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A guest post by R. Scott Kemp.

Friend of Wonk R. Scott Kemp is an assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, where he directs the Laboratory for Nuclear Security and Policy. Here, he asks what sort of negotiated outcome with Iran would suffice to address the threat of nuclear breakout. The charts in this post, prepared by the University of Maryland’s Steve Fetter, could help negotiators design an agreement. Scott’s last guest post at ACW was in June 2013.

Well, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for.  Both Iran and the United States have been making positive sounds about the nuclear issue. Obama says he has made Iran a top diplomatic priority for the United States. According to diplomats who met recently with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, Iran will consider limits on the number of operating centrifuges and stocks of LEU. The E3+3 and Iran have a meeting scheduled for Geneva on October 15 and 16.

Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks.

While Zarif’s offer of caps is welcome, what really matters is the level of confidence that can be gained from an agreement.  To a large extent, that can only come by increasing the time it would take Iran to make a bomb, which in turn depends on the size of Iran’s nuclear program.

Why does the size of the program matter? There is a fundamental problem with safeguards at enrichment facilities: even if the IAEA could instantaneously detect an attempt to make a bomb, it would take some non-trivial length of time to respond, especially if there is to be a political response and not just a last-ditch military strike. Iran’s “breakout” time needs to be considerably longer than U.S. Central Command’s bare-minimum response time.

The problem is that Iran has already amassed a considerable enrichment capability; by some estimates, it could produce a bomb’s quantity of HEU in less than two months, even if Iran doesn’t use any of its 20%-enriched material.  Merely capping the program at the present size isn’t going to provide enough assurance to restrain the hawks back in the United States. Some rollback of the program, even if not done immediately, is really the only path to confidence and stability.

In this post, I give you the tools to decide just how much rollback is needed by enabling you to calculate the breakout time based on some retained centrifuge-enrichment capacity and the residual stocks of enriched uranium. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure for nuclear diplomacy.

Where Does Iran Stand Today?

In adding up the numbers, I’m going to set aside the 20%-enriched uranium program and focus exclusively on the 3.5%-enriched uranium program located at FEP, the underground facility in Natanz. I make this simplification because I believe that some closure of the 20% program can be negotiated and the 20%-enriched uranium stockpile can either be converted to fuel elements or removed from the breakout calculation through one of many available technical options.

According to the last IAEA report, at Natanz as of August 24, 2013, Iran had 89 fully installed cascades of IR-1s and was working on 37 more.  Of those 89 IR-1 cascades, 54 were operating. Each IR-1 cascade contains 174 centrifuges and each IR-1 is about 0.9 SWU/year. That gives a capacity of:

IR-1 (operating):  9,396 centrifuges =  8,500 SWU/year

IR-1 (installed): 15,486 centrifuges  =  14,000 SWU/year

The IAEA also reports that Iran has six cascades of IR-2ms installed and is working on 12 more. None have been fed with uranium and we do not know for sure the exact layout of these cascades or how efficient they will be.  However, we could assume the IR-2m cascades also contain 174 machines. We could also assume, consistent with my calculations, that the IR-2m produces about 5 kg-SWU/year/centrifuge. Correcting for some cascade losses, a reasonable net performance would be around 4.7 SWU/year/installed IR-2m centrifuge.  That gives:

IR-2m (potential): 1,044 centrifuges =  4,900 SWU/year  = 5,450 IR-1 equivalents

Notice that this tiny installation of IR-2m centrifuges has more than half the potential of all the currently operating centrifuges at Natanz.  That underscores an obvious but important point: we cannot negotiate simply on the basis of numbers of centrifuges. We must base our computation on the maximum potential separative capacity installed, measured in units of SWU/year. There is some nuance to how one actually goes about accounting for and verifying this number.

In addition, Iran has “stored” separative work in the form of enriched uranium. Thus, from the breakout perspective, the residual stockpile of LEU matters because there is a direct trade-off between the number of centrifuges required and the size of the LEU stockpile available. The IAEA report indicated that Iran had a net accumulation of 5,576 kg of low-enriched uranium (not kg of UF6), which we assume has an enrichment of around 3.5%.

How Long to the Bomb?

Well, let me instead tell you how long to a notional nuclear weapon’s quantity of HEU, rather than to a fully fabricated bomb.  The below charts were produced by Steve Fetter as a result of some discussions we’ve been having.  Steve based these on the standard of one IAEA Significant Quantity (25 kg of uranium-235 contained within HEU), which is reasonable for a first-generation implosion design with manufacturing losses. Some believe Iran would need more than a single bomb; I’m of the view that a single bomb is significant—especially one based on HEU.

Centrifuge performance is based on my estimate of 0.9 SWU/IR-1/year.  We have attempted to include the effects of adjusting the tails to optimize the utilization of the LEU stockpile. However, we have ignored second-order effects such as the time required to adjust the cascades, losses from suboptimal cascade configurations or off-optimal centrifuge operation, and machine crashes associated with working on the cascades.  These problems will extend the breakout time, but the calculations below are the right place to start because they give the most efficient credible case.

These charts show the same thing under different presentations. This first chart shows the trade-off between time and centrifuges under assumptions of different LEU stockpile sizes:

 

This second chart lets you pick a breakout time and trade off between LEU stockpile size and centrifuge plant capacity:

 

What Constitutes A Workable End State?

Whatever makes you comfortable.  Policymakers will have to decide how many months of advance warning they can tolerate–or rather, how few.  From one perspective, a relatively short period is acceptable if it allows for swift and decisive military action.  I am of another view: even if military action is swift, it will only be temporarily decisive, resulting in Iran’s withdrawal from the NPT and pursuit of the bomb at a newly constructed clandestine location.  More breathing room is needed to avoid such a precarious balance, preferably closer to a year. That much time would enable reinstitution of sanctions of the harshest type and hopefully lead to a peaceful outcome before resorting to military means.

 
 

Oh my, China has built a lot of centrifuges for uranium enrichment in recent years.

You may know that China purchased several modules of Russian centrifuges in the 1990s, installing them at Hanzhong and Lanzhou.  You may also know that China built a large facility at Lanzhou that appears to house a domestic centrifuge enrichment facility.

What you almost certainly don’t know is that China now appears to have constructed another indigenous centrifuge facility near Hanzhong. And if you did know, but didn’t tell me … well … I am sort of sore at you.

The two indigenous Chinese centrifuge facilities together represent about 700,000-800,000 SWU per year. (Centrifuge capacity is measured in separative work units or SWU.) Add that to the four Russian-supplied modules totaling 1,500,000 SWU and I think maybe URENCO should get that anti-dumping case ready.

THE CHINESE LEU IS COMING.  THE CHINESE LEU IS COMING.

Details after the jump.

The Chinese have had a centrifuge program since the late 1970s. The program began in earnest in 1977.  China developed a supercritical centrifuge using maraging steel in 1981 “on the basis of materials published abroad.”  Apparently China made a little low enriched uranium before experiencing a period of “reorganization” in 1983-1986. AQ Khan claims he “put up a centrifuge plant” near Hanzhong sometime before 1985. Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. It is certainly possible that the Chinese were less than impressed with his contributions, prompting the reorganization and return to the drawing board.

Ultimately the Chinese did purchase modules of centrifuges from Russia in the 1990s, the first of which were installed at Hanzhong and placed under safeguards.

Back in 2006, I found China’s safeguarded centrifuge facility near Hanzhong — the Shaanxi Uranium Enrichment Plant — in Google Earth. Until 2005, the IAEA consistently mistransliterated the place name as “Hanzhang,” but the Chinese characters were always correct.   I don’t know what possessed me to double-check. Maybe because I hated my life in Cambridge. Anyway, I also found a blurry photo of the facility on the CNNC website and that was plenty.

It’s here: 33°15’42″ N, 107°25’49″E

At the time, I wrote a long piece about matching the ground-truth and satellite images that I will probably never publish. (I actually got hung up on the totally irrelevant detail of the Chinese characters for Heping, the location of the gaseous diffusion plant.)  Anyway, the really important details are the layout of the buildings, the pipes on the roof and the fact the name of the facility and the China National Nuclear Corporation logo are mowed into the fricking lawn.   I call that high confidence.

CSEP stands for China Shaanxi Enrichment Plant. Here’s the logo for comparison.

This image is rather old — it dates to 2005. Now here is a 2012 image from Digital Globe.  Notice anything different?  Like two brand new giant buildings?

One is a new Russian-supplied centrifuge facility, the other is an indigenous Chinese centrifuge facility.  Busy beavers.

The Russian-supplied facility was completed in 2011.  It is clearly the finished building.  It has a given capacity of 500,000 SWU.  That’s a lot of SWU given the size of the building. It’s big, but not that big.  The other Russian-supplied modules produce about 20 SWU/m2. To accommodate 500,000 SWU as advertised, this plant would have to produce nearly 28 SWU/m2.

Fear not! I notice that the General Director of TENEX, Alexey Grigoriev, toured the facility and said “It is a state-of-art, compact and truly beautiful facility where together with our Chinese comrades we have worked out not only the optimal design and technological solutions, but also the principles of efficient interaction that laid a solid foundation for implementation of new bilateral projects.”

In other words, they really jammed a lot of crap in there. Tenex also released a photo of the site, which makes my previous sleuthing totally unnecessary.

While I expected to see the new Russian facility, I did not expect to also see a smaller version of the indigenous plant at Lanzhou.  The Chinese facility is the partially completed building in the back.

The indigenous centrifuge facility at Hanzhong (left) is about half the size of its sister facility at Lanzhou (right).  Hanzhong has half the floorspace (two 60 m x 150 m halls instead of two 130 m x 150 m halls) and half the number of mechanical draught fans to cool the facility (8 in Hanzhong, 16 at Lanzhou).  Since Lanzhou reportedly has a capacity of 500,000 SWU year, I’d tentatively call Hanzhong 250,000 SWU.

I’ve tried to make a nifty little table.  One thing that I notice is there are three different clusters of efficiency: the newest Russian module with 28 SWU/m2, the first three Russian modules with 20 SWU/m2 and the two new indigenous Chinese facilities with 13-14 SWU/m2.  It would seem the Chinese have a way to go before catching up with the Russians.

(Oh, one more thing. Take a close look at the new photos of the roof “E” shaped administration building. SOLAR PANELS! Hippies.)

China’s Gas Centrifuge Facilities

Facility (Supplier)

Dimensions (m)

Floorspace (m2)

Capacity (SWU)

Columns

Ratio of SWU:m2

Hanzhong 1 (RUS)

110 x  80

 8,800

200,000

1,100

20

Hanzhong 2 (RUS)

150 x 110

16,500

300,000

1,700

18

Hanzhong 3 (RUS)

90 x  200

18,000

500,000

28

Hanzhong 4 (PRC)

60 x 150 x  2

18,000

250,000

14

Lanzhou (RUS)

320 x  80

25,600

500,000

2,800

20

Lanzhou (CHI)

130 x 150 x  2

39,000

500,000

13

Building dimensions and floorspace estimates are derived from satellite imagery. The number of columns is derived from capacity (as given in Hibbs) assuming 180 SWU per column.

 

 
 

Yep, the Norks are firing up the ol’ gas-graphite reactor at Yongbyon just like they said they would in April.

With Yongbyon breeding plutonium and twice as much floor space at the enrichment facility, the North Koreans are probably happy to keep talking.

Here are the initial stories from Kyodo and AP, as well as my piece with Nick Hansen.

38North provided Nick and I  with the satellite image showing steam coming from the turbine building, while Kyodo’s Tomo Inoue is citing “diplomatic sources” in Asia.

As it happens, Glyn Davies is traveling in the region at the moment – so its a good bet Davies briefed similar images to our allies in South Korea, is now telling the Chinese and will tell the Japanese once he gets to Tokyo.  Whether the leaks to Kyodo are from the briefers or the briefees, I don’t know.

 
 

Now that I’ve had my say on the Obama’s administration’s opportunity to defuse the Syria crisis, let’s consider the other side of the coin. What if doesn’t work? What if the United States, France, and whoever else comes along in the process end up resorting to force?

What follows is an essay by Aaron Steina research associate at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a doctoral candidate at King’s College London. Aaron lays out a case for the carefully constrained use of force, reminiscent of certain parts of the second half of Schelling’s Arms and Influence — combined with an even more ambitious diplomatic agenda than I personally think is in the cards

Minding Assad’s Red Line: Escalatory Warfare and the Incentive for Limited Strikes

Aaron Stein

In late 1973, shortly before the start of the Yom Kippur War, Egypt is alleged to have provided Syria with chemical artillery shells. The Arab combatants were already aware of Israel’s nuclear capability, and reportedly saw chemical weapons as a tool to deter Israel’s nuclear capabilities, as well as a weapon of last resort should the better-equipped and -trained Israeli army threaten Cairo or Damascus.

As the Syrian civil war continues, weapons initially slated to deter Israel are now being deployed on the battlefield against the Syrian opposition. However, Syria’s tactics, thus far, suggest that the regime will only resort to large-scale chemical weapons use when Damascus is directly threatened. Thus, while the nature of the threat to Syrian regime has changed, some elements of Syrian WMD doctrine persist.

In the 1980s, Damascus began to import precursor chemicals and develop the technical know-how to produce, deploy, and deliver chemical weapons. Yet, as part of its larger effort to deter Israel, Syrian officials opted for a policy of opacity, and only hinted at the weapons’ existence. Syria’s official policy suggests that Damascus was intent on using the weapon solely as a method of deterrence, rather than as an overt coercive tool to advance other aims.

From “Strategic Parity” to Low-Level Use

Syria’s posture indicates that Damascus, like other WMD-possessing states, viewed its chemical arsenal as its weapons of last resort, rather than weapons to be used on the battlefield. Thus, for state-to-state deterrence, Syria’s possession of chemical weapons allowed the regime to achieve a semblance of “strategic parity” with Jerusalem and, most importantly, to prevent the escalation of smaller-scale conflicts, such as clashes between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah.

During the Syrian civil war, President Bashar al-Assad has employed his chemical weapons in ways reminiscent of Egypt in Yemen and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. However, unlike these previous cases, Assad initially took steps to conceal his use of chemical weapons and is reported to have made an effort to decrease casualties. For example, during a 23 December 2012 attack in Homs, the regime is alleged to have diluted Sarin with isopropanol, in order to decrease the body count and to hide symptoms.

The regime’s very deliberate use of chemical weapons suggests that the Syrian dictator was intent on skirting President Barack Obama’s stated “red line” against the use or movement of chemical weapons. The President indicated that there would be “enormous consequences” if the United States “start[ed] seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”  Obama’s ambiguous policy suggests that the United States was primarily interested in deterring another Halabja-style attack and intent on preventing the transfer of chemical weapons to Hezbollah.

Thus, while the regime did use chemical weapons against rebel-controlled territory, it nevertheless took steps to conceal its actions, which suggests that the American red line did have some influence on Syria’s behavior.

Moreover, in keeping with the president’s somewhat ambiguous declaratory policy, the United States signaled through inaction that, in the words of an unnamed intelligence official, “as long as they keep [the] body count at a certain level, we won’t do anything.” This approach, while brutal, was consistent with the Obama administration’s unstated policy of minimizing its involvement in the Syrian conflict while coercing the regime to keep its use of chemical weapons to an absolute minimum.

Little Left to Lose?

But after the 21 August attack, which the United States estimates killed 1,429 people, the American calculus finally changed. In one respect, the 21 August attack represents a continuation of the regime’s previous chemical tactics. French intelligence asserts that the attack was intended to force rebel forces from strategic areas in and around Damascus. Yet in other areas of geo-strategic significance in the past- like Homs and the Damascus suburbs – the regime appears to have kept with its previous policy of minimizing casualties when it used chemical weapons.

Thus, 21 August does represent a serious escalation, departing sharply from how the regime used chemical weapons previously. French intelligence indicates that the attack was a preface to an offensive “to loosen the [rebel’s] grip” and to secure a strategic site because “the regime feared a wider attack from the opposition on Damascus at that moment.” The relatively unrestrained use of chemical weapons appears to reflect an urgent need to protect the capital from rebel advances. If true, this claim suggests that the regime values Damascus more than other cities, is prepared to take extraordinary steps to ensure that the capital does not fall to the rebels, and, most importantly, that the regime’s grip on power is no longer as firm as previously reported.

President Obama has argued that the United States now has an obligation to strike Syrian forces, in order to “deter” Assad from using chemical weapons on such a large scale again, to “degrade” his capabilities to do so, and to coerce the regime to enter into negotiations with the opposition. The United States is proposing a limited three-day strike similar in scope to Operation Desert Fox in Iraq in 1998. And, in a departure from the George W. Bush administration’s policy in Iraq and the West’s undeclared policy in Libya, President Obama has explicitly stated that the goal of the strike is not regime change, but rather to respond to the flagrant use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Small is… Less Ugly, Anyway

But even if the stated goal isn’t regime change, the use of force could inadvertently set in motion a scenario whereby the United States directly contributes to the re-crossing of Bashar al-Assad’s own chemical red line. In an interview with Reuters, a number of unidentified Syrian military commanders indicated that they feared that the cruise missile strikes would pave the way for a large-scale rebel offensive. While the Syrian military has taken steps to prepare for the American attack, its leaders still have reason to worry that the rebels will take advantage of the strikes and advance on key positions. In this event, further use of chemical weapons appears likely.

The United States therefore has a strong incentive to curtail its strikes, in order not to avoid tipping the balance of power and bringing about just what it seeks to prevent. Moreover, the risk of further large-scale chemical weapons use necessitates intense American action to try and prevent further use, without resorting to military action. Thus, if Bashar al-Assad’s response to Russia’s recent proposal to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control is sincere, the United States has an interest in pressing the Syrian dictator to take action. However, the immense difficulties associated with accounting for and then destroying chemical weapons in a war zone suggests that the Russian proposal may actually be infeasible.

The United States should therefore continue with its efforts to plan for military action, as well as continue to take steps to prepare for all possible contingencies should diplomacy fail. In a nightmare scenario for U.S. policymakers and American allies in the region, a large-scale strike that Assad interprets as intended to overthrow his government could lead him to consider using chemical weapons against regional targets to punish American allies before he himself is toppled.

Too Late to Manage the Consequences of Failure

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad indicated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that Damascus would target Israel, Jordan, and Turkey if they are complicit in an American led strike. While the United States and its regional allies have taken steps to address the threat, the defenses put in place thus far are inadequate.

The Turkish government, for example, has increased its military deployments on the border and has sent 400 Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) specialists to assist and train first responders. In addition, NATO has deployed six Patriot batteries in southern Turkey and American and British specials forces are reported to have trained Turkish and Jordanian commandoes to secure suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria.

Nevertheless, Turkey still remains ill-prepared to deal with a large-scale chemical attack. In 2008, a local Turkish manufacturer began production of 162,000 CBRN suits for the Turkish armed forces. But as of now, only 2,000 have been delivered. Moreover, reports indicate that most of Turkey’s American supplied gas masks are expired and the armed forces, as well as civilians, would suffer mass casualties in a large-scale chemical weapons attack.

In Jordan, the United States has also deployed Patriot missile batteries, F-16 fighter jets, and a few hundred military planers and communication experts to help monitor the border and to train Jordanian soldiers to respond to a chemical attack. However, in the event that Syria fires a barrage of missiles at regional targets, the missile defenses deployed in Turkey and Jordan would be overwhelmed. And, absent effective local passive defenses, the number of casualties could be quite high. In turn, this further underscores the need to mind Assad’s chemical red line, before the United States strikes Syrian targets.

Getting Ready for the Next Round

The United States therefore should continue to pair its military preparations with very clear signals to the Assad regime about the limited scope of military action, and the strikes should match those signals. The United States’ initial strikes could only target the units suspected of carrying out the 21 August strike, as well as longer-range delivery vehicles that could be used to target its regional allies. After this action, the United States could keep naval assets within range of Syria and signal its willingness to use force again, should Assad cross the red line again.

In doing so, it is critical for the U.S. to maintain a posture of not seeking regime change in both word and deed. Even in the event of follow-up strikes, the United States should continue to exercise restraint. Too great an increase in the scope or intensity of the strikes risks leaving Assad with too little to lose and thereby forcing him to use his weapons to stave off regime collapse. The American mission therefore should continue to be aimed at punishing the regime for violating international norms, rather than changing the dynamics on the battlefield.

At the same time, the United States should signal to Assad that his targeting of regional allies would escalate the level of American involvement and lead to a military campaign intended to force him from power. Turkey, by virtue of its membership in NATO, has already received a strong and overt American commitment to aid in its defense. Thus, Washington and Ankara should signal that any action taken against Turkey would lead to invocation of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and thereby result in an overwhelming Western led military operation against the Assad regime. The same such guarantee could be given to Jordan, albeit outside the NATO context.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren has downplayed the need for a direct American security commitment, saying, “We can defend ourselves.” However, history suggests that in the event of an attack, the United States would come to Israel’s aid, albeit in ways short of direct military intervention on behalf of the Jewish state. The clear communication of this policy would be intended to coerce Assad to take de-escalatory steps, in the event he feel threatened, and clearly communicate the threshold for escalatory American action.

Bringing the War to a Close

Precisely because this policy necessitates an open-ended commitment to the punitive use of force, it is critical that the United States pairs military action with political efforts designed to foster a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Military strikes cannot eliminate Assad’s chemical-weapons threat, and could even lead to their further use. The only way to neutralize the threat is to remove the incentive to use the weapons. The only way to do that is to negotiate an end to the war.

This strategy has its less attractive features. One drawback is that Assad will continue to use conventional weapons against civilians without an effective response from the United States or its allies. But from the outset of the current debate, the Obama administration has made clear that its decision to use force came about as a result of the violation of the norm against the use of WMD, rather than a commitment to alter the dynamics on the ground. Sticking to that policy offers a way to minimize the likelihood that Assad uses chemical weapons on a large scale again, while also keeping the tools to respond at the ready should he test American resolve again.

 

Aaron Stein is a research associate at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a doctoral candidate at King’s College London. He blogs at Turkey Wonk. Follow him on Twitter: @aaronstein1.

 
 

I’ve written a column for Foreign Policy arguing that the United States should act on Syria’s offer to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

What follows is an initial list of thoughts about the modalities for a United Nations/Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons special commission on the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria.

I’ll probably update this post repeatedly as more people weigh in with ideas and comments.

I think we  are looking for two commitments from the Syrians.

First, Syria needs to affirm that the 1925 Geneva Protocol, to which it is a party, prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons in all conflicts, including intrastate conflicts.

Second, Syria needs to sign and ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, and accede to the Biological Weapons Convention.

Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, Syria would have to submit a declaration detailing its chemical weapons programs within 30 days, but would have ten years to eliminate any stocks of chemical weapons. Obviously, the Security Council must insist on an expedited process to secure and dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Moreover, the CWC contains a number of provisions that may not be appropriate given the exigency of the current situation, including detailed instructions outlining the details of chemical weapons destruction. It is important for the Security Council to establish a special commission empowered with broader latitude than the OPCW has under the CWC and backed by the threat of enforcement under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. This need not be an indefinite arrangement.  After the Security Council determines that Syria’s chemical weapons stocks have been eliminated, Syria can remain in the CWC as a normal state party.

In the first few weeks, the Security Council would pass a resolution, invoking Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, creating a special commission, staffed largely by OPCW personnel, to oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programs. It is important that the Security Council empower this Commission to act in ways that extend beyond the mandate of the OPCW for the initial period covering the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programs. In this period, Syria would submit an interim declaration and agree to a document outlining the rights, privileges and immunities of the special commission.

Within months, UN/OPCW inspectors would be present in Syria, overseeing the process of securing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. The UN/OPCW would have to make an initial technical judgement about how much of existing stockpiles and equipment can be destroyed on site, including through the use of mobile chemical weapons destruction facilities; how much can be removed from Syria, possibly overland into Jordan (The Jordanians have said they prefer a diplomatic solution.  I am  voluntelling Amman.); and what must be left in place under tag and seal. Leaving chemical weapons, precursors or production equipment under tag and seal is, I think, the least appealing option.

At the same time, UN/OPCW inspectors would have to attempt to verify the correctness and completeness of the Syrian declaration. Here politics intrudes. There will be pressure, of course, to account for what happened on August 21, as well as the months leading up to it. The CWC is not blind to history.  At the same time we are empowering our UN/OPCW team with extraordinary powers, we need to be clear as a policy matter that our priority goal is securing and eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons programs.  Issues of historical collaboration and culpability can be deferred for the time being.

I don’t think we can know how long it will take to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, given uncertainties about their size, type and location, to say nothing of the sort of cooperation the UN/OPCW may or may not get from the Syrian government.  But I would expect the process to take more than year.

No matter — even a partial elimination of the stockpile is worthwhile. Almost any amount of cooperative disarmament will be more effective than a Desert Fox-like Operation.  Even if  Assad were to surrender only a portion of the stockpiling before reneging on his commitments, the United States and its allies would be in a better legal and political position to use force, with fewer chemical weapons to target.

 
 

James Acton has published an excellent new monograph on Conventional Prompt Global Strike, entitled Silver Bullet? Asking the Right Questions About Conventional Prompt Global Strike.

You can watch or listen to James present the report.

Like everything James writes, it is careful and nonpolemical. That always makes the competing headlines fun.

Elaine Grossman went with “Global-Strike Arms Pose Little-Recognized Stability Risks: Report“; The Washington Free Beacon, on the other hand, went with “Expert: ‘Conventional Prompt Global Strike System’ Could Deter China.”  The poor folks at National Defense just seemed plain confused.  They went with the vague: “Report: Conventional Prompt Global Strike Weapons Face Challenges.”

Challenges indeed. It would probably be best if you just read it yourself!

 
 

I have a post up at 38North with my colleague Amber Lee looking at two sites linked to North Korea’s centrifuge program – the Huichon Ryonha General Machine Factory and the Kanggye General Tractor Plant.

These plants have several different names over time and undergone a fair amount of modernization. It isn’t always easy to determine if a particular place visited by Kim Jong Il under one name is the same as another place with a different name visited by his son.

The process of matching names, places and visits is pretty labor intensive. It’s also long and somewhat confusing — so I left it out of the piece for 38 North which was already way too long.

This post makes explicit some of these judgements.  There are yet more pictures to analyze, but this is a first cut.

To a first approximation, I think Huichon makes machine tools, while Kanggye uses those tools to manufacture munitions, misiles and maybe, just maybe, centrifuges.

Huichon Ryonha

Huichon seems to be the major center for the production of CNC machine tools in the DPRK.

There is an issue of the name: Until mid-2010, state media referred to the Huichon General Machine-Tool Plant. After mid-2010, state media instead referred to either the Huichon Ryonha General Machinery Plant or the Ryonha General Machinery Plant.

These are all the same facility.

In 2011, KCNA reported that Kim Jong Il had visited the Huichon Ryonha facility “several” times. (He sent them an autograph.) KCNA, however, records only one visit under the “Huichon Ryonha” name suggesting that previous visits occurred under a different name. During a December 2010 visit, Kim Jong Il seemed to confirm that, noting the facility “has undergone radical changes in a matter of a few months.” The implication is that the facility was the same one he visited under a different name in May 2009 and March 2010.

We can match internal and external images provided by the DPRK with satellite images. These are clearly consistent with a site that was substantially remodeled in mid-2010, coinciding with the renaming of the facility.

When Kim Jong Il visited in 2009, he was kind enough to stand in front of a map of the complex. Although the map was an artist’s conception of what the site would eventually look like (rather than a faithful rendering), the buildings are distinct enough to match to an industrial site in Huichon. Here are two comparisons.

One does not expect an artist’s conception to match the resulting buildings perfectly, but the agreement is still excellent. The artist drawing largely concerns a new casting shop. The casting shop help links the 2009 visit to the “Huichon General Machine Tool Plant” with the 2010 visit to the Huichon Ryonha General Machinery Plant. In 2009, Kim saw plans for the casting shop, while in 2010 he noted that it had been completed.

The only discrepancy between the artist’s illustration and the site today is the large blue roofed building, which is depicted in 2009 as having a saw-tooth roof.  This turns out to be very helpful.

This building is where Kim Jong Il is standing. Two images — one of image of Kim and another of the inside of the Huichon Ryonha General Machinery Plant — show the interior of the roof. Prior to 2010, the main factory at Huichon General Machinery Plant had a saw-tooth rood with distinctive lighting.

After North Korea renamed the facility, it also replaced the building. An external image released by the Huichon Ryonha General Machinery Plant corresponds to the building with a peaked, blue roof. When Kim returns in December 2010, the building has been completely replaced. This is why Kim is commenting on the “dramatic” changes in just a few months. It’s a totally new building. 

This new building matches perfectly the physical description of the “main” Ryonha facility provided at a trade fair. An official noted that there were two Ryonha facilities – one in Pyongyang and another in Huichon. He noted that the “main” facility had a floor-space of 40,000 square meters and was the largest facility of its kind “in the world.” The main building at Huichon, which Kim Jong Il visited several times, has a floorspace of approximately 40,000 square meters.

(I don’t know what to make of the claim that Ryonha has a smaller facility near Pyongyang. US sanctions information suggests the site is in Mangyongdae and there is what purports to be an external image of the site floating around. I simply could not find a match to the image or other open source information that would identify the location of the site, nor could Curtis Melvin.) 

Kanggye Tractor Factory

This one is more straight-forward, since defector accounts have indicated that the Kanggye General Tractor Plant is better known as the “No. 26 Factory” that produces munitions including ballistic missiles, artillery shells and torpedos. The location was even printed on a map in a Japanese  book Kin sei nichi daizukan (Great Illustrated Book of Kim Chong-il), written by a Japanese journalist named Osamu Eya. (I have a terrible photocopy of the map, which also appeared in a a Japanese magazine.)

Still, it is nice when everything matches up.

The easiest identification is that Kim posed with workers near the front gate.  The buildings around the front gate are very distinct.

Moreover, Kim attended a performance in a recently constructed athletic facility with a distinctive curved roof.  There aren’t other  buildings in the area that match all three criteria: size, roof-type and recency.

The site also agrees pretty well with the descriptions of a defector.  The site matches a map drawn by a defector about as well as one can expect from a crude map drawn from recollection twenty years ago. (Sadly, I can’t republish the map.  I am working on fixing that.)

 

 
 

 

Update | 10:19 am PST 4 September 2013 Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov (aka Anatoly Anin aka Tolya aka Huggy Bear) made a reference to the 1995 Norwegian sounding rocket episode in terms of explaining why Russia is less than happy with the launch. “Antonov called on those who launched the so-called missile-like targets to be more responsible for regional security and ‘not play with fire.’ … He recalled that a meteorological rocket launch by Norway in 1995 was mistaken as a possible rocket attack on Russia.” (Russian|English)

 

It may be the vodka talking, but let’s roll!

The Russians detected two missile launches associated with an American-Israeli ballistic missile defense test in the Mediterranean — its not clear at the moment if, in fact, the test involved two launches. (Jonathan McDowell @planet4589 and Pavel Podvig @russianforces are puzzling that out at the moment on Twitter.)

 The initial press reporting, as described by Jodi Rudoren in the New York Times, suggests the Russians early warning capabilities are not much better than they were in 1995:

…In Russia, the missile launch was first reported by the RIA Novosti state news agency, which announced early Tuesday afternoon that Russian radar had detected the launch of what it called two ballistic missiles in the Mediterranean Sea, giving no further clarification.

The announcement set off breathless conjecture on Russian news sites and social media networks of an American strike against Syria. Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, was reported to have briefed President Vladimir V. Putin about the missile launch, even as the lack of details in state media reports raised the question of whether Russian officials knew precisely what had occurred.

The reports from the Russian Ministry of Defense said rockets had been launched more than two hours before the news broke and yet the missiles had not seemed to hit any target in the region. When the missiles were reported to have crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, the Interfax news service cited a source in the Russian Navy suggesting that the launch may have been a meteorological experiment….

I have long argued that we should be very, very worried about Russian fears about what I call “command performance.”  This doesn’t make me feel any better.

I continue to believe that the major threat to US-Russian strategic stability is a deep and profound Russian worry that they are vulnerable to a decapitating first strike against their leadership, a point I have made in blog posts, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee and the occasional column for Foreign Policy:

We may be wrong about what frightens the Russians. In recent years, American officials have been driven bonkers by Russia’s refusal to accept their assurances that missile defense interceptors in deployed in Europe won’t threaten Russia’s deterrent. The United States shows PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide to demonstrate the physical impossibility that these interceptors could hit a Russian ICBM. The Russians remain unmollified. Frustrated U.S. officials claim the Russians either don’t understand or don’t want to.

There is another possibility, of course, which is that the Russians are not being frank about their concerns with the United States. It is not too hard to imagine, for example, that the Russian General Staff would have little interest in providing an itemized list of vulnerabilities to the United States. Yet if the Russians don’t wish to tell us what ails them, perhaps we can divine it. There is the notion of revealed preference — the notion that observable acts may reveal preferences of which an actor is not even consciously aware.

Here are two candidates: In September 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted that the Russians had expressed concern that U.S. missile defense interceptors in Europe “could be fitted with nuclear weapons and become an offensive weapon like a Pershing and a weapon for which they would have virtually no warning time.” (The United States and Soviet Union prohibited such missiles under the 1987 INF Treaty.) He said it was hard to believe, but that the Russians apparently meant it. A senior official later told me he didn’t expect to hear that in an unclassified setting. I’ve never heard it again. Second, in the context of the New START negotiations, the Russians insisted on a ban on converting ICBM silos to house missile defense interceptors and vice-versa. This nearly killed the treaty, by the way.

It is a funny sort of paranoid fantasy, the notion that the United States might place nuclear weapons on missile defense interceptors and use them to decapitate the Russian leadership in Moscow. But I suspect this is the rub. The simplest explanation for Russia’s overwhelming concern with missile defense is that the General Staff fears that Russia is much, much more vulnerable to an attack against the country’s command-and-control infrastructure — what used to be called decapitation — than we realize.  Part of this is a fear missile defense interceptors could be armed as offensive missiles, part of it is that missile defenses could mop up a disorganized Russian retaliation.  Most of it, however, is probably sheer terror at the persistent technological advantage held by the United States in light of Russian vulnerabilities.

This is what makes our failure to extend arms control beyond mere reductions so dangerous. The Russians are, I suspect, convinced that they cannot count on being able to command their forces following an attack  They believe they are dangerously, provocatively vulnerable. And, as a result, they make strange, dangerous, and seemingly irrational decisions. Which brings us to Perimeter.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Perimeter? It’s better known as the Dead Hand – a large automated system the Soviets began constructing sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s that could launch strategic forces in the event that the leadership was destroyed. Although it is commonly portrayed as a Doomsday Machine, journalist Nick Thompson — Paul Nitze’s grandson by the way — has explained that Soviet leaders thought Perimeter might be stabilizing. “Perimeter also bought the Soviets time,” Thompson wrote. “If Soviet radar picked up an ominous but ambiguous signal, the leaders could turn on Perimeter and wait.” It has a certain sort of logic, if you are a paranoid septuagenarian Soviet apparatchik. It is also a nuclear nightmare waiting to happen.

The current Russian leadership is populated by the direct descendants of the people who propsed, built, and operated the Dead Hand and nearly took the world to nuclear war in 1983 over a NATO command post exercise. (The current chief of staff of the Russian Armed Forces started his career as a platoon leader with the Group of Soviet Forces, Germany in the 1970s.) Perhaps they don’t come to nice luncheons at Washington think tanks. If they do, they certainly don’t detail Russia’s command vulnerabilities over Chicken Kiev. But they exist and arms control is about managing their fears.

Of course, finding a way to address the Russian fear that their command system would not survive an attack is extraordinarily difficult. It is far more sensitive than anything we’ve managed to negotiate in an arms control treaty. In an era when U.S. and Russian negotiators cannot so much as raise the issue of missile defenses without triggering a hostile reaction from a healthy section of the U.S. Congress, what chance to do we have to discuss command vulnerability? Congressional opponents of New START screamed about preambular language in the treaty noting the relationship between offensive and defensive forces. They depicted the ban on placing missile defense interceptors in ICBM silos as a furious assault on U.S. missile defense programs, nay, our American way of life. And now we are going to discuss nuclear weapons, missile defenses, and conventional strike in terms of the holiest of holies: command and control? You’d have a better chance of getting a strip club recommendation from the Pope. (I have at least one suggestion, but it’s pretty modest.) Yet, this is the spot we’re in — with perhaps one more round of reductions remaining before we and the Russians are left alone, with our failure to fundamentally change the most dangerous dynamic of the Cold War.

I know, it’s an uncomfortable idea.  But just think about it for bit.

 
 

We now have unclassified fact sheets from the White House and the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in the United Kingdom.

These guys don’t get it.

Let me be clear: I think a Syrian military unit most likely used chemical weapons in support of an offensive to retake a portion of the Damascus suburbs.  I also support a one-off military strike of limited duration to degrade Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and to punish the unit or units responsible, as well as the regime as a whole.

These documents, however, do not fulfill the democratic responsibility of either the US President or the UK Prime Minister to make a compelling, public case for the use of force.  C’mon people, you can do better than this.

My initial impression is that my government, as well as its counterpart in the United Kingdom, simply  does not understand the widespread public cynicism about the competence and integrity of political leaders and the intelligence community. All one has to do is watch Armando Ianucci’s magnificent film In the Loop to understand the damage done by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Perhaps some of this skepticism is unfair.  Well, life is unfair.

As I was reading the JIC letter, and then the White House Fact Sheet, I kept remembering lines from  In The Loop, and its preceding television series The Thick of It.  None of these quotations are remotely safe for work.  The closest one to publishable contains two instances of the most useful English word starting with F and a unfavorable scatalogical comparison in order to make the point that, as intelligence trade craft goes, this is rather closer to David Niven than Sean Connery. (The fact that this is the cleanest choice says something about the Caledonian Mafia — the characters of Malcom Tucker and Jamie McDonald, played by Peter Capaldi and Paul Higgins.  The phrase I like best, about the quality of a speech to be given, is completely unprintable beyond the fragment “is wearing your appendix.”)

The White House Fact Sheet is 1,455 words and a map.  The JIC letter is shorter and, frankly, worse. Both documents exude a sense of smug authority.  Judgements are rendered — “We assess with high confidence that …” or have “concluded that it is highly likely that…” — while alluding to the existence of sources and methods –”…streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence…” or a “limited but growing body of intelligence.”

Some of this is simply how the intelligence community writes for policy makers.  (That’s another conversation for another day.) But as a public case for military action, these documents are terribly disappointing. They suggest that our relevant organs, as it were,  understand neither how little inherent credibility they possess nor the changing expectations of a population that is deluged with information.  This sort of fact sheet might have worked a decade ago in 2003.  Of course, that’s the problem.

There is very little new evidence in either release beyond the compelling circumstantial evidence already available to anyone with internet access and last week’s leak to Noah Shachtman regarding an intercepted communication.

As best I can tell, there are new assertions that SSRC (aka CERS) personnel prepared chemical weapons over the course of three days prior to the attack, that Syrian forces conducted a rocket artillery barrage, and that forces were ordered to desist with chemical attacks on the afternoon of the 21st.  These assertions are said to be backed by firm intelligence that must, of course, be protected from scrutiny.  The closest thing to a new, damning detail is the claim of “intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons  were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with inspectors obtaining evidence.”

Compare the US and UK fact sheets to the sort of conversation that is occurring in public. Look, for example, at The Rogue Adventurer, the blog maintained by NR Jenzen-Jones, particularly this post and another. Or look at this analysis by Joe Bermudez on the North Korean units involved in the shelling of Yongpyon Island (and my comments). By contrast, neither the US nor UK document even names the unit or units involved in the massacre.

The pair of documents certainly don’t rise to the gold standard set by Adlai Stevenson.  They fall short, too, of what we will politely call lesser efforts before the same august body. And dumping a heavily readacted 1985 assessment comes off as comic, although perhaps that’s just a coincidence. (There is much more information in various cables compromised by Wikileaks. Try searching “syria ssrc site:cablegatesearch.net” for a data dump on SSRC procurement practices)

The bottom line is that sentient beings with basic internet access have come to expect much more detailed information to be a click or two away. In fact, they almost certainly believe that there is eve better information behind some firewall. They also think the Situation Room looks likes this, instead of this. To offer these meagre documents is a terrible let down.  When the US or UK government together can barely muster a bit more than 2000 words of vague assertions and a map, real people a disappointed. Just like when they see the situation room.  It’s no wonder Ed Miliband stuck a knife in David Cameron’s back. The JIC Chairman’s letter  was an invitation to do so.

Maybe I’m being to harsh.  I am sure that a lot of good people worked really to hard to get as much information as they did into the public domain.  There are probably a bunch of secrecy trolls who will claim the collective disappointment only strengthens the case for sharing little or no information.  (They are wrong: our elected officials can and must do better.)

Let me close by again stating that I believe Syrian military units murdered more than a thousand people in a brutal chemical weapons attack and that a military response is appropriate.  I also believe that the US and UK governments have overhead images detailing the attack preparations as well as all manner of electronic communications that can document who did what to whom, and that to build the case for action they should release a good bit of that yesterday.

 
 

 

I’ve been meaning to write something on my objections to a proposal by Crispin Rovere and Kalman Robertson to ban low-yield nuclear weapons.

Now, I should say that I think developing low-yield nuclear weapons seems like a pretty terrible idea. I am not much of a fan of what used to be called “plywood” (precision low-yield nuclear warheads) and bemoaned the loss of the admittedly flawed Spratt-Furse Amendment. (Although you should totally ask me about the Golan Lumber Company some time.) But I am not sure that a treaty banning nuclear weapons with yields of below five kilotons is a workable solution to the threat posed by so-called non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Rovere and Robertson present the proposal in a ”new ASPI Insight paper, and in a longer companion study,” as well as a presentation Rovere made at  CSIS PONI meeting.  Rovere and Robertson have also hosted a discussion on the ASPI blog, with an outline of the proposal and exchanges with Malcom Davis (Davis|Rovere and Roberston|Davis again) and Rod Lyons  (Lyons|Rovere and Robertson).

I don’t find the proposal very compelling.  In fact, I think it’s probably a bad idea.  But I didn’t want to write anything until I thought I could be constructive.  Hey, there is a first time for everything!

The short version of my argument is that the nuclear weapons most likely to be used have yields in excess of the treaty’s five kiloton threshold, the treaty is so unverifiable that it will amount of a meaningless political commitment that no one takes seriously and that a much better solution to the development of “more usable” nuclear weapons would simply to bring into force the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

The long version is after the jump.

Let’s step back and ask two questions: First, what problem are we trying to solve?  Second, does Rovere and Robertson’s proposal solve this problem better than other, more likely outcomes such as entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty?

1.

What problem are we trying to solve?

Rovere and Robertson start from the premise that nuclear weapons with yields below about five kilotons pose a “unique threat to international security.”  If I understand them correctly, they believe that low-yield nuclear weapons are, or will be, more usable in some fashion.  If we eliminate these weapons, we eliminate the most likely pathway to a general nuclear exchange.   (There are other concerns relating to proliferation and theft that seem to be of secondary importance.)

I think this is wrong.  In terms of utility, all things being equal, it is easier to use a smaller warhead against a target than a larger one.  But all other things are not equal.  Yield is a secondary factor in terms of utility.  Consider the US program to develop a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator.  RNEP would have been one of the most powerful warheads in the US arsenal, with a yield of up to one megaton — all the better to crush underground bunkers with, my dearie. The most “usable” weapons are the ones that can blow up targets.  That means yields significantly larger than what was unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Rovere and Robertson mention the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, which expressed interest in weapons with “lower yields.” Notice that says  lower yields, not low yields. No one in the United States is suggesting dropping sub-kiloton firecrackers on Fuhrerbunkers, the early-1990s insanity about PLYWD notwithstanding.  IN case there was any confusion about that, our friend Linton Brooks cleared up:

This is a nuclear weapon. This is a nuclear weapon that is going to be hugely destructive and destructive over a large area. No sane person would use a weapon like that lightly, and I regret any impression that anybody, including me, has given that would suggest that this is going to be any easier a decision — I mean if this weapon were in the arsenal today, it would still be a hugely difficult decision for any president to even contemplate it. So I — the administration believes and I personally believe that this study should continue, but … I do want to make it clear that any thought of sort of nuclear weapons that aren’t really destructive is just nuts.

I general, I don’t think “low yield” nuclear weapons are more worrisome than other nuclear weapons — with the possible exception that the Russians might build something really, really irresponsible. I am actually quite skeptical that any country is, at the moment, stockpiling weapons with yields below five kilotons.  There are a few exceptions worth mentioning.

First, I am skeptical of Pakistani claims to be developing nuclear artillery.

Second, there are some people who believe the Russians might be interested in developing nuclear weapons with yields below a kiloton. If Russia were building lots of artillery-fired atomic projectiles (AFAPs) or other low yield weapons, then I would almost certainly agree that we should discuss why that’s a bad idea.  But I don’t think the evidence on Russian activities at NZ supports this hypothesis.  We’ll come back to this.

Third, some US thermonuclear nuclear weapons contain a “variable yield” or “dial a yield” option to detonate at ”the full yield of the two-stage weapon, the yield of the boosted primary, or the yield of the unboosted primary explosion.” Notice how I just quoted Dick Garwin there?  We’ll come back to this, too.

I general, I don’t think “low yield” nuclear weapons are more worrisome than other nuclear weapons.  In principle, man-portable nuclear weapons or nuclear artillery would be very worrisome.  In practice, however, neither state is building these sorts of weapons.

2.

Does Rovere and Robertson’s proposal solve this problem better … 

Now, obviously, if Russia is developing sub-kiloton nuclear weapons, that might be something we’d worry about.  The problem is that I don’t know how we would verify Russia’s compliance with the treaty.

Rovere and Robertson tend to view verification as relatively unimportant because there are few deterrent benefits from a covert arsenal of low-yield nuclear weapons, as opposed to an overt one.  I worry, on the other hand, that if the Russians build these things, they will do so not for deterrence but because they plan to use them. (Recall that, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, we did not know there were Soviet nuclear weapons already in Cuba. That would have been a very nasty surprise.)

In order to verify that no state possesses nuclear weapons of a certain yield, very intrusive measure measures would be necessary. The United States and Russia possess many, many, many nuclear weapons designs with yields below 5 kilotons they could deploy without further testing.  The states party are simply not going to exchange the details of these designs nor allow inspectors to verify the design-types currently deployed.  The US and Russia can’t agree to count warheads stored at bomber bases, let alone swap hydrodynamic codes.  The entire endeavor of figuring out how to count actual warheads in a treaty is about protecting precisely the information necessary to verify a yield threshold. See the UK-Norway Initiative and the Princeton effort.

These comes through when Rovere and Robertson confront the problem of variable-yield warheads — thermonuclear warheads in which the yield of the primary is smaller than the full yield of the weapon:

Mechanisms for verifying the removal of low-yield settings from variable yield  weapons will depend on the electronics used in these weapons and may be separately  negotiated between the states that possess them.

That sound you hear is Frank Miller’s head exploding when he learns that we’re going to let the Russians examine all the electronics in our nuclear weapons.

When pushed, Rovere and Robertson entertain the idea of a completely verification-free political commitment:

 If this proved impracticable then a simple agreement never to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons on yield settings below the minimum-yield threshold, coupled with an undertaking to phase out existing stockpiles as they approach the end of their ordinary replacement timeline, could be sufficient.

This doesn’t really solve the problem since the lowest yield setting is an integral part of the nuclear weapons design.  We aren’t going to stop designing small primaries, although I suppose we could promise the Russians that the AFF set won’t have a dial-a-yield option.  Still, they’ll have to take our word for it.

Rovere and Robertson mention the  Spratt Furse Amendment, which prohibited the development of certain low-yield nuclear weapons.  Spratt-Furse contained a large number of exceptions that permitted research on low yield nuclear weapons such as the development of new primaries.  

Although I think the Bush Administration was wrong to seek repeal of Spratt-Furse, any prohibition on low-yield nuclear weapons by necessity had to legislate intention. The result was, as Linton Brooks complained, Spratt-Furse “leads us to the situation in which in addition to physicists and engineers, we have to have lawyers in thinking about technical development.” Now, I wasn’t terribly sympathetic to the nation’s weaponeers for the inconvenience they suffered, but Spratt-Furse was a difficult creature. In a treaty context, we would need a much better model than Spratt-Furse.

3.

… than other, more likely outcomes?

(such as entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty)

If the problem really is that the Russians are conducting hydronuclear tests at Novaya Zemlya in order to develop sub-kiloton tactical nuclear weapons, there is a much easier solution than an unverifiable treaty to ban low-yield nuclear weapons.  (After all, the crux of the problem is that we worry the Russians are already cheating on the CTBT.)

Why not simply work with Russia to bring into force the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and, perhaps, agree to a set of confidence building measures to increase transparency at our test sites surrounding subcritical and hydrodynamic testing? (And don’t forget the Chinese!) This is a point that I’ve made over and over again.

Such an effort would be far from politically painless, but its a garden party compared to the nightmare of negotiating a global Spratt-Furse agreement.