2018

Cool dinosaur and mammal tracks at NASA. Top photo from here.

The first thing Congress needs to do, when it can get away from the fever dreams of the worst of its members, is to reconstruct the process for passing a budget before the end of the fiscal year.

Americans Are Rising to This Historic Moment. I’m not as convinced as Eliot Cohen, but I think there are positive signs.

Heather Cox Richardson on creeping authoritarianism.

Five Questions the Nunes Memo Better Answer. What is at stake – the grand bargain with the intelligence community. And why aren’t we hearing more from the intelligence community?

Is the Trump foreign policy great-power competition or America First? It depends on whom you ask.

Zeynep Tukfeci on the latest data privacy debacle. It’s not enough to ask individuals for their permission.

Leaks, feasts and sex parties: How ‘Fat Leonard’ infiltrated the Navy’s floating headquarters in Asia. There are simple ways to avoid this kind of corruption. We need to know why the Navy didn’t apply them.

Victor Cha: Giving North Korea a ‘bloody nose’ carries a huge risk to Americans. Cha was to be US ambassador to South Korea, but apparently the ideas expressed in this op-ed were felt to be disqualifying.

This is definitive, if you have friends who are still pushing the Sy Hersh narrative about nerve agents in Syria. It was the Syrian government who were responsible for the sarin attacks.

 

Links – January 13, 2018

For this Martin Luther King weekend, memories of Mississippi in the 1960s. Top photo: The author, Danny Lyon, outside the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee headquarters, 1962.

The 100-year capitalist experiment that keeps Appalachia poor, sick, and stuck on coal. This article should be reprinted and quoted everywhere.

Inter-Korean talks are more than just “a good thing”. The myth of a limited strike on North Korea – worse than dumb.

Speaking loudly and carrying a little stick – the myopic US debate on Iran. Why regime change in Iran wouldn’t work.

Do-it-yourself drones attack a Russian airbase in Syria.

This is the best summary I’ve seen of the Steele dossier recently.

Would 90 Percent of Americans Really Die from an EMP Attack? NO!

 

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

Trump’s Nonexistent Cyberdeterrence

Michael Morell and Mike Rogers argue that the United States has failed to deter Russia from its attacks on our electoral system because those attacks continue. They rely on a model of deterrence that assumes that what Russia is doing is in some way equivalent to physical war. They feel that the Barack Obama administration and Congress did not administer heavy enough penalties. They want “policies that prevent adversaries from achieving their objectives while imposing significant costs on their regimes.” but do not say what those policies would be. 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.