Jeffrey LewisFollow-On White Paper Rumor

I have mocked the living hell out of this forthcoming administration follow-on white paper to <a href="
“>Maintaining Deterrence in the 21st Century, (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Fund the RRW).

My teasing has been based, in part, on the lame list of myths that Administration plans to dispel. The myths were sort of insulting, probably unintentionally so, to those of us who think the Administration has yet to articulate a compelling vision for US nuclear weapons policy that can command bipartisan support. (Read my list of myths in the Washington Post.)

Recently, I heard (single source, unverified as of today) that the hold -up is SECDEF, who “is too wise to sign some cut-and-paste job that will insult the intelligence of the authorizers and appropriators in Congress.” (Paraphrasing without some of the colorful metaphors.)

I cannot verify. Has anyone else has heard the same rumor?


  1. sweetfancymoses

    Off topic, but would anyone care to settle this dispute over at Sic Semper Tyrannis?

    JohnH: It’s time to question the basic premise that knowing how to enrich uranium for electic power clearly means that Iran knows how to enrich it to weapons level.

    Andy: It’s not a premise – it is established fact. There is no difference in the facilities or technology needed.

    As for Iranian UF6 purity problems, that is something Iran can solve on it’s own, provided it hasn’t already. As an interesting aside, do you know why Iran has hex purity problems? It’s because the Clinton Administration convinced the Chinese to stop building a UCF in Iran. It’s considered one of the great nonproliferation accomplishments of the Clinton administration.

    Cieran: We’re seeing a number of less-than-accurate assertions about nuclear weapons design (e.g., confusing gun-assembly HEU designs with implosion designs, or asserting that there is no difference between engineering the capability to create HEU or LEU).

    This manner of technical speculation (e.g., the aluminum tubes debacle) is what led to the whole “what if the smoking gun is a mushroom cloud?” mushy thinking that got us into Iraq in the first place, so it’s poor form for us to engage in it now.

    Those who know the relevant technology simply cannot describe its technical details here or almost anywhere else outside of the NNSA complex (it’s classified, and the non-disclosure agreements involved are lifelong regardless of whether one continues to work in the nuclear weapons complex or not), and those who describe the technology openly are almost invariably incorrect on the all-important details (if not simply wildly incorrect, e.g., John Bolton).

    Nuclear WMD technology in the U.S. is governed by SRD and TSRD classification, and much of what is released into the media is deliberate misinformation intended to provide a certain level of “security through obscurity”. And that disinformation stream is a part of what leads to divergent assertions such as those found here.

    The only places in the U.S. where this information is readily available in a complete, coherent, and accurate form are the two physics labs (LANL and LLNL), and the DUSA’s at these labs do not permit public discussion of the underlying technologies, period. It’s highly illegal (the penalties for violation are truly ugly).

    So in general, we shouldn’t trust any of the assertions made in the media about nuclear WMD production or design. But on the other hand, the NIE integrates over all the relevant intelligence-gathering agencies, including DOE/NNSA. So the NIE is arguably the best document to trust, and thankfully, we can read the unclassified version.

    It’s a good document, well worth reading in its entirety.

    And finally, as a veteran of both LANL and LLNL, I would especially advocate complete mistrust of opinions from un-informed un-American neo-con-men like Kissinger.

    Where did Kissinger earn his doctorate in weapons physics, anyway?

    Andy: Cieran, Sorry, but centrifuge technology is not hidden by DOE classification, nor is it some arcane science only understood in the hallowed halls of DOE labs. And as a someone who’s worked at the labs, you obviously know that the US doesn’t use centrifuge technology for it’s own enrichment needs, right?

    Stating that the facilities and technology to make LEU and HEU are the same is not exposing classified information, nor is it a lie. You don’t even have to take my word for it(see page 7).

    Thank you all for the engaging debate. For the record, I wish to make clear my position regarding Iran since it seems some are making assumptions. I do not support military action against Iran and I do support engagement, beginning with the reestablishment of our embassy. In my view the only long-term way to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to work to bring about conditions where Iran believes they are not needed and not worth the cost. In my view that will require not only security guarantees from the US, but also peace and recognition of Israel along with a regional denuclearization treaty. The Brazil and Argentina programs are instructive. Once they came to an agreement and largely settled their differences, there was no longer a need nor desire for nuclear weapons.

    Cieran: Andy, About your LEU/HEU assertions:

    There is hardly any difference in the engineering requirements with centrifuge technology. All that’s required is reconfiguring the cascade or batch processing the output.

    That’s all that’s required? laugh

    The term “Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF)” comes to mind here. That’s a huge and inexorable engineering requirement. Do you have any technically-grounded idea just how difficult it is to enrich substantial amounts of uranium to what is required for a set of useful weapons?

    (please remember that one needs a set, as it’s not considered good strategy to run out of ammo right after firing the first shot in the Battle of Armageddon!).

    Then there’s this:

    I would be the first to admit that there is a huge difference between having a nuke or nascent capability and having a deliverable, safe nuke that can survive a missile flight and still detonate. You’re right to point out there are tremendous engineering and systems integration challenges in mating bombs to missiles.

    Mind your manners, Andy — I never said (or wrote) any such thing. The challenges I wrote about are not in mating bombs to missiles. The most important challenges are in designing and manufacturing robust and reliable bombs in the first place.

    As George W would say, “it’s hard work”.

    And this:

    However, I point out again that US policy for decades has been to essentially “conflate” (as you put it) enrichment technology with actual weapons.

    To the extent that’s true (and it’s not entirely true), that’s largely about whether nuclear testing can be depended upon to detect a clandestine weapons program. Gun-assembly weapons don’t need testing, but such weapons cannot be made without HEU (Plutonium doesn’t work for those designs). Making HEU generally requires enrichment (assuming you’re not stealing it or somesuch).

    Hence we watch enrichment technologies because they are a necessary condition for the kind of bomb program that cannot be depended upon to show up on seismograms.

    But there are bomb programs that don’t require enrichment, so U.S. policy is actually to deploy a wide variety of intelligence measures in the hopes of detecting a concomitantly wide variety of weapons programs. We strive to detect all feasible bomb programs, and we’re actually pretty good at this extremely difficult task.

    Finally, there’s this:

    It sounds like you’re suggesting the focus on nuclear material and the technology to make it is misplaced and that instead we should draw the red line at weaponizing, is that correct?

    Not even close!

    Actually, what I originally suggested is that we should not believe Hank Kissinger when he bloviates about nuclear WMD.

    You’ve been doing the lion’s share of the suggesting ever since.

    And seriously, I’d recommend otherwise, Andy, because you really can learn a lot from the good folks who contribute to Colonel Lang’s corner of the intelligent universe (or is it the intelligence universe?).

  2. sweetfancymoses