Belmont Club

And the Lying Shall Lie Down By The Lamb

President Obama may be interested in a world without nuclear weapons, but not everyone else is. “China’s nuclear warhead stockpile is more than twice as large as U.S. intelligence estimates and could include as many as 3,000 warheads, according to a retired Russian general and former strategic forces commander.”

Based on the fissile material, “there are probably 1,600 to 1,800 warheads in the Chinese nuclear arsenal,” Yesin stated.

“According to assessments, 800 to 900 warheads from this number may be operationally deployed, with the rest in long-term storage,” the general stated.

Yesin concluded the article by stating that his analysis “shows that the nuclear capability of China is clearly underestimated.”

“It is substantially greater than assessed by the Western expert community,” he said, noting that any future strategic arms talks should include China …

Rep. Michael R. Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said after a speech to the conference that the actual number of Chinese warheads is unknown.

“We don’t know,” he said at the conference sponsored by the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a Washington think tank.

The lack of knowledge about China’s arsenal is the result of “massive investments” by Beijing in keeping secret details of its strategic arsenal.

“That leads us to the concern of not just what their number is, but what are their activities and what is their intent,” Turner said.

Turner said arms control critics issued blistering attacks on those who make public information about China’s nuclear forces but demand more information be released on U.S. nuclear systems.

China might be harder to face off than thought. The much-ballyhooed American pivot to China won’t be meaningful, according to Max Boot, until there is some teeth in it;  that is until the administration beefs up the air and naval strength which are the key to power projection in the Pacific.

Now the buzzword du jour is “Pacific,” as in “Pacific pivot.” In January the White House released a new national security strategy, complete with italic emphasis: “While theU.S. militarywill continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” …

Building up U.S. forces in the Pacific makes sense. China is a rising power and a potential long-term threat. But we don’t need a full-on “Pacific pivot,” at least not for the ground forces, because we can’t afford to neglect the Middle East, the center of our security concerns for more than three decades.

What should be rebalanced? Ships and aircraft. China, according to the U.S. Naval Institute, has been outbuilding us in submarines by 8 to 1 since 2005. A bipartisan commission calculated last year that the Navy would need 346 ships to meet its global commitments. But, as a result of budget cuts, the fleet is going to decline from 282 ships today to fewer than 250 in the next decade — and that’s not counting “sequestration,” the draconian mandatory budget cuts that are due in January unless Congress acts first. Similarly the Air Force has stopped buying the F-22, the most capable fighter in the world, and is steadily decreasing its planned buy of the next best, the F-35.

To be meaningful, the “Pacific pivot” would need to reverse the decline in procurement of aerial and naval weapons systems — and that, in turn, would require reversing the decline in the defense budget.

But defense is the one area that the administration refuses to allot more money for, despite Paul Krugman’s admonition to spend on anything, even on fortifications against space aliens. “The White House says it strongly opposes the defense spending bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee in May because it exceeds the funding caps mandated by the Budget Control Act, and would veto the bill in its present form.”

While objections to the bill include squabbles over how to allocate pork, there is a real division of opinion over whether defense is being adequately served. One of the long running themes of Republicans in Congress is that the administration has been sacrificing military and intelligence preparedness on the altar of publicity. To paraphrase a Texan phrase, it is “all hat and no battle”.

In particular “House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., called the recent slew of national-security leaks ‘probably the most damaging’ in this country’s history, warning that people’s lives are in danger and families have already had to be relocated as a result of the public speculation about highly classified operational activities.”

The New York Times recently reported that President Obama attempted to derail Iran’s nuclear program by secretly ordering cyberattacks on computer systems that run its enrichment facilities, a mission that relied on spies — and unsuspecting accomplices — with access to the Natanz plant. An Associated Press report said that al-Qaida’s Yemen branch planned to send a suicide bomber to explode a U.S.-bound plane; later, it was revealed that an agent working for Saudi Arabia managed to infiltrate the terrorist network and smuggle the bomb out of Yemen. Other media reports have detailed the president’s secret drone campaign and an apparent “kill list” of counterterrorism targets.

Some articles within this “parade” of leaks, Rogers said late last week, “included at least the speculation of human source networks that now — just out of good counterintelligence activities — they’ll believe is real, even if its not real. It causes huge problems.”

“ … Somebody’s going to lose their life. We’re going to have operations that will cease. We’ll have lost opportunities. All those things are going to happen.”

The entire controversy underscores the lack of consensus over whether or not, and to what to extent the United States faces a pressing global security threat. The strategic clarity of the 1940s and the subsequent Cold War was never wholly replaced by a new paradigm. Back then it was clear to a wide spectrum of voters that a threat existed and what it was.

After the end of the Cold War that focus on a central challenge evolved into a diffuse collection of threats. Even September 11 failed to refocus the primacy of the threat facing the United States; was it from state-sponsored terrorism; and what if any role did countries like Russia or China play?

Nowhere is the confusion better emphasized than the concept of a “world without nuclear weapons” that Obama argued was central to America’s security. “US President Barack Obama says he is pushing for “a world without nuclear weapons”, making direct appeals to North Korea and Iran.”

He emphasised the US’s unique position to seek change but said “serious sustained global effort” was needed.

The meeting is being attended by representatives from some 50 countries.

Speaking to students at Hankuk University, Mr Obama reiterated the commitment of the US as ”the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons” to reducing its nuclear arms stockpile.

President Obama’s national security view appears be fundamentally different. In that a paradigm, it is WMD technology, rather than a set of actors that is regarded as the threat. It is the arms, not who is armed that constitutes the kernel of the problem. How this agenda will be pursued in a world where China, Russia and Islamic actors still actively work against the US is a problem that does not appear to be resolved.

Nor is it clear how all nukes will be found and surrendered to a reliable custodian. How this the nuke buyback plan going to be implmented unless you can find all the nukes? One administration brainstorm is that it will in part be achieved by something called “societal verification”, in which citizens, perhaps using social media tools, will help turn nuclear weapons over some kind of hotline. Rose Gottemoeller, the United States Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, set forth her thinking in this respect.

The idea of a world free of nuclear weapons is nothing new. It was upon us almost as soon as scientists realized the feasibility of nuclear weapons. Sir Joseph was one of this community. As a leader of the Pugwash Movement, he was instrumental in making nuclear elimination a legitimate topic for policymakers around the world. When he was pushing for reductions at the height on the Cold War, Jo saw an opening for conversation – not one in English and Russian across the negotiating table, but one in the universal languages of math and science, a conversation among scientists. This open forum for scientific dialogue, which became the Pugwash Movement, led to some of the first arms control and nonproliferation treaties….

We are entering unknown terrain. As we steadily reduce nuclear weapons toward zero, the more cheating matters. Consider, if you will: if a country can stash away just a few nuclear weapons while others continue to eliminate them, that country can spring a significant and dangerous surprise on the world community. To counter this possibility, we will need innovative approaches. Finally to achieve zero, we will need a truly global effort involving thousands and thousands of people. I am guessing you are asking yourself, “How on Earth can an ordinary person such as I help with a problem like this?”

How indeed should an ordinary person help abolish the scourage of WMDs? Fortunately, Gottemoller has the answer. She reminds us that we live in the world of Facebook and Twitter. That will help us track down rogue nukes.

Today, we have the information revolution to lend to this task, and Sir Joseph’s concept is closer to reality. Our enviornment today is a smaller, increasingly-networked world where the average citizen connects to others in cyberspace hundreds of times each day. We exchange and share ideas on a wide variety of topics. Citizens are armed with more information tools than ever before. Why should we not put this vast problem solving entity to good use?

Think about this: Any event, anywhere on the planet, has the potential now to be broadcast globally in mere seconds. The implications for arms control monitoring and verification are compelling. It is harder to hide things nowadays. When it is harder to hide things, it is easier to be caught. The neighborhood gaze is a powerful tool.

Good luck with that.

But there is a further problem. The Heritage Foundation points out that the deterioration of the US nuclear capability might lead to very opposite of a world without nuclear weapons. “The U.S. is the only country in the world that provides nuclear security guarantees to about 30 other countries in the world. But the U.S. nuclear weapons complex has been under-funded for years, as the Obama Administration acknowledged during the debate about New START. However, its commitments to nuclear modernization have not survived even a year after the treaty entered into force.”

A collapse of the US nuclear umbrella might lead many of these 30 countries to paradoxically to re-arm for the sake of their own survival. Countries which may have a few doubts about the ability of Twitter and Facebook to disarm the world may opt for a little insurance.

News that China may have many more nuclear weapons than previously thought are reminders that real threats cannot be met by a hollow “pivot” to the Pacific.  Buildings which are only props or movie-set facades don’t stand up long to real winds.

The administration’s concept of world without nuclear weapons to be achieved by leading the way with disarmament will soon be validated by events. Time will tell whether the world is still a dangerous place in which weapons are necessary to keep the peace or whether, as President Obama says, that the US, as ‘the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons’ can successfully shame the world into beating swords into plowshares.


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