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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.

Seventh Post in the Nuclear Policy Series: The Glittering Eye

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Blogfriend Dave Schuler brings in the important economic and scientific limiting factors to the discussion:

“World production of U3O8 is roughly 47,000 tonnes. The spot price of uranium is about $90/lb. Conseqently, the total world production of natural uranium (the yellowcake we’ve heard so much about) is about $10 billion annually, much of which comes from Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan with lesser amount produced in Niger, Russia, the U.S., and other countries.

Since the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapons development program is much on people’s minds, let’s use Iran as an example.

Annual Iranian oil revenues, the government’s main source of revenue, are roughly $50 billion annually. BTW, there have been some signs that, despite the rising price of oil, the Iranian government’s revenues from oil are actually falling due to decreasing production (for various reasons). Add to this the draw on the treasury created by the profligate policy of subsidizing gasoline which, while creating a certain amount of political peace, has the unfortunate secondary effect of increasing the use of gasoline in the country and decreasing the amount of the government’s revenues available for spending on nuclear development programs, whether peaceful or weapons development.”

Read the rest here.

To What End Does America Have A Nuclear Policy?: Sixth Post in the Nuclear Policy Series

Monday, December 31st, 2007

“The maximum possible deterrence may require a war winning capability, but much less force may nevertheless possess deterrent value. However, we must remember that the enemy has a very great incentive to ensure our destruction. That incentive must be countered in the only way possible, which is to guarantee strong retaliation. The automaticity of retaliation is taken too much for granted. Deterrence involves problems of choice among weapons, vehicles and also targets. Deterrent capabilities are also influenced considerably by the state of civil defense and of armaments limitation and control.”                                                                    Bernard Brodie,  Strategy in the Missile Age [1]

Cheryl Rofer of Whirledview recently proposed a “blog tank” on the question of American Nuclear Policy, a subject currently undergoing reexamination by the Bush administration under strong Congressional pressure to do so.  The answers have not come easily to the deep thinkers at the Department of Defense and the think tanks that inhabit the Beltway because, by and large, their strategic assumptions about how the world is supposed to work underwent profound shifts from 1991-2001. The ten year interregnum between the collapse of Communism and September 11 featured unprecedented economic globalization, information revolution and centrifugal decentralization that have rendered the massive Russian and American nuclear arsenals of the bipolar, Cold War, world not obsolete, but obscure.  What role do nuclear weapons serve in assuring America’s national security, vital interests or preservation of global peace and stability ? Against whom or what are these weapons to be directed?

It is important to note that American nuclear policy and warfighting doctrine during the Cold War were as much products of bureaucratic evolution within nation-states as they were of calm, theoretical, reflection by defense intellectuals or interstate diplomatic agreements like START, SALT, ABM and the NPT. Nagasaki was bombed almost on a political “automatic pilot” as a result of top secret decisions made during FDR’s tenure with the new president, Harry Truman being told that the city was a “military target” ( “Much like New York city was a military target” McGeorge Bundy was known to later quip). Even as Truman’s key adviser and later Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes (“Mr. Atomic Bomb”) was trying to use the bomb’s existence in a hamhanded way to maximize American diplomatic leverage, a privately worried Truman removed control of atomic bombs from the hands of the U.S. military and put them firmly under civilian and most importantly, presidential, authority. When General of the Army Douglas MacArthur insubordinately continued to agitate for the use of atomic bombs against Red China during the Korean War, Truman fired him. 

Dwight Eisenhower shared Truman’s misgivings about allowing an erosion of civilian authority over the military and he deliberately relied upon American dominance in atomic and hydrogen bombs and SAC to enunciate a doctrine of “massive retaliation” that helped keep Soviet armies contained while keeping the American Army small ( and cheap). The combination of increasing thermonuclear megatonnage, multiplying numbers of warheads and ICBM’s as an emerging delivery system resulted in a paradoxical situation of radical  “overkill” in America’s nuclear posture by 1960, an arsenal that could hardly be used in our defense without also threatening the existence of all life on earth. With “Massive Retaliation” having come to a dead end, from the Kennedy administration forward to the collapse of the USSR during the administration of George H.W. Bush, American presidents attempted to apply rational limitations to nuclear arms in conjunction with Soviet leaders and in partnership with key NATO allies. A retreat away from assured apocalypse and toward “selective options” and targeting enemy “command and control” and hopefully, human or even national survival.

The unanticipated consequence of the Superpower arms race was the end of interstate war between great powers who increasingly relied upon client states and by the 1970’s and 1980’s, non-state actors as proxies for armed conflict.  To a great extent, the unthinkability of a superpower nuclear exchange has accelerated the devolution toward anarchy in warfare by making the option of “total war” an increasingly remote one for statesmen and enhancing the incentives to acquire “plausible deniability” by using irregulars as cut-outs – irregulars who increasingly no longer require states as patrons for acts of terrorism or to wage insurgencies. As Martin van Creveld has written:

“Owing largely to nuclear proliferation, the armed conflicts of the second half of the twentieth century were, without a single exception, fought either between third and fourth rate states or by a first rate state against a third or fourth rate state”. [2]

In a large measure, the absence of great power warfare, nuclear proliferation and the granular devolution of warfare represent the strategic legacy that the Cold War has bequeathed to the 21st century and constitute major problems in crafting a new American nuclear policy. What to do then ?

  • As WWII resulted in approximately 60 million deaths, American national interests are served by a continued general suppression of great power warfare provided for my American and Russian nuclear preeminence (and the astronomical costs of attempting to field a high-tech military that can play on the same battlefield as the United States). That being said, there remains considerable room for nuclear arms reductions by both Russia and the United States without endangering the comparative advantage that inhibits third parties from engaging in a new arms race; these further reductions in nuclear arsenals should come only jointly, and in return for a dramatic  strengthening the Non-Proliferation regime to which non-nuclear states adhere. “Linkage” to other, unrelated but “incentivizing” issues should be considered to draw in the most likely would-be new nuclear powers.
  • A diplomatic “Come in from the Cold” option for *all* rogue states enmeshed with terrorism and WMD proliferation threats to follow the path of Libya, receiving diplomatic and economic normalization and security from “regime change” in return for transparently divesting themselves of threatening or injurious activities.
  • An international “quick reaction” agreement in place in case of a nuclear club member undergoing state failure and anarchy that imposes nuclear security obligations on all nuclear weapons powers and an intervention process until a new government can exercise responsibility obver the nuclear arsenal. Pakistan is the poster-boy candidate here but we should not oversetimate how quickly seeemingly secure states can disintegrate. We were all very lucky in 1991.
  • Clarification of American nuclear targeting doctrine regarding hostile states attempting to acquire nuclear arms or engage in “first-use” against American allies or sponsor non-state actors who use WMDs in terrorist attacks. We should be both credible and clear.
  • Conventional alternatives to nuclear weapons ( “bunker busters”, EMP bombs etc.) should be pursued.
  • Recognition that while no “near peer” nuclear threat toward the United States exists today, this cannot be an assumption for all time. How many of us, in 1985, imagined the USSR would no longer exist six years later ?

Making nuclear policy for the United States is hard but it is immeasurably easier in 2007 than it was in 1957. The world has changed for the better, not for the worse. Let’s keep it that way.

1. Brodie, Bernard  Strategy in the Missile Age. 1959  RAND Corporation 

2.  Creveld, Martin van  The Changing Face of War: The Lessons of Combat from the Marne to Iraq. 2006. Ballantine Books

Hillary Clinton and the “Costanza Rule”

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Of the major candidates in either party, I find that when faced with political or strategic choices, Hillary Clinton has the worst political “gut” I’ve seen in a long, long, time. Case in point, Hillary on any future role for Bill Clinton in a Clinton II White House:

“I think he would play the role that spouses have always played for presidents,” said Clinton, in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “He will not have a formal, official role, but just as presidents rely on wives, husbands, fathers, friends of long years, he will be my close confidante and adviser as I was with him.”

The candidate said having [ former] President Clinton participate in National Security Council meetings “wouldn’t be appropriate,” and in a crisis situation – like the one faced by President Bush this week after the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto – President Clinton would not sit in on discussions with his wife’s national security team.”

On the surface, a politically smooth and no doubt heavily wargamed response; yet in substance, an answer that is remarkably stupid and demonstrative of candidate Clinton’s deep personal insecurities. Yes, yes, let’s bar the best – correction, by far the best – qualified person from the room during a national security crisis. I’m well to the political Right but I’d sleep a lot better at night during a Hillary administration if I knew that old Slick Willie was on hand to say to the HillaryCollective ” Well…ah’m jest saying here that, if we did that…the markets might crash and Putin’s people are going to go ape and…and…and”.

I tend to take all Clinton political statements with a grain of salt but there’s probably more than a ring of truth here that Hillary fears being seen as dependent upon or overshadowed as president by her much more popular and politically talented husband. I say “talented” rather than “experienced” because Hillary’s political experience is actually very considerable but her inherently atrocious political instincts tend to prevent her experience from being adequately recognized. It is evident to me that, as much as I might not care for her as a personality or politician, Hillary has learned from that experience and polished her skills with tremendous self-discipline – but where she longs to go at any given moment tends to be politically counterproductive to her own interests.

In this, Hillary is not unlike the hapless Seinfeld character George Costanza, for whom no well-intended gesture ever failed to misfire horribly and this was a central premise of the show. Even George himself eventually became aware of this self-destructive pattern and tried to rectify it:

“George : It’s not working, Jerry. It’s just not working.

Jerry : What is it that isn’t working?

George : Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable, I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but … I was perceptive. I always know when someone’s uncomfortable at a party. It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every of life, be it something to wear, something to eat … It’s all been wrong.

( A waitress comes up to G )

Waitress : Tuna on toast, coleslaw, cup of coffee.

George : Yeah. No, no, no, wait a minute, I always have tuna on toast. Nothing’s ever worked out for me with tuna on toast. I want the complete opposite of on toast. Chicken salad, on rye, untoasted … and a cup of tea.

Elaine : Well, there’s no telling what can happen from this.

Jerry : You know chicken salad is not the opposite of tuna, salmon is the opposite of tuna, ‘cos salmon swim against the current, and the tuna swim with it.

George : Good for the tuna.

( A blonde looks at George )

Elaine : Ah, George, you know, that woman just looked at you.

George : So what? What am I supposed to do?

Elaine : Go talk to her.

George : Elaine, bald men, with no jobs, and no money, who live with their parents, don’t approach strange women.

Jerry : Well here’s your chance to try the opposite. Instead of tuna salad and being intimidated by women, chicken salad and going right up to them.

George : Yeah, I should do the opposite, I should.

Jerry : If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

George : Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do


( He goes over to the woman )

George : Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice that you were looking in my direction.

Victoria : Oh, yes I was, you just ordered the same exact lunch as me.

( G takes a deep breath )

George : My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.

Victoria : I’m Victoria. Hi.”

It’s a tactic that Hillary Clinton might do well to consider.

Robb on Radical Privatization

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

John Robb puts on his futurist hat and engages in some imaginative scenario thinking (PDF) over at Global Guerillas. Note John’s comment:

“The goal of this brief is to get people thinking about the future in a way that helps them make decisions today.”

John has the methodology right. Most experts, habituated to the over-use of analytical thinking, will try to nit-pick scenarios like these to death from the inception , either reflexively or intentionally in order to avoid having to reexamine cherished ideological assumptions, instead of engaging in the thought experiment. This is the major cultural-cognitive reason bueaucracies and academic institutions are notoriously poor at thinking outside the box or anticipating anything other than directly linear outcomes of policies. 

Analytical-reductionism was a reasonable enough epsitemological approach for the 19th and 20th centuries of the “Second Wave”, “Mass Man”  industrial-bureaucratic nation-states. It’s not enough for the more heterogeneous, alinear, high-velocity, “complex networks as evolving ecologies” of the 21st century. We need other cognitive tools in our kit alongside analysis.

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