Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


If you follow me on Twitter or happen to be friends with me on Facebook, then you know I don’t think very much of Mr. Edward Snowden. From the beginning of this story, I have said that Snowden is more like Phillip Agee, than Daniel Ellsberg.  I do not consider him a whistleblower, but rather an agent of a hostile power, in this case Moscow.

It occurred to me the other day, however, that I’ve never set down in writing the precise nature of my concerns about Snowden and his actions. Now that Snowden is doing propaganda shorts for the Russians and the Guardian has joined Walter Duranty as a Pulitzer Prize winner, I figured I should say a few words about why I don’t think Snowden is on the level.

I have long been interested in intelligence for personal and professional reasons.  On a personal basis, I am a lapsed philosopher concerned largely with questions of epistemology — how we know things.  Intelligence is a fascinating area of applied epistemology.  Since one is primarily concerned with secrets — things you are not supposed to know — determining whether something in the intelligence realm is true or not is pretty interesting.  One labors under all kinds of arbitrary constraints on knowing, from official secrecy, unreliable first person accounts, inferences based on imagery and other data, and finally the possibility that the other side is feeding disinformation into the system.  The “wilderness of mirrors” that drove James Jesus Angleton insane is precisely what I find most interesting.

On a professional basis, most of what we know about foreign nuclear weapons programs comes from intelligence. Understanding national security decision making requires understanding the intelligence process that informs (or fails to inform) those decisions.  The fiasco in Iraq is the obvious example, but there are others.  Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrohkin’s The Sword and Shield offers a pretty damning picture of how the Soviet intelligence service controlled the Politbureau by controlling the flow of information to its members.

So, I think a lot about spies, and spying.

Before I start on Ed Snowden, I should say a few things about Soviet, and now Russian, intelligence services.

First, Moscow and its friendly intelligence services run spies, as does the United States. Intelligence agencies also collect defectors.  This may seem obvious, but it is worth remembering that Rick Ames and Robert Hansen really were on Moscow’s payroll.  (To say nothing of the illegals then and now.) The Cubans ran Anna Montes, and happily supported Phillip Agee.  Although calling someone a spy or traitor is a distressingly common political tactic, that does not mean that there are not spies and traitors. Joe McCarthy was a demagogue who made many false accusations.  That doesn’t mean that the Rosenbergs, or Alger Hiss, were innocent.

Second, Moscow has an irritating tendency to try and weasel its way into Western groups that favor peace and disarmament. The most famous instance is the Generals for Peace in the 1980s — none of whom realized the East Germans were funding their activities.  Despite what the extreme right-wing will tell you, the vast majority of civil society groups, including peace and disarmament groups, are impervious to Russian efforts — but those of us interested in a better world have all been approached by the odd Russian “diplomat” who wants to discuss friendship between our two countries. Once in a while, the Russians find a fool who doesn’t give the so-called diplomat’s business card straight to the FBI.

Third, Moscow and its friendly intelligence services would often encourage individuals to seek specific positions to gather intelligence. The Cubans, for instance, encouraged Anna Montes to leave the Department of Justice for other jobs with greater access to classified information.  She ended up at the Defense Intelligence Agency. The Soviets did the same with Christopher Boyce (aka The Falcon), encouraging him to learn Russian or Chinese, then get a job in intelligence. (FYI: Boyce thinks Snowden is a kindred spirit. No kidding.)

Fourth, the Russians tend to launder intelligence to hide sources of information. So, for example, Robert Hansen apparently betrayed in 1980 a GRU officer named Dmitri Polyakov who was working for the United States.  Moscow did not act against Polyakov until he was compromised a second time by Aldrich Ames in 1985.  When Ames was arrested, the question of who gave up Polyakov to the Soviets seemed clear — even though it wasn’t.

Now, about Mr. Snowden.  I find his story curious.  It goes something like this:

- In 2007, Snowden worked for the CIA in Geneva, where he soured on the methods of the United States intelligence community. He considered leaking some information but holds off.

- In 2009, Snowden took a job working for an NSA contractor in Japan. His disappointment with Obama hardened his resolve to leak information.

- In 2013, he took a job with Booz Allen in Hawaii for the express purpose of collecting US secrets that he will leak.

- After three months, in May 2013, he fled to Hong Kong because it has a strong commitment to free speech.

- After Hong Kong made it clear he must leave, Wikileaks arranged asylum and travel documents to Ecuador.  But the United States canceled his passport, which meant Moscow was legally bound to prevent his transit to safe harbor in Ecuador.

- After being stranded in the transit zone by the United States cancellation of his passport, he has no choice but to ask the Russians for asylum.

- His travel companion, Sarah Harrison, who does have valid travel documents, is allowed to remain in Russia through at least October 2013. (She goes to Germany in November 2013.)

This story makes no sense if you stop to think about it.

In 2007, Snowden is ready to leak — about what exactly?  He hasn’t worked for NSA yet. He admits that he has only information about ”people, not machines and systems.”

The claim about Obama is also ridiculous.  By the time Obama was the most likely Democratic nominee in mid-2008, he publicly supported the very FISA deal that was the subject of Snowden’s first leak.  (Greenwald will remember this as he launched a shameful campaign against Mort Halperin for supporting the same compromise, falsely accusing Halperin of trading his principles for a job in the Obama Administration.)  The “Obama has feet of clay” line is just hand-waving to distract those of us on the left who were disappointed by the balance struck by the Obama Administration on national security and civil liberties. Oh, Ed, we understand where you are coming from.  Barack Obama is just so disappointing, that I want to flee to Russia … oh, wait, that is insane.

The fact that Snowden sought jobs for the express purpose of collecting secrets ought to be a major red flag — why not just leak what he had from Japan that caused his attitude to “harden”?  Snowden’s behavior after Geneva seems awfully similar to how the Cubans handled Anna Montes, going from one job to another, taking requests for information.

And the flight to Hong Kong?  He said he fled to Hong Kong because it “has a strong tradition of free speech.”  Oh, for f*ck’s sake. Does he know anything about Hong Kong?  Does he know its not a British colony any more?

And transiting Moscow? The US canceled his passport, true.  But the Russians could have let him go to Ecuador. They stopped him because he is an amazing intelligence prize.

By the way, Snowden had other options: Hong Kong has direct flights to Jakarta — Indonesia is a democratic, non-aligned country which has no extradition treaty with the United States and a population that was genuinely upset by US intelligence efforts in that country.  But no — Ecuador, via Moscow and Havana, seemed like a much better idea to him.

Then we are supposed to believe the Russians, having detained him in transit, left him in the Sheremetyevo transit zone without debriefing him.  Right, and his Russian lawyer doesn’t run pro-Kremlin astroturf NGOs.

The same officious Russians, suddenly all Swiss about paperwork, do however allow Sarah Harrison — the Wikileaks representative who accompanied him to Moscow — to remain in Russia with no visa.  I’ve been asking on Twitter and Facebook for months how and why she was still in Russia, but no reporters seem interested in that little wrinkle. Harrison finally announced that she can’t return to the UK, but why?  What crime did she commit by meeting with Snowden or taking a flight from Hong Kong to Ecuador? Liz Gold comes to mind, though perhaps that gives her too much credit.

The suspension of disbelief necessary to swallow this story is impressive.

Let me offer a completely speculative scenario based on no evidence at all, just past behavior of Soviet and Russian intelligence.  My only question is whether this is more, or less, plausible than Snowden’s story.

A young CIA employee in Geneva becomes disillusioned and, one way or another, finds himself taking money from the Russians. Maybe he saw some bad things.  Maybe he’s just the sort of disgruntled employee who starts spying because it gratifies his sense that he’s smarter than the people around and above him.

The Russians encourage him to get a job at an NSA contractor in Japan, then a contractor in Hawaii — just as the Cubans and Soviets encourages Montes and Boyce to seek certain jobs.

He collects a lot of information, much of which is very harmful to the United States, if published.  This information is most harmful if, like Phillip Agee’s memoir, the author is seen as a “whistleblower” not a defector. Snowden goes to Hong Kong, where the Russians can handle him from the consulate.  After giving information to the Chinese, he heads to Moscow. The whole story with Ecuador and Wikileaks simply allows Snowden to keep up the pretense of being a whistleblower “stuck” in Russia, where he’s useful propaganda tool.

In this version of events, some of what Snowden reveals, he collected.  But Moscow can also safely launder information collected from other sources through Snowden.  They might even make up a few things.

I have no way of knowing whether Snowden’s version or this very generic spy story is true.  But Snowden’s version is a hell of lot harder to believe.  There are other possibilities — maybe Snowden did find himself in Hong Kong, way over his head, only to have Wikileaks deliver him to the Russians.  (Notice who had serious money problems, but now is flush after someone got a television show on RT and his political party took Moscow’s line on Ukraine?)  In this version, Wikileaks is just the Communist Party USA, funded from Moscow and Snowden is a dupe.

As best I can tell, the United States intelligence community does not think Snowden was a Russian asset, but I am with Edward Lucas on this.

Whatever his motives, Snowden had another option: If Snowden had limited his disclosures to the truly newsworthy — such as revealing abuses conducted under the 2008 FISA reauthorization — instead of targeting legitimate intelligence activities and if Snowden, like Ellsberg, had given the information to a member of Congress like Ron Wyden and remained in the United States to face the music, he’d be a whistleblower and hero.

But, instead, each thing he has done since fleeing the United States, from the scope of his disclosures to his softball questions to Vladimir Putin, persuade me that he is not acting in the best interests of our democracy.


Ever seen a picture of the Taiwan Research Reactor?  Me neither!

Readers may know that I am very interested in the history of Taiwan’s nuclear weapons efforts, as well as the death of IAEA Inspector Pierre Noir (although I do not suspect foul play).  If you are interested in the history of Taiwan’s bomb program, I can’t highly enough recommend David Albright and Corey Hinderstein’s “Nuclear Nightmare Averted” in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, along with the two document troves released by the National Security Archive (1|2).  And, if Pierre Noir interests you, there is  my research with Catherine Dill on the death of the IAEA inspector in 1978: 1|2|3.

A couple of years ago, I found the TRR in satellite images but never put it online.  I recently gave the assignment to a student who got close, but couldn’t quite find it.  So, here it is, just for the record.

The only image of the TRR I have ever seen is this pretty sad little AutoCAD-like illustration showing the relocation of the reactor core, along with some internal shots showing the decommissioning.

It’s not much but, when combined with the information that the TRR is located at the Institute for Nuclear Energy Research (INER) and probably looks like the NRX Reactor at Chalk River, in Canada, it’s enough.  Here is a (pretty terrible) map to the INER site:

The main gate to INER is located at: 24°51’27″N, 121°15’5″E. Once you have the location of INER (as well as the co-located Chung Shan Institute for Science and Technology), the rest is pretty easy.  Just take a look around.

The TRR is located at:  24°51’20″N, 121°15’19″E  Here is a satellite image you can match to the lousy illustration, as well as the pictures of the NRX. If you fool around with the historical imagery, you can even see external signs of the decommissioning work.




Whoops, somehow I initially published my notes for this piece instead of the piece itself. Here is the correct post.

Well, there are plenty of reasons to doubt Sy Hersh’s recent reporting implying that the chemical weapons attack on Ghouta was some sort of Turko-Saudi-Al Nusra false-front attack — I am rolling my eyes as I write it — and not a single one to buy any of it. Dan Kaszeta has explained all the technical problems with the scenario, while Aaron Stein provided a lot of the missing context here at ACW for things asserted about Turkey and Turkish foreign policy.

I don’t have much to add, the but the erstwhile Washingtonian in me noticed this passage:

Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’

Normally, the response is to “no comment” specific reporting on intelligence matters. Does that mean it is a forgery? Because I love forgeries.

Well, I hate forgeries — but I find them fascinating.  I find it hard to explain why, other than to say I am interested in public policy as a discipline that studies national-security decisions.  Understanding who made what decision and why requires working with historical materials.  The notion that some of these materials might be forgeries — or that perhaps decisions were made on the basis of forgeries — has always struck me as interesting.  Perhaps that is also because, as someone who prefers Cold War history to other eras, the role of intelligence agencies in controlling information as part of a broader ideological struggle has always seemed like a central part of the Cold War story that seldom finds its way on to center stage.

There are always incentives to feed bum information into the analytic process.  This is sometimes called the  ”paper mill” problem.  William Hood — my favorite writer of spy fiction and nonfiction — has a lovely description of the “paper mill” problem in his nonfiction book, Mole.

The demand for intelligence was so great, and at the outset so undiscriminating, that a seller’s market sprang up.  Hundreds of agents found employment in one service or another — a few of the boldest attempted to work both sides of the street.  In Austria, and particularly Vienna, where honest work was hard to come by and scarcely paid a living wage, part-time spying became a cottage industry.

Neck and neck with the scores of agents who at least tried to do an honest job of spying — and perhaps occasionally reading over their shoulders — ran a horde of tricksters who scratched a living by compiling imaginative reports from refugee gossip and press gleanings. Emigres with intimate — if dated — knowledge of Eastern Europe, former Nazi intelligence officers, and con-men competed to peddle fabricated reports to any intelligence service gullible enough to buy them.  …

As CIA gained experience in the postwar operational climate and learned more about its targets in the east, the most egregious fabricators — some of whom were so prolific they were called “paper-mills” — were identified and put out of business.  But in 1952 espionage bunko games were still common.  Anyone volunteering information was suspect until his data and sources had been identified and tested. Recently, the station had spent hundreds of hours ferreting out the sources — nonexistent, as it turned out — of a former colonel in the prewar, Royal Yugoslav intelligence service. The information was trash, but the wily colonel had done a brilliant job of packaging it.

You probably already know about the forgeries suggesting that Iraq sought uranium in Niger. (Peter Eisner and Knut Royce wrote a book about them called The Italian Letter.) The Niger forgeries are a pretty decent example of a paper mill — although it is hard to say whether the goal was money or ideological.

And, of course, there were always the incentives of the Soviets to churn out forged documents to make its main adversary look very, very bad.  The Soviet Union churned out so many false stories to whip up anti-Americanism — disinformation like the false claim that AIDS was an escaped U.S. bio-weapon — that USIA had an entire program dedicated to responding to this stuff.

These active measures included forgeries, one of which I find especially interesting: Field Manual 30-31B (Honorable mention for PRM-46, a forged study on U.S. policy in “Black Africa” falsely attributed to the Carter NSC that is often racist in tone, evidently meant to make the United States look terrible in sub-Saharan Africa.)

FM-30-31B purports to be a supplement to FM-30-31, which apparently had a Supplement A.  The forged Supplement B, though, contains a description of what certain conspiracy types call “the strategy of tension” — the notion that CIA or conservative elements would stage terrorist acts to consolidate their control.  It’s the modern birth of the “false flag” conspiracy theory.  The original context of the forgery is the 1970s — following a number of terrorists attacks by Soviet-affiliated groups like the Red Army Faction in West Germany  and the Palestinian Black September organization.  The Soviets and their satellites were sensitive to the political blowback from their support for such groups — see how gingerly Markus Wolf treats the issue in his autobiography Man Without A Face — and found it convenient to blame the United States for those attacks — or at least to muddy the waters.

It is pretty much a straight line from thinking that NATO staged the “red terror” of the 1970s to concluding that 9/11 was an “inside job” — as illustrated by conspiracy theorists like Daniele Ganser, who started citing FM-30-31B in his book on NATO’s Secret Armies (with official beatdown) before graduating to 9/11 trutherism. There is a still a healthy belief in certain circles that the left-wing terror of the 1970s was all some plot by right-wing paramilitary organizations.  (This should not excuse the very many real instances of right-wing terror, which in the United States, for example, is quite common but underreported.)

Which brings us to the latest claims that Syria’s chemical weapons attack was some sort of false flag event.  The claim is nonsense of course, as Dan and Aaron make clear.  But what is also interesting is how neatly it fits into the pattern of previous disinformation efforts out of Moscow. Did one of the clients do a bad thing? Whether it’s the murderous glee of German Autumn or gassing the suburbs of Damascus, there are always fools willing to buy Moscow’s line that it’s one more CIA false-flag operation. Given how enthusiastically the Russians embraced the false-flag conspiracy from the moment Assad gassed Ghouta, it’s not surprising to see “sources” feeding the same line to reporters over and over.  Hell, Moscow’s now providing Sarin samples.

But it’s just a run-of-the-mill Moscow-driven disinformation campaign, like so many others. If the DIA report turns out to be forgery, rather than, say, taken egregiously out of context, then that won’t be so surprising.

Russian ICBMs
NATO RUSSIA Warheads Stages Fuel Basing Range (km) No.
SS-18 Mod 5 (SATAN) RS-20/R-36M2 (Voyevoda) 10 2 +PBV Liquid Silo


About 50

SS-19 Mod 3 (STILLETO) RS-18/UR-100NUTTH 6 2 +PBV Liquid Silo


About 50

SS-25 (SICKEL) RS-12M 1 3 +PBV Solid Road-mobile


More than 150

SS-27 Mod 1 RS-12M2 (Topol M) 1 3 +PBV Solid Silo & road mobile


About 80

SS-27 Mod 2 RS-24 (Yars) Multiple 3 +PBV Solid Silo & road mobile


About 20

New ICBM RS-26 (Rubezh) Undetermined At least 2 Solid Road mobile


Not yet deployed

(Samart) Multiple Liquid Silo

Not yet deployed

Source: NASIC, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, with a lot of help from Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces.

Sorry about the eye-chart, but I am trying to sort through the mess of Russian ICBMs. Having done what I think is a passable first cut, I wanted to crowdsource the rest of it.

The Russians have been modernizing their ICBM force, which means there are a mess of new designations in the past few years. Sometimes, these get confused in the press. I wanted to sort through them for something I plan to write on Russian compliance (or lack thereof) with the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Additional notes below the jump.  Comments welcome:

I’ve seen the NATO designation for the  SS-27 given as either SICKEL B or STALIN.  There are no definitive usages on .gov or .mil sites of either. I really hope it’s STALIN because that would be all sorts of mustachioed awesomeness.

There are some press reports that describe the Rs-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) as the “SS-29″.  NASIC uses SS-27 Mod 2, which I believe reflects a dispute with the Russians. START prohibited increasing the number of warheads attributed to ICBMs, so the Russians claimed the RS-24 was a completely new ICBM.  (Pavel Podig explained this problem in great detail.) The US IC always believed that Yars was just a fancy Topol M in violation of the START Treaty, something that is reflected in both the Mod 2 designation and the illustrations showing the SS-27 Mod 1 and Mod 2 to be identical.

NASIC does not mention that Russia may deploy rail-mobile SS-27 Mod 2s.  Don’t want to overlook that.

If I had to guess, I would think “SS-X-29″ refers to the Rubezh, which is the missile that is causing one-half the INF troubles.  (The other missile is a ground-launched cruise missile.)  Pavel Podvig has a nice round-up on the missile and launcher, but I suspect the Rubezh is based on the first (and perhaps second) stage of the Topol-M/Yars.

The new liquid-fueled heavy ICBM is called Sarmat.  That doesn’t appear in the NASIC report, but its coming.  Another one we don’t want to forget.

Finally, there were reports of a missile called Vangaurd (or Avangard).  I wonder if that was an early name for Rubezh.  At this point, I think that one is vapor-ware.



Regular readers know I love public policy, especially perverse effects.  One of my favorite perverse effects is what I call “the cookie” problem after the plight of a beleaguered friend.  Let’s say you’ve come thisclose to cheating on a spouse or partner — but you don’t. Then you tell your spouse or partner about your heroic restraint. You’re going to catch hell, not get credit.  As I said to my friend, “What?  Did you expect a cookie?”

Drawing attention to something unwelcome often overwhelms any credit you get for taking steps to address that problem.  Even if other people are objectively better off, you will only suffer for bringing it up.

Tokyo discovered this phenomenon, when it announced it was returning more than 300 kilograms of plutonium and other fissile material.

Participants at a Nuclear Security Summit are supposed to show up with house-gifts. In 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came with a good one: ”President Obama and Prime Minister Abe pledged to remove and dispose all highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium from the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) in Japan.”  (Announcement|Fact Sheet)

Matt Bunn has a characteristically perfect explanation of the material at the Fast Critical Assembly and why it represented a security threat. IPFM has some nice background, including a DOE document on the FCA.

The United States had apparently sought the return of the material for some time, but MEXT (the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) was reluctant.  State Department cables released by Wikileaks suggest the United States was worried about security at the Toka-mura.  In 2007, the US asked about security and got this not very reassuring answer: “Responding to U.S. concerns about physical protection of nuclear facilities, MEXT explained that an assessment of the local threat level did not justify posting armed guards at the Tokai-Mura facility, and that the GOJ is constitutionally prevented from requiring background checks of nuclear workers, due to privacy considerations.”  So, I am glad that MEXT is coughing up the plutonium.

But that doesn’t mean that Japan’s neighbors were delighted.  No one is sending Shinzo Abe any cookies.

Most of Japan’s neighbors had never thought for a moment about the material at the FCA.  In a decade of traveling to Beijing, I never once heard anyone demand that Japan return the material at the FCA.  The facility wasn’t secret — it has a website — and Japan annually publishes its plutonium stockpile.  But no one cared — until Japan agreed to give it back.

News of the impending return started to leak in February, with a story in Kyodo News. When I visited Beijing for an IISS meeting on China’s nuclear weapons and energy policies, all I heard about was that damned plutonium.  Why is it still there?  People told me straight to my face that they’d been concerned about it for years.  Maybe I just missed it, but I don’t have a single record of anyone in China complaining about the Fast Critical Assembly before now.  But they were complaining now. A cynical person might conclude that some of my Chinese colleagues were attempting to make up for nearly fifty years of ignoring the issue by issuing all their complaints in one meeting.  (Mark Fitzpatrick has written an excellent summary of the tone of these exchanges. Go ahead and click over to it — this post will still be here when you get back.)

This is a very human tendency — something I saw recently in Japan, as well.  During the early 2000s, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi attempted to resolve the issue of Japanese citizens who had been abducted by North Korea. North Korea ultimately admitted to the abductions, providing information on their fates.  The Japanese public exploded in rage.  ”The Japanese people were driven much more by sorrow and anger over the deaths of the abductees than by happiness that some abductees were still alive,” Yoichi Funabashi wrote, explaining how public sentiment turned against North Korea once it admitted what everyone suspected.

A similar question may arise relating to Israel’s nuclear weapons program.  My colleague, Avner Cohen, has argued eloquently that refusing to acknowledge Israel’s status as a possessor of nuclear weapons is incompatible with Israeli democracy.  But I have this sneaking suspicion that were Israel to acknowledge having nuclear weapons, even while accepting disarmament obligations, Israel’s neighbors would be more, not less, angry.

Of course, Japan should have returned the plutonium — just as North Korea should make amends for the abductees and Israel should find a way to subject its nuclear weapons to democratic control.  Tokyo, Pyongyang and Jerusalem should do these things because they are the right thing to do.

But don’t expect a cookie.


Richard H. Speier, K. Scott McMahon and George Nacouzi have a new RAND monograph out entitled Penaid Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of Countermeasures Against Ballistic Missile Defenses.

The report is very simple, which is not to say simplistic. Speier et al believe the MTCR should be expanded to cover Penetration Aids (PENAIDS), which seems eminently reasonable to me.

PENAIDs are an important technology associated only with the sort of ballistic missiles captured under the MTCR. If one hopes that missile defense investments will deter, rather than spur, missile proliferation, the PENAID control is a must.  I have long thought that countermeasures are a serious challenge to the viability of missile defenses.  If we are serious about providing even limited defenses, we need to substantially revise current missile defense programs and start thinking about PENAID control.

The bulk of Speier et al report — and the part worth arguing about — concerns what subsystems the MTCR ought to control.  That’s a conversation worth having in the comments, I think.

In case you’d like a refresher on PENAIDS, or just like historical materials, here is a nice late-1980s USAF video.


Editor’s note:  I am holding to my commitment to make three blog posts a week, no excuses.  But my post today will be a short one.  So, to make up for that, here is the Managing the Atom’s Nick Roth answering the question …

What is the Future of Nuclear Security Cooperation between the US and Russia?

A guest post By Nick Roth, aka that guy ->

This week’s Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague was understandably overshadowed by the continuing international response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. One aspect of the Ukraine crisis that deserves more attention is how the current standoff will impact the future of nuclear security cooperation between the United States and Russia.

Although the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit achieved a great deal, the global nuclear security effort can only progress so far without Russia as an active participant. Russia was the most prominent of the handful of countries that didn’t sign on to a single “gift basket” at the summit. Did it commit to physical protection standards at least as strong as those recommended by the IAEA and to hosting a peer review of security practices?  Nope.  What about a commitment to securing Category I radioactive sources according the IAEA’s code of conduct for radiological security? Not at this time, thank you.

As my co-authors and I describe in our new report, Advancing Nuclear Security: Evaluating Progress and Setting New Goals, although Russia has made tremendous progress in securing its nuclear weapons and materials, because of the size and far-flung locations of Russia’s stockpile, Russia still presents one of the most significant challenges to reducing the global risk of nuclear terrorism. Russia has the most highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium of any country and the most HEU research reactors in the world. There is also a significant risk of insiders stealing nuclear material from its nuclear facilities. Not bringing Russia along in the nuclear security summit process is like trying to cure obesity in America, while ignoring fast food restaurants.

At the moment, Moscow does not appear to be ready to address outstanding questions about its nuclear materials and facilities. Russia’s nuclear security progress statement in The Hague ignores many major concerns. For example, it states: “There are no nuclear materials or facilities in Russia the level of physical protection of which gives ground to concerns. An effective nuclear safety and security system has been built and is maintained in Russia.”

We know, however, of numerous nuclear security shortcomings at Russian facilities. For instance, there are questions about whether security at nuclear sites is adequately funded. We also know of cases of corruption where senior managers at Russian HEU and plutonium processing facilities embezzled millions of dollars; where a government official who was responsible for conducting nuclear security inspections was taking bribes; or where even the former Minister of Atomic Energy was stealing millions of dollars. Russia’s statement does not address the potential for a threat within nuclear facilities or provide any details about allocating resources for nuclear security.

The message from Russia that there is nothing to worry about has become increasingly common over the last several years and indicates a declining interest among its leaders in working with the US to secure its nuclear stockpile. This was evident when Russia welcomed the expiration of the old Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction umbrella agreement last year. This attitude is also reflected in Russia’s statement in The Hague, which mentioned an interest in cooperating only on programs “aimed at supporting and strengthening the capacities of third countries in the field of nuclear security”—a welcome offer the United States should pursue, but only one element of nuclear security cooperation that should be much deeper and broader.

It is, perhaps, unrealistic to expect Russia to be a happy participant at an international summit when it is being isolated by much of the international community and branded a pariah. One could even argue that, despite its dispute with the United States and Europe, Russia’s participation in the summit is a positive sign that its officials understand addressing transnational threats like nuclear terrorism requires cooperation between states. The problem is determining how countries can work with Russia on this issue.

If they want to move the nuclear security ball forward, the United States and Russia need to find new and creative ways of recommitting to cooperation. The United States should move away from its paternalistic approach and engage with Russia as a true partner. We should be holding regular workshops to exchange ideas about how best to address problems that both sides face; regular visits to comparable key facilities in each country; and working together to minimize the number of locations where nuclear weapons, HEU, or separated plutonium ex­ist.

The United States must also recognize that cooperation is a two-way street, and our actions have an impact on how Russia and other countries perceive and portray US commitment on the issue–even if that portrayal is self-serving. Russia’s statement at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit noted that “the non-participation of certain States with large inventories of nuclear materials in these fundamental international legal instruments inhibits further steps on elaboration and adoption of new international legal documents and political commitments in the field of international cooperation on nuclear security and safety.”

The “certain states” here of course refers to us. When the United States does not take action on international initiatives, especially ones it spearheaded the negotiations of, it provides convenient cover for other countries to do the same. The United States has still not ratified the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) or the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT), which require parties to criminalize acts related to nuclear terrorism. The implementing legislation for these ratifications continues to languish in the Senate because of a policy dispute between two Senators that should be resolvable with high-level engagement from the White House.  Failing to ratify these two agreements undermines US leadership on nuclear security.

Finally, there is a real risk that current tensions could further erode the already diminishing US support for working with Russia on nuclear security. We are already seeing members of Congress opposing programs that help Russia protect its nuclear facilities. The US policymakers must try to resist the temptation of placing lasting security above short-term political gain. Reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism can only be achieved by maintaining and continually improving security systems over the long haul. If the US fails to sustain its cooperation on nuclear security with Russia, there is a real risk that progress made over the past twenty years could be undone.


Prospects for international cooperation on securing nuclear material in Russia look bleak right now, but there could be a path forward. The fact is that the United States and Russia were not cooperating on nuclear security for the past twenty years because they were close allies; they were cooperating because it was in both countries’ national security interests to do so. Despite current tensions, this dynamic has not changed. What needs to change is the way both countries approach nuclear security cooperation.


I’ve been mulling a post over the recent North Korean launches of Scud and now Nodong missiles, but I want to draw attention to a wrinkle that’s been neglected — North Korea’s new 300 mm artillery system.

Some of the tests of the short-range rockets in recent weeks may have been tests of a new 300 mm artillery system, according to “military authorities” quoted by Chosun Ilbo:

“Military authorities here tentatively concluded that short-range projectiles North Korea fired into the East Sea on Feb. 21 were not missiles but 300-mm multiple rocket launchers.”

These may have been — may have been — the same launched that narrowly missed a Chinese airliner. Well, I should be careful about “narrowly missed” — this might be the  South Korean Defense Ministry stirring up trouble. North Korea does seem to have neglected to file a NOTAM, which is not nice. Seeing the deep anger in China over  MH370, Kim Jong Un has to think he dodged an artillery shell there.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)  Lips and teeth or not, Kim Jong Un does not want to shoot down a Chinese airliner.

If DOD previewed this system in either the North Korean Military Power Report (aka Military and Security Developments involving the DPRK) or Congressional testimony, I missed it. But the best explanation of the possible comparisons for this system that I’ve seen comes from John Grisafi writing at NK

There are two likely origins of this new MRL system. The more likely one is that the North Korean military and weapons industry developed it domestically by improving upon existing designs such as the 240mm MRL and copying and incorporating any components they may have acquired from other countries. North Korea has had some success developing its own weapons, including several missiles and the 170mm Koksan gun artillery system. The other possibility is that North acquired such a weapon system from another country, such as China, Iran, Syria or others – likely years ago – and has since copied and modified the design for domestic production. Either way, the weapon likely is based at least partially on similar MRLs of other countries, such as the Russian BM-30 Smerch, the Chinese PHL03 and A-100, and Iranian Fajr-5 and Falaq-2 rockets. Regardless of how they did it, North Korea has demonstrated they now have a form of rocket artillery with more than double the range of any other MRL previously in their military.

In case you are wondering about the Russian and Chinese comps for the system, here are pictures of the BM-30 and PHL03. I’ve seen reports that China sold the A-100 to Pakistan.

 So, why would North Korea do this?  After all, DOD asserts that modernization of North Korea’s conventional forces has been grudging:

North Korea is making some efforts to upgrade its conventional weapons. It has reinforced long-range artillery forces near the DMZ and has a substantial number of mobile ballistic missiles that could strike a variety of targets in the ROK and Japan. However, we assess that the DPRK’s emphasis will be to leverage the perception of a nuclear deterrent to counter technologically superior forces

There are two possibilities that leap to my mind.  The first possibility is that Pyongyang knows all this bluster about turning Seoul into a Sea of Fire with long-range artillery is, well, bluster.  Roger Cavazos has actually tried to count launchers, count emplacements, estimate rates of fire and draw range circles for the DPRK artillery force.  Although the expected casualties from an artillery barrage are nothing to sneeze at, Roger’s work suggests that the DPRK’s conventional artillery isn’t quite as formidable as popular rhetoric would suggest.  Range is a major issue, something a 300 mm projectile helps out with.

Second, there is always the disquieting assertion by Pakistan that it has developed nuclear artillery. I’ve been skeptical of Pakistani claims because a few hundred millimeters is pretty slim for an early generation nuclear weapon.  North Korea might be interested in nuclear artillery, might try even if the system is unreliable and isn’t above stretching the truth for effect.  After all, North Korea also paraded a truckload of weirdos carrying chestpacks marked with radiation symbols through Pyongyang. The Strategic Rocket Force started life as the Artillery Guidance Bureau.  Who knows.  It’s something to ponder.


A few disarmament posters by Robert Wout, better known as Opland.

Many of my colleagues are attending the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (My friend @MilesPomper is tweeting up a storm for #NSS2014.) It is normal for the assembled heads of government to bring “housegifts” — tangible accomplishments to improve nuclear security that will paint their countries in a positive light.

The opposite incentive is present too, as demonstrated by the Dutch group “Disarm.” (Can you figure out what they want?) Four activists broke into Volkel Airbase, posting pictures of shelters (original in Dutch) where US nuclear weapons are believed to be stored (see right). This is very similar to a series of intrusions several years ago at Kleine Brogel Airbase by a Belgian peace group. (1|2|3)

The incursions would seem to demonstrate the 2008 finding by the Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures that “most sites [in Europe where US nuclear weapons are stored] require significant additional resources to meet DoD security requirements.”

At the time, the Dutch rejected the finding, even though they were singled out for criticism. (“[O]ther locations have the challenge of working with unionized security personnel.”)  Despite the claims that everything was fine, the United States made additional security investments and did the usual PR thing.  Here is a boss picture of US and Dutch troops entering a hangar as part of a security exercise.  Take that, hippies.

So where the hell were these guys when the hippies showed up?  Obviously, things are not all fine and dandy at Volkel.

Whether or not you support the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, isn’t it time to consolidate the remaining weapons at two US airbases where they can be properly secured?  I continue to be amazed that the repeated security breaches don’t generate public pressure for the removal of the weapons — well, other than in the United States Air Force which keeps sending up trial balloons about taking the money to make the F-35 nuclear capable on spending it on their precious bomber.


There is an interesting question about where the protestors actually went.  The only image shows Shelter 532.  There are a couple of maps floating around (1|2).  They mark certain bunkers as having a WS3 vault, although I don’t know why they think they know that, and the maps are blurry enough that its hard to make out the bunker numbers.  But I think shelter 532 is  here: 51.661713, 5.712177

Try putting that into Google Earth, however, and you’ll be disappointed. The maps have certain areas blanked out, marked “Intern Gebruik Defensie” (“Internal Use Defense”). The providers of satellites images, too, engage in interesting redactions.  Google (Maps and Earth) blur the entire airbase.  Bing and Nokia reduce the resolution and black out the areas that correspond to the areas that are blanked out on the map and marked Internal Use Defense

Yandex maps, though, shows the NATO airbase in full resolution.  Here is a sampling of how different sites present satellite images — Google Maps, Bing and Yandex:

In addition to the black spot drawing a terrorist’s interest to protecting a sensitive part of Volkel, Bing and Here reduce the resolution of the base.  Here is a shot of the end of that blurring:

Other people have complained about the censorship in these images–especially the Dutch who, thanks to the use of TerraImaging satellite, seem to get all sorts of things blurred like the Royal residence.  I would simply point out that blurring or blacking out certain areas is absurd.  It doesn’t protect against Dutch euro-hippies (see below), let alone terrorists.  It does, however, protect against the public scrutiny necessary to force Dutch and other allied officials to meet their obligations to protect the weapons.  Secrecy often results in worse security.


One of the fascinating things is this shot of the runway, blurred or not, showing an orange plane!

This is the Dutch F16 demonstration team, which alternates between Volkel and Leeuwarden Airbase every two years.

Here are two more shots of the orange F-16

The second photo is interesting because, as Hans K has noted, you may be able to see the WS3 vault in the floor behind the aircraft.

Last note — the Dutch shelters are shaped funny.  Most aircraft shelters, like the ones at Kleine Brogel are semi-circular.  The Dutch ones are peaked. A triumph of Dutch design I suppose.



Yeah, that’s a weird title, huh?  Well, it’s a weird idea.  Bear with me.

Over the course of my writing, teaching and corresponding about China’s nuclear forces, I kept stumbling over the same question: Why does China insist on calling the Second Artillery, China’s nuclear-armed missile force, the “core force” for China’s deterrent?

“Core force” — and other similar phrases — imply the possibility of nuclear operations by the Chinese Air Force or  Navy, even if China relies on the Second Artillery’s land-based missiles for the old minimum means of reprisal (or assured retaliation, if you prefer).  Indeed, some training materials like Science of Second Artillery Campaigns make reference to joint nuclear operations. It seems impossible to imagine this is entirely anticipatory.

But the United States intelligence community pretty clearly thinks China’s lone Xia-class nuclear submarine never became operational and that no Chinese aircraft have nuclear delivery as a primary mission. Of course, this may change once the new Jin-class SSBN is operational. I think nuclear-armed H-6 bombers, on the other hand, are less likely, but can’t rule them out.  But, again, these haven’t happened yet, and it is hard to believe that China would use language like “core” force in an entirely anticipatory sense.

So, I’ve always wondered: Why does Beijing uses the “core force” language and the refer to “joint” nuclear operations?

I’ve come to think that the answer lies in the Chinese notion of “trial operational deployment.”  Which sounds strange, and informs the title of the blog post.


Trial Operational Deployment

In December 1980, China deployed two DF-5 ICBMs in silos. Yes, all of two. The full deployment of three brigades totaling 18 DF-5s didn’t occur until the mid-1990s. (May 1995, according to one source.)

Why bother with two measly silos? In an alarming situation, two ICBMs are better than nothing. And Beijing viewed the international security situation in the 1970s as alarming. “To Beijing, the situation in the late 1970s was alarming,” John Lewis and Hua Di wrote, “The Soviet Union seemed to be on the offensive and prevailing, while the United States was retreating and losing. On October 30, 1979, Marshal Nie Rongzhen … directed the urgent deployment of all available strategic weapons systems, saying that though a bit backward in performance, [the DF-4 and DF-5 missiles] would still be better than ‘millet plus rifles’ in fighting a war.”

The phrase “millet plus rifles” is a reference to favorite remark of Mao about the relative unimportance of weaponry in deciding the outcome of a conflict, especially when compared to ideological factors. Here is an example from Mao in 1955:

We have an expression, millet plus rifles. In the case of the United States, it is planes plus the A-bomb. However, if the United States with its planes plus the A-bomb is to launch a war of aggression against China, then China with its millet plus rifles is sure to emerge the victor. The people of the whole world will support us. As a result of World War I, the tsar, the landlords and the capitalists in Russia were wiped out; as a result of World War II, Chiang Kai-shek and the landlords were overthrown in China and the East European countries and a number of countries in Asia were liberated. Should the United States launch a third world war and supposing it lasted eight or ten years, the result would be the elimination of the ruling classes in the United States, Britain and the other accomplice countries and the transformation of most of the world into countries led by Communist Parties. World wars end not in favour of the warmongers but in favour of the Communist Parties and the revolutionary people in all lands. If the warmongers are to make war, then they mustn’t blame us for making revolution or engaging in “subversive activities” as they keep saying all the time. If they desist from war, they can survive a little longer on this earth. But the sooner they make war the sooner they will be wiped from the face of the earth. Then a people’s united nations would be set up, maybe in Shanghai, maybe somewhere in Europe, or it might be set up again in New York, provided the U.S. warmongers had been wiped out.

Hence the image atop this post, which is a modern interpretation of a painting by the artist Shi Lu, entitled Millet Plus Rifles.
Mao’s point, and Nie’s, is that, as you know, you go to war with the Army you have. According to Lewis and Hua, the Chinese had a name for this notion of initial operational capability —  ”trial operational deployment.”


Nuclear-Capable Aircraft

China conducted nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere through 1980, something that caused Beijing a lot of political grief. (In fact, China’s opposition to the Limited Test Ban Treaty is a large part of how “no first use” came to be a major diplomatic position for Beijing. But you’ll have to buy the book for that story.)

China tried reasonably hard to move testing underground as soon as feasible, but despite a number of underground nuclear tests, China continued atmospheric testing throughout the 1960s and 1970s. As a stop-gap measure, China conducted  atmospheric nuclear tests using retrofitted bombers and specially manufactured fighter aircraft. Dropping nuclear weapons from aircraft introduces some risk into tests. A test in 1979 failed when the parachute failed to open; here is a pretty cool first-person account in Chinese.  On the other hand, airbursts reduce the amount of radioactive fallout, which helps reduce the political fallout.  For Beijing, the added risk of testing from aircraft was worth the political benefits.

China Today: Aviation Industry, an official account of Chinese aircraft industry from the 1980s, describes in some detail the program to modify aircraft to serve as assets for the nuclear weapons testing program. China retrofitted  one H-5 bomber, (probably) one H-6 bomber, and several Q-5 aircraft.  Here are some comments on each program:

  • “In order to cooperate with the development and test of the atomic bomb the Bureau of Aviation Industry assigned the Xi’an Aircraft Factory a task in 1963 to retrofit a H-6 aircraft assembled by the Harbin Aircraft Factory in 1959 into a nuclear weapon carrier.”
  • “In September 1967 the government assigned a task for retrofitting the H-5 into a nuclear carrier which could be used both for nuclear test and operational missions.”
  • “In order to support nuclear test the Nanchang Aircraft Factory completed the manufacture of several nuclear weapon carriers which were derived from the basic Q-5 in 1970.”

There is a curious little phrase — “a nuclear carrier which could be used both for nuclear test and operational missions.”

Operational missions? Really? Just one aircraft?  (The reason I think it was only one aircraft is that the Harbin Aircraft Factory completed the retrofit with “intense work over half a year.”)

Who the hell was going to fly that thing to Moscow, Major Kong?  (I know, the range is a stretch.  Work with me here.)

I find it curious that China would consider a lone H-5 bomber as an operational capability.  Then again, I suppose in an emergency,  just like two ICBMs, one bomber would be better than “millet plus rifles.”

The H-5 conversion predates the term “trial operational deployment,” which didn’t come around until 1974, according to Lewis and Hua, but it’s the same idea.


Xia-Class SSBN 

That brings us to China’s lone SSBN for much of the past thirty years — the Xia-class SSBN. (China has a new fleet of three SSBNs just waiting for their shiny new SLBMs.)

In October 2013, Xinhua showed off nuclear submarines, including the Xia-class SSBN.  This struck me as strange, since the Xia-class submarine rarely leaves port and the United States has never considered it an operational platform. To bring targets into range, the Xia would have to sail long distances. Zhang Aiping, according to John Lewis and Hua Di, ridiculed the notion that it would sail as far as the Persian Gulf to bring Moscow into range. After all, Major Kong is already assigned to the H-5 bomber.

Yet we have the Xia-class SSBN in Xinhua, accompanied by approving remarks by military analysts. “China says it has a no first use nuclear weapons policy,” Xinhua quoted a military officer named Yin Zhuo saying, “Nuclear submarines can effectively deter and fight back against those who want to launch nuclear attacks on China. It can reduce the danger of nuclear war.”

Just like the two ICBMs in the early 1980s or the one retrofitted H-5 bomber, the one  Xia-class SSBN is better than millet plus rifles.


Trial Operational Deterrence

So, this was a pretty anemic triad in the early 1980s — a couple of ICBMs, one submarine and one bomber. Sure, China had larger theater forces, but the overall force was very, very small.

The Chinese built a number of test assets that neither we nor they consider “deployed.” The difference is that the Chinese think they get some measure of deterrence even from test assets.

The notion that test or developmental assets  – whether it is two ICBMs in silos, an H-5 bomber or an SSBN that never leaves port — might confer some measure of deterrence might seem very strange. In Western academic literature, we tend to think the period when new nuclear forces are under development is the moment of maximum danger for a nuclear aspirant — a small number of provisional assets might be said to invite attack, not deter it. The Chinese, on the other hand, seem to think that even the most limited capability helps out. You just add it to the millet plus rifles and go.

From an American perspective, we would place little reliance on test assets. “You fight how you train” is a popular bit of wisdom. Sending forces with little training and no operational experience on a long, one-way journey to retaliate against a nuclear attack would seem, to a American perspective, like a fool’s errand. Our arms control treaties even make special provisions for test assets because, you know, they aren’t part of the “real” force.

Then again, maybe the Chinese are right. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union attacked China, despite Beijing’s prolonged period of vulnerability. Looking at declassified US intelligence estimates, we gave the Chinese credit for far more nuclear bombers than they probably manufactured. Perhaps the Chinese are right to think that deterrence depends far less on details like readiness, training, and operational plans than we think in the United States.

Regardless of who is right, Beijing’s references to other nuclear forces seem to refer to the possibility that it might press into service the Xia-class SSBN or aircraft modified for nuclear weapons testing in emergency.  It’s an interesting notion, one that colors how I think about the 1969 Sino-Soviet crisis — but that’s a conversation for another day.

For now, I think it’s sufficient to note the history of Chinese trial operational deployments, even if they don’t always formally go by that name. China does not have a capital-T Triad on this basis — they don’t think of it that way, nor do we — but understanding the Chinese attitude toward developmental systems helps illustrate a broader point about how Chinese leaders have thought — or at least acted as though they thought — about nuclear weapons.  Possession, or perhaps mastery, is the key, with other details like numbers, posture, or even readiness given less emphasis.  That’s a broader mindset that helps explain why Chinese leaders have tended to treat strategic stability as a foregone conclusion, despite their own relatively small and vulnerable forces.