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CKR on The Utility of Force

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Cheryl Rofer pens a thoughtful review General Rupert Smith’s highly regarded The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage):

…So that long-ago post was naïve, but now I’m pleased to find that a military guy agrees with me. General Rupert Smith has written a book about how war has changed in the past couple of centuries. He documents the development of what he calls “industrial war,” the sort of war that mobilizes and destroys entire industrial societies, the world wars of the twentieth century, the mental model of war that we have carried into the twenty-first. Napoleon started it, and the industrial culmination, the utilization of the energy from smashed atoms, finished it.”War no longer exists,” as Smith begins his book.

He distinguishes war from confrontation and conflict. War no longer exists, but confrontation and conflict are very much with us. The Cold War was a long confrontation, and what happened in Georgia was conflict after a continuing confrontation. It’s hard to imagine how or why any country would provoke an industrial war. Even if nuclear weapons had not been invented, the two world wars would probably have convinced us that we can’t do that any more. Nuclear weapons merely provide the emphatic ending.

But we still plan for industrial war, we expect our wars to follow that pattern, and the media reports wars that way. The US military is built around industrial war, as is the military-industrial complex, which, Smith tells us, has removed the flexibility to plan for any other kind of conflict. Industrial war means big, expensive weapon systems with long lead times. Big, expensive weapon systems mean big profits and continuing employment in as many congressional districts as possible. I’ll draw on some half-remembered economics to point out that money spent on weapons doesn’t benefit the economy as much as money spent on roads, schools and other ways to improve things here at home.

Read the whole thing here.

Nuclear Blogtank: Small Arsenals, Grand Strategies

Friday, July 18th, 2008

As previously mentioned, blogfriend and nuclear materials expert Cheryl Rofer challenged national security, foreign policy and defense bloggers to game out scenarios for powers with small or limited nuclear arsenals:

 What strategies are available to a country with fissionable material sufficient for 1-5 nuclear weapons, some of which may be assembled? Take into account probable responses, and assume some sort of rationality on the holders of these weapons and material. You may specifically refer to Iran and North Korea, or any other nation, or make the scenario(s) more general. Flesh out the scenario with some support

 Responses thus far have been creative yet highly plausible. Several have tied their scenarios to specific states such as Iran or peoples with aspirations to statehood such as the Kurds. Well and good. As that ground has been properly covered, I will look at the problem from a somewhat different perspective.

The first consideration in this discussion is that despite the worrisome specter of nuclear weapons proliferation, most states have since 1945 opted to refrain from developing arsenals of nuclear weapons. A remarkable state of affairs given that such nuclear weapons are within the technological reach of virtually all first tier, most second tier and even third tier states like North Korea and Pakistan.

The reason most states do not is that nuclear weapons programs are expensive investments ( in terms of money, talent and geopolitical friction) that do not offer a reasonable return for most states, partly because they would be militarily insignificant in light of existing American and Russian nuclear arsenals. Thus some countries like Brazil and Taiwan have abandoned nuclear weapons programs and others like South Africa, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have actually disarmed by surrendering or dismantling what weapons they had constructed or inherited. Iraq is a unique case of having it’s nuclear program forcibly “de-proliferated” against the will of it’s rulers by a combination of American military power and international diplomatic and economic pressure after the first Gulf War.

But for a certain class of nation-states, possession  of nuclear weapons, even a crude handful, remains a worthwhile expenditure even at the cost of great national sacrifice ( the ” We will have them even if we have to eat grass!” scenario).  North Korea has starved upwards of a million of it’s citizens to death;  Pakistan is desperately poor, economically backward and has a regime that can only govern only a portion of the territory it claims to rule but both Islamabad and Pyonggyang are nuclear armed today. These states value nuclear weapons because, simply, they desire to be independent powers at the least and dominating hegemons of their neighborhoods if possible. Nuclear weapons are a critical means in formulating strategies to realize these ends, not ends in themselves. If they were then New Zealand and Uruguay would have MIRV’ed ICBMs.

Nuclear weapons programs are intrinsically married to the ambitions of statesmen and the anxieties of generals because they are multipliers of options as well as force-multipliers of lesser, conventional, means by virtue of possession. “Hard cases” of nuclear weapons proliferation like Pakistan, North Korea and Iran can only be properly contemplated with the strategic end goals of these states in mind. Not doing so, whether through an obstinate refusal to negotiate with “evil” governments or childish confidence in diplomatic processes in and of themselves are a waste of time

Assume by a mixture of subterfuge, gray and black markets and fungibility of nuclear knowledge gained through long term participation in the NPT/IAEA regime, we run a state that has acquired a small number of nuclear weapons, perhaps more than a half dozen, perhaps less (after all, we’re probably not 100 % confident that all of them will work). We have the indigenous capacity to make more, at least for a time until we need to replace critical, foreign engineered, equipment but mass producing nukes is entirely out of the question. The world is now aware of or strongly suspects our nuclear weapons capability. How can we maximize the utility of the arsenal we have ?

Our short term objective is to deter intervention by a U.S. led coalition, deter or subvert any international economic or diplomatic coercion aimed at securing our disarmament and gain grudging acceptance in the international community as a member of the “nuclear club”. If successful, then in the longer term we will use our nuclear status as a shield to more firmly press our diplomatic, economic and security interests at the expense of our neighbors or the great powers.

First, our diplomats and our economics ministries must try their hardest to connect to as many other centers of power as possible. The more great powers that benefit from economic connectivity with our country, the more IGO and NGO’s active and engaged in a process with our government, the greater the media attention the more restricted the options of those who seek to isolate us.

Secondly, no small nuclear power, not even China with it’s massively large armed forces, can win a head to head war against a United States determined to use the full weight of it’s military might (this is purportedly  why Musharraf decided to cooperate with the USG in the wake of 9/11). A direct confrontation with the United States is not desired here. To deter intervention, the nuclear weapons should be of a range of magnitudes and be part of a broad spectrum of tactical options that would make military intervention appear as costly and politically unpalatable as possible to the American elite – especially politicians, media, senior national security bureaucrats, business leaders and other influencers. Bio-Chem-Rad WMDs should be in the mix, not because they have great efficacy on the battlefield but because preparing against them raises logistical and operational difficulties and creates widespread political anxieties in the U.S. So too will our intelligence services be speading RUMINT about sleeper cells of terrorists and saboteurs  being prepositioned in the U.S. in case of war.

Thirdly, while engaging in strategic public diplomacy ( including hiring Washington lobbyists and PR firms) to de-escalate conflict with America ( or the UN or IAEA inspectors) in the eyes of world opinion, it should quietly be made clear to U.S. military planners that U.S. carrier groups or pre-positioned military build-ups of land and air forces in third countries might be subject to a nuclear attack if the United States initiates hostilities – leaving the President the prospect of being able to retaliate with nuclear weapons disproportionately, only by killing millions of our civilians.  More to the point, that any kind of massive ground invasion of our country would face the prospect of a certain nuclear response – a “Samson Option” policy that would mirror the Cold War strategy of NATO attempting to stop a full-scale Warsaw Pact invasion force before it reached the Rhine. Finally, that in event of a Kosovo War/ EBO style air attack to “break the state”, our deeply decentralized, heavily decoyed and widely dispersed nuclear weapons, materials, documents and scientists would be exfiltrated to the greatest extent possible to powers and non-state actors unfriendly to American interests.

Then, at a time when American leaders are preoccupied  with one or more other crisis situations and Washington has been lulled into relative complacency by steady negotiations over relevant minutia and a general lack of antagonistic behavior on other issues of great importance to America, a dramatic nuclear test will present the world with a fait accompli. One coupled with offers to negotiate regarding nuclear controls, responding positively to accomodating diplomatic trial balloons launched by Russia, China and the EU.

At this point, we are in the club.

The Nuclear Blog Tank Posts

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Cheryl Rofer called for national security/ foreign policy/defense bloggers to think hard regarding the strategic calculus of a state possessing just a few nuclear weapons:

What strategies are available to a country with fissionable material sufficient for 1-5 nuclear weapons, some of which may be assembled? Take into account probable responses, and assume some sort of rationality on the holders of these weapons and material. You may specifically refer to Iran and North Korea, or any other nation, or make the scenario(s) more general. Flesh out the scenario with some support

Many have answered the call ( I am still working on my response) and here they are with key excerpts:

Wizards of Oz

….Therefore, we will pursue a four-fold strategy we call “Deterrence Light”:

1. INTERNAL SECURITY: Ensure the secrecy of our fissile material. Maximize employment of decoys and spoofs so as to preserve this material should it ever be needed….

2. EXTERNAL AWARENESS: Inform the world of our technological accomplishment — and embed in our announcements disinformation regarding the exact disposition of our research establishment and weapons complexes….

Hidden Unities

….Yesterday, the Iraqi Kurds announced the formation of a Kurdish confederation, minutes after introducing shocked IAEA officials inspecting Turkish nuclear facilities to a mountain bunker where two nuclear warheads (one loaded on a hybrid American-Israeli missile) were housed. Iraqi Kurdistan leaders informed the Iraqi government they were joining a Kurdish confederation but were not (as of this moment) interested in seceding entirely from Iraq. Revenues would continue to be shared as previously agreed and Kurdish units would be available to defend Iraq against Iranian aggression. Iranian Kurdish leaders explained their position to the Supreme Leader of Iran and noted targeting of Tehran and Iranian oil fields by several nuclear devices was existent. The Syrians were equally appraised of their own prime real estate being targeted

Armchair Generalist

….Next, I will want to develop an indigenous capability. I won’t let any Proliferation Security Initiatives stop valuable material shipments. My engineers and scientists will train in the best universities overseas as I develop my “nuclear technology” program, which will have the purpose of supplying my people with limitless, inexpensive electricity to power their homes. Now the United States and European nations will offer me low-enriched uranium, and that will do – for starters. Once I get the nuclear technology program, I’ll build a second reactor and centrifuges for the HEU processing.

Dreaming 5GW (Arherring)

…. The 5GW Strategy: Ironically, even though the 4GW Operation benefits from more weapons being available, the 5GW strategy only requires one (and with the proper preparation you might even be able to get away with none, but that’s an advanced class). Essentially, the objective is to prove the potential of multiple weapons by openly displaying the existence of at least one weapon. Should you possess only two, one should be test-detonated and the other should be openly displayed to an authority that can realiably vouch for its authenticity. This very controlled transparency is a 5GW affect on observation that triggers existing assumptions, rule-sets and responses both in countries that are targeted and in countries that are merely in the audience

Nuclear Blog Tank

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Cheryl Rofer of Whirledview has called for a blog tank on the strategic question of countries with just a few nuclear weapons:

Blog Tank: National Strategy for a Few Nuclear Weapons

Herman Kahn worked out the strategies for massive nuclear exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Both the United States and Russia are now disassembling their nuclear weapons, rather than building more. The nations that have tens or hundreds of nuclear weapons are looking fairly peaceful lately; even India and Pakistan seem to have achieved their own version of the balance of terror. Terrorists don’t seem to have any nukes hidden away yet.

So the danger is that a nation will break out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty with a few nukes. This is a very different problem from the one Kahn addressed.

The last country to face an analogous situation was the United States at the end of World War II. By the time it had tested an implosion device at Alamogordo, New Mexico, and dropped weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was out of atomic bombs and fissionable materials. Truman bluffed for the several years it took to build some tens of nuclear weapons.

That was, of course, when no other nations had nuclear weapons.

Andy at Nuclear Mangoes reminded me over the weekend of my irritation that nobody has addressed the strategy of one to a few nuclear weapons. That’s a different problem than something in the range of 5-10, which is a different problem from a higher number. None of these have been addressed systematically for today’s world.

So let’s have a blog tank. Anyone who wants to participate should post a scenario (or scenarios) on their blog or, if you don’t have a blog, in the comments to this post. Here is the problem I want to address:

What strategies are available to a country with fissionable material sufficient for 1-5 nuclear weapons, some of which may be assembled? Take into account probable responses, and assume some sort of rationality on the holders of these weapons and material. You may specifically refer to Iran and North Korea, or any other nation, or make the scenario(s) more general. Flesh out the scenario with some support.

I envision a next step after the scenarios have been presented, perhaps a mutual critique, but I am open to suggestions on that next step. Let’s keep this first round to scenario development.

I’ll pull things together, as I did the last time around. I won’t try to reconcile one scenario with another, although I may note similarities.

Deadline for scenarios: July 18.

This is a great idea. I see that Shane has already responded but I will look more closely at his post here on Sunday.

Nuclear Policy Series: CKR’s Round-Up and Consensus

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Cheryl “CKR” Rofer of Whirledview, who initiated the Nuclear Policy “Blog Tank” challenge, skillfully brought the series to a summative conclusion with a second round-up and then a consensus post. I’d like to take a moment to look at both posts by CKR:

The Bloggers Develop Nuclear Weapons Policy – Pulling It Together

The Bloggers Develop Nuclear Weapons Policy – The Consensus Statement

While I have previously linked to the contributions from Dave Schuler and Charles Cameron, Cheryl’s first post above featured several other bloggers to whom I would like to draw attention with a brief excerpt:

Cernig – “America’s Nuclear Policy

“I’ve written before that trying to apply the Cold War assumptions of nuclear retaliation to assymetrical stateless actors is like running with nuclear scissors. it’s far more likely that you’ll fall and injure yourself or some innocent in a messy way than accidentally stab the one murderer in a crowd.

Jason suggests a posture based around a minimum deterrent force, I assume involving only a couple of hundred warheads, “prioritizing deployment on submarines which are impervious to any comprehensive first strike or pre-emptive attack.” I think that’s a good first step but would then move on to a “Virtual Swords” concept as explained by Jeffrey Lewis. Dr Lewis quotes an article from a friend of his which notes this isn’t a new idea”

PoliGazette – “Of Linus and Nuclear Weapons

“So the fundamental question that must begin the debate over a post-Cold War nuclear weapons policy in the U.S. is: Can nuclear weapons enhance U.S. security, and if so, how? General Lee Butler, retired former commander of the United States’ nuclear weapons forces, has a surprising answer: Nuclear weapons in actuality provide very limited contributions to U.S. national security. The reason is that nuclear weapons are politically and militarily virtually unusable.”

Wampum – “Packages and Packaging

First, the point made by John Kerry in 2004 remains — the greatest threat to the United States (as well as Japan, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Europe, Canada, and the Russian Federation) is the risk that the existing stockpiles of devices and fissile materials will eventually be re-purposed, and the better policy is to allocate resources nominally reducing that risk model, up to and including unilateral partial disarmament. The alternative “single weapon” risk model was articulated in the same debate by George W. Bush, and independently by Peter Daou’s sometime employers, Mssrs. Ted Turner, Sam Nunn, Warren Buffett and others, and without loss of generality, by the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator proponents.

Restated, the greatest quantifiable risk has no agency, and cannot be “deterred” or engaged in human discourse. It is rust. Sensor failure. False alarm. The next greatest quantifiable risk has agency, but also cannot be “deterred” or engaged in political discourse. It is covert or overt expropriation of devices or fissiles. Restated, it is sensor and inventory control failure”

 Rofer did an excellent job summing up the consensus points in a discussion of nuclear weapons policy that featured bloggers with a wide spread of political and philosophical positions:

The bloggers who have contributed to this blog-tank range in views across the center of the political and hawkishness spectra. Nonetheless, we have achieved a fair degree of consensus.

Nuclear weapons strategy is part of a broader US military and international relations strategy, but it can be discussed by itself. To some degree, development of all these levels of strategy is iterative.

We need to identify short-term and long-term goals and give each its appropriate place. While abolition of nuclear weapons may be a long-term goal, making it too immediate can be counterproductive.

Nuclear weapons have a paradoxical relationship to power. They cannot be used, but their threat is potent. If a nation is tied too closely to a requirement to retaliate, its options may in fact be limited.

Nations that have nuclear weapons want to preserve their exclusivity, but that desire may increase the valuation of nuclear weapons by other nations.”

Read the rest here.

A further comment, on Cheryl’s “Blog Tank” concept. Her format was important in its’ own right:

 This experience is one that bears repeating; and similar things have been called for by others, notably Michael Tanji who is part of the effort by Threatswatch.org to become a “Think Tank 2.0“. The blogosphere, for it’s many faults and idiosyncratic subculture, has matured to the point that there are enough experts and gifted amateurs that a person could probably organize an impressive intellectual “swarm” on nearly any topic under the sun in fairly short order. Just by asking folks of intelligence and goodwill to help.

To paraphrase an old revolutionary, brainpower is lying in the streets for the taking.

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