Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


Original Caption: “Professor Bernard Brodie conducting a class.” September 1946. Walter Sanders, photographer.

It’s been awhile since I’ve steered aspiring wonks and ACW readers to the virtues of reading Bernard Brodie’s first take about the Bomb. Brodie made some incorrect predictions, but on the whole, nobody was more prescient about the nuclear future, and no-one wrote more gracefully about nuclear dilemmas. Brodie used the word “deter” before it became common parlance. Check out his essays in in The Absolute Weapon (1946), from which these quotes are taken:

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I have a new column at Foreign Policy, as well as a podcast with Aaron Stein, on China’s testing of hit-to-kill technologies against satellites and ballistic missiles. I’ve been trying to figure out where Arms Control Wonk fits in between my columns for Foreign Policy and 38North, on one hand, and Twitter on the other.  Stuff like this I guess.

One detail that has cause confusion is the so-called “Korla Missile Test Complex.” According to a State Department cable released by Wikileaks, China conducted the January 2010 missile defense test using an interceptor fired from Korla. There are no previous open source references to this site. (Those cables are located here and here.)

I was going to find the site. Chinese language blogger “KKTT” beat me to it. KKTT identifies a site located at 41°32’16″N 086°22’19″E as the Korla Missile Test Complex. I believe that is correct.  It is close to the Chinese city of Kù’ěrlè (库尔勒) or Korla.

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What are the implications of the spread of hit-to-kill? What are the differences between ground based missile defense interceptors and anti-satellite weapons? Why is China continuing to develop ground based anti-satellite weapons? Why did the US feel the need to shoot down its own satellite, USA-193, in February 2008? And what are the implications of the spread of hit-to-kill for space security?

Today, Aaron and Jeffrey talk about anti-satellite weapons, the spread of hit-to-kill, and the need for a general code of conduct for ASATs.

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

Jeffrey Lewis, “They Shoot Satellites, Don’t They?,” Foreign Policy, August 8, 2014.

George Kulacki and Jeffrey Lewis, “Understanding China’s Antisatellite Test,” The Nonproliferation Review, vol. 15, no. 2 (2008).


Gray-haired readers of ACW will remember when the acronym RSVP was treaty-related. During the first term of the Reagan administration, arms-control opponents compiled a long list of the Kremlin’s treaty violations and circumventions, real or imagined. They then commissioned studies on how to respond. RSVP became shorthand for Responding to Soviet Violations Policy.

The question arises once again after the Obama administration’s finding that the Kremlin has violated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. There has been no shortage of suggestions how to respond.

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The Myth of Deterrence Stability

This summer, I’ve been thinking and writing about the delusional, aspirational notion of deterrence stability between antagonistic nuclear-armed states. For the short form of my argument, see my essay in Dawn. The long form will be part of a second collection of essays on deterrence stability and escalation control to be published by the Stimson Center.

Deterrence stability between nuclear-armed states works just fine when they have nothing to fight about. When, on the other hand, states acquire nuclear weapons because of serious friction, the quest for deterrence stability is chimerical. Conceptualizers of deterrence stability predicated that the mutual acquisition of secure, second-strike capabilities would be the precondition of success. The United States and Soviet Union met this requirement early on – and kept going. The more they competed, the less secure they felt, regardless of overkill capabilities.

I think there’s still a reasonable chance that India and China will avoid repeating on a smaller scale the mistakes made by the United States and the Soviet Union. If, however, these two rising powers embrace MIRVs and counterforce targeting, negative ramifications will spread well beyond southern Asia. More on this in another post.

At present, the clearest manifestation of the chimerical pursuit of deterrence stability is between Pakistan and India. Both are in the process of achieving secure, second strike capabilities – if they haven’t already gotten there – but their competition isn’t winding down.

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Iraq’s Residual CW, But Were Afraid to Ask

On June 11th, during its rapid conquest of large portions of the Sunni Arab regions of Iraq, ISIS captured the Al Muthanna chemical-weapons production facility (Iraq’s primary production plant under Saddam). However, the plant has largely disappeared from news coverage, following State Department reassurances of its inability to be used for production purposes due to heavy bombardment during the First Gulf War. What, in fact, was inside the plant?  And what remains? This roundup is intended to give an overview of the Al Muthanna facility, and offer resources to help assess the risk it poses in ISIS hands.

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Will Pakistan and India Break the Fissile Material Deadlock?

Pakistan is ramping up fissile material production capabilities for military purposes while vetoing a fissile material cut-off treaty negotiation at the Conference on Disarmament. India is also increasing production capacity, but the FMCT’s problems extend well beyond these two states. Non-aligned members at the CD believe a cut-off treaty isn’t ambitious enough, and it’s hard to gin up much enthusiasm from Russia and China.

There is, however, some forward movement. Useful discussions have begun in March in a newly-convened Group of Governmental Experts chaired by Canada. India has a seat at this table. Pakistan, which voted against the establishment of the GGE, is not among its 25 members. Pakistan has now felt obliged to engage more substantively on these issues in parallel, informal discussions at the CD. For the first time ever, two diplomatic channels are wrestling with the challenges of dealing with fissile material production for weapons.

Pakistan has long held the view that existing stocks should be covered under a treaty – hence its use of the acronym FMT, as opposed to FMCT, to broaden the agreement’s scope. Pakistan’s veteran Ambassador to the CD, Zamir Akram, argues for an expanded scope “because of the asymmetry existing in our region – that has been compounded by the discriminatory civil nuclear cooperation agreements and NSG waivers.” The object of Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy is to constrain India’s nuclear capabilities without placing any constraints on its existing stocks. Failing this unlikely outcome, Rawalpindi has sought, so far successfully, to compete effectively with Indian nuclear weapon capabilities.

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CTBT Public Policy Course

A quick PSA, courtesy of Jeffrey, regarding the CTBT Public Policy course sponsored by the CTBTO that runs from September 1st to September 9th.  The info link is here, and I have included the majority of it below as well:

About the Course

The course will comprehensively cover the policy and legal aspects of the CTBT, including its entry-into-force and universalization, as well as the CTBT verification technologies and the civil and scientific applications of monitoring data. The course will feature interactive panel discussions and keynote lectures by renowned international experts, as well as presentations on technical and scientific aspects of the CTBT verification regime.

The course will also aim to raise awareness about the importance of the on-site inspection regime, especially in light of the upcoming Integrated Field Exercise 2014. Building on the first week of panel discussions and presentations, the final two days of the course will consist of an interactive exercise, a simulation of a future Executive Council consideration of an on-site inspection request. This exercise will challenge participants to put into practice the ideas and concepts discussed throughout the course.

The CTBT Public Policy Course: Verification through Diplomacy and Science may be taken completely online or in person in Vienna.

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Russia and the INF: Don’t Call it a Circumvention

What should we make of the United States’ conclusion that Russia has violated the INF? What do we know about the violation? What is the substance of the State Department’s arms control compliance report finding? What do we know about the ground launched cruise missile alleged to have violated the Treaty? How does the GLCM differ from the RS-26? Does this have anything to do with Ukraine? And what should the United States do about the alleged violation?

Today, Aaron and Jeffrey talk Russian missiles, the INF, and Obama’s policy options.

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

Jeffrey Lewis, “The Problem with Russia’s Missiles,” Foreign Policy, 29 July 2014.

Podcast: The INF and the Dismemberment of Ukraine, April 20, 2014. (We recorded this from the bottom of a well)

Jeffrey Lewis, “An Intercontinental Ballistic Missile by any Other Name,” Foreign Policy, April 25, 2014.

Hans M. Kristensen, “Russia Declared In Violation Of INF Treaty: New Cruise Missile May Be Deploying.” Federation of American Scientists, July 30, 2014.

Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Says Russia Tested Cruise Missile, Violating Treaty,” The New York Times, July 28, 2014.

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


Senators and South Africa

Yesterday the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a hearing on nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Speakers made several references to South Africa’s nuclear past and what it means for the six powers trying to negotiate a verification agreement with the Islamic Republic.

The IAEA and South Africa twenty years ago successfully resolved questions about South Africa’s former nuclear weapons activities. That record is resonating now among critics of the Iran/P5+1 process because Iran is currently challenging the IAEA’s authority to do the kind of verification the powers want to see included in a comprehensive agreement. But Iran won’t and can’t follow South Africa’s example without a fundamental rebooting of its relationship with the IAEA.

South Africa swung toward exceptional cooperation with the IAEA at a time when its strategic threat perception was changing and it was facing near-certain regime change. I suspect at least some of the critics who see South Africa as a model for Iran understand that and will draw their own conclusions. Neocons among them should be aware that the pressure which drove white supremacists to give up nuclear weapons was generated inside the country, not outside.

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