Posts Tagged ‘nuclear weapons’

Need a good reason to seek total nuclear disarmament? Here’s one: the systems set up to produce nuclear weapons and to guard them are incompetent.

Case in point:

  1. U.S. scientists recently forgot how to make an H-Bomb. Seriously we just forgot.
  2. The Air Force accidentally flew some live nukes over the U.S.
  3. But here’s the most recent and awesomely stupid episode:

The federal government mistakenly made public a 266-page report, its pages marked “highly confidential,” that gives detailed information about hundreds of the nation’s civilian nuclear sites and programs, including maps showing the precise locations of stockpiles of fuel for nuclear weapons.

Explanation?

“These screw-ups happen,”

O RLY?

UPDATE: Given the above, this seems like a great idea:

Adam Lowther, a research professor at the Air Force Research Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., argues in the new issue of Armed Forces Journal that the Air Force should consider replacing its strategic bombers with a nuclear-armed drone, called the nuclear-dedicated unmanned combat aerial vehicle, or ND-UCAV. The ND-UCAV Lowther writes, could be based on the Navy’s X-47B (pictured), a carrier-capable drone that the Navy began funding a few years ago.

“The Air Force could take advantage of the more than $800 million previously invested in the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program and the $635 million currently dedicated to X-47B development and rapidly develop a ND-UCAV capable of penetrating defended air space with a small nuclear weapons payload,” Lowther writes.

What could possibly go wrong?

A few weeks ago, Juan Cole wrote about the ludicrous nature of the hype about the threat posed by the Taliban to Pakistan:

What I see is a Washington that is uncomfortable with anything like democracy and civilian rule in Pakistan; which seems not to realize that the Pakistani Taliban are a small, poorly armed fringe of Pushtuns, who are a minority; and I suspect US policy-makers of secretly desiring to find some pretext for removing Pakistan’s nuclear capacity. [emphasis mine]

All the talk about the Pakistani government falling within 6 months, or of a Taliban takeover, flies in the face of everything we know about the character of Pakistani politics and institutions during the past two years.

My guess is that the alarmism is also being promoted from within Pakistan by Pervez Musharraf, who wants to make another military coup; and by civilian politicians in Islamabad, who want to extract more money from the US to fight the Taliban that they are secretly also bribing to attack Afghanistan.

Advice to Obama: Pakistan is being configured for you in ways that benefit some narrow sectional interests. Caveat emptor.

Steve Hynd wrote a piece making roughly the same points a week prior to Cole’s post.

Today’s New York Times carried this breathless headline:

Pakistan Strife Raises U.S. Doubts on Nuclear Arms
By DAVID E. SANGER

WASHINGTON — As the insurgency of the Taliban and Al Qaeda spreads in Pakistan, senior American officials say they are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.

But the real kicker is buried in today’s Asia Times.  I had to read the following article twice to make sure I wasn’t misreading it:

[U.S. Admiral Mike]Mullen visited Pakistan twice in 10 days and met with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, among others. The message was hammered home that it is Pakistan which is running out of time, and not a particular section of society or government. Therefore, the entire Pakistani national leadership has to move very quickly to bury political differences to fight against the threat of the Taliban.

Well-placed contacts have confirmed to Asia Times Online that as a follow-up of these warning messages from American officials, in the next few days Sharif will accept a power-sharing formula to join the government led by Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to fight against the Taliban.

…Alternatively, if either the PML-N or the PPP refuses to accept the formula, a technocratic interim government under the auspices of the Pakistani armed forces might take over. [emphasis mine]

The article is somewhat unclear on whether the author is speculating on the possible outcomes of a failure to accept this proposed power-sharing agreement or whether this is the alternative held out by U.S. officials. I’ve emailed the author for clarification. Over the next few days folks should pay special attention to whether this power-sharing agreement unfolds and our government’s response.

I’m withholding judgment pending clarification from the article’s author, but it should go without saying that our government has no business even threatening to back a military coup against a democratically elected government, and make no mistake, that’s what a “technocratic interim goverment” would be.

UPDATE: The author of the Asia Times piece responded to my request for clarification:

This threat was given in person to all important Pakistani leaders.

And, FYI, Zadari will be out of the country this week…attending a summit in the United States on Afghanistan and Pakistan. WAPO points out:

Another administration official acknowledged some concern over Zardari’s planned week-long absence from home for his visit here, given Pakistan’s history of military coups and government overthrows while the head of state was outside the country.

You might want to contact your elected officials now and tell them you oppose any policy that includes the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Pakistan.

  • Call your Member of Congress.  If you’re not sure who represents you, visit the House of Representatives website and input your address–it will give you the name of your congressperson (and, it will take you to their email form). You can reach them through the Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121.
  • Call the White House: 202-456-1111.

Carve this in stone: the first rule in Afghanistan should be, “Do no harm in Pakistan.” The second rule in Afghanistan should be, “If the solution to your problem is ‘fixing’ Pakistan, you’re screwed.”

Earlier in this series, we dealt with counterinsurgency doctrine’s assumption of a self-contained battle space. We saw how U.S. attempts to create that seal along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border for the purpose of counterinsurgency leads us to empower and expand possibly the most corrupt piece of the Afghan national security forces. But that considerable catastrophe is nothing in comparison to the most consequential effect of the attempt to create the seal: dangerous interference in Pakistan, including civilian-slaughtering Predator strikes and destabilization of the Pakistani political order. Pakistan’s political order is in constant flux. From CRS:

[Pakistan’s] history has included the assassination of politician and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, just ahead of scheduled general elections. In February 2008, parliamentary elections brought to power a coalition of former opposition parties including Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, led by her widower Asif Zardari. In August 2008, General Pervez Musharraf, who had come to power in a military coup in 1999, resigned as the President of Pakistan. In September 2008, Zardari was elected president, completing a transition to civilian-led rule. The ability and will of that civilian-led government to exercise authority over Pakistan’s security forces, and to take steps to stop insurgent activities, is not yet completely clear.

Describing the tumultuous political situation in the country, former Ambassador Dan Simpson recently wrote:

[Pakistan] is a very divided and diverse country. It includes big, mostly peaceful political movements, based for the most part on tribal and regional differences. They are what has the current civilian government of Pakistan, headed by President Asif Ali Zardari, a thoroughly crooked scoundrel whom the United States nonetheless prefers to the alternatives, in domestic political turmoil. Mr. Zardari’s principal civilian opponent is former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, equally crooked and villainous.

The conflict between these two civilian politicians — and others — leaves Pakistan in such a state of civil disorder that the other political force in the country, the military, which has seized power at countless junctures since independence in 1947, always has a wet finger in the air to determine whether it is time for it to carry out another coup d’etat against another civilian government.

In this context, our attempt to seal off Afghanistan undermines stability in several ways. First, our favored weapons of choice in Pakistan–Predator drones–kill civilians, devastate communities, and cause popular outrage against the United States. Just as dire, the drone strikes generate rage against the Pakistani government for being unable or unwilling to stop the strikes. The former helps our opponents recruit and expand and find safe haven; the latter destabilizes a fragile civilian government still struggling to bring its military to heel. That in turn drives Pakistani populations to withdraw their support for chasing down the opponents of the U.S. inside their territory. Again, from CRS:

For example, in October 2008, the Pakistani parliament unanimously passed a resolution calling for an end to military action against extremist groups, and its replacement with dialogue. The resolution stressed the need for an “independent foreign policy” for Pakistan, and stated that “the nation stands united against any incursions and invasions of the homeland.”

I highlight this last bit not to criticize the parliament’s resolution. Rather, I hold it up as evidence of a political class that knows full well its people at large will not tolerate continued American interference and U.S.-caused death in their territory. If popular outrage rises to the level of prompting a legislative body to pass a resolution like this, you can bet that its risen to the level high enough to cause the Pashtuns on the border region to grant safe haven to their militant kinsmen across the Durand Line. In other words, the U.S.’s counterinsurgency actions have the paradoxical result of creating more of the safe havens they’re trying to eliminate.

Second, the U.S. has zero chance of creating anything remotely approaching a seal between Afghanistan and Pakistan without the cooperation of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. Regardless of the administration’s signals that new funds would be contingent on their pursuing extremists, getting Pakistan military help means giving the Pakistan military funds. Like the Pakistani political order, there are factions within factions inside the military and intelligence services, and some of those factions helped create the Taliban and continue to support them. From today’s NYT:

The Taliban’s widening campaign in southern Afghanistan is made possible in part by direct support from operatives in Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, despite Pakistani government promises to sever ties to militant groups fighting in Afghanistan, according to American government officials. The support consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders who are gearing up to confront the international force in Afghanistan that will soon include some 17,000 American reinforcements. …There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before the Afghan elections.

Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders publicly deny any government ties to militant groups, and American officials say it is unlikely that top officials in Islamabad are directly coordinating the clandestine efforts. American officials have also said that midlevel ISI operatives occasionally cultivate relationships that are not approved by their bosses.

The fact that senior commanders do not totally control their subordinates raises the possibility that even in cases where U.S. funds flow to the Pakistani national security establishment in exchange for good policy changes, those funds could filter down into the middle ranks and find their way into extremist hands. But even if the military and intelligence services totally reformed and cut ties with the Taliban (unlikely, but still…), funding the Pakistani military could be toxic to the internal politics of Pakistan. The civilian government does not fully control the military or intel services, so any moves to strengthen them runs the risk of strengthening their hand in the internal power plays of Pakistani politics.

Unless you’ve been living in cave–wait, strike that, the people living in caves absolutely know this–you know that Pakistan has nuclear weapons to deter its arch-rival, India. It’s one of the few places in the world where it’s conceivable for a nuclear-armed state apparatus to fall under the control of an Islamist extremist movement. We should be working as hard as possible to support stability and calm inside Pakistan and to strengthen the hand of the civilian government. Trying to kill the border closed does just the opposite. These and other complications and paradoxes in Pakistan led Ambassador Simpson to pen a sharp rebuke of ongoing military action in Afghanistan and attendant interference in Pakistan:

Bottom line: The United States is not going to get matters in Pakistan under control. Rest of the bottom line: If the United States can’t get matters in Pakistan under control — and as even Mr. Obama’s own special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, has said, the problems in the two countries are inextricably linked — Mr. Obama’s escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan by adding thousands more U.S. troops simply is not going to work.

If it is not going to work, there is no reason to pursue it, spending more of our money and blood. Whoever in Washington wants this — those wishing to preserve the beloved heritage of one of President George W. Bush’s wars, supporters of Israel who might want to distract us from pursuing a Middle East peace settlement, contractors and others who make money off such wars or those who wish to save the hide of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, should be told to stay out of the way while Mr. Obama gets us out of this losing, lost contest.

Let’s review:

  1. Despite the humanitarian bromides, counterinsurgency is not a humanitarian exercise in chivalry. It’s an anti-Christian exercise in brutality, just like every other war doctrine.
  2. COIN doctrine’s real-world effect on troops undermines its basic assumptions.
  3. Massive deployments required by counterinsurgency doctrine will damage our economy when we can least afford it.
  4. Attempts to create a sealed environment required for counterinsurgency have driven us into bed with the most corrupt faction of the Afghan security services: the Afghan Border Police. Coda: U.S. backed counterinsurgents killed St. Romero de America and brutalized El Salvador.
  5. Counterinsurgency will severely complicate a thaw in U.S./Iranian relations and incentivize bad Iranian behavior in Afghanistan.
  6. Counterinsurgency strategy will destabilize Pakistan.

There are rumblings that tomorrow’s announcement from President Obama will refocus the U.S.’s policies on counterterrorism vs. counterinsurgency. That’s better than an all-out COIN doctrine, but what remains to be seen is whether Obama can overcome resistance within the Armed Forces and congressional leadership for abandoning COIN. Speaking from experience, they absolutely love COIN. It’s been beaten into their heads for years now. The deepest test of the mettle of this president will be his ability to reign in his subordinates’ love for chivalrous language and massive troop deployments. By all accounts, his new strategy will add military personnel to Afghanistan, and that’s the wrong move.

What you can do:

For those considering a military career, two good reasons to think again:

  1. You might be a guinea pig for horrendous mad scientist-type experiments.
  2. If you die, your family may get a letter referring to you as “John Doe.”

To top this all off, the Pentagon was slammed this week for poor security and oversight of its nuclear weapons arsenal. The panel in the story recommends a new bureaucrat to watch over the nukes. Hey guys! Here’s a tip! Nothing you can do can make it safe for us to have the apocalypse in our pocket.

“Not to worry!” said the generals. “We’ll distract them with video games!”

I will rest easy tonight knowing my slumber is defended by hundreds of mass-murder devices in the hands of capable, well-referenced, moral and competent people. Or not. (Hat tip to Danger Room)

The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., failed its nuclear surety inspection after inspectors found problems with wing’s Maintenance Group and its personnel reliability program, which monitors who can work with nuclear weapons, an Air Force official said.

The 341st is one of three Air Force wings that maintain the nation’s Minuteman III nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Inspectors found minor deficiencies with the way security forces protected the weapons storage area during the inspection, said an Air Force officer briefed on the inspection results who asked to remain anonymous.

Earlier this year the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., failed its NSI after problems were found with its security forces. Those problems have since been corrected, said 5th Bomb Wing commander Col. Joel Westa.

Task forces charged with critiquing the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise — including one led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger — have consistently faulted the service’s nuclear inspection regime.

“Over the past 10 years, inspection pass rates point to anomalies that indicate a systemic problem in the inspection regime,” according to the Schlesinger report.

The existence of nuclear weapons in the hands of any regime threatens everyone, everywhere. Even the “good guys” are fallible. The Air Force’s poor nuke security record means we have poor assurances that we, and not some lunatic, will be in charge of picking which cities in which to slaughter whole civilian populations.

To quote the most famous political ad of all time (LBJ’s campaign, no less):

“These are the stakes:  to make a world in which all of God’s children can life, or to go into the dark.  We must either love each other, or we must die.”

Violence, even the weapons of ultimate violence, cannot prevent each of us from dying. The American nuclear arsenal serves as a talisman against the fear of other countries, of their ability to harm us, to end our lives. The cruel twist in the story is that we are so afraid of death that we’ve created tools to ward it off that may kill all of us.

Meltdown

Posted: October 13, 2008 in Uncategorized
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James Carroll penned a great op-ed about a little-noticed document slipped into the president’s in-box as the financial meltdown distracted everyone:

Last week’s financial metaphor was also last week’s all but ignored real problem, as America was encouraged to take a large step in the direction of the ultimate meltdown of nuclear war. Over the signatures of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman, the government released the statement “National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century.” In brief, the two officials argue that the time has come for the development of a new nuclear weapon, the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead. Because “nuclear weapons remain an essential and enduring element” of American military strategy, the aging arsenal of several thousand deployed nukes (and many more “stored”) must be replaced.

Gates-Bodman are correct to want this issue on top of the next administration’s agenda, and they are correct in their implicit argument that the time has come for US ambivalence to end. But they are dead wrong in how to end it.

 

The world was given a rare second chance on the nuclear horror when the unlikely Ronald Reagan joined Mikhail Gorbachev in proposing abolition. That second chance is not quite gone. What has to happen now is clear. In the near term, no new weapons. The nuclear arsenal must quickly be reduced to minimal levels (dozens or hundreds, not thousands). Against Gates-Bodman, who see nuclear weapons as deterring against conventional assaults (nukes as just another weapon), the United States must reaffirm that nukes deter against nukes, period. This weapon is in a class by itself, which requires the long-overdue adoption of “no first use.” And against Gates-Bodman, who imagine, if deterrence fails, an actual use of nuclear weapons to “defeat” an enemy, the United States must return to the Cold War recognition that once nuclear war begins, all notions of victory and defeat are meaningless. That is why it is urgent, for the longer term, that Washington reaffirm the policy that began with Truman – that these weapons are to be eliminated as soon as possible.

After surveying the very large sample of quotes on nonresistance and war, David Bercot writes in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs that (I’m paraphrasing) the early Christians were opposed to war and that they allowed members of the military to join and remain in the church only if they refused to kill. Bercot wrote in the introduction of the book that modern Christians should not use his work to “proof text” any particular belief on the part of the early Christians, but the sources are in such overwhelming agreement prior to the time of Constantine that on this topic, the subject of early Christian nonviolence, he is compelled to ignore his own advice. Then came Constantine, the illegitimate successor to a seat on the Tetrarchy, who firmly merged a paganized, violent version of Christianity with the state. In a lot of ways, I have sympathy for the first Christian emperor; those at the height of power in the fourth century were playing for keeps. Succession in the Tetrarchy set up by Diocletian was not hereditary, but Constantine was very popular with his father’s soldiers, and even if they hadn’t rashly proclaimed him their new Caesar (in clear violation of Diocletian’s dictates), I doubt Galerius would have left him alone. I think we can all understand Constantine’s cunning moves even if we utterly repudiate the means he chose to help ensure his own survival and ultimate triumph. But, sympathy aside, Constantine’s pernicious innovations still mar our faith…and our political process.

At the outset, as I’ve said before, if I choose to vote this year, I will probably vote for Barack Obama. For those that know me, news that I consider not voting may come as a bit of a shock. I am fresh out of Washington, D.C., where I worked fairly closely with the senator’s staff (whom I respect very much) and as communications director for one of Obama’s main media surrogates in the House. I have worked in politics either on the official or campaign side since college. I’ve held signs on street corners on freezing mornings in states I don’t live in to help get Democrats elected. And, I would be lying if I said I didn’t hope that Obama won because a McCain presidency frightens me on many levels.

The recent Saddleback Forum again showed that both of these candidates jockey hard for portions of the “Christian vote.” And yet, setting aside the question of Iraq, both candidates have all but promised a massive escalation of force in Afghanistan, which has had a very high ratio of civilian deaths and has been very lethal, proportionally to the number of our troops deployed there, for American troops. Christians opposed to war should remember one of the lessons of the 2006 election cycle: Democrats tend to oppose the Iraq war on it’s merits, but they do not, in general, oppose war itself. Like Obama himself said, “I’m not opposed to war. I’m opposed to ‘dumb wars.'”

If my friend, sibling, or (as-yet-nonexistent) child asked me if I’d help them join the military, I’d say no. I agree with the early church that Jesus meant what he said about loving your enemies, returning good for evil, turning the other cheek, etc. I would never knowingly help someone chose to violate those teachings, even if they affirmatively wanted to.  They would have to do it without my help. But this year, I’m acutely aware that in every election cycle, Americans help someone not only violate those teachings on an individual level, but we help them take the helm of the most powerful means of mass murder in history, and even the most idealistic anti-war supporters of the most anti-war candidate in the race have no doubt that their candidate would use them if given sufficient provacation. So why would I go into a voting booth to help an ambitious politician from either party take on a profession which contains exponentially more violence in the job description than an individual military career? Do I not care just as much for my preferred candidate as a person, rather than as a larger than life public persona? Halden over at Inhabitatio Dei wrote a book review review that started a conversation about these issues, and I’d be curious how readers of this blog feel about voting and how it fits or doesn’t fit with love, specifically love for a particular candidate and care for their soul.

The “anti-war” choice in this election is just as ambigious as the “Christian” choice in this election. A redeployment from Iraq that serves to empower an escalation in Afghanistan is not an unambigious victory for nonviolence. Hence, if I do vote, which obviously is not a foregone conclusion, I will vote for Barack Obama, but I cannot “endorse” him. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, in a recent post on the God’s Politics blog, said they’d refrain from endorsing any candidate for President in the hope that the candidates would instead endorse the nonviolent, self-sacrificing love exemplified and taught by Jesus, our Christ. I agree.

Thoughts?