• Jul 31, 2009

    With North Korea and Iran hogging all the nuclear headlines recently, the launch of India’s nuclear submarine and the subsequent rantings from Pakistan have gone by largely unnoticed. While it is critically important to deal with the Iranian and North Korean situations, it would be unwise to forget that there are two neighboring nuclear powers in South Asia who aren’t exactly fond of each other. Following the launch, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit said that

  • Jul 30, 2009

    Not to keep harping on the seemingly related words of “patience” and “Iran,” but Trita Parsi wrote today in Foreign Policy that it’s time for a “tactical pause” with Iran in regards to their nuclear program. The argument rests on the premise that, given Iran’s current domestic instability, the ruling regime is simply unable (willingness set aside) to diplomatically discuss its nuclear pursuits. And indeed, just today, Iranian riot police forcibly dispersed a gathering of people remembering those who died in the post-election violence.

    Parsi’s article, on the surface, appears rational: step back, let the situation play itself out, but remain ready to “engage” at the proper time. However, a number of factors are working against this approach:

  • Jul 29, 2009

    Interesting op-ed in the Washington Post today by Michael Gerson. Critiquing President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine of engagement, Gerson writes that

    Six months on, how fares the Obama doctrine? Concerning North Korea and Iran, the doctrine is on its deathbed. North Korea responded to administration outreach by testing a nuclear weapon, firing missiles toward U.S. allies, resuming plutonium reprocessing and threatening the United States with a “fire shower of nuclear retaliation.” The Iranian regime’s reaction to engagement was to cut the ribbon on a nuclear enrichment facility, add centrifuges, conduct a fraudulent election, and kill and imprison a variety of political opponents.

    According to Gerson, the problem is not engagement, but

  • Jul 29, 2009

    There’s an interesting discussion occurring in the blogosphere about Kyl’s amendment to the Defense Authorization Act.  “Morning Joe” placed Kyl’s National Ledger article in the “view from the dark side” category and Nukes of Hazard has a rebuttal to Kyl’s main arguments.  While both are very good sources for nuclear material, there is a bit of disagreement to be had on the modernization question.  It doesn’t seem like missile defense will play a major role in the upcoming follow-on and verification measures should be able to draw on START I lessons to make better and more efficient enforcement without THAT much difficulty.  Is there an argument to be had those should be made law to make sure that is the case?

  • Jul 29, 2009

    Clinton’s recent statements about extended a “defensive umbrella” haven’t gone over well with a number of folks.  Israel says it means we have accepted a nuclear Iran.  Senior state department folks have said she was “speaking personally” and that no official policy has changed.  All in a day of diplomatic work.  The blogosphere has taken it a bit further and started analyzing the desirability of such an arrangement.  Small Wars Journal and the Weekly Standard both had posts to read on the issue.  Two additional thoughts to add:

  • Jul 28, 2009

    The news out of the Middle East this week continues to prove interesting as the debate between the U.S. and Israel over Iran’s nuclear program and how best to deal with it pushes onwards. Several senior Obama administration officials are already in the region, including Secretary Gates and George Mitchell, with more slated to arrive this week. Despite claims from both Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak stressing cooperation between the two countries and the “highly positive atmosphere” of the talks, statements from the two men appear to differ. Said Barak, raising the possibility of military strikes against Iran:

    We clearly believe that no options should be removed from the table. This is our policy. We mean it. We recommend others to take the same position, but we do not dictate to anyone.

    Gates, on the other hand, adopted a much more reserved approach:

  • Jul 27, 2009

    Dr. Martin Hellman, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Stanford, has recently initiated a major project to rigorously analyze the risks associated with the possession and use of nuclear weapons.  This project, known as Defusing the Nuclear Threat (website here), is meant to catalyze research in this field and to motivate public action for nuclear policy changes based on the results of such studies.  Last spring, Dr. Hellman published an article detailing the need for research on nuclear risk along with a preliminary risk analysis concerning the likelihood of the failure of nuclear deterrence and a descent into nuclear war. 

    Dr. Hellman’s effort is certainly praiseworthy in its goals.  Dialogue on nuclear deterrence oftentimes fails to reach a high level of precision – discussions

  • Jul 24, 2009

    Robert Norris of NRDC fame had an op-ed in the Times yesterday talking about Obama’s vision for a nuclear free world.   Based off of the recent report he did with Hans Kristensen and Ivan Oelrich (PDF located here) he argues for a change in targeting strategy that would us to drastically reduce the number of weapons we need.  Without discussing the findings of the report itself, there is an interesting statement Norris makes regarding the looming NPR:

    Powerful constituencies throughout the government would rather continue with things as they are, albeit at lower numbers. Radical change of the kind proposed here is threatening to entrenched interests and there will surely be resistance to Mr. Obama’s proposals. It is unclear at this point whether the outcome of the review will reverse decades of tradition or whether the status quo will prevail [emphasis added]

    Herein lies one of the major difficulties facing the NPR that people cite. 

  • Jul 24, 2009

    As reported by the Washington Post (and numerous other newspapers), the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have reached an entirely new dimension - that of scolding parent and the I-hate-you-and-I-will-never-talk-to-you-again child who inevitably knows that time-out is coming but continues to throw a tantrum anyways. The latest installment featured the N. Korean Foreign Ministry referring to Secretary of State Clinton as “by no means intelligent.” This came in response to Clinton’s referring to North Korea as essentially an unruly child:

    What we’ve seen is this constant demand for attention. And maybe it’s the mother in me or the experience that I’ve had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention — don’t give it to them, they don’t deserve it, they are acting out.

    Of course, this prompted additional backlash from North Korea’s Foreign Ministry who said that:

  • Jul 23, 2009

    As if there wasn’t already enough on the world’s nonproliferation plate these days, suspicions have recently arisen that Myanmar could potentially be seeking a weapons capacity - aided of course, by North Korea. The reports focus on the aborted journey of the North Korean ship Kang Nam I, photographs of a massive tunnel network, and a secretly meeting that allegedly occurred between the two countries. Numerous U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, recently made statements about the military cooperation between North Korea and Myanmar and the possibility of nuclear cooperation as well. While it is still unclear exactly what, if anything, is going on (and taking consolation from the fact that everyone agrees that Myanmar, even if seeking a capacity is many years/decades away) - several interesting questions on the subject deserve attention.

    One of the main questions to examine here adds a third country to the mix - Russia. In 2007, Russia signed a deal with Myanmar agreeing to provide a nuclear research center, a 10 MW light-water reactor, and training for several hundred personnel. However, the Russian atomic agency Rosatom told the AP that:

    There has been no movement whatsoever on this agreement with Burma ever since.

  • Jul 23, 2009

    The Korean press picked up on a talk Newt Gingrich gave at Heritage yesterday on national security.  The article was brief but had some interesting spin.  Gingrich discussed the common subject of China’s importance to solving North Korea.  Recently the strategy to cajole China into further action beyond their usual ambivalence (which seems to be slowly melting away) contains the following two components:-Reassure the Chinese on questions about collapse of the Korean Peninsula- While China does benefit from a messy but not too messy situation on the Korean Peninsula one of their primary worries is the destabilizing consequences and the flow of refugees that would result from a regime collapse.  As such, there are ideas being floated around about ways to assure the Chinese about U.S. intentions and assistance in the event of the collapse (a possibility they refuse to publicly acknowledge)-Show the downside of letting North Korean provocations to continue- this strategy revolves largely around emphasizing measures that might be taken by other countries in the region, primarily Japan, that would also pose security risks for China.

  • Jul 22, 2009

    Secretary of State Hilary Clinton traveled to India this past week, the first visit to the country by a high-level Obama administration official.  Reporting on the Secretary’s meetings has focused on disagreements she had with Indian officials over carbon emissions and environmental policy as well as further solidification of the civilian nuclear energy cooperation deal negotiated by the Bush administration. While these illustrate the administration’s increasing recognition of India’s impact on global economic, environmental, and political issues, one topic merits greater attention from the administration:  India’s status as a modernizing nuclear power.

  • Jul 21, 2009

    It seems U.S. intelligence may have dropped the ball again, providing more ammunition to those written books critical of intelligence (such as this good read).  According to the WSJ today,  the 2007 NIE was dead wrong when it claimed Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program. Despite the Germans sharing their intelligence to the contrary, which was recently upheld in strong words by a high court, U.S. intelligence stuck with their story.  Why?  Two spins on a similar argument are floating around the blogosphere:

  • Jul 21, 2009

    The news coming out regarding North Korea these days is becoming quite repetitive - for lack of a milder way to put it. Seoul has reaffirmed its commitment to provide the DPRK with massive economic aid in return for the abandonment of its nuclear weapons program. Similarly, the U.S. stated that it would not give N. Korea any perks simply for returning to the negotiating table. As aptly put by State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley:

  • Jul 20, 2009

    With the Japanese increasingly on edge about the potential threats from Pyongyang and the looming military buildup of the Chinese, the U.S. is trying to diplomatically ease their jitters.  Recently confirmed Kurt Campbell and ASD Wallace Gregson headed to Tokyo this weekend to downplay concerns about the U.S. nuclear umbrella undergoing weather damage.  Campbell was quoted as saying:

    Our goal here is to make a very strong commitment to Japan about the fact that the nuclear deterrence of the United States are extended, the nuclear umbrella remains strong and stable, and our commitment to Japan is absolutely unshakable

    The talks also produced an official working group that will take place in Washington to

  • Jul 17, 2009

    A blog post on this site earlier in the week referenced a quote from Chris Hellman of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation who was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor saying that:

    Missile defense has always been an issue for a small cadre of ultraconservative, ultraparanoid people who see the threat of ballistic missiles from places like Iran as a real threat to US security interests.

    The Center’s blog, Nukes of Hazard, in a polite (and fair) response, parsed the contents of the piece - which I feel the need to respectfully address.

  • Jul 16, 2009

    The video embedded below was submitted to us by WPSU/Penn State Public Broadcasting. In the video, Ambassador Richard Butler - former Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, and current distinguished scholar for international peace and security at Penn State’s School of International Affairs - speaks at length about nuclear arms control and disarmament. Ambassador Butler goes to great lengths describing the enormous danger that the existence of nuclear weapons poses to the world, talks about the consequences of a nuclear conflict, and comments on such topics as nuclear weapons on high alert and the axiom of proliferation (the idea that as long as one state has the weapons, others will seek them). Ultimately, Butler outlines a series of steps to the elimination of nuclear weapons, including massive U.S./Russian reductions, ratification of the CTBT, adoption of a FMCT, reductions by the other nuclear-weapons states, and convincing of the remaining states - India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea (admittedly difficult) - to renounce their weapons. An interesting perspective for sure - and worth a listen.

  • Jul 16, 2009

    Yesterday evening, PDI hosted the fourth installment of the live debate series.  The subject was North Korean denuclearization (Resolved: that the United States should continue the policy of complete and verifiable disarmament of the Korean Peninsula) and featured Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow at Heritage, on the affirmative and Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at CATO, on the negative.  In case you couldn’t make it watch all the action here:

  • Jul 16, 2009

    Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger had an interesting letter in the WSJ yesterday.  While his title

    It Is Important to Get Nuclear Weapons Policy Right

    is self-evident, there are some arguments made that are worth examining.   One of the main arguments made is that

    Once we have accepted numerical limits on our nuclear forces by treaty, how do we cope with changes in the global balance of forces even if it is some years down the road?

  • Jul 15, 2009


    Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, implied earlier in an article published by the Christian Science Monitor that the current missile defense plans for Eastern Europe may be open for negotiation - an echo of previous statements by President Obama. Obama, for his part, has emphasized the need for openness and diplomacy with Moscow and believes that cooperation, understanding, and compromise are possible between the two countries. However, despite all his good intentions, it is not clear that the Russians are open for such things - at least on the subject of European missile defense. Quoting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

    If our partners decide to create an American missile defense system with global reach, this will undoubtedly cast serious doubt on the prospects for further strategic offensive arms reductions.

  • Jul 14, 2009


    In the UK recently, the Trident missile has found itself under a significant amount of scrutiny as the country struggles with a significant budget gap and questions related to the renewal of the program. Adding fuel to the fire, a Guardian poll reported this morning that a majority of Britons support abandoning the Trident program altogether - and only 42% support the system’s renewal, down from 51% just three years prior.

    However, should the poll be interpreted as evidence of some massive migration in support of British denuclearization and a nuclear weapons-free world? Not at all, although the article certainly comes with the standard dose of Guardian flavor.

  • Jul 14, 2009

    Friendly reminder from your PONI staff that we are hosting a live debate tomorrow evening.  The details are as follows:

    Topic: North Korean Denuclearization

    Debaters: Bruce Klingner, Heritage Foundation, and Doug Bandow, CATO Institute

    Time: 5:30 - 7:30 pm

    Location: CSIS (1800 K St NW, Washington, DC 20006)

    There are still a few seats available.  To RSVP, click here.

  • Jul 13, 2009


    While a State Department official coolly deemed North Korea’s effort to spoil our 4th of July plans “not helpful,” there is one thing it may have helped us with: realistic testing conditions for our missile defense technology.  As Richard Halloran argued in the opinion section of the Washington Times today, the silver lining of recent North Korean missile tests lies in gained intelligence:

  • Jul 13, 2009

    Very interesting piece I missed in the NYT over the 4th about an article that has surfaced written by President Obama as a senior at Columbia about the problems with nuclear buildup and US/Soviet reductions moving forward.

  • Jul 10, 2009


    Courtesy of Kernkraftwerk Gösgen-Däniken AG, www.commons.wikimedia.org

    Reported in the Financial Times this morning, President Obama has announced his intention to “host a summit in Washington next year aimed at combating the illegal trade in fissile material.” This comes immediately after the recently agreed-upon accord between the U.S. and Russia to initiate drastic cuts in their nuclear arsenals in what will become the follow-on treaty to START, which expires in December.

    Gary Samore, Obama’s nonproliferation advisor, pointing to the threat posed by the potential for nuclear terrorism, said that

    The more that nuclear power spreads around the world, the more important it is that we have adequate protections over nuclear materials.

  • Jul 10, 2009

    Sam Vaknin, Associate Editor of Global Politician, revealed today that Israel’s strike on Iran will occur sometime in the near future - during either July 21-24 or August 6-8. Vaknin makes a variety of claims -  that an abandoned airbase at Biq’at Ha’Yareach (Moon Vale) has been reopened and that the Israeli air force is conducting dry runs near Negev (among others) in order to support his argument. The evidence though, at best, is extremely sketchy, and the dates for attack incredibly precise and unexplained, save that they are based on “political, geopolitical, military preparedness, and climatic conditions.” That point aside though, the more general claim of an Israeli attack on Iran may hold some merit to it - although this is nothing revolutionary. After all, Israel’s attack on Iraq in 1981 and  more recent one on Syria simply reinforce the point that the Israeli government is not reluctant to act when it feels threatened.

  • Jul 9, 2009

    Philip Taubman had an op-ed today in the NYT that reminded people of an important point about the modest START agreement:

    Few presidential moments are more glittering than the announcement of arms reduction accords in the Kremlin’s gilded halls. For Mr. Obama, that was the easy part.

    He does a good job outlining some of the difficulties the Obama administration will face, both on the Hill and from the “nuclear priesthood,”  about trying to achieve more drastic cuts or sign the CTBT. While he cites the NPR as a “moment of truth” for U.S. nuclear policy moving forward, there is a somewhat troubling extrapolation that the White House should take the reigns of the NPR to help ensure the nuclear “bible” is written as they want it to be.  He argues

  • Jul 8, 2009

    Yesterday, Carnegie published a worthwhile read dissecting the op-ed written last week by Senator Kyl and Richard Perle.  They rightly call out some of the arguments made by Kyl and Perle but also make a few statements that could use some investigation.  Strong arguments from the Carnegie piece include:

    -Most nonproliferation folks do not think that U.S. disarmament efforts will change the calculus of states like Iran and North Korea to get nuclear weapons.  It could help with efforts to shore up cooperation (of which the likelihood of success, both in garnering support and that support providing results, certainly can be questioned).

    -CTBT verification.  It can’t simply be dismissed as unverifiable, even if that turns out to be true.  There have been dramatic technological advances in the past decade which is why the Strategic Posture Commission was able to reach a consensus on the claim that

    [T]he Obama administration should help to frame a broad national and international debate about the CTBT by conducting a broad net assessment of the benefits, costs, and risks of ratification and entry into force of the CTBT.

  • Jul 7, 2009

    In a blistering op-ed published in today’s Wall Street Journal, Keith Payne blasts the preliminary agreement on nuclear arms reductions signed by President Obama and President Medvedev yesterday in the Kremlin. Obama, argues Payne, is putting the proverbial “cart before the horse” by pursuing a new arms reduction treaty prior to the completion of the NPR. Payne writes that

    Strategic requirements should drive force numbers; arms-control numbers should not dictate strategy.

  • Jul 6, 2009

    U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have signed a resolution committing both countries to a new arms-control treaty. The details, although not 100% specific at this time, cuts warhead totals to between 1,500 and 1,675 and missiles to between 500 and 1,100. Even at the higher end of these numbers, this represents a significant reduction from the totals allowed under current treaties. Additionally, the countries also agreed to joint cooperation on the problem of global proliferation. No word yet though on the status of U.S. ballistic missile defense and the Third Site - issues which were previously looked to as obstacles in negotiations. Stay tuned.

  • Jul 6, 2009

    The New York Times reported that a bus carrying workers from one of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons labs was attacked by a suicide bomber this past Thursday. This is the first such attack that singles out anyone or anything directly connected to the Pakistani nuclear complex. While no high-level scientists or officials were targeted, the article quotes analysts as saying that the attack demonstrates that the Taliban insurgency appears to have “current intelligence” on the Pakistani nuclear complex and a capability to strike at Pakistani nuclear personnel. To be clear this attack does not represent a major breach of the complex’s security; these were low-level workers on a bus that was idling at an intersection—an easy target to be sure. That being said the incident highlights the fact that insurgents continue to eye the Pakistani nuclear program with great interest. Moreover it shows that insurgents are identifying weak points in the complex’s security, however small, and finding ways to exploit them. While the big nuclear headlines of the week involve North Korea, Iran, and Russia, this attack shows that the problem of Pakistani nuclear security ought to remain a highly relevant concern for policymakers.

  • Jul 2, 2009

    According to reports from South Korean officials, the DPRK has launched three short range missiles. The surface-to-ship missiles, fired from the port of Wonsan come despite the latest round of United Nations sanctions and amid fears that North Korea is planning to launch another long-range ballistic missile. This comes despite widespread speculation that Kim Jong-Il had scheduled his missile tests to coincide with the U.S. firing thousands of rockets (aka fireworks) to celebrate the Fourth of July. But who knows, perhaps, like all good shows, there’s a grand finale in the works.

  • Jul 1, 2009

    PONI Debates the Issues is proud to announce the fourth installment of its live debates series on Wednesday, July 15 from 5:30-7:30 pm here at CSIS in the B1 Conference Center. The debate will feature:

    Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation


    Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow, CATO Institute

    The topic for the debate will be:

    Resolved: that the United States should continue the policy of complete and verifiable disarmament of the Korean Peninsula

    If you are interested in the event, please RSVP here.

  • Jul 1, 2009

    A joint study by two American physicists - MIT professor Theodore Postol and David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) - concluded that the rocket launched by North Korea in April “would have the capability to reach the continental United States with a payload of 1 ton or more if North Korea modified it for use as a ballistic missile.”