Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk

 

A friend and I have an ongoing debate about the reasons for the plague of partisan rancor now afflicting Washington in general and arms control in particular. For my friend, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) was the Rubicon. Before Obamacare, he points out that important domestic legislation received bipartisan support. These numbers back up his argument:

Social Security Act of 1935
Senate:
60 Democrats yes; 16 Republicans yes
1 Democrats no; 5 Republicans no
House:
284 Democrats yes; 81 Republicans yes
15 Democrats no; 15 Republicans no

Civil Rights Act of 1964
Senate:
46 Democrats yes; 27 Republicans yes
21 Democrats no; 6 Republicans no
House:
152 Democrats yes; 138 Republicans yes
96 Democrats no; 34 Republicans no

Affordable Care Act
Senate:
58 Democrats yes; 2 Independents yes; 0 Republicans yes
0 Democrats no; 39 Republicans no
House:
219 Democrats yes; 0 Republicans yes
34 Democrats no; 178 Republicans no

After the White House and the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill rammed through Obamacare, my friend believes that Republican Members of Congress resolved not to work with President Obama. In my view, the absence of bipartisanship predates the battles over health care, reflecting quarter-century-long trends within the Republican Party and deepening divisions within the country at large.

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Has the focus on the unlikely possibility of a nuclear-armed Japan distracted from more important policy challenges that threaten the shared interests of the United States and Japan in arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation? Should policymakers take Japanese “nut-jobs” seriously? How has the domino theory of proliferation hindered more serious discussions about nuclear issues in allied states? And finally, how do Aaron and Jeffrey manage to live “glamorous jet-setting life-styles” while working as wonks (and thereby receiving “wonk style” salaries)?

Tune in to find out.

Jeffrey and Aaron discussed a number of articles during the podcast:

Jeffrey Lewis, “If Japan Wanted to Build a Nuclear Bomb it Would be Awesome at it,” Foreign Policy, June 26, 2014.

As always, you can subscribe to the (now better sounding) Arms Control Wonk Podcast on iTunes.

 
 

This is a guest post on behalf of ACW reader and occasional contributor Chris Camp.

The first Atomic bombs, Trinity, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, hold an outsized place in our perceptions of what a nuclear weapon should be.  Certainly they were notable as the first bombs, the only ones used in anger, and the most famous devices in a subject shrouded in secrecy, but times have moved on while perceptions largely have not.  When we talk about cars people don’t think of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, when we discuss airplanes the Wright Flyer isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, yet when you mention an atomic bomb odds are that one of the WWII devices is what people will think of.

This perception came up on Arms Control Wonk in an article on the 1973 Yom Kippur war by Avner Cohen in which he states:

[I]t is plausible that on the eve of the 1973 War Israel had a small nuclear inventory of weapons, say, between ten to twenty first-generation fission (PU) weapons (roughly, Nagasaki-type). One could speculate further that most of the inventory was in the form of aerial bombs (probably configured for the Mirage) and some were early prototypes of missile warheads for the Jericho I (which in October 1973 was apparently not yet operational).

This led to a discussion on what the Israeli arsenal might have actually looked like and whether a “Nagasaki type” bomb was in fact a reasonable assumption for a fledgling nuclear weapons state in 1973.

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This is a guest post on behalf of ACW reader and occasional contributor Chris Camp.

Everyone knows that there are basically two paths to a bomb, right?

You either build a bunch of centrifuges and enrich uranium to 93% or you build a few reactors and extract plutonium from the spent fuel.  If you’re old enough, you might also mention gaseous diffusion as an alternative to centrifuges, but once again pretty much no one does that anymore.  This common understanding has led to certain materials and technologies being watched very carefully to detect proliferation.  For example, fluorine compatible seals, special bearings, and maraging steel tubes all point to centrifuges, while someone attempting to obtain ultra high purity graphite and Tributyl-phosphate points to a plutonium program.  All of these items have other uses of course, but they serve as “tripwires” for potential proliferation.

While everyone knows the standard routes to the bomb, history is littered with other paths that have been tried and either rejected or overtaken by more efficient systems.    However, like the title says, just because these technologies are antiquated doesn’t mean they don’t work and couldn’t pop up again in someone’s nuclear program.

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Revisiting Enrichment for Bushehr

Underground at Anhalter Bahnhof and waiting for the S2 train a couple of mornings ago,  a reporter rang me up to talk about Iran.

He had read this piece written a few days before, in which I had run down why the Russians had become increasingly perturbed in recent months about Iran’s claim that it needed to enrich and fabricate fuel for its Bushehr-1 reactor. Based on what Russian sources have told me since November, I’m nearly certain that vendor Rosatom has no real desire to permit Iran to make this fuel anytime soon, regardless of my encouragement back in the beginning of 2013 that Russia and other powers negotiating with Iran seriously think about that long-term option.

The journalist, Jonathan Tirone of Bloomberg, roped me into a discussion (by this time I was coasting on the S-Bahn through Berlin-Zehlendorf) about whether Iran, in lieu of fabricating fuel for Bushehr, could scratch its itch by enriching some uranium and shipping it off to Russia to be fabricated into fuel for the reactor.

That conversation contributed to this story which Tirone’s editors sent out on the wire later the same day. Going beyond the point that everyone and his uncle had noticed the day before–that the Iranians were openly using separative work units (SWU) instead of the number of centrifuges as a benchmark in framing their “practical needs” to enrich uranium–the piece established that, in principle, a gambit could be thought up permitting Iran to enrich some fuel for its power reactors, as I had suggested 18 months ago.

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The Wonktern Goes to Washington

Harry here.  It’s official, I will be in DC (in the flesh!) between July 9th and 19th!  I plan on attending the Generation Prague conference, along with several other Think Tank and State Dept hosted events.

However, events don’t take up the whole day.  Therefore, I would be more than willing to meet any individuals who are in the DC area during my stay there.  If you would like to contact me directly, or email Jeffrey at jeffrey AT armscontrolwonk.com.

[Folks, please take some time to meet Harry if you can.  He's done such a great job writing "For Your Reading Pleasure" and is eager to learn about our field. -- Jeffrey]

 
 

Drones, Revisited

Horse cavalry gave way mechanized warfare, and tank armies are giving way to drone warfare. Drones flourish where national sovereignty is weak and international borders are extremely permeable. Since it’s not a good idea for Washington to set precedents it does not want others to follow, greater care relating to US drone strikes is warranted. Two studies on this subject were released last week. Their recommendations clarify the value of trying to devise international standards on the use of drone warfare and the difficulty of doing so.

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Smerch or Toksa?

Well, I am off to Paris.  But before I go, I want to mention something that is puzzling me.

You undoubtedly noticed that Rodong Sinum (Korean|English) carried a story about Kim Jong Un attending test launches of ”newly developed ultra-precision tactical guided missiles.” The story contained three not very helpful images.

According to Yonhap, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff official said something that doesn’t make any sense to me:

“Their range is some 190 kilometers, and we are now looking into exactly what type of rockets North Korea fired,” a JCS official said, noting that the North’s 300-millimeter multiple rocket launcher KN-09 has a similar range.

Another news site quotes  Yonhap quoting an official saying “Our analysis of its trajectory and other details led us to believe that what North Korea fired off yesterday was the 300-millimeter multiple-rocket launchers. North Korea appears to test-fire them to extend its range further.” US officials were more circumspect, stating in public that they were “still evaluating the available information to identify the exact type of projectile” and privately telling Barbara Starr the rocket was not new.

If the rocket really traveled 190 km, it is not a 300 mm artillery rocket.  The natural comparisons for such a rocket, which North Korea is developing are the Russian BM-30 Smerch, a Chinese knock-off, or Pakistani Hatf IX/Nasr.  All three of these systems have a range more like 60 km.

On the other hand, a 600 mm missile like the US ATACMs or Russian SS-21 Tochka might reach that range. (The SS-21C tops out at 120 km, but it could be range-extended.)  North Korea started testing and deploying an indigenous SS-21 in 2006 and 2007.  Two leaked cables (NSFW!) contain the text of papers that the US circulated about MTCR members describing the missile as “a new solid propellant SRBM based on the SS-21 SRBM. This new missile – called the Toksa by the United States — has a range of 120 km with a payload as large as 500 kg.”  (I think we are teasing them with Toksa/Tochka.) North Korea paraded the Toksa in 2012. The provenance of the Toksa is unclear.  Dan Pinkston notes there are both reports suggesting either Russia or Syria is the source of North Korea’s SS-21s.

Based on the images released by North Korea, we can tell the test involved a solid-fueled rocket– solid-fuels produce bright and smoky plumes like the one you see — but that’s all.

Unfortunately, the image of the rocket is too blurry to determine whether it is a BM-30 or an SS-21.  Also, one image contains what may be tarp-covered launchers in the background, but again they are too blurry to identify.

At some level, it doesn’t matter.  North Korea is developing both BM-30 and SS-21 clones, to say nothing of anti-ship cruise missiles like the Kh-35.  It’s possible the range is “90-100″ kilometers not 190 kilometers.  Then it’s a Smerch.  If its 190 km, then I think its more likely a Toksa.

A related note.  South Korean media reports continue to describe the new 300 mm MLRS rocket as the KN-09.  The US has released exactly one slide that suggested the KN-09 was a coastal defense cruise missile, not an artillery rocket. It would be very nice if someone in Dayton or Huntsville could let us know the proper designations for these missiles. (Of course, people make mistakes.  One of the leaked cables describes the Toksa as a “modified Silkworm” which is bizarre.)

For now, I am just going to use the Russian designations like BM-30 Smerch, SS-21 Tochka/Toksa, and Kh-35 preceded by “North Korean.”

 
 

Oryx Blog on DPRK Arms Exports

One of the nice things about the silliness that ensued following my pair of articles for 38North on the North Korean Kh-35 is that I discovered a bunch of new people doing open source work.  We’ve known about the Arkenstone, Open Source IMINT, RAJ47, Michael Madden and others forever, but I am happy to come across Scott LaFoy, Andrew Haggard and the Oryx Blog among others.  (Oh, the perils of a list.  I’ve surely ommitted someone worthy of inclusion.)

Having just finished a talk at Wilton Park on the promise of open source analysis, I am delighted that the field is thriving so well.  Along those lines, I’ve asked  Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans from the Oryx Blog to contribute a guest post.

They wondered if anyone was interested in North Korean anti-tank missile showing up in the Middle East. Me me me!  Although I am nuclear guy, it is important to remember that AQ Khan forged a lot of early business ties selling conventional armaments, including anti-tank weapons, around the world.  North Korea’s arms trade is pretty interesting, even the conventional bits.

So, you should totally read this post.  Then check out  Oryx Blog. And marvel, for a moment, at the information feast this modern world provides the open source analyst.

North Korean anti-tank missiles in the Middle East

Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

North Korea, well known for its ballistic missile programme, depends on its foreign relations to provide currency that allows the regime to maintain control over the country. Exports of ballistic missile and even nuclear technology to countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iran and Myanmar have been much reported and draw a lot of attention from international observers. However, aside from delivering both conventional and strategic weaponry to sovereign states around the world, it appears North Korean anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) are now also showing up in the hands of what have been branded as terrorist organizations by the USA, a development which shows a broadening involvement of the DPRK in the arms trafficking market.

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Ferenc on a 2-Stage Iran Deal

Princeton has a proposal that would allow Iran to transition, over time, to more capable centrifuges operated in a multilateral framework.  There have been responses by ISIS (David Albright, not the terrorist group!) and Mark Fitzpatrick at IISS. My colleague at Monterey Institute, Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, has decided to add his two cents in a guest post.

Comments on the Princeton Group Proposal for the Two-Stage Strategy for Iran

Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress

The Current Dead-Lock

It is important to remember the historic progress that made since January under the JPOA between the P5+1 and Iran and the Frameworks for Cooperation that followed between the IAEA and Iran.

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