Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A "Blog-Tank": Thinking About Nuclear Policy

We're very pleased to offer a guest post by nuclear expert Cheryl Rofer and hope that it sparks a lot of discussion on other blogs. It was originally posted today at Cheryl's own blog, WhirledView.

Regards, Cernig.

The other day, Cernig reminded me of something I’ve let drop. Back in August, Cernig, ZenPundit and I were having a conversation on nuclear policy and were agreeing on quite a few points. This seemed to me to be a hopeful sign, since we inhabit different points on the political spectrum.

It was also a hopeful sign because others seem to be having so much trouble with nuclear policy. United States nuclear policy is stuck in the Cold War. For the decade of the nineties, we wanted to be cautious that Russia wouldn’t fall back into a Soviet foreign policy. It hasn’t, so it’s time to think about a nuclear policy for a world in which the big nuclear problem is proliferation, not a single enormous nuclear arsenal on the other side of the world.

Among those having a hard time are the Departments of State, Defense and Energy. Back in July, after Congress told the administration that it wanted to see a nuclear policy before it would consider funding the Reliable Replacement Warhead, those three departments quickly got out a statement saying that they would indeed work up a nuclear policy. Jeffrey Lewis now reports a rumor that Secretary of Defense Gates is holding up the full white paper because it is so amateurishly done. Sorry, Jeffrey, I can’t confirm your rumor, but it tends to support my suspicion that such a thing will be very difficult indeed for those agencies.

The presidential candidates are mostly trying not to think about it. Some of the Republicans haven’t even bothered to address the issue, and the Democrats are not too far from continuing the sameold Cold War stuff.

And the Very Special People who do foreign policy for a living at the think tanks and universities haven’t said much. These are the folks who the blogosphere found, a few months back, aren’t necessarily any more insightful or intelligent than bloggers. Because they do foreign policy for a living, their views can be swayed by what sells their product. All too often, that is war. They also tend to get very specialized, and most have little science background, which they may think is necessary to discuss nuclear policy. It helps, but the issues are more political than technical. Occasionally the technical clamps limits on the possible.

So I’d like to pick up that thread again, because The Bloggers™ seem to be willing to try to figure it out. I propose what we might call a blog-tank approach. Here’s how I suggest we do it:

Each blogger writes a post on what the US's nuclear policy should be on her/his own blog. Then please notify me by e-mail or a comment on this post. I have e-mailed some folks I would like to have participate, but everyone is welcome to join. Invite your blogfriends. I would like to have participants who represent a range of political opinion. Commenters are encouraged to contribute as well, both here and on other participating blogs.

On Friday, 12/28, I will summarize the arguments, emphasizing novel ideas and points of agreement and disagreement.

Bloggers will then write another round of posts, trying to move to consensus positions.

I will then summarize again on Friday, 1/4. At that point, I think we're going to be close to agreement on most of the big points.

I’ve linked above to some of my posts and here, here, here, here, and here are several more.

A range of political opinion is represented by four gentlemen who wrote an op-ed on US nuclear weapons policy in the January 4 Wall Street Journal. The Foreign Secretary of the UK built on those ideas, and the UK is actually doing something about them. Recently, two Americans have responded to the gang of four’s op-ed, although they seem to agree as much as they disagree. And here’s my review of a report from another group of dissenters.

Recently, Joe Cirincione, William Langewiesche, Richard Rhodes and Jonathan Schell (excerpt) have published books on the subject that are useful background for policy. They are exceptions to the Very Special People rule.

The two big treaties:Nuclear Nonproliferation TreatyComprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization

I apologize, sort of, for doing this over the holiday season. We’re starting just before the equinox and should finish up around Orthodox Christmas. I hope everyone will find some time to contribute. After all, this is the time of year to think about peace on earth.

About The Author: Cheryl Rofer is a contributor to WhirledView. She worked for over 35 years at Los Alamos and on cleanup of nuclear sites in both Kazakhstan and Estonia . She is president of the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security.

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