Saturday, August 11, 2007

What's the U.S. Nuclear Policy?

By Cernig

CNN reported yesterday that, as General Musharaff of Pakistan's position becomes more precarious, US intelligence is worrying about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
U.S. military intelligence officials are urgently assessing how secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons would be in the event President Gen. Pervez Musharraf were replaced as the nation's leader, CNN has learned.

Key questions in the assessment include who would control Pakistan's nuclear weapons after a shift in power. The United States is pressuring Musharraf, who took control in a 1999 coup, not to declare a state of emergency as he faces growing political opposition.

Three U.S. sources have independently confirmed details of the intelligence review to CNN but would not allow their names to be used because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The sources include military officers and intelligence community analysts.

...The United States has full knowledge about the location of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, according to the U.S. assessment.

But the key questions, officials say, are what would happen and who would control the weapons in the hours after any change in government in case Musharraf were killed or overthrown.

Musharraf controls the loyalty of the commanders and senior officials in charge of the nuclear program, but those loyalties could shift at any point, officials say.

The United States is not certain who might start controlling nuclear launch codes and weapons if that shift in power were to happen.

There is also a growing understanding according to the U.S. analysis that Musharraf's control over the military remains limited to certain top commanders and units, raising worries about whether he can maintain control over the long term.
Indeed, Pakistan has always been one of the most worrying members of the nuclear community. Its proliferation record is the worst in the world, involving as it does the notorious Khan network which sold nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, Libya and perhaps even Saudi Arabia. It isn't a member of the NPT non-proliferation treaty. It has not adopted a "no first use" policy. And it's materials security may well be perilously close to non-existent. Now we hear that the chain of command and control is unclear. Given all this, we would have no certainty that a missile launched from Pakistan - or even a nuclear weapon delivered in a shipping container as a terror attack which clearly had Pakistani materials involved - was proof positive of the Pakistani state's intent to attack another nation. Would the victim nation (most likely India rather than the U.S.) then be totally justified in nuclear retaliation? If not, then the concept of nuclear deterrence has some major catching up to do.

Which let's me segue into recommending a post by Cheryl Rofer over at WhirledView, on thinking about U.S. nuclear policy.
The United States has no real post-Cold-War policy on nuclear weapons, as I've observed before. The House of Representatives noticed that, too, and they said they’d like to see a nuclear policy before they funded the development of the reliable replacement warhead. That got the attention of the Secretaries of Energy, Defense, and State, who quickly pounded out a promise that they would give Congress a report.

...So I’ve been wondering just exactly what will show up in that promised report: the bits and scraps of nuclear policy left over from the Cold War, or something entirely new, which is what we really need. But before the end of the budget cycle?
Cheryl points to one white paper that is doing the rounds in Washington in response to this rush, authored by almost a dozen of the Very Serious People from the U.S. Department of State's International Security Advisory Board (ISAB), including James R. Schlesinger and James Woolsey. The paper, according to Cheryl is pure Cold War circa 1969.
The white paper, however, says very little about today’s biggest nuclear threat, namely the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists. North Korea and Iran are years away from a first nuclear weapon, let alone an arsenal, so they are not current threats, and a few nuclear weapons would only be useful for their own deterrence. Russia has inherited the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal, but not its foreign policy. The immediate danger is that if you’ve got enough nukes floating around the world, some might fall into the wrong hands. So security of nuclear weapons and materials is an important consideration. Nothing is said about it in the white paper.

Much is said about the stabilizing influence of the US nuclear umbrella, extended to NATO, ANZUS (except New Zealand didn’t want it, so that’s just Australia), Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Israel. Because the stabilizing influence is supposed to keep these countries from developing their own nuclear arsenal, Israel, with its hundred or so nuclear weapons, is an odd member of this list. Perhaps the authors still feel they have to maintain Israel’s strategic ambiguity?

No real threat assessment is offered, just vaguely threatening words about Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. For a group of folks trying to move out of the Cold War mindset, that’s an interesting ordering of countries.

Is the white paper saying that US nuclear policy is only about deterrence? Nothing about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its obligations? Nothing about the uselessness of deterrence against mobile subnational groups with no territory to defend? The only thing that is important to our allies is US security assurances, backed up by the threat of nuclear warfare?
Indeed, deterrence seems to be the main concern of other VSP's too. The big topic of conversation in the Democratic primary battle, after all, has been whether or not the nuclear option should always remain on the table. Keeping it there, it is alleged, is part and parcel of deterrence, not just against nation-states but as part of what some have called "expanded deterrence".

Back in October of last year, there was a spate of advocacy for this idea of 'expanded deterrence" which gained bipartisan approval from VSPs. Yet as I wrote at the time a better term for the doctrine would be "running with nuclear scissors" - because some's going to get hurt and they may well be innocent of any crime.
So suppose the LeK set off a nuke in Mumbai which is found to contain Pakistani uranium. The Indian government already maintains that Pakistan’s intelligence agency aids Islamic terror groups in any case. Pakistan might claim a “rogue element” or deny all knowledge just as it did with the Khan network. If India claimed it’s right to “expanded deterrence” even so and nuked Pakistan’s four biggest cities do you think the Bush administration or any conceivable successor would stand by and say “Fair enough by us, we did warn everyone”? Of course not. That’s just one possible counterexample to prove that the principle of expanded deterrence as put forward by the hawks would not be universal, but instead be claimed as the sole right of the U.S. Its pretty easy to construct more.

If expanded deterrence is the sole preserve of America…well, that’s the huge can of foreign policy worms opened again. Back to PNAC’s American Hegemony with several vengeances. None of the other big nuclear powers will be at all happy, for starters. Russia will undoubtedly get very nervous…

Now, suppose an Islamic terror group gets a hold of fissile material for a bomb, or even a complete weapon, from some Russian Mafia blackmarket dealer in Uzbeckistan. They then set it off in Manhattan and a forensic examination determines that the bomb came from…the former Soviet Union. Probably produced in Minsk, Kiev or somesuch. Is the U.S. going to launch a retaliatory strike “with devastating force” on Russia or the Ukraine? Somehow I don’t think so and again its simple to think up other counterexamples.

And if you stop to think for a moment, the actual idea behind this plan is idiotic. It is tantamount to saying that if you manufacture a gun that eventually ends up in the hands of a murderer, no matter how that happens, we will come round to your house and machinegun your whole family. Try getting that “expanded deterrence” past the NRA!
This is where the Tancredo Option runs up against sanity. It's easy to see now why the U.S. has no nuclear weapons policy - it's highly unclear just how useful they are but all the VSPs want to keep the big booms as an option even so. So they just conveniently keep talking about what they want to, as if these other considerations have no impact on the subject matter being debated.

We've moved out of the era of superpower vs superpower MAD into a multi-polar world - and with it, we need to re-examine, as Cheryl puts it, "the threats against which nuclear weapons might be used, or to which their deterrent power might be applied." We also need to examine related issues such as the NPT and other treaty obligations (most of which mean the US is committed to nuclear disarmament), the role of the international community, securing loose materials and weapons against terrorist co-option, the missile defense program and its concomitant threat of militarizing space and the ways in which trade deals such as the one with India can undermine the world's security.

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