Arms control, Enron style

It’s not a New START. It’s a False START.

It’s funny. The United States (and Russia) agree that when placed on bomber aircraft, as many as twenty warheads count as one. They then announce that the New START treaty has reduced the binding caps on deployed warheads by 30% and congratulate themselves. The New York Times helpfully informs us that the “history of arms control is replete with quirky counting rules that do not easily correspond to reality on the ground, and the “New Start” treaty completed last week is no different.”

That’s like saying that the history of Wall Street is replete with quirky accounting rules that do not easily correspond to reality on the ground, and Enron is no different.

The experts it quotes do a much better job in describing this scam.

“It’s creative accounting,” said Pavel Podvig, a longtime arms researcher from Russia who is now on leave from Stanford University. “They found a way of making reductions without actually making them, and they were happy to accept that because nobody wanted to go to more serious measures.”

“On paper, the White House has been saying it’s a 30 percent cut in warheads” said Kingston Reif, deputy director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington. “Well, it is on paper. But when you break it down, you see that the cut isn’t quite as significant.”

Although the United States now has about 2,100 deployed strategic warheads, about 450 would not be counted, Mr. Kristensen estimated. Similarly, 860 of Russia’s 2,600 warheads would not count. To meet the treaty limit, he said the United States would need to cut just 100 warheads and Russia just 190. [NYT]

Let’s put this in perspective: under the New START treaty the number of US warheads “not counted” is around the same as China’s entire nuclear arsenal.

Just remember this the next time Mr Obama gives a rousing speech on nuclear disarmament. At this time though, White House officials are apparently engaged in trying to justify why nuclear warheads on bombers are somehow more okay than nuclear warheads on missiles. Will they accept this reasoning if it came from Tehran?

Related Links: Marko Beljac at The Nuke Strategy Wonk and Pavel Podvig at his Russian strategic nuclear forces blog

Regarding terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear sites

When to worry a little and when to worry a lot

In an article for West Point’s CTC Sentinel (pdf) Bradford University’s Shaun Gregory draws attention to a serious matter—the terrorist threat to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. (linkthanks Swami Iyer)

Before we discuss the controversial part, let’s look at his conclusion.

The risk of the transfer of nuclear weapons, weapons components or nuclear expertise to terrorists in Pakistan is genuine. Moreover, knowledge that such a transfer has occurred may not become evident until the aftermath of a nuclear 9/11 in Pakistan or elsewhere in the world. It remains imperative that Pakistan is pressured and supported, above all by the United States, to continue to improve the safety and security of its nuclear weapons and to ensure the fidelity of those civilian and military personnel with access to, or knowledge of, nuclear weapons. The challenge to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from Pakistani Taliban groups and from al-Qa`ida constitutes a real and present danger, and the recent assaults by the Pakistan Army on some of these groups in FATA and in the NWFP is a welcome development. Nevertheless, more steps must be taken before the threat is neutralized and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons no longer pose an existential danger to the rest of the world. [Shaun Gregory/CTC Sentinel]

Despite reassurances by the heads of governments of Pakistan, the United States and India, this is a conclusion that few serious analysts can find fault with. Unless you are the editorial board of the New York Times you will use every opportunity available to mitigate the risk that terrorism and nuclear proliferation will come together from and/or in Pakistan. Prof Gregory does well to bring this important issue into public discussion.

The controversial part of Prof Gregory’s article was his assertion that “Pakistan’s nuclear facilities have already been attacked at least thrice by its home-grown extremists and terrorists over the last two years.” Unless he has more evidence than he reveals in the article, this argument is tenuous.

Pakistan observers have known about jihadi attacks on military and nuclear complexes and personnel, but there is little evidence in the public domain to suggest that these attacks involved an agenda to take control of nuclear weapons or radioactive material. There are a number of other possible motives: opportunism, signaling, publicity and probing.

In other words, it is possible that these targets were attacked because it was possible to attack them; they were attacked as a way of scaring Pakistanis and international donors; they were attacked because this would gain them a lot more publicity; or they were attacked to find out how well-secured the nuclear weapons complex is. Only the last is connected to nuclear terrorism, but it is still at the lower end of the scale at the other extreme of which lies an attack specifically intended to snatch or damage a nuclear weapons site. As one US official told a NYT blogger, these are large complexes (and therefore present easy targets) and an attack at the front gate cannot immediately be assumed to be the worst case scenario.

Indeed, the leadership of the military-jihadi complex might want you to believe the worst-case scenario, especially when that means you will open up your wallet to prevent it from happening. So while Prof Gregory is not wrong any analysis of terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear sites must not ignore the possibility of nuclear blackmail: the use of deliberate, calibrated insecurity to rustle up some no-strings-attached foreign aid.

Like many other analyses of the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, Prof Gregory neglects the opacity with respect to how the weapons are secured: do they use permissive-action links (PALs) or are they kept in a physically de-mated state? The two methods are likely to be mutually exclusive. As discussed in earlier posts, the answer to this question opens up a very little studied—at least in the public domain—area of risk. If there is an secret arsenal-within-an-arsenal then we should all be much more worried than we already are.

Nuclear umbrellas in East Asia and the Middle East

China must act forcefully to stop North Korea and Pakistan from expanding their nuclear arsenals

The Obama administration tasted its first—and crunching—diplomatic defeat at the hands of the North Korean regime last week. After threatening to interdict North Korean ships, just about the only action the US government will take in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests is that the US navy will effectively merely tail those ships around, not stop, board or seize them.

Washington might be helpless in stopping North Korea from expanding its nuclear arsenal or periodically threaten its neighbours, but it can protect South Korea (and quite likely Japan) under the US nuclear umbrella. Yesterday, Mr Obama signaled just that. According to Yonsei University’s Chung Min Lee “This sent a strong signal to North Korea. The move should also allay concerns in some quarters that South Korea and Japan may need to pursue their own nuclear options.” Unfortunately, even this is insufficient to create a stable nuclear balance based on mutual deterrence.

The missing factor is China. Continue reading Nuclear umbrellas in East Asia and the Middle East

And how much are these nukes?

If your goose lays golden eggs, you’ll want to keep it

Like many thoughtful people, Bret Stephens zeroes in on the central problem—Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal protects jihadi terrorists, besides running the country down in various ways. He deserves appreciation for attempting to think up an innovative solution to it. (via Pragmatic Euphony)

Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that Pakistan will give up its nuclear arsenal and capability for US$100 billion and an American nuclear umbrella. Forget US$100 billion, it’s unlikely to trade-in its nukes for any price that the world is prepared to pay. Why?

Because it can get the same money by keeping the nuclear weapons—by playing up the risk of these weapons falling into the hands of rogues and terrorists in case of widespread turmoil. So why sell the goose that lays the golden eggs? And we are not even talking about whether the ordinary and the elite would accede to a trade-in deal.

As for placing Pakistan under the American nuclear umbrella—it makes a good soundbite, but is not credible. Is the United States prepared to use nuclear weapons on Pakistan’s behalf should India launch a punitive strike against Pakistan’s jihadi training camps in retaliation to a major terrorist attack? If you are a Pakistani leader—civilian or military—you won’t count on this. Besides, your all-weather friends in Beijing are unlikely to be favourably disposed to it either.

Regarding the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal

The right time to worry about it is also the wrong time to worry about it

Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies describes the various issues concerning the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in a piece on Rediff titled “Are Pakistan’s nuclear warheads safe?”. He hints that the Pakistani army’s custodial control is robust, but there is a “clear and present danger” of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists and the ensuing risk of dirty bombs. He also suggests that rogue Pakistani nuclear scientists might help al-Qaeda put together rudimentary nuclear bombs.

Now, thinking through the various scenarios that might obtain from the risks to the custody of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and material is an important activity for strategic affairs analysts. But unless there are significant political developments or specific new intelligence, there is little to be gained by sounding public alarm.

Discussion about how Western troops will enter Pakistan and neutralise its nuclear arsenal are dangerous—not least because they cause wholly unnecessary alarm among those in the Pakistani nuclear command. Nuclear neutering operations, albeit by American forces, come with severe risks for India—for while the United States and Israel may well be outside the range of a Pakistani retaliatory strike, India certainly is. And although Brig Kanwal points out that India lacks the capability to insert its own special forces deep into Pakistan to carry out such missions, such assurances are hardly likely to convince the Pakistanis. (For surely, the Pakistanis would think, Indian commandos can get a lift from those who have such transport and logistics capabilities.)

Also, Brig Kanwal’s piece repeats an assertion about the use of permissive action links (PALs)—electronic combination locks—on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. As The Acorn has pointed out earlier, this doesn’t add up to the other assertion about Pakistan’s arsenal being in a de-mated state. A satisfactory answer to the question of the extent of use of PALs or lack thereof is vital to further analysis of the question of custodial security.

New Zealand’s misplaced opposition at the NSG

Neither India’s nuclear weapons programme nor its nuclear power projects will be to New Zealand’s detriment

Regarding the proceedings at the Nuclear Suppliers Group where small states like New Zealand have shown reluctance to admit India into the nuclear mainstream, here’s what an astute and knowledgeable person said in an email:

A broad stance against testing nuclear weapons is central to nonproliferation, however India already has a voluntary moratorium in place. As long as India perceives no immediate deterioration in its local nuclear security environment the moratorium should hold. By contrast a multilateralised commitment on testing might mislead the Pakistanis and elements of the proliferation underworld that provocative behaviour will go without a response from the Indian side. The Nuclear Supplier Group’s history of failures when it comes to checking Pakistani proliferation little by way of comfort to anyone in India.

It is difficult to imagine parallels between New Zealand’s opposition to French nuclear testing and India’s posture on nuclear testing. India has not tested any nuclear weapons in waters off New Zealand’s coast and nor does it intend to. If India does decide to conduct an atmospheric test, it would need to first withdraw from the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Such a withdrawal requires a three months notice be given to the depository countries and that should allow for enough time for New Zealand to take steps to ensure that India doesn’t just drop 20 MT on some atoll in the Southern Pacific. So what is the point of putting 50 conditions on India right now, when all New Zealand should be interested in is one condition when the time comes.

While one can argue that ensuring visible compliance of norms is the key to ensure the spread of non-proliferation ideology—one can also examine any gains on this front against losses from criminalising routine commerce. India’s energy needs are well known at this stage and every nuclear energy company in the world wants to access that market. By keeping the barriers at the Nuclear Suppliers Group artificially high—a large volume of trade is forced underground. In light of the peculiar auditing practices followed by NSG members states when keeping track of the A Q Khan network, one might ask if excessive regulation created circumstances ideal for putting nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists?

With an increased dependence on carbon fuels in India will produce enough greenhouse gases to make nightmare scenarios on global warming a reality. Blocking India’s path to nuclear energy seems like sensible alternative to some non-proliferation pundits, but then most of them live in countries with plenty of high ground. Surely, a small country like New Zealand can be expected to take a different view the perils of rising water levels.

Pragati August 2008: Should India send troops to Afghanistan?

Issue 17 - Aug 2008
Issue Contents


Making a leader
Excerpts from a lecture on leadership and discipline
Sam HFJ Manekshaw

Our voice in our history
Academic freedom, private funding and historical research
Jayakrishnan Nair

On whether or not India has a coherent foreign policy

A survey of think-tanks
On China policy; Fixing the FATA; An Indo-Israeli alliance?
Vijay Vikram

Hold steady in Afghanistan
India is on the right track and it should stay that way
Shanthie Mariet D’Souza

A bigger military presence is essential
…if India is to shape Afghanistan’s future
Sushant K Singh

The myth of Taliban tribalism
The folly of trying to set tribes against each other
Joshua Foust

Monsoon Session 2008—What’s in store
Legislative brief
Sarita Vanka

When it’s good to slow down
The why and what next about rising inflation
V Anantha Nageswaran

The historical roots of the services sector
…calls for a strategy that plays to India’s strengths
Stephen Broadberry and Bishnupriya Gupta

Profiting from education
Resistance against commercialisation is fruitless
Atanu Dey

Four books about Pakistan
On nuclear proliferation, military politics and society
Nitin Pai

The not-so-real ayatollah

David Albright’s credentials called into question

This blog has on several occasions called out David Albright’s high-profile reports on nuclear proliferation as being not alright. That they use facts to insinuate pre-determined conclusions, that they don’t have much by way of real analysis and that the timing of their release raises serious questions as to Mr Albright’s (and his principals’) real intentions. [See links to related posts below]

Now Mr Albright’s credentials have been questioned by Scott Ritter, a member of the international nuclear expert community, in a damning article on Truthdig (via Arms Control Wonk). Mr Albright, it turns out, is not much of a Non Proliferation Ayatollah at all

…David Albright has a track record of making half-baked analyses derived from questionable sources seem mainstream. He breathes false legitimacy into these factually challenged stories by cloaking himself in a résumé which is disingenuous in the extreme. Eventually, one must begin to question the motives of Albright and ISIS. No self-respecting think tank would allow itself to be used in such an egregious manner. The fact that ISIS is a creation of Albright himself, and as such operates as a mirror image of its founder and president, only underscores the concerns raised when an individual lacking in any demonstrable foundation of expertise has installed himself into the mainstream media in a manner that corrupts the public discourse and debate by propagating factually incorrect, illogical and misleading information.

David Albright has a history of being used by those who seek to gain media attention for their respective claims. In addition to the Hamza and Obeidi fiascos, Albright and his organization, ISIS, have served as the conduit for other agencies gaining publicity about the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program, the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor, and most recently the alleged Swiss computer containing sensitive nuclear design information. On each occasion, Albright is fed sensitive information from a third party, and then packages it in a manner that is consumable by the media. The media, engrossed with Albright’s misleading résumé (“former U.N. weapons inspector,” “Doctor,” “physicist” and “nuclear expert”), give Albright a full hearing, during which time the particulars the third-party source wanted made public are broadcast or printed for all the world to see. More often than not, it turns out that the core of the story pushed by Albright is, in fact, wrong. [Truthdig]

Mr Ritter points out that far from being a UN weapons inspector, he was “an outsider with questions”, “an informed tourist”, a “bag-boy” and a “dilettante”. He goes on to say:

It is not a sin to merely be informed, or to possess a specialty. But informed specialists are a dime a dozen. There is a reason mainstream media do not turn to bloggers when seeking out expert opinion. And yet, when they turn to “Dr. Albright, former U.N. weapons inspector,” they are getting little more than a well-funded, well-connected blogger.

Related Posts: Albright’s attempts cast doubts on India’s record on non-proliferation; and coming up with ‘revelations’ about Pakistan’s activities at convenient times.

The absurdity of US controls on high-tech exports to India

Chips are bad. Planes are not.

The United States controls exports of microprocessors (yes, microprocessors) to defence equipment manufacturers in India. One businessman was jailed for illegally selling 500 chips to India. The logic behind such export controls is to prevent India from developing and using such things like fighter aircraft, which ostensibly would be a Bad Thing for US interests.

And then you note that the US is keen to sell state-of-the-art F-16 and F/A-18 aircraft to the Indian Air Force, and that’s not a Bad Thing at all.

It’s not about arms control. It’s good old protectionism. And what if the India simply decides to buy Russian or European jets instead? What does that do for US interests?

Update: Oh, and by the way, did you know that Apple forbids you from using iTunes 7 software to develop, design, manufacture or produce weapons of mass destruction? Does that mean you can use iTunes to test them? [Via New Scientist blog]