Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bits and Pieces - November 16, 2010

Killing the meth monster. It's worked in Oregon.

Kazakhstan says it's thinking of switching from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. When I was there a few years back, there was a lot of Latin alphabet around.

New book: Obama's Race.

AIPAC on the ropes?

Sam Nunn has some very sensible things to say about NATO and nuclear security.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen has more scare stuff on al-Qaeda and nukes. A threat consists of both intent (which the article illustrates) and capability (which it does not).

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen urges ratification of the New START treaty.

But Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona (R, naturally) is playing games with ratification. He's already extorted promises of $14 billion for the weapons labs, but he's still playing coy. Or is he, as Steve Benen says, intent on destroying US foreign policy? We'll hear more tomorrow from the adult members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


J. said...

Re: Sam Nunn - Nuclear Munich? Really? Of all the analogies he might have used, I can't think of any worse. If there's a guy waving a gun outside a nuclear weapons bunker, just shoot him.

Nunn can't be bothered with the more obvious strategy - unilateral withdrawl of all US tactical nukes and then doing the heavy-handed diplomacy on Russia. Should be a very simple concept - if Russia uses a "non-strategic nuclear weapon," the response will be with strategic nukes, because that's all we have. Enough with this idea of "graduated response."

Arnold said...

So Nunn is sensible but Larssen is not?

Here are Nunn's first three bullet point policy suggestions, preceded by an overarching statement:

"In two articles I co-wrote with George Shultz, William Perry and Henry Kissinger, the four of us said that these smaller and more portable tactical nuclear weapons — currently uncovered by arms control — are inviting acquisition targets for terrorists."

• A threat assessment, focused on how terrorists might seek to penetrate sites where tactical nuclear weapons are located and gain access to a nuclear bomb;

• A security assessment, focused on identifying necessary improvements in site security in light of the terrorist threat;

•A recovery exercise, where NATO and Russian forces would work together to recover nuclear material stolen by a terrorist group;

Both Nunn and Mowatt-Larssen are getting to the same issue from different perspectives--intent and availability of the material and/or weapons themselves required by terrorists.

I think the concern is the intent combined with the possibility-- possibility not normally a driving concern in the case of a bomber looking to utilize a fertilizer-based weapon. But the fact that a nuclear option is possible, while not likely, makes it a different case.

Arnold said...

And just to respond to two of your locked comments in an earlier post:

b) Assumption: The only impressive thing about an explosive test would be working toward implosion. Response: The BOOM can be quite impressive. It's possible that it was only the BOOM that was used to impress, or that it was the BOOM plus some justification, or perhaps the al-Qaeda recruits were as intellectual as Arnold and were indeed impressed by the detailed physics.

c) Assumption: The al-Qaeda recruits think like Arnold. Response: Probably one of the most dangerous assumptions one can make in analyzing an adversary.

B) Why would any nuclear related boom be impressive? Whether implosion or gun-design, it's a relatively small boom. You know that. While Albright might be making some leaps (or couching his language in deference to sources), you are basically making stuff up suggesting that any explosive tests would be to impress anyone and then putting the onus back on me to prove otherwise. Albright and Bunn both point to some sort of testing, yet you have no proof otherwise other than you don't believe it. They allude to or note sources, you point to your own logic and suggest that everyone else should overcome that particular barrier.

C)Yet you think they think like you--aka nuclear it too hard, can't get the material, will only do explosives and small arms...so what exactly is the difference?

Cheryl Rofer said...

Ah, Arnold! So easy to set up straw men! Please read what I've actually said!

But I may not be being perfectly clear. I worked on counterterrorism with some fairly expert people back in the seventies, when people weren't as hysterical as some are now, and I've got a bit of other experience in related fields. You can google me, but it's not all there.

I agree that we need to assess the threat that terrorists may pose. What Mowatt-Larssen misses in his article is that a threat consists of intent plus capability. He doesn't show capability. It's clear that some in al-Qaeda are talking about (and that is all we know; we don't know that this isn't a bluff) acquiring nuclear weapons. But could they use them even if they stole them? Ever hear of PALs? Availability (your word) is not capability.

Another place where your assumptions are confusing you: your B assumes, assumes, assumes, that any al-Qaeda explosive tests in Afghanistan were nuclear-related and that that was the sole source of any impressiveness. How intellectual! Have you ever seen and heard a rather small piece of C-4 in action? RDX? HMX? Heck, some gunpowder in a soda straw? Forget the nuclear associations for a minute. BANG! or sometimes BOOOOM! Dirt and whatever go flying! It was impressive to me, and I was in a bunker (not for the gunpowder in a soda straw). I suspect (note that: suspect, don't know for sure) that the folks in Afghanistan were not. It's impressive, Arnold, totally apart from any nuclear associations.

I'm not saying I don't believe Albright, just that he qualifies his speculation as what it is. You leaped to your preferred conclusion with very little basis. I think it's reasonable to use logic to analyze what people say. Please note that I am analyzing the only shred of evidence you have presented. Unless you have more, it's not a strong case, Arnold. You need to consider all the possibilities. Have I repeated that enough times?

Back in the seventies, when we didn't need fainting couches when we thought about terrorism, I worked with a group of scientists, some names that you might recognize, on trying to outthink the terrorists. Their first thought for terrorist tactics was that those tactics would be oh so sophisticated, just what they themselves would want to do to show how smart they were. After a period of months, we came to the conclusion that a truckful of ANFO was the most probable weapon. Or smaller quantities. Most probable, Arnold, a concept that you've been avoiding. Not the dichotomies you keep presenting.

It's probabilities we've got to consider. Resources are limited, and we need to put them on the biggest threats (intent plus capability). There's also hazard, which takes into account probability plus consequences, and that's where you can make an argument that nuclear terrorism has to be taken into account. That's where Nunn's op-ed comes into play. Lock the stuff down and do it carefully.

But recognize that the truckful of ANFO is more probable.

And, J., Nunn was a bit more inflammatory than I might have been, but, as long as the things are going to stay in Europe, his advice is sound.