Sunday, August 22, 2004

Testing the World's Patience

You would think with the current hysteria about nuclear proliferation, 8 out of 10 Americans supporting a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (CTBT), 170 states signed onto the CTBT, 180 monitoring sites established, and the US military stating that a test ban should be in force that such a treaty would exist. Well, alas such optimism would be misguided. In 1999, the US senate refused by a margin of 48 to 51 (2/3rd majority is required for all US treaty ratification) to ratify the treaty signed by President Clinton. Despite the best efforts of the arms control community, the CTBT, the result of five painstaking years of negotiation, has been languishing on the sidelines of international affairs. This fact is as frustrating as it is dangerous.
The opponents of a comprehensive test ban treaty tend to argue the following points:
1) US nuclear weapons will not be as safe without regular testing
2) Confidence in the reliability of the nuclear stockpile will decline in the absence of nuclear testing
3) The CTBT is not completely verifiable. It is possible for states to cheat for military gain, without the possibility of detection
4) New nuclear designs cannot be developed without testing.
Note there is a difference between safety and reliability. Safety makes sure that the weapons do not detonate when they are not supposed to and reliability ensures that they do detonate when they are supposed to. While opponents do present legitimate concerns about the problems of the CTBT, these are ultimately not sufficient reasons not to ratify the treaty. Moreover, they display a profound ignorance of the political factors that drive nuclear proliferation. First, any freeze in the nuclear testing would secure America’s lead in nuclear weapons technology. The US not only had the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world but also, as a result of an advanced scientific and academic infrastructure, the most technically advanced ones. It would be hard, as opponents of the CTBT decry, for nuclear weapons states to develop new nuclear weapons in the absence of nuclear tests. Thus the CTBT would help promote U.S. national security. Second, the issue of the reliability of the US nuclear stockpile is potentially irrelevant. If American nuclear laboratories are unsure of the reliability of their weapons, it is unlikely that America’s enemies will have any more of an idea. However, deterrence is not likely to be weakened as a consequence since no opponent will bank on the possibility that an American riposte will prove to be a dud. Besides, given the sheer size of the US armory, if one warhead fails there are sufficiently more to compensate. Nuclear weapons are, as Kenneth Waltz explains, existential deterrents. The threat they pose is so great, that even the hint of their use is often sufficient to deter enemies. Indeed this is traditionally how the US has compelled enemies to change their behavior in China in 1953 and the Suez in 1956. Because nuclear weapons are existential deterrents, the issue of whether they would actually work 100% of the time really misses the point. Unless the US plans to start using kiloton-range nuclear weapons on a regular basis, where issues of reliability could conceivably come into play strategically and economically, this issue is spurious. Americans can thus reap the profits of both nuclear deterrence and CTBT. Third, the CTBT would help America better detect nuclear tests because of the international network of seismic, hydro-acoustic, satellite, airborne radionuclide detection stations. Because the CTBTO is an international organization, it can gain better access for detection than the U.S. can gain on its own. Because of this extensive and growing network of stations, the CTBTO can reliably detect explosions greater than 1 kiloton and often explosions less than a 1 kt. Critics of the CTBT argue that states can cheat on their obligations by conducting explosions of less than 1 kt or by masking (decoupling in the arms control jargon) tests with other conventional explosives such as those used in mining. Detractors also argue that small explosions conducted in sealed underground cavities could elude international monitoring. A few rejoinders need to be made about these points. The issues of decoupling and cavity tests are not as straightforward as they seem. Usually mining explosions are conducted in a serial or “ripple” fashion, not in one single great explosion. Therefore their seismic pattern is noticeably different from that of a small-scale nuclear test. It is also generally easier to distinguish major mining areas from nuclear test sites. The issue of underground cavity tests, while theoretically possible does not detract from the utility of a CTBT. There is very little information than can be obtained from a small nuclear test conducted in sub-optimal test conditions needed to maintain secrecy. While this may not be as big an issue for seasoned nuclear powers such as Russia and China, these are major obstacles for new nuclear proliferators such as North Korea and Iran. Besides, new nuclear states will actually want to communicate their nuclear deterrent by proving their capability through testing. The construction of an underground cavity designed to avoid detection and the release of radioactive debris can be a large-scale operation that can blow the cover of a covert nuclear program. Note the construction of underground facilities in North Korea provided the US with major signals about the North’s nuclear program. In the 1980s, the drilling of a rudimentary testing shaft by South Africa pushed the US to arrest a potential nuclear test by the Apartheid regime. Thus even if the CTBT cannot detect all nuclear tests, it can reliably detect the vast majority of them, and lay additional tripwires to detect proliferators. We can expect that constantly improving detection technology will increase the reliability of the treaty in the future. The treaty will thus naturally become more robust over time without any need to negotiate new clauses. It would be naïve to see the CTBT as a panacea for nuclear testing and proliferation, but it would be equally foolish to reject its utility. Critics of the CTBT and other arms control treaties state that unless the agreements are perfectly verifiable, they will lull the international community into a dangerously false sense of security. Such comments are mind-boggling. It is difficult to believe that some detection capability would be more dangerous than no detection capability at all. It is also inconceivable that America, with its current obsession over terrorism and proliferation would be willing to put the issue on the backburner. Indeed, with the stakes so high, the international community will continue to view rogue states with the greatest suspicion. Indeed the very opposite will happen by rejecting the CTBT. Such contempt for international law hampers American arms control efforts. The treaty does not need to be perfectly flawless to be useful. The NPT clearly has its flaws, as shown by the debacle over Iraq’s and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs in the 1990, but remains a cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime. Perhaps the reason for the US’s knee jerk reaction against the CTBT lies in its own desire to design and test new nuclear weapons. While it is true that impressive advances in computer modeling technology do not obviate the necessity of weapon testing, developing new nuclear weapons does substantial and unnecessary damage to the nonproliferation regime. In the words of an Indian academic, the US cannot continue to preach nuclear abstinence while itself engage in nuclear promiscuity. The nuclear apartheid enshrined in the NPT promotes nuclear proliferation by attributing prestige and perceived power to the to these kinds of weapons. This is why Article VI of the NPT requires the nuclear powers to engage in eventual nuclear disarmament. By seeking new ways to use nuclear weapons, the US would breach the spirit of the NPT, erode the nuclear taboo, and push states to acquire these weapons to avoid being the target of them. This nuclear hypocrisy is best epitomized by the American strategy of using nuclear bunker busters to destroy foreign stockpiles of WMD. Numerous studies have shown that these weapons would have limited utility since it will always be easier to build deeper bunkers than more performing earth penetrators and because the radioactive debris will limit their uses in inhabited areas where future WMDs could be placed. More to the point, the miniaturization of nuclear weapons eventually makes the use of fission devices useless. Large conventional weapons such as massive ordinance aerial bombs (MOABs) and so-called “daisy cutters” can deliver the same payload as small nuclear weapons without the breaking the nuclear taboo or creating radioactive fallout. The argument about developing new nuclear weapons betrays a parallel agenda in the debate. The problem lies in the fact that the same people in the national laboratories (such as Los Alamos, Sandia, and Livermore) who inform our decisions about the CTBT are those whose livelihood depends on continued nuclear testing. This could explain the flip-flopping of the Los Alamos’s endorsement then rejection of the CTBT. What these positions also do is put the technical before the political. Since proliferation and arms races are above all political phenomena (the weapons do not build themselves) political considerations should take precedence over the technical considerations about the desirability of constructing new weapons and testing the reliability of old ones. The technical benefits of resuming testing are far outweighed by the political fallout and at the end of the day, all that counts is political. If the US is serious about nonproliferation, it will need to reign in its own program, design new ways to ensure the safety of its nuclear stockpile and sign the CTBT. Its time to get serious about proliferation, and we are only doing ourselves harm by stalling on the CTBT.

For more info:
Nuclear Threat Initiative:
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (pro-CTBT):
The National Insitute for Public Policy (anti-CTBT):

Monday, August 16, 2004

6 Levels of War

It is with much amazement and horror that one notes the precipitous fall of American standing in the world over the last four years. The recent scandal over the torture of Iraqi prisoners of war seems to be yet another blow to the credibility of the U.S. Of the three reasons for going to war in Iraq, the U.S. has exhausted its last. The first reason for entering in war in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, has proven to be a monumental intelligence failure. Besides being a significant abuse of the trust of the American and world community, this deceit is likely to plague the U.S. in the future. Imagine a time when there will be a real and imminent threat from terrorists or other political actors. Future Presidents will tell America that they have credible proof of an attack that requires the permission immediate action. In such a situation, jaded citizens and members of Congress will (understandably) be less likely to take appropriate action. No longer will we be likely to throw blood and money at what may be political ploys to gain domestic support for a “wartime president.” Dishonesty has real consequences on the security of Americans. The second reason for going to war in Iraq, namely Iraq’s violation of UN resolutions, has rung hollow faced with the constant resistance of the UN and the international community. It is clear that the U.S. cannot unilaterally interpret the meaning of international law, particularly when it seems so evidently self-serving. The third and final reason for invading Iraq was to overthrow a cruel dictator and to establish a liberal democracy where Iraqi could enjoy the rights and liberties enjoyed by the more fortunate countries in the West. This rationale for war in Iraq has started to crumble, and long before the incidents of torture. From the beginning it was a weak rationale for going to war. Americans may be attached to liberal democratic values at home but when it comes to making financial and human sacrifices to spread these values abroad, they are notoriously squeamish and fickle. Any war that relies too heavily on the humanitarian impulses of America is on very weak ground indeed. America, like well off post-modern societies in West is one of now one of risk mitigation. Unlike in past centuries where life was, to paraphrase Hobbes, nasty brutish and short, citizen today can expect to live well into their seventies and will do virtually everything in their power to do so, from Atkins diets to gym memberships. We in West have fewer children than ever. Therefore, the opportunity cost of warfare has increased dramatically. Americans are no longer willing to see their offspring fall anonymously in battle in far-flung place for complicated and un-heroic objectives in the name of ungrateful natives. The cult of the body and of the individual in American society is reflected in its foreign policy, making war difficult to sustain not economically but socially. Beyond the particularities of Western society, the credibility of the U.S. was further eroded by the nature of the reconstruction effort. Although financial profit was never the driving motivation for war, the highly politicized race for reconstruction contracts in Iraq gave the impression of neo-colonial plunder rather than humanitarian aid. This became all the more frustrating given the slow pace of reconstruction. With the pictures of torture, America’s very commitment to the values that it claimed to be establishing began to be questioned. Despite America’s best intentions, the coupling of all these factors undermined the patience of Iraqis and the credibility of the U.S. In the end, what matters in politics is as much what is as what others perceive it to be. And what others are beginning (or continuing) to see is that the U.S. has no legitimate reason to be in Iraq. Yet, the tragic paradox is that at the time when we want most to leave, we cannot afford to so.
President Bush seems to believe that while the U.S. may be in engaged in War on Terror, we are not engaged in war in Iraq. He is obviously wrong, notably because the U.S. is not engaged in a war in Iraq but instead in wars at six different levels.
*U.S. vs. Ba’athist Regime. At a first level, the war in Iraq was a war against the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein. The Bush Administration, as well, I suspect as most Americans, believed that this was the only mission.
*War against occupation. Yet, the war has taken on second level as one carried out by Iraqis against occupation.
*Civil War. In the political vacuum that followed the invasion the war took on a third level, as a civil war between domestic factions vying for power and influence over the future shape of the country.
*U.S. electoral politics. At a fourth level, it is an extension American electoral politics. At a time when the U.S. plays such an important global position, U.S. politics are world politics.
*Internationalism vs. Neoconservatism. At a fifth level, it is debate between American unilateralists and neo-conservatives against international multilateralists and institutionalists.
*Islam vs. West. And finally, at a sixth level, Iraq has become the battleground between radical Islam and the West.
These six levels make the resolution of conflict in Iraq exceedingly difficult. Each level involves different actors and actions taken at one level may have adverse effects at another. Unfortunately such a pattern is likely to lead to sub-optimal outcomes for all the actors involved and most tragically for ordinary Iraqi civilians. These levels also operate in different time cycles. The war on the Ba’athist regime, for example is now over. The U.S. may have been a victim of its own success. Victory came so quickly that the U.S. was unprepared to assume the responsibilities of governing a restive country. Furthermore, the U.S. quickly disbanded the Iraqi army, which it should be noted never even wanted to fight or resist the Americans. This flooded the Iraqi labor market with young (armed) men. As for the second level of the war, the war against American occupation, it is only at its midpoint. The admission of torture on Iraqi prisoners is likely to aggravate resistance. Despite the Administration’s handover to the Iraqi Governing council, it remains still be heavily reliant on American troops for policing and security functions. This means that attacks on American troops will continue. If last year’s bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad can serve as any warning, we should expect attacks on the UN as well. This is because Iraq is still deeply in the middle of third level of war, namely civil war.
It is delusional to believe that there is widespread agreement on a UN mandate in Iraq. Iraq is a factitious country, with political actors that profit from the chaos and have no incentive to see a just and peaceful settlement of violence. These are what are called “spoilers.” Here are a few examples. Maqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand leader of radical Iraqi Shias is not interested in the political reforms proposed by the Americans because they afford too many rights to the Kurdish and Sunni minorities as he sees at the expense of the majority Shias. He would rather cause insurrection and chaos than see the establishment of a political system that does not hand power to the majority. Of course the Americans are right to be weary of giving too much power to the Shia majority. The last time a majority ethnic group regained power from the dictatorship of a minority ethnic group we ended up with the Rwandan genocide. A second example of spoiler groups are foreign Mujihadeen (or terrorists), which connects to the fifth dimension of the war in Iraq. Foreign Mujihadeen and terrorists are eager to turn the civil war in Iraq into a clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and the West. They want to paint the war in Iraq as a battle in a campaign against Islam by invoking Americans as crusaders, by attacking coalition troops from mosques to encourage retaliation, and by invoking God instead of the will of the Iraqi people. They avoid bringing up the will of Iraqis with good reason. First Iraqi civilians have suffered the most from their bombings. Second, by sacrificing political stabilization, domestic peace, and economic reconstruction, their actions cause and instrumentalize Iraqi suffering. Unfortunately, these spoilers are likely to be endemic in Iraq regardless if the U.S., the UN, or a moderate Iraqi government rules the country. This dimension of the conflict that is likely to be protracted, driven by larger ideological forces in a wider historical context, and not limited to the Iraqi theater. By trying to defuse the anger caused the torture of prisoners, President Bush played into the hand of radical Islam. On television he apologized to the Arab world, although this was in no way an issue of the Arab world. This is an issue of Iraqi human rights. He thus reinforced the image that this was a conflict between the U.S. and the greater Muslim Middle East, which it is not. The next day there were protests in Turkey against the torture of Muslims and after that, radical Islamicists filmed an American being beheaded in retaliation for the humiliation caused against Muslims.
While the U.S. is getting bogged down in the Iraqi civil war, it is at the end of the debate with internationalists. Neo-conservatism, after reaching its hubristic apex during President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech is now defunct. The U.S. recognizes that it is in its best interest to work through the expertise and legitimacy of the UN. At a fundamental level. Neoconservatives misjudged the nature of American power. America may be a preeminent military power but it is not omnipotent, and certainly not in the political and economic spheres. Neocons failed to recognized that force is not power and power is not influence. All these concepts are held together by legitimacy, something this administration direly lacks. Furthermore, the Bush Administration misperceived international institutions and international law as restricting American power like so many Lilliputian strings tying down Gulliver. In fact, the whole liberal international structure continues to function as a power multiplier for the U.S. projecting it’s home grown values abroad. However, Europeans and Canada should not rejoice in the America’s troubles. It is not in Europe or Canada’s best interest to watch civil war break out in Iraq and an incipient Iraqi democracy wallow at the hands of radicals. Most importantly, it is not in Europe or Canada’s best interest to see Iraq become a breeding ground for terrorism against the West. Europe will not escape this scourge. To paraphrase Trotsky “You may not be interested in war, but war is certainly interested in you.” A recent Al Qaeda statement proclaimed that it would be targeting American as well as UN officials in Iraq. This is not an enemy that can be appeased.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Shooting yourself in the foot

Although I feel that Bush is certainly playing the proliferation/terrorism card too strongly and too politically, there are times when I feel he is doing everything in his power to actually make things worse. For example, Bush happened to invade the only member of the axis of evil that did not happen to possess or be developing nuclear weapons. Since Bush came to power, North Korea has been found to be developing nuclear weapons and is suspected to possess between 3 and 8 of them. Bush refused to deal with North Korea at a crucial window of opportunity since he was busy assembling a coalition to fight a toothless dictator in Iraq. With regards to Iran, the situation has degraded drastically since I was in Vienna. We are rapidly approaching a point of no return there, and the only thing scarier than that is talk of having the Israelis do the dirty work of a preventative sabotage for us. Once again, because the Bush administration lacks any diplomatic credibility or leadership, they resort to their one-dimensional policy of brute force. Indeed, when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Contrast this with the case of Libya, a once rogue state that recently disarmed it nuclear and chemical program. While the republicans want to spin this in such ways to show that it was the Iraq War that scared Qadhafi into disarming, the truth is that it was four years of patient diplomacy and cool-headed bargaining initiated by the UK and the Clinton Administration, that brought a drastic turnaround. Yet, I find it amazing that the Bush camp is the one that says that Kerry will not be able to provide security to Americans. It was the Bush Administration that derailed talks of a biological weapons convention that would allow constant monitoring and inspection of potential weapons facilities worldwide and it was the Bush Administration that recently dismissed a widely applauded treaty that would put an international ban the production of fissile material to be used in nuclear weapons. How long are we supposed to continue to believe this charade? How long are we supposed to believe that the nation is safer while we continue to be traumatized by nebulous threat alerts?

Cost of the War in Iraq
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