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After sitting poolside for two weeks, Arms Control Wonk podcast co-host Aaron Stein returns to talk with Jeffrey and Shashank Joshi about the P5+1’s negotiations with Iran. In it, we discuss the current state of the negotiations, the prospects for an extension to the JPOA, Iranian centrifuge research, and conclude, as always, on a positive note.

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J. Robert Oppenheimer and Ernest Lawrence were worthy of a dual biography. Oppenheimer and Edward Teller will be forever intertwined. So why haven’t Oppenheimer and Alan Turing been joined at the hip? Both were brilliant pathfinders — Turing in mathematics, Oppenheimer in physics. Their actions shortened World War II, saving countless lives — Turing because of his code-breaking skills, Oppenheimer by leading the Manhattan Project’s work at Los Alamos. Both were tragic figures. Turing’s homosexuality was criminalized, leading to his suicide. The British government never came to his rescue for services rendered. Oppenheimer was done in by his friendships before the war, and by his reservations about the Bomb afterward. Seeking to remain an influential insider, he left himself vulnerable to losing his clearances, thereby being cut off at the knees. Both belatedly received tributes from their nations after their unbearable public rebukes – Oppenheimer while dying from cancer, Turing posthumously.

I was spellbound watching Derek Jacoby play Turing in “Breaking the Code” at a theater in London’s West End in 1986. How could anyone do better than his stuttering portrayal? I stand corrected. Give yourself a treat and watch Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch play Turing in “The Imitation Game.”

 
 

How does Jeffrey find time to podcast? He has super talented staff to do the real work! Jeffrey talks with Melissa Hanham and Catherine Dill, research associates at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, about their latest work modeling North Korean missiles and eyeballing Chinese military bases.

A collection of missile models produced by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

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What can the Obama Administration hope to accomplish to reduce nuclear dangers during the last quarter-pole of this presidency, especially after being drubbed in the mid-term elections? Quite a lot, actually.

The big “get” remains a nuclear deal with Iran that leaves Tehran far more poorly positioned to sprint to a nuclear arsenal than the cartoon depiction of the problem that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used to school the UN General Assembly in September 2012. The more likely scenario of concern, as James Action has written, isn’t breakout, but “sneak-out.” Outlier states seeking the Bomb usually don’t try to break out in heavily monitored locales; they are more likely to do this in hidden spaces. Nonetheless, the terms of public debate have been framed in terms of breakout from agreed constraints at facilities with known coordinates under heavy scrutiny. By this yardstick, ongoing negotiations have already reaped significant gains, and could yield far more if negotiations succeed.

We shall, of course, see, whether a deal can be struck, and, if so, what the final numbers, plumbing configurations, and fissile material off-loading arrangements will be. Then it will be possible to determine how much better off the United States, Iran’s neighbors, and the State of Israel will be than is currently the case under the interim agreement or, if negotiations break down, with an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program. We shall also consider how much access any deal reached allows for foreign inspectors and sensors to look into dark corners.

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Carnegie RFP on Disruptive Tech

Ok, so I am biased.  The Carnegie Corporation of New York has always been a supportive funder for the arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation field.  The whole staff is filled with people who’ve been nice to me. And Carl Robichaud is one of my favorite people in the field.

But still, this is an awesome idea.

The Carnegie Corporation just released an RFP …

“… for innovative research projects that examine how new and evolving weapons systems affect nuclear deterrence, and under what circumstances they could lead to nuclear crises.

We are looking for interdisciplinary, policy-relevant research that can help policymakers and the public grapple with these issues, and are especially interested in hearing from new voices.

[snip]

The full details, including how to apply, are available on our website: http://carnegie.org/news/press-releases/disruptive-technologies-call-for-proposals/

By the way, I am pretty sure they are serious about the “new voices” thing.  The hardest thing in this field is to develop relationships with funders.  This is really a golden opportunity for folks with a technical background or laboring in the some dark basement to dip a toe into the policy pool.

 
 

Open Source Verification

How can open source information help verify arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation agreements? Jeffrey and Aaron talk with the NTI’s Corey Hinderstein. In the 1990s, Corey was one of the first nonproliferation experts to use commercial satellite images and other open source tools to peek into foreign nuclear programs. Here is Corey way back in 1999.

Today Corey is Vice President, International Programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and author, along with Kelsey Hartigan and Andrew Newsman, of Innovating Verification: New Tools & New Actors to Reduce Nuclear Risks.

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Reagan, Gorbachev and Reykjavik (II)

Reagan and Gorbachev arrive at Hofdi House, Reykjavik.

(Note to readers: This is the second half of a review of Ken Adelman’s Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours that Ended the Cold War. This review will also appear in The Nonproliferation Review. The first half appears here.)

Ronald Reagan, the unreconstructed Cold Warrior and opponent of détente, succeeded in doing more damage to nuclear orthodoxy than all of his predecessors combined. Another irony was that Reagan’s treasured SDI, the deal-breaker at Hofdi House, became the victim of Reykjavik’s successes. Before Reykjavik, SDI was already politically and financially hamstrung by Democrats on Capitol Hill; even its more prosaic parts were severely challenged on technical grounds. After agreeing in principle to deep cuts in strategic forces and the elimination of intermediate-range capabilities, the rationale for pursuing advanced, space-based defenses was shredded. No formalities were needed for SDI’s demise. Instead, the George H.W. Bush Administration “grounded” strategic defenses, focusing on land- and sea-based interceptors, as it signed on to deep cuts in strategic offensive forces.

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Reagan, Gorbachev and Reykjavik

Reagan and Gorbachev at Hofdi House during the Reykjavik Summit in 1986.

Ken Adelman has written an appealing, breezy account of the most extraordinary chapter of US-Soviet nuclear negotiations – the impromptu summit at Reykjavik on October 11-12, 1986 between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. His new book, Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours that Ended the Cold War, covers familiar ground, but this story never gets old. Adelman adds value with personal detail and notes taken of Soviet preparations for the summit by Anatoly Chernaev. Several of his broad conclusions, however, including that Reagan accelerated the demise of the Soviet Union by sticking to his guns on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), are overdrawn and unsupported by evidence.

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Space and Emerging Technologies: Future Proliferation Threats

Aaron and Jeffrey talk with Theresa Hitchens, the Director of UNIDIR, about life in Geneva, space, and emerging technologies. The podcast begins with some useful tips for cheese lovers and Jeffrey’s advice for finding the perfect sausage, before moving on to a discussion about difficulties in defining a “space weapon,” the Russian and Chinese approaches to space issues, cyber threats, and the need for the US to craft a more comprehensive policy to address future proliferation threats.

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Lulling and Stifling

A standard hawkish critique of the practice of arms control and the pursuit of nuclear disarmament is that treaties pave the way to perdition. It’s senseless, in this view, to seek to override divergent national interests and political cultures. Arms control and reduction initiatives are not only doomed to fail, but also weaken America’s ability to respond once failure is evident, lulling the nation into weakness, a false sense of security and unpreparedness.

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