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Entries in nuclear weapons (25)


WPR's The New Rules: Obama's Missile Defense Fantasy a Pentagon Dream Come True 

Given this administration’s resurging plans for regional missile defense schemes in both Europe and Asia, President Barack Obama’s recent open-mike admission to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have more freedom in his national security decision-making once he wins re-election is not a comforting thought. For a guy who promises “a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama seems awfully intent on incentivizing both Russia and China to field some more.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


WPR's The New Rules: The Coming War With Iran

While the debate over whether Israel will strike Iran ebbs and flows on an almost weekly basis now, a larger collision-course trajectory is undeniably emerging. To put it most succinctly, Iran won't back down, while Israel won't back off, and America will back up its two regional allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia -- when the shooting finally starts. There are no other credible paths in sight: There will be no diplomatic miracles, and Iran will not be permitted to achieve a genuine nuclear deterrence. But let us also be clear about what this coming war will ultimately target: regime change in Tehran, because that is the only plausible solution.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Time's Battleland: Would Assad’s Fall Limit the Nuclear Menace in the Middle East?

As Bashar Assad looks more internationally isolated by the day — and far more vulnerable to Western economic sanctions than uber-bad boy Iran — it behooves us to think through what general advantages accrue with his eventual fall. To date, most of the thinking has focused on Iran’s loss of its right-hand proxy in transmitting terror to Israel via Hamas and Hezbollah.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


WPR's The New Rules: How to Stop Worrying and Live with the Iranian Bomb

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear programsurprised no one, even as it created the usual flurry of op-eds championing preventative “next steps.” As I’ve been saying for the past half-decade, there are none. Once the U.S. went into both Iraq and Afghanistan, the question went from being, “How do we prevent Iran from getting the Bomb?” to “How do we handle Iran’s Bomb?” That shift represents neither defeatism nor appeasement. Rather, it reflects a realistic analysis of America’s strategic options. With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why Iran’s successful pursuit of the Bomb is not the system-changing event so many analysts are keen to portray.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


On RT's "The Alyona Show" last night re: IAEA report on Iran

Did it via Skype from home office. The raccoon eyes tell you we're suffering a weird warm spell here and the resurgence of pollen!

One misspeak, primarily because I was so tired:  when I spoke about Israel being Iran's "whipping boy" and excuse for reaching for the bomb, I accidentally slipped an Iran in there when I meant Israel.

Other than that mistake, and not saying "America's global war on terror" (just said "America's global war") early on, I was happy enough with the interview.

Skype from home certainly beats trudging downtown to a remote office and that whole drill, but the latency is a bit much to deal with.  Still, nice to be able to see yourself on Skype (small window) so you can orient your position onscreen (you can see me self-correction at points, which is tricky because all of your movements need to be "mirrored").


Time's Battleland: Why Japan won't go all Caldicott over Fukushima

No, that ain't the Kool-Aid.My favorite - and most frustrated - anti-nuke activist Helen Caldicott believes Fukushima drives Japan out of the industry and - by extension - kills the industry worldwide.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


Wikistrat's "The World According to Tom Barnett" 2011 brief, Part 6 (Flow of Security)

In this section I cover the symmetricization of the Long War, nuclear proliferation (and the lack thereof), how America shaped this world with its grand strategy, and who the key superpowers will be in the post-2030 landscape.


WPR's The New Rules: Nuclear Deterrence Ain't Broke, So Don't Fix It

For decades now, strategic experts have predicted that our world was on the verge of a break-out in nuclear proliferation that would see us grappling with two- or three-dozen nuclear powers. Indeed, the inexorable spread of nuclear weapons is the closest thing to an unassailable canon in the field of international relations, as one cannot possibly employ the term "nuclear proliferation" without preceding it with the modifier "increasing." This unshakeable belief, wholly unsupported by any actual evidence, drives many Cold War-era "wise men" to argue that mutually assured destruction (MAD) and strategic deterrence in general are obsolete and therefore immoral in the post-Cold War era.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Esquire's Politics Blog: 5 Reasons Ahmadinejad Might Just Be Good for the World

Ah, U.N. Week — that time of year when Fox News sounds the alarm bells and The National Review starts making musical-theater references to impending speeches from Dictators with an Important Audience. And when the rest of us realize that Thursday's session with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be quite the opposite: another round of comic relief sure to sabotage his own attempts to be taken seriously, followed by another round of (mostly) effective sanctions. The Obama administration already rolled one eye on Monday by refusing a detainee swap, so let's see just how far one man's stubbornness can be leveraged, shall we?

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


Good instinct, bad linkage on Iran-Afghanistan

Ignatius piece in WAPO that starts out promisingly:

Iran is signaling that it wants to join regional efforts to stabilize Afghanistan -- presenting President Obama with an interesting diplomatic opportunity. He had solicited just such help from Tehran last month, but the administration has not yet responded to the Iranian feelers.

And then replays past mistakes:

U.S. policy is still in flux, but the administration appears ready for a limited dialogue with Iran about Afghanistan, perhaps conducted through the two countries' embassies in Kabul. This position has not been communicated to the Iranians, in part because Washington is waiting to see whether Iran will return soon to negotiations about its nuclear program with the "P-5 plus 1" group.

Thus we see yet again what our mania with nukes costs us in the Long War.  Sadder still, but telegraphing our conditions in such a rote fashion, we cede all initiative and put Tehran in the driver's seat on both scores.



What a serious containment of nuclear Iran would demand of US

cool graphic here

Nice op-ed in The Daily Star by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

Author is Middle East expert at Jamestown Foundation, an unusually solid source of common sense.

After laying out the realism that is accepting Iran will get nukes, Ramzy Mardini addresses what a serious containment strategy would require:

Three crucial features must be included in any containment approach. First, the US must strive for a coherent foreign policy vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic, with interests pegged to regional stability, not democracy and regime-change. Secondly, the US should be prepared to play a pacifying role in the region: restricting Iran, but simultaneously working to minimize dangerous escalations involving local allies, particularly when it involves Israel.

Finally, the US must offer a degree of certainty to its allies in the region – building on, reiterating, and implementing promises of active engagement in containing Iran. The growing uncertainty about Washington’s commitment will dramatically increase the incentive for regional states to seek self-assurance, and hence, indigenous nuclear deterrents of their own. Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are among those who might seek this form of reassurance.

Without the necessary diplomatic arrangements and American leadership, the danger is that a containment strategy may be both amorphous and fragile. Tehran could easily engage uncertain actors interested in hedging their bets and, consequently, erode the cohesiveness of the coalition aligned against it.

American prudence and recognition of the limitations of power should not be confused with weak and ineffective policymaking. Given the uncertainties involved when it comes to Iran, Washington should emphasize realpolitik in addressing Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Pretty solid list, in my opinion. 

And despite all the brave talk, I think the Obama administration is actually moving down this path with a lot of care--and genuine success.


WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Needs an Activist, Independent Turkey  


If America could be magically granted its ideal Muslim strategic partner, what would we ask for? Would we want a country that fell in line with every U.S. foreign policy stance? Not if the regime was to have any credibility with the Islamic world. No, ideally, the government would be just Islamist enough to be seen as preserving the nation's religious and cultural identity, even as it aggressively modernized its society and connected its economy to the larger world. It would have an activist foreign policy that emphasized diplomacy, multilateralism and regional stability, while also maintaining sufficient independence from America to demonstrate that it was not Washington's proxy, but rather a confident great power navigating the currents of history. In sum, it would serve as an example to its co-religionists of how a Muslim state can progressively improve itself amid globalization's deepening embrace -- while remaining a Muslim state.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review


Nuclear domino effect: history says otherwise

Foreign Affairs piece by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

The key bit from Johan Bergenas' solid piece:

But there's one problem with this "nuclear domino" scenario: the historical record does not support it. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, many have feared rapid and widespread nuclear proliferation; 65 years later, only nine countries have developed nuclear weapons. Nearly 20 years elapsed between the emergence of the first nuclear state, the United States, in 1945, and the fifth, China, in 1964.

The next 40 years gave birth to only five additional nuclear countries: India, Israel, South Africa, Pakistan, and North Korea. South Africa voluntarily disarmed in the 1990s, as did Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After Israel developed a nuclear weapons capability in the late 1960s, no regional nuclear chain reaction followed, even though the country is surrounded by rivals. Nor was there even a two-country nuclear arms race in the region.

Similarly, it has now been four years since North Korea became a nuclear weapons state, yet South Korea and Japan have not followed suit, despite the fact that they have a latent nuclear weapons capability -- access to the fissile material necessary for nuclear weapons. These countries' decisions to not go nuclear are largely thanks to extensive U.S. efforts to dissuade them.

When he turns to the Middle East, I think his numbers are optimistic: he says Iran may be 1-3 years away but everybody else in 10-15.  I give both the Saudis and Turks more credit than that.

But his logic--often echoed here--is hard to dismiss.  The hype on nuclear proliferation has been amazingly consistent across my nearly five decades of living--and amazingly and consistently wrong.


Russians to fuel Iranian reactor: out-of-the-blue shock at 11!

WSJ front-pager.

Russia saying it's going to help start up the Bushehr reactor, a stance the US now supports as quid pro quo for gaining Moscow's agreement to the recent--and fourth--round of UN sanctions.

And so the Obama admin spins positively on the development, even as many experts do the exact opposite. The White House hopes and prays the sanctions work new wonders, but this train continues to roll . . ..


Do as I say, not as I do

Economist piece on China’s proposed sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan, the argument being it will only intensify a nuclear rivalry.

Our problem:  by winning an exemption from the Non-Proliferation Treaty for India under Bush-Cheney, we’re now not in the position to do anything about China’s supplier relationship with Pakistan.

America argued that India had a spotless non-proliferation record (it doesn’t) and that brining it into the non-proliferation “mainstream” could only bolster global anti-proliferation efforts (it didn’t).  The deal incensed not just China and Pakistan but many others . . .

What particularly riles outsiders is that American did not get anything much out of India in return . . . India has since designated some of its reactors as civilian, and open to inspection, but other still churn out spent fuel richly laden with weapons-usable plutonium . . .

Pakistan suffers no such uranium shortage and is determined to match India . . .

China is trying a legalistic defence of the sale of the third and fourth reactors at Chasma.  But its real point is this:  if America can bend the rules for India, then China can break them for Pakistan.

Pakistan hopes that it will eventually get a deal like India’s.

I personally would describe such a scenario as just this side of crazy-town, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.  Some in the Obama administration are said to favor this, to win Islamabad’s help on the Taliban.  You just know how such a deal would work out:  nice show from Pakistan as they continue to build nuclear devices and buy fighter jets—or pretty much what the Pakistanis have done to us since 9/11 triggered the great money flow.

Again, I choose India every single time I can in this equation—not to hedge against China but simply to do the right thing.

Or we continue to pretend we can make two fake countries (Af-Pak) become real ones, stiffing New Delhi in the process.

Obama seems to be traveling down that second path, and I think we’ll all regret it soon enough.


Practicing the mutually-assured-destructing dialogue

Chart here

The Times (London) has a story that's popping up everywhere now.  I got it via Michael Smith.

The supposition has always been there: the Saudis turn a blind eye toward Israel flying over its airspace (and perhaps even refueling on the ground at some makeshift landing site) in order to attack Iran's nuclear sites.

So now The Times reports:

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal.

In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.

To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert.

“The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” said a US defence source in the area. “They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren’t scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department.”

No matter how Israel goes about it, we'll be complicit, and that's okay.  While it will not get us the outcome we seek, beyond temporary delay, it signals our seriousness and our ability/willingness to strike. Ditto for the Saudis.

I'm against the US mounting a big-time effort, but I don't have any problem with Israel getting their limited-strike stuff off their chest.  Israel wants the sensation of acting, and it dreams of a new president in the US come 2013 who would approach the problem differently, so this is a time-buying exercise like all the rest. Again, it won't accomplish much, but it does start the signaling process to come, when Iran does get its nukes.

Since I see that path as inevitable, I don't mind the early practice.


Why engaging Iran on the nuclear program makes more sense now than ever


Charles Kupchan, almost always a terrifically reasonable fellow, in the Moscow Times on the need to talk with Iran.  Item found via WPR's Media Roundup.


With diplomacy having failed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, critics of engagement charge, it is time to resort to coercion before Iran crosses the nuclear Rubicon. A rising chorus of voices now forswears engagement with Iran’s rulers, insisting that it is time for the regime to go.

But closing off dialogue with Iran would be a precipitous and dangerous mistake. Even fierce adversaries can settle their differences through negotiation. The United States and its allies should keep the door open to dialogue until the 11th hour for four compelling reasons.

First, tighter sanctions make sense only as a diplomatic tool, not as a blunt instrument of coercion . . .

Second, the costs of abandoning diplomacy are so high that continued engagement makes sense even as Iran refuses to budge . . .

A military strike would likely have worse consequences. Even if a strike were an operational success, it would only set back Iran’s nuclear program by several years, while giving the regime a new incentive to acquire a nuclear deterrent and build better hidden and defended nuclear facilities . . .

The third reason for pursuing dialogue is that factional infighting and political intrigue within the Iranian regime make for considerable political fluidity . . .

Finally, even as stalemate continues on Iran’s uranium enrichment, continued engagement may offer a roundabout means of arriving at a bargain on the nuclear issue. Dialogue with the United States could focus on areas, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where the two parties share a measure of common ground. Joint efforts to combat drug trafficking in Afghanistan, for example . .

With Iran having spurned Obama’s offers of compromise, it is tempting for the U.S. administration to turn its back on dialogue. But the stakes are too high to abandon engagement.

Basically agree, but simply caution that I believe the impetus for talking will only get stronger once Iran inevitably fields those nuclear weapons in a way that's recognized by the world.

No, I don't think talking will stop this, but I think the practice is worthwhile, whether or not Israel strikes or not. The challenge cannot be wished away or bombed away or ignored. Practice will never make perfect here, but it will build up some semblance of a dialogue, and that matters when the alternative is isolating and demonizing a new nuclear power.

Would I prefer Iran without nukes?  Who wouldn't?  But this isn't about our preferences anymore; it's about dealing with a reality that rushing toward us while we prefer to engage in a lot of diplomatic escapism.


Our frustration with Iran is borne of our obsession with nukes

WAPO story.

A year ago, Iran was on its way to becoming a pariah state. Dozens of governments accused Iranian leaders of stealing the presidential election and condemned the brutal crackdown on protesters that followed. The country faced sanctions and international scorn over its controversial nuclear program.

Now, even as the U.N. Security Council prepares to impose its fourth round of sanctions on Iran with a vote slated for Wednesday, Tehran is demonstrating remarkable resilience, insulating some of its most crucial industries from U.S.-backed financial restrictions and building a formidable diplomatic network that should help it withstand some of the pressure from the West. Iranian leaders are meeting politicians in world capitals from Tokyo to Brussels. They are also signing game-changing energy deals, increasing their economic self-sufficiency and even gaining seats on international bodies.

Iran's ability to navigate such a perilous diplomatic course, analysts say, reflects both Iranian savvy and U.S. shortcomings as up-and-coming global players attempt to challenge U.S. supremacy, and look to Iran as a useful instrument.

Honestly, the first word out of my mouth at reading the opening paras of the piece was "bullshit"--at least regarding the line of America's "shortcomings as up-and-coming global players attempt to challenge U.S. supremacy, and look to Iran as a useful instrument."

I do think the Iranians are savvy, and that we shoot ourselves in the foot every time we reduce them to some caricature of irrational religious nutcases.  I see Ahmadinejad as a very clever fellow, who piously led his Revolutionary Guards right into a successful and impressively bloodless military putsch, effectively giving the president his goal of a party-based dictatorship that supplants the theocracy in too many ways to count. His veterans of the Iran-Iraq war feel they've earned their dictatorship, and all the economic earnings that go with it. In that way, they remind me plenty of Brezhnev's grubby, unimaginative crew.  And like Brezhnev's bunch, they know full well that getting nuclear weapons is a huge credentializing signpost.

I stipulate all that.

I also stipulate that rising great powers, when forced to by our singular obsession with nukes, will take advantage of Iran's equally laser-like focus on nuclear weapons.  But none of these powers want Iran in that position, don't kid yourselves, because it does nothing for them and rising great powers tend to be about as unsentimental and ungenerous as they come about potential rivals.

What drives this whole show more than anything else is our insistence that damn near everything in our foreign policy agenda take a back seat to the all-crucial goal of preventing that which will not be prevented.  We made/make our effort in Iraq take a backseat to it.  Ditto for Afghanistan.  Ditto for our lackluster attempts in recent years to do anything about the Palestinians. We hold a good chunk of our relationships with a host of crucial rising great powers hostage to this dynamic--all of this to no avail.

In the end, we'll be forced down the path that was always there: we'll simply greet Iran's achievement with a clear promise to liquidate the entire place if they ever choose to be so stupid as to launch one of those missiles or expect that some bomb passed to others will not be traced back to them.

And then we let those jackasses live with their "amazing, world-changing achievement" that will earn them nothing.

Or we can continue pretending that all this effort has real meaning and impact, when neither is true.

I've said it before and I will repeat it endlessly: there is nothing magical or unprecedented about a "Shiite bomb." They work like all the rest. We have the only history of using them.

We shouldn't forget that now, much less go all wobbly over such a peon power. If Russia was revealed by history and globalization as just Upper Volta with nukes, what exactly does that make Iran?

And don't tell me the oil and gas make it different, or the religious ideology. This is all about power; when we imagine otherwise we insult everybody's intelligence.


Nuclear-weapon subs off Iran's coast: Israel's perfectly fine response

pic here

The Times via Michael Smith.

The logic and the signaling are impeccable--and entirely familiar.

Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline.

The first has been sent in response to Israeli fears that ballistic missiles developed by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, a political and military organisation in Lebanon, could hit sites in Israel, including air bases and missile launchers.

The submarines of Flotilla 7 — Dolphin, Tekuma and Leviathan — have visited the Gulf before. But the decision has now been taken to ensure a permanent presence of at least one of the vessels.

The flotilla’s commander, identified only as “Colonel O”, told an Israeli newspaper: “We are an underwater assault force. We’re operating deep and far, very far, from our borders.”

Each of the submarines has a crew of 35 to 50, commanded by a colonel capable of launching a nuclear cruise missile.

The vessels can remain at sea for about 50 days and stay submerged up to 1,150ft below the surface for at least a week. Some of the cruise missiles are equipped with the most advanced nuclear warheads in the Israeli arsenal.

The deployment is designed to act as a deterrent, gather intelligence and potentially to land Mossad agents. “We’re a solid base for collecting sensitive information, as we can stay for a long time in one place,” said a flotilla officer.

The submarines could be used if Iran continues its programme to produce a nuclear bomb. “The 1,500km range of the submarines’ cruise missiles can reach any target in Iran,” said a navy officer.

Apparently responding to the Israeli activity, an Iranian admiral said: “Anyone who wishes to do an evil act in the Persian Gulf will receive a forceful response from us.”

Smart move by Israel, good move for the region, and a harbinger of the balancing to come.

Scary period to navigate, but much better chances for regional peace lie on the other side. 


Esquire's The Politics Blog: The Real Israeli Raid Fallout: Turkey with a Bomb?

If you look beyond the international shouting match that began on Monday after Israel botched its handling of a Turkey-sponsored aid flotilla bound for Gaza, well, things look pretty shocking. Just because at least nine people are dead — Western casualties included — doesn't mean the boat raid itself is what "has the makings of a huge international fracas." And just because the Turkish foreign minister says "this attack is like 9/11" — which it isn't — doesn't mean Tel Aviv will take its eyes off what the Israelis actually perceive to be the larger threat: Iran's nuclear weapons.

Read the full post at's The Politics Blog.