Jeffrey LewisReality TBD

Remember that reality-based community comment from the anonymous Bush Administration official?

Well, “history’s actors” are at it again, still working to determine whether the current Administration policies on nuclear energy will spur proliferation.

Let me back up.

Dr. Kerry Kartchner (who incidentally wrote a good book on START) sent an e-mail to his colleagues in T/ISN*, following-up on a May 19 meeting “to discuss a public diplomacy strategy to get out the message on what we are doing to promote the responsible expansion of nuclear energy around the globe.”

(A friend of wonk who must remain anonymous happily forwarded said e-mail to yours truly with witty commentary.)

The e-mail, which I have posted below sans email addresses, includes a draft public diplomacy (PD) strategy that I have posted online. Both make for an interesting read:

“Kartchner, Kerry M”
05/23/2008 04:21 PM

To: “Humphrey, Marc A”, “Carnahan, Burrus M”, “Uhre, Katharine L”, “Harbaugh, Erin E”

cc: “Daniel, Jody L”,

Subject: First Draft of PD Strategy for Responsible Expansion of Nuc Energy

I need help filling in: “key themes” and “misconceptions, criticisms”. Comments by COB Wednesday. (I will be tied up with the PSI conference through Wednesday).


PD Strategy for Responsible Expansion of Nuc Energy.doc>>

The draft PD strategy is amusing for at least two reasons:

First, the strategy includes “an interview with the Post reporter who authored the rather unhelpful front page article last Monday.”

That would be a reference to Joby Warrick’s article, Spread of Nuclear Capability Is Feared, Global Interest in Energy May Presage A New Arms Race (May 12, 2008; Page A1). It’s possible that this article is the reason that ISN is drafting a strategy in the first place.

I guess the lesson is that although you can’t catch flies with honey, you can by making their life miserable on the front page of the Washington Post. Anyway, Ms. Parillo eagerly awaits her invitation to the proposed “roundtable discussion at the State Department” for NGOs.

Second, as you can see from his email, Dr. Kartchner needs a little help filling in the “misperceptions” section, particularly correcting “myths” that the spread of nuclear power will lead to nuclear proliferation or that the US seeks monopolize the market for nuclear energy technology.

For now, the “reality” is marked as TBD — to be determined — which I think kind of sums it all up.

Misconceptions and Our Response

(1) Myth: The United States opposes the rapid growth in global efforts to develop nuclear energy.

Reality: The United States supports creating a viable alternative to the development of complete enrichment and reprocessing technologies for states seeking to develop or expand their civil nuclear energy capability.

(2) Myth: Promoting the global spread of nuclear energy will necessarily lead to proliferation of latent nuclear weapons capability.

Reality: tbd

(3) Myth: The United States is seeking to monopolize global trade in nuclear energy technology.

Reality: tbd

Now I know, “TBD” is just bureaucratise for “find the appropriate boilerplate”. And GULAG was just an acronym. Sometimes ill-fitting bureaucratic language perfectly conveys, if only though though its awkwardness, the gap between the stated policy and our much maligned friend, reality. That’s one reason why 1984 is a good read.

One wag suggested that perhaps Dr. Kartchner was having trouble rebutting the claim that nuclear power won’t lead to nuclear proliferation because, well, it will. Same goes for denying that you want to monopolize the market when. of course, you do.

I, on the other hand, make no claim about the inner mental world of any State Department official. I prefer to think that Dr. Kartchner and his staff are just too busy, what with so many Proliferation Security Initiative meetings to attend and whatnot.

So, why not help a guy out?

I know that he wants suggestions by Wednesday, but I still invite readers to comment on their own “realities” to rebut the myths, the best of which we can send to Dr. Kartchner.

And, for those readers currently employed in ISN — and we have many — you may want to make sure that your snide submissions don’t too closely resemble something you might actually write in a memo.


*One recipient, Katherine “Katie” Uhrey, works in the Office of Commercial and Business Affairs, outside T.


  1. Muskrat (History)

    Clearly, #2 is:

    (2) Myth: Promoting the global spread of nuclear energy will necessarily lead to proliferation of latent nuclear weapons capability.

    Reality: [tbd] Merriam Webster defines latent as “…not now visible, obvious [or] active…”

    By the time we finish handing out reactors like self-esteem medals in kindergarten, the world will be awash in nuke capability – it will be visible, obvious and active, so it won’t be “latent.” In fact, it will be blatant — crude weapons designs with iffy fissile materials will be hissing, popping and fizzling all over the landscape, while ramshackle reprocessing plants will be spewing enough fallout to make Hanford look like a model operation.

  2. SQ

    I disagree with the premise here. You really can’t improve on “Reality TBD.”

  3. Christhian

    I guess I will think twice before sending emails for brainstorming. They might end up in this website. As for Myth 2: This is another very old academic debate (i.e. intentions Vs cababilities). If history provides us with lessons, sometimes nuclear energy leads to nuclear weapons (e.g. North Korea, Iraq) and sometimes sensitive nuclear technology does not lead to nuclear weapons (e.g. Argentina – And please, do not tell me that Argentina had nuclear weapons intentions and that they abadoned them (Not even Brazil has reasons to believe Argentina had nuclear weapons intentions). As for Myth 3: Well, that is not a Myth. In the case of enrichment technology, for example, I would argue AREVA, URENCO, TENEX, etc would prefer the market to remain as it is (for example, they would be happy to see USEC out of the market) I would also argue the smaller enrichment powers would prefer to enter the market but also prevent others from develpoing the same technology (there you see Canada in the NSG) The conlusion is: ALL technology holders would like to keep the nuclear monopoly.

  4. am (History)

    There are times when overdone snark descends into stupidity. This is one such.

    Please critically reread what you wrote. It doesn’t actually say anything.