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Archive for May, 2007

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

GAMING NUCLEAR THREAT ASSESSMENTS

Blogfriend Cheryl Rofer, an expert in nuclear issues with field experience, had an exceptionally intriguing post up the other day at Whirledview entitled “ A Rough Nuclear Threat Assessment for the United States“. While I encourage you to read her post in full first here are her assessments (bold text) along with my responses(normal text):

“Finding 1. No serious immediate threat.There is no country in the world that seriously threatens a nuclear attack on the United States. Further, the probability that a terrorist organization has usable nuclear weapons is extremely low. The most serious current threat of a nuclear explosion in the United States arises from accidents resulting from the continuing alert status of US and Russian nuclear-tipped missiles.”

I would tend to agree with the following caveats:

Radiological bomb attacks or terrorist attacks on American nuclear facilities such as power plants in the hopes of sparking an ” American Chernobyl” are respectively more and marginally more likely than “extremely low”. Add in the possible downstream negative effects of terrorists liberating nuclear materials from poorly guarded Russian installations as well. We are also at risk for secondary environmental effects of nuclear weapons uses by third parties ( ex. India-Pakistan).

All of these are of far lower significance though than a state-based nuclear first strike against the United States or its forces overseas.

“Finding 2. Threats in the 2-5 year range are extremely low. Most can be managed by US actions.Relations with Russia are deteriorating. Relations with China are good, except for some friction in the area of trade. An agreement has been reached with North Korea on denuclearization. Iran is unlikely to have nuclear weapons within this time frame. Pakistan’s current instability presents a concern that action against the government might put nuclear weapons in the hands of radical Islamic groups. Russia continues to improve its nuclear weapons security.

There are a number of ways to improve relations with Russia, including delaying construction of antimissile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. Because Iran is unlikely to have nuclear weapons within this time frame, there is time for negotiation. The instability in Pakistan is the most unpredictable and uncontrollable of the threats in this time frame. We have to hope that rumors are true that the United States has been helping Pakistan to “safe” its nuclear weapons with permissive action links that keep unauthorized people from using them.”

I agree here as well, also seeing Pakistan as the potentially most dangerous wild card. State stability in Iran should not, however, be overestimated, given the decentralization of Iran’s nuclear weapons and power programs. Too many items ripe for the picking by prospective factions, terrorists or transnational criminal syndicates if Iran’s state falters.

“Finding 3. Threats in the 5-20 year range are much less predictable, but remain low.With intelligent diplomacy and some steps back from the more warlike policies of the Bush administration, such as preventive warfare (which step may have already been taken), good relations can be maintained with other nuclear powers. In a similar vein, progress should be possible with North Korea and Iran toward non nuclear weapon status. Instability in Pakistan and friction between Pakistan and India are probably the biggest threats of nuclear war or nuclear weapons becoming available to subnational groups. Regional conflicts could encourage other states (say Brazil and Argentina) to consider a path to nuclear weapons, but the probability of such conflicts seems likely to remain low.

Let’s just stop here for a moment and take a breath. This is a very different threat assessment from anything that might have been done during the Cold War. In fact, it surprised me when I saw it all written down this way. But if we stick to verifiable threats with reasonable probability, I think this is the way it has to come out.”

I depart here from Cheryl. In my view, the degree of uncertainty is too high given the length of the time frame and the systemic instability (current and potential) of a number of nuclear armed states. Moreover, proliferation ( and sequence/timing of proliferation) changes the dynamic by altering the nuclear postures of interested states. A nuclear Iran changes Saudi Arabia’s attitude toward non-proliferation while a nuclear armed Japan does not. Each additional new nuclear weapons state increases the probability of accident, loss, covert sale or use. I would rate the danger as rising toward “moderate” the further you go in terms of out-years.

A great post by Cheryl.

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Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

WHERE ARE THE GREAT MEN (OR WOMEN)?

When I was a teen-ager and in my early twenties I was an avid partisan. In the pre-internet and pre-Talk radio era, I devoured newspapers, TIME, US News, Newsweek and the slick political magazines ( National Review, TNR). I followed all the nuances of issues like Contra aid or the 1986 tax reform. While I was thoroughly Reaganite in my convictions and found liberal hacks like Senator Pat Leahy to be odious fools, I could also look across the aisle to find figures of decency, civility and conviction like Senator Paul Simon and see people whom I could respect.

And now ?

I find it incredibly disillusioning that in what passes for political “debate” these days that a majority of the Republican presidential candidates, Senator McCain excepted, are endorsing torture (!) while most of their Democratic counterparts are enthusiasists for surrender. Except for Senator Edwards who, while being strongly in favor of retreat has one-upped the rest and declared that the war on terror does not even exist ( he’s a fantasist).

This is not the country I grew up in. The nation deserves better.

This is one reason why I very seldom venture into discussing political news here. I find it difficult to believe that much of what scripted sound bites are being uttered represent core beliefs of the candidate rather than artificial nonsense lines designed to pander to splinter special interests divined through exhaustive focus grouping. My fear is that the American political class have reached the point of degeneration that these noxious superficialities do indeed reflect what some of the candidates think.

First rate minds have always been rare in politics, historically speaking, but America has always mustered enough for the tasks at hand. Our revolution benefitted from an unusual abundance of great men precisely because the British imperial system of the Hanoverian monarchs so completely shut out American talent from their system. The early Republic saw giants like John Marshall, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun, to say nothing of Abraham Lincoln who strides across American history like a titan.

The twentieth century boasted no shortage of sage statesmen either, starting with Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to FDR and his successors who were ” present at the creation” to the peaceful closing of the Cold War with Ronald Reagan and the father of the current president. America was rich in leadership. We had severe trials but seldom were we to be found wanting because our leaders, at least some of them, were authentic. You could disagree with Ronald Reagan or Hubert Humphrey but you were disagreeing with a person who thoroughly represented important and substantive values. Values worth debating.

While I have no empirical basis for this to stand upon I suspect that the last few decades have seen fewer and fewer individuals of this caliber enter politics. The nastiness of the political process, the invasiveness, obtuse stupidity and lack of respect by the media coupled by the greater rewards of private life have kept them away. It reminds me of the climate, if not the form, of the later 19th century which was dominated by corrupt machines and party bosses like Mark Hanna, William Marcy Tweed and George Washington Plunkitt. As a result, we get people running for office or currying favor for appointment who see their opportunities and take them.

The good news is that the raw talent and creativity is out there. There are 21st century equivalents to George Marshall or Henry Kissinger or John F. Kennedy. She may be an Asian-American CFO at a software company or a midwestern entrepreneur in Kansas City or a 21 year old infantryman, a child of immigrants, on patrol right now in Iraq. You may know someone who would make a great city councilman or school board member, state legislator or simply a voice for the community, if only someone will encourage them to speak.

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Monday, May 28th, 2007

IN MEMORIAM

“…It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

- Abraham Lincoln

Special thanks on this day to the men and women in the armed forces of the United States and to all veterans who have served, often at great hardship, on foreign battlefields far from home.

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Sunday, May 27th, 2007

THIS TELEVISED BEHEADING OF THE AMERICAN AMBASSADOR HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO YOU BY PRESIDENT BILL RICHARDSON

Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson just suggested to Tim Russert that all American troops should be withdrawn from Iraq in 2007 and that security for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad be placed in Iraqi hands. Right. The embassy would be overrun in about five minutes if that happened. Does the Democratic Party really ache to relive the hostage crisis of their youth ?

I realize that the worst of the delusional screamers now dominate the Democratic primary process but an experienced international diplomat like Richardson should really try to preserve his intellectual credibility. Richardson isn’t going to win the nomination but he just might be a Secretary of State or Defense, and, as such, he shouldn’t be saying really dumb things like this on television.

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Saturday, May 26th, 2007

RECOMMENDED READING -EARLY EDITION

Frank Hoffman at SWJ BLOG - “Global Guerrillas
A SWJ review of Brave New War.

Freakonomics blog - “Straight From the Black Swan’s Mouth An interview with Nassim Nicholas Taleb ( Hat tip: Kent’s Imperative and Shloky)

Fester at The Newshoggers -”Urban resiliency

Further discussion on the implications of Global Guerillaism in an urban center.

PHK at Whirledview -”Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar – book review essay

I disagree with PHK that we “backed the wrong side” in Vietnam ( what were we going to do, help consolidate a Stalinist regime in the late 1940′s even as we were trying like hell to keep Communism out of Italy, France, West Berlin and Greece? How would have Acheson and Truman made that work?) though we certainly did back the politically inept side. Nevertheless, a well-written essay about one of the fathers of COIN whose ideas need greater circulation today.

That’s it.

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