Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Obama's Non-nuclear World

Over at Pajamas Media I look at Barack Obama’s desire to create a world without nuclear weapons and wonders if his new proposal would increase the risk to the world rather than reduce it.

Barack Obama called on Tuesday  for the elimination of all the world’s nuclear weapons. According to AFP, Obama wants America to lead the way to disarming the world. "India and Pakistan and North Korea have joined the club of nuclear-armed nations, and Iran is knocking on the door. More nuclear weapons and more nuclear-armed nations mean more danger to us all. Here’s what I’ll say as president: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons." And the place to start the disarmament would be America, although Obama stressed he would not disarm unilaterally, and would back a strong US deterrent while nuclear weapons existed. "We’ll be in a better position to lead," he said, adding that under his presidency, the United States would adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “It’s time to stop giving countries like Iran and North Korea an excuse. It’s time for America to lead."

Obama’s views don’t actually mean a world in which nuclear know-how has been abolished. On the contrary they assume a world in which nuclear knowledge has become universal. What they describe is a world without ready-use nukes. In fact, Obama’s speech bears an uncanny resemblance to the concept of shifting to a "virtual nuclear arsenal", what Colin Gray called "a thinking person’s variant of nuclear abolition", as a way of lessening the chance of using atomic weapons. The "world in which there are no nuclear weapons" Obama speaks of is not one where  the knowledge of atomic physics and engineering has been abolished but one in which everyone agrees not have nuclear weapons ready for use. Gray adds that "nuclear virtuality should reinforce the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] by disarming the world’s active military inventories of nuclear weapons". Ian Davis, writing in the Guardian describes this nuclear strategy in a way that might have channeled Obama.

Read the rest here. Nothing follows.


Blogger desert rat said...

US says progress in nuclear dismantling ahead of projection

Tuesday, Oct 02, 2007,
The US was to announce yesterday that it had taken apart three times as many unneeded nuclear warheads in the just-completed budget year than it had projected and expected the rapid pace of dismantlement to continue.

At the same time, a report by an independent science advisory group has concluded that "substantial work remains" before a new generation of warheads will be fit for certification without underground nuclear testing.


The National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Energy Department, reports a 146 percent increase in dismantled nuclear warheads during the 2007 budget year, which ended on Sunday. That is triple the agency's original goal.

The agency is believed to be dismantling thousands of warheads, taking out their plutonium, uranium and non-nuclear high explosive components. The agency did not say how many warheads it had taken apart, nor how many remain to be worked on because the numbers are classified.

The progress "sends a clear message to the world that this administration remains committed to reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the US nuclear stockpile," said the agency's administrator, Thomas D'Agostino.

There are believed to be nearly 6,000 warheads that either are deployed or in active reserve.

Under the 2002 treaty with Russia, the US is committed to reducing the number of deployed warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012.

Three years ago, US President George W. Bush said he wanted the overall stockpile reduced to half of what it was in the 1950s, or to a level of about one-quarter of its size at the end of the Cold War.

And then President Reagan thought

10/02/2007 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

declassified archival material to establish Reagan's determination to abolish nuclear weapons as a focal point of his presidency. Reagan believed that the U.S. should use the arms race to bankrupt the Soviet Union, and that the development of an effective defense against ballistic missiles would then render all nuclear weapons negotiable and foster discussion of their abolition; the U.S. would then share the system with the U.S.S.R. and other countries, ensuring the safety of an eventually nuclear-free world. Lettow presents Reagan as a thoughtful leader, who developed his radical challenge to both liberal and conservative conventional wisdom on the Cold War independently. His unwavering belief that missile defense was possible reflected his intellectual conviction that the U.S. could solve the technical challenges involved.

10/02/2007 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Pentagon Hopes Successful Missile Test Boosts Support
By Meredith Buel
02 October 2007

The Pentagon says a recent successful test of the nation's missile defense system could boost support for the controversial project, which is designed to protect America from missiles fired by countries such as North Korea and Iran.

The Pentagon says last Friday a missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California flew over the Pacific Ocean and destroyed a target missile launched 24 minutes earlier from Kodiak Island, Alaska.

The test was designed to emulate an attack from a country like North Korea on the United States. The system is designed to defend the country against a long-range ballistic missile that could be used to attack an American city with a weapon of mass destruction.

10/02/2007 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Obama walking in the footsteps of greatness.
Not breaking new trail by taking the radical path

It's Reagan's Path

10/02/2007 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

As far as the US "setting the example" goes, we dismantled thousands of nuclear weapons, paid the Russians to dismantle thousands of theirs, then paid the Russians for the nuclear raw material for use in our power reactors, destroyed thousands of our nuclear delivery systems, paid the Russians to destroy thousands of theirs, destroyed the old Soviet nuclear testing facilities in Kazahstan, and "encouraged" Libya to stop their nuke program.

And this was all done by the war-mongering Republicans, following Ronald Reagan's vision as described by DR. And it was done from a position of strength.

And by the way, the great peace lovers, Carter and Clinton, got exactly squat done when it came to nuclear disarmament - in fact, they took things the other way.

10/02/2007 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger F said...

Proving once again, I believe, that Obama is not ready for prime time. Obama wants to abolish nukes so the Iranians and NorKors won't have any, Edwards wants to abolish poverty, Richardson wants to bring the troops home TOMORROW!, and Hillary wants people to stop listening to her laugh. This is turning from a presidential race into a freak show. F

10/02/2007 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Obama is not that stupid.

Obama knows well and good that the only way to "get rid of" nuclear weapons is a world-wide authoritarian state with a monopoly of force and the willingness to kill millions of Pakistanis, Chinese, Iranians, Indians, Russians, Americans, not to mention everyone in North Africa and the ME who wants nuclear weapons.

The only conclusion one can make about Obama is that he is disloyal to his country and wishes to disarm America by stealth so it will submit to nuclear blackmail. Unsurprising coming from him. Note he refused to state he'd respond to the nuking of America by anything other than hugging responders.

That's part and parcel of Democrats loyalties: to the international Davos set over America.

10/02/2007 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

whiskey_199 said...

"The only conclusion one can make about Obama is that he is disloyal to his country and wishes to disarm America by stealth so it will submit to nuclear blackmail."

--or-- Obama is spinning to the moonbats. Facts and rationality doesn't play well with the moonbats.

10/02/2007 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

There are two aspects to this question: firstly whether it really is in America’s interest to turn back time and return to a non-nuclear world, and secondly whether such a dream is even possible, can the proverbial genie really be put back into the bottle?

Certainly there is historic precedent for a great power living to regret the weapon innovations that they themselves introduced to the world. In 612 BC the Assyrian capital of Nineveh was sacked by among others Scythians mounted on horseback. Two hundred years earlier, it was the Assyrians who turned away from chariots and started mounting archers directly onto the horses.

Up until the fall of Nineveh, chariots had for centuries ruled the day on the mostly flat battle fields of the Middle East and Central Asia. But the expense involved in creating a military industrial complex capable of manufacturing accurately circular spoke wheels and friction reducing hub-and-axle design meant that the few innovative and technologically advanced peoples could dominate the rest. Or as in the case of the New Kingdom of Egypt gold was used to hire charioteers that guaranteed Egyptian military dominance over their neighbours for generations. But around 800 BC the Assyrians started to experiment with the displacement of the team of driver and archer from the chariot to the back of the horse. Without saddles and stirrups this was not at all as simple or as obvious as it seems. But what it did mean is that the nomads of the great plains of Central Asia with their abundance of pasture lands slowly gained an advantage as they learned to ride a horse and shoot an arrow at the same time, which was telling as they swept down into Nineveh (modern day Mosul) and destroyed the Neo-Assyrian Empire From then on chariots slowly transitioned into not much more than ornamental displays of status and power and stopped having any real military potential.

In the chariot to cavalry story there is perhaps something of an analogy with the 20th century and the development of nuclear weapons. Until (and after) the first atomic explosion, expensive and technologically advanced mass conventional armies, navies, and air forces backed by a strong manufacturing base ruled the day. But with the development of nuclear weapons, even given the high technological threshold of enriching uranium (or in the creation of plutonium-239 with breeder reactors) an arsenal of ten or so nuclear weapons acts as at least a trump card against invasion by a technologically superior conventional armed force. The concept of mutual assured destruction makes the offensive use of nuclear weapons by a lesser power against a great power unlikely but if atomic weapons became widespread enough there is always the potential for a weaker nation to deliver the weapons by stealth (suitcase bombs) or for a stateless terrorist organization, existing within an international ether, to openly use nuclear weapons confident that no real nuclear retaliation is possible.

Given this threat and the difficulty for the US to actually use nuclear weapons there is in theory an incentive for us to turn back the clock and go back to the days that the entity with the largest and most technologically advanced armed force always won.

But is it possible to turn back the clock?

Obama’s ideas imply that the world is arming itself with nuclear weapons only to defend themselves from America. But is Iran more concerned about Israel or the US? And while it is true that the desire for weaponry often springs from a desire for defence history shows us that it isn’t long before defence turns to offence as we saw in the rearmament of Germany in the 1930’s.

The problem is that there are very few, to zero, actual cases of technological advancement being stopped for very long in human history. Dark Ages spring up from time to time but given the invention of writing it is hard to imagine anything short of an actual nuclear holocaust that could stop the steady march of mankind’s technological progress. In several years the idea of stopping a nation from acquiring nuclear weapons will seems as silly as stopping them from mounting horses or procuring machine guns.

Either Obama is hopelessly naïve or what we have here is happy-talk ear-candy meant to raise the profile of America around the world; to regain international sympathy that has so quickly evaporated during the current Bush Administration.

And that mushroom cloud that rose from the gadget over the broken mesas of central New Mexico in 1945 is not going back into any bottle. Whether the US will suffer the same fate as the Assyrians did in 612 BC depends on our ability to adapt to a changing strategic environment, not on wishful thinking about turning the clock back.

10/03/2007 01:07:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...


I keep arguing, to anyone who will listen, nothing prevents anyone in principle from copying deniable "suitcase" bombs method of delivery. Why should America be the only to regret it introduced a new method of warfare? The nomads of the steppe learned that other people could ride too.

Nor are nukes forever going to be the most destructive form of weaponry available to man. Biological weapons, perhaps designed for specific effects may be far more terrible than nukes. Back in 1925, naval planners were most concerned with regulating the number of battleships. In 15 years they would realize that battleships were a secondary threat. The aircraft carrier and later the high-speed submarine proved the real rulers of the waves.

The arms race has never been static. Offense and defense regularly overtake each other. The trench and machine gun overtook the Spirit of the Bayonet. The tank overtook the trench. The IED may overtake the tank, but micro-uav and remote detection systems may overtake the IED. And so it goes.

But for politicians the past is always an irresistible lure. As Gatsby once said, "can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!." Why just turn the clock back to 1945 all over again and we won't invent the A-bomb. Just give us a second chance. But would it have mattered? Historically both the Japanese and the Germans were embarked on their version of the bomb. If Oppenheimer had failed someone else probably would have succeeded.

Historically nobody has every succeeded in unknowing things. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, once eaten, cannot be spat out. Survival, as you point out, has come via learning to adapt to new developments. Or maybe staying ahead with new developments. As in the story of the Garden of Eden, maybe forward is the only way to go. Maybe we are better off repudiating the Outer Space Treaty and making serious plans colonize the Solar System than believing that we can uninvent WMDs or tame the heart of man.

10/03/2007 01:52:00 AM  
Blogger Jim in Virginia said...

A WaPo op ed a couple years ago observed that if Pakistani university physicists, (acting outsside any official government sanction) could deliver a suitcase nuke to New Delhi, then their counterparts in Israel or Brazil or South Korean could as easily do the same in Damascus or Buenos Aires or Osaka.
The genie won't go back in the bottle.

10/03/2007 04:52:00 AM  
Blogger geoffb said...

Sounds like Obama wants us to live in a world similar to Pournelle's universe of the CoDominium in his science fiction series.

10/03/2007 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

txdgowretchard said...

"Nor are nukes forever going to be the most destructive form of weaponry available to man. Biological weapons, perhaps designed for specific effects may be far more terrible than nukes. "

I am really frightened by the prospect of designer viruses. The main thing saving us from nuclear destruction has been the physical requirment of a significant industrial infrastructure before someone could produce ballistic missiles, U-235 or plutonium. Normally any nation with sense enough to develop such an industrial infrastructure usually knows not to use nuclear weapons (Iran may be the exception to this rule). The advance of bioengineering will change this situation. Probably within 10 years, any nation or organization with $100 million dollars available for armaments and a chip on their shoulder will be able to construct a bio-warfare lab and produce designer viruses. One can imagine a nightmare bug like a common cold virus combined with the RNA from the human immune deficiency virus (HIV). The virus weapon would initially propagate with the symptoms of a common cold and spread across the entire planet. Then it would go dormant like HIV, count-down 15 years, re-activate and destroy the victim's immune system. Something like that could wipe out the human race.

Wretchard also said:

"Historically nobody has ever succeeded in unknowing things. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, once eaten, cannot be spat out."

They're doing their best to supress knowledge about ballistic missiles and reentry vehicles. The US government has re-classified technical documents that were freely available on library shelves in the 1980s, e.g. NASA TMX reports. Go to your local university library and look for one of the classic text books about atmospheric reentry, "Atmospheric Entry - An Introduction to Its Science and Engineering" by John J. Martin. The book was common in the 1970s but now it's gone without a trace. A whole branch of engineering is being forgotten. I should add that this technology is essential if we are to continue to have a Space Program.

10/03/2007 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger dueler88 said...

So it seems that where Reagan departs from Obama in that Reagan essentially wanted to give everybody Type IV body armor *before* invoking Gun Control. Obama simply wants to disassemble all of the guns. In this analysis, Reagan was downright rational while Obama is just plain suicidal. In a world where, to continue my thin analogy, a bullet's primer can be anonymously ignited after bypassing the body armor, gun control is even more suicidal.

As Kevin notes, it's probably not possible to put the more-lethal-weapon genie back in the bottle. Weapons bring power. The difference is in the character of who is holding the weapon, i.e. whether or not their desire for power is limited to maintaining their own sovereignty or if they wish to project power to control the behavior of others. This counts for a 22LR pistol as much as it does a 10-megaton warhead.

The old adage of "the best way to maintain peace is to prepare for war" has never been more true, along with "God created Man; Sam Colt made them equal." Despots and criminals, by their nature, will always maintain their ability to project power. There's no reason why good people should surrender the same ability in order to keep in check those despots and criminals.

10/03/2007 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Ivan Douglas said...

Creation of AFRICOM is no joke and Obama, Hillary and all those jesters will have to take that fact into account.

10/03/2007 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger demosophist said...

One of the things argued by Jonathan Schell in The Abolition was that MAD constituted a kind of "world government." Therefor, if we were going to do away with MAD by abolishing the weapons they'd have to be replaced by something like a world state. He was quick to observe, however, that a "writ large" version of a federal state wouldn't work... but I can't recall what he proposed to put in its place.

For the most part folks in the Obama camp, with his outlook on things, don't really think things through far enough to realize that a world government would require the monopolization of force by such a writ-large state, since the absence of it wouldn't be a government or a state at all.

In 1941 Mortimer Adler figured it'd be 200 years before we arrived at the point where we could have a democratic/Lockean world government. Many people since have suggested things are moving faster than that, but I'm not so sure. The UN isn't, nor can it ever be, a world government... and any world government that the US chooses not to join will hardly be anything.

So Obama is proposing the end of MAD (this time as it impacts smaller terrorist-sympathetic states) without proposing anything in its place. Surely that would almost certainly mean not only that WMD capability would be achieved by a terrorist organization, or state, but would also be used, since the constraint imposed by a large national US arsenal would disappear.

I could ask: "What is he thinking?" But clearly, he isn't.

10/04/2007 02:44:00 PM  

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