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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.

Whirledview Round-Up to the Nuclear Policy Series

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Cheryl Rofer summarizes and synthesizes the nuclear policy ” blog tank” for “Round 1“. This is an excellent way to get the overall thrust of the debate in a single post including the contributions of a few bloggers that I did not catch the first time around.

Third Post in Nuclear Policy Series: Wizards of Oz

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

See the introductory post here.

Blogfriend Shane Deichman of Wizards of Oz, who is also a nuclear physicist, warmed to the challenge put forward by Cheryl Rofer. An excerpt from Shane’s post:

Bloggers for Nuclear Policy” 

“One thing that becomes clear, touring the various historic sites around Oak Ridge, is the magnitude of effort needed to manufacture nuclear weapons. This is not something where a couple centrifuges can be turned on in a basement and voilà! you have material to build a bomb. The undertaking is complicated, laborious and time-consuming — and this is a good thing. The skill sets needed to preserve and maintain a credible stockpile are scarce — and this is not so good of a thing (I’ll cover this in “stockpile management” below).

This creates a taxonomy of “Nuclear Powers”:

  1. Those that have it
  2. Those that want to have it
  3. Those that don’t want it
  4. Those who can never make it

Obviously, those in the first category want to preserve their “exclusivity” — because after all, the logic of nuclear warfare is that you can never logically use them. This led to policies like the Baruch Plan after World War II (which the Soviets rejected because, in their opinion, it would have preserved the U.S. nuclear monopoly) and today’s proper emphasis on nuclear non-proliferation (a great success to date, in my opinion).”

Read the rest here.

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