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August 06, 2004

Comments

I'd be interested to hear what Moe and Sebastian feel about this, because my first reaction - and yes, yes, I'm cynical - was "So what are the Bush administration hiding, or who are they protecting?"

Administration officials, who have showed skepticism in the past about the effectiveness of international weapons inspections, said they made the decision after concluding that such a system would cost too much, would require overly intrusive inspections and would not guarantee compliance with the treaty. (cite)

But that's just... silly. "Cost too much"? Well, compared to what? The cost of having a nuclear weapon actually used? Sure, I can see this wouldn't be cheap: to be effective, it would have to be thorough, and thorough inspection includes a lot of skilled manpower and a lot of testing. But then - not that I want to start an argument here about Iraq - so was and is invading and occupying Iraq, and that didn't seem to be a drawback for this administration.

And "would require overly intrusive inspections" - sure it would. That's the point. And so? We all know that these "overly intrusive inspections" would somehow not be allowed to apply to the US, no more than "overly intrusive inspections" for illegal biological weapons are allowed - so what other country is the Bush administration protecting from these "overly intrusive inspections"?

Last point "and would not guarantee compliance with the treaty" - Well, no. Granted. There is no absolute guarantee. But it would make it more difficult for countries attempting to produce weapons-grade plutonium to get away with it. There is a certain minimum level of technology and expertise required, and while it would be possible to conceal it from rigorous, "overly intrusive" inspections, it wouldn't be likely. From an administration that thinks it's worthwhile investigating the possibility that SF fandom could be an international terrorist conspiracy, it seems particularly ludicrous to claim that overly intrusive inspections might not catch everyone therefore it's not worth doing them at all.

I find it hard to believe, therefore, that the reasons publicly given are the real ones. I wonder, therefore, which country, not known to have a nuclear weapons industry, is being protected by the Bush administration from the possibility of "overly intrusive inspections".

Wow, sounds crazy. Then again, perhaps its just a negotiating point. I don't know what the treaty says about what comes before an inspection team can be sent in to verify compliance. Perhaps we're just angling for some better language protecting the assets we use to identify targets for verification in the first place, lest the effectiveness of those assets be compromised.

I agree; this is confusing. Crionna makes a decent point: this could be just a foot-in-the-door treaty, with more tightly binding ones to follow.

Or, alternatively, they've decided that intelligence is more reliable than inspections, and are acting accordingly. I rather doubt it, but one can always hope.

Boy this War on Terror has some strange rules eh?

Sometimes the "perfect is the enemy of good" phrase makes perfect sense.
Is the administration's defense of this that no inspections are 100% and if they're not 100% then they are too expensive?
I can't see how it can be an opening salvo in negotiations for STRONGER inspections. In essence the administration sprung this on the the negotiating teams at the last minute.
Perhaps someone has persuaded the administration that we don't want folks sniffing around OUR activities and that we will still, somehow, be able to monitor what other countries do.
Who knows. The answers so far don't particularly make sense.

My first impression is that the inspection and verification requirements would be ignored by countries like Iran and N. Korea, but the U.S. would end up abiding by them. The "teeth", to borrow the NYT analogy, would only be biting the U.S. The U.S. would not get any additonal intelligence or security, and would be giving up what is now secure information by letting foreign inspectors etc. into our house.

I'm going out on a limb a little bit here as I haven't researched the subject as much as I prefer to before commenting, but felt it was something worth considering.

What I'm wondering is how this squares with the admin's hankering to produce so-called mini-nukes. Not knowing about such things, do we already have enriched plutonium/uranium? Can that stuff be stored? What's its shelf life?

Or, are we hedging because of Israeli/Pakistani pressure?

Either way it's icky and sure hands the bazooka to Kerry once this story really breaks.

Yes, this does appear pretty puzzling. Since the revelations of the A. Q. Khan affair in Pakistan, I've been pretty skeptical of non-proliferation regimes of any variety. I wonder if a better solution would be a U. S.-Russian treaty agreeing to treat any first use of nuclear weapons by any nation whatever as an attack on the U. S. and Russia.

Dave: that wouldn't help with the problem of fissile materials falling into the hands of non-state organizations like al Qaeda.

The obvious answer is that we ourselves plan to produce something in violation of the treaty.

hilzoy, you're right. That it's not sufficient does not mean it's not necessary. Short of universal worldwide agreement that fissile materials not be allowed to fall into the hands of non-state actors and the commitment to work actively to prevent it I can't imagine any measure that would categorically prevent that from happening.

do we already have enriched plutonium/uranium?

Yes, of course.

Can that stuff be stored?

Yes.

What's its shelf life?

Good question. Plutonium has a half-life of 24k years, which means that (among other things) it'd be at over 99% of initial purity after 100 years and still quite pure after 1000 years. U-235 (which is what's used in nuclear weapons) has a half-life of over 700 million years, which means it keeps quite a bit better. Any device that uses tritium (thermonukes), on the other hand, has effectively short life, because tritium's half-life is only 12 years or so.

The obvious answer is that we ourselves plan to produce something in violation of the treaty.

An equally obvious answer is that we plan to drag our feet to the extent that we'll never have a version of the treaty that we'd sign or ratify. I don't particularly like either of these alternatives, but there may be others that also apply.

At the risk of repeating most everyone else here, I will say that this does seem odd.

I would assume that the Bushies are afraid of being caught in a perpetual inspections farce, like what happened with Iraq before the war.

Nathan
Considering all the evidence we've found in Iraq how were inspections there a "farce"?
That's an odd thing to say.
The farce might be how voluntary inspections fall apart when people/countries stop volunteering ie. North Korea. Or India. Or Pakistan.

My thoughts on the treaty negotiations that I can't find much real information on:

Treaties generally ought to have enforcement. Much like the NPT, this one doesn't seem to have an enforcement mechanism at all. Since it has already been determined that this treaty will not provide an enforcement mechanism, there isn't much point in making a costly 'verification' procedure.

As I said before I can't get much information on the actual treaty terms being negotiated. What we get is a lot of complaining from delegates who aren't getting there way. But if you listened to them all the time, you would form the impression that say Kyoto was a treaty which would make huge strides in protecting against global warming while really not costing very much when in fact the best estimates from UN proponents of Kyoto was that it would be hugely costly and slow global warming by two or three years at best.

Since I can't comment on particular language I will make a general comment about such treaties which may shed light on why if I were president I might take such an action.

Arms control treaties tend to provide a false and highly dangerous sense of security. Especially with recent international disfavor for trade sanctions against tyrannies, there are very few if any enforcement mechanisms available.

Without enforcement such treaties are practically useless. The provide an illusion of doing something about a problem while they really let the problem fester. Both Iran and North Korea are excellent examples of it. Both play along at the treaty game while continuing their nuclear programs. They have both done so for 20 years, and North Korea has played the time given by the false protection of the treaties into actual nuclear weapons, while Iran is on the verge of doing so. And with 20 years of blatant violation, and despite a huge scare in Iraq when we discovered (only because Saddam invaded Kuwait) that Iraq had a highly developed nuclear weapons program, the international community is still not interested in enforcing the treaties already in place.

Expensive treaties which provides a false sense of security can hurt, and as such you shouldn't engage in them.

If inspections were so damned effective, how come we never found those damned calutrons?

I know, I know...it was probably just a giant fridge magnet.

You don't need to wonder to hard about this one. The Bush people prefer no treaty to one that might in some minor way also constrain their unilateralism. They prefer no meaningful inspection regime so that they can do what they want.

In other words, they are more comfortable with threatening war as a deterrent to bad behavior than an agreed upon treaty and inspection regime that might limit their freedom in a trivial way.

Is there any other credible explanantion for their motivation?

I have to agree with the points raised by Sebastian Holsclaw, Thorag, crionna, and Slartibartfast. While I agree with that it is a good idea to keep the wrong people from getting their hands on the technology and materials needed to build nuclear weapons, I question whether treaties (which have a less than impressive record IMO) are the best mechanism for achieving this goal. More than likely the countries who would comply with such an agreement aren’t the ones that we need to worry about whilst the ones that we ought to worry about will either flaunt the treaty either openly or covertly. This could also be a negotiating tactic for some other concession or the administration may have decided (and I tend to be more sympathetic to this view) that it would be better to protect intelligence assets and/or our capability of developing weapons (e.g. “mini-nukes”) to take out weapons systems than risk compromising either.

You don't need to wonder to hard about this one.

Yes, one can easily just pick a position that reinforces ones prejudices, and stop thinking right then. Is this your recommendation?

You don't need to wonder to hard about this one.

Yes, one can easily just pick a position that reinforces one's prejudices, and stop thinking right then. Is this your recommendation?

Dang.

Sebastian: I've seen the argument that treaties tend to produce a false sense of security before, and I've always been puzzled about who, exactly, they are supposed to produce this sense in. Presumably they wouldn't produce it in e.g. people in the State and Defense Departments, members of enforcement teams, and others whose job it is to deal with these treaties: however informed you or I might be about treaties and their enforcement mechanisms, they are almost certain to know more, just in virtue of having to deal with these things as part of their jobs. So if you or I can identify a sense of security as unwarranted, presumably they can too.

Treaties probably wouldn't give most non-professionals a false sense of security either: as far as I can tell, most people are only aware of a very small number of treaties, of which the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty would probably not be one. If so, it wouldn't produce either a sense of security or a sense of anything else in them. Besides, if my experience is at all representative, people who don't follow these things are much more likely to assume that countries cheat on treaties than to assume that they don't.

So who is supposed to be lulled into complacency by the existence of a treaty? (I ask this not in a snarky way, but because I am genuinely unclear about the answer.)

Wait, let me see if I'm reading you right, Thorley... treaties tend to be weak instruments, so it's better to pass treaties... that are intentionally as weak and toothless as possible?

As for concessions-for-mini-nukes, how is this not begging for a disaster? We get an empty treaty with no power to do anything, and we start cranking out weapons that give every halfway-industialized nation in the world an incentive to get nukes, or more nukes, to counter the new nukes we're using.

"So who is supposed to be lulled into complacency by the existence of a treaty?"

I think you are using 'complacency' in a way that doesn't describe what I'm getting at, though perhaps I fell into the shorthand trap and caused the confusion.

It provides a false sense of security--that something is being done about a problem. Perhaps I shouldn't call that 'false sense of security' because in the abstract it suggests that the problem is pushed from the mind, while I mean that people (including governments in general and perhaps even weapon inspectors in particular) can act as if something is being done while the problem festers continuously. This kind of treaty is all about process and nothing about outcome. It provides the illusion of working hard on a problem without actually doing anything that brings about a solution or makes anyone safer.

Inspections go on interminably--work is being done. Countries obstruct inspections, nothing really happens. Inspectors return, nothing really happens. Decades pass of inspectors diligently inspecting and countries diligently obstructing--lots of busy work but nothing is happening because 'verification' doesn't have an enforcement mechanism. But people are working hard. We aren't ignoring the problem. We are taking it quite seriously.

And then North Korea has nuclear weapons.

And then Iran continues on its nuclear path unobstructed.

And then, the disutility of all that 'work' is revealed.

And we are in a far, far worse position than if we had dealt with the problem country before they obtained nuclear weapons.

And back to this treaty in particular, I haven't been able to find much evidence that India, Pakistan, and Israel were interested in becoming signatories to it. Now my research is woefully incomplete on the topic, but my cursory examination only turned up a huge number of Indian articles about how stupid it would be for India to sign on to the thing. And if they aren't signing anyway, all this wrangling only serves to reinforce my point about feeling good about 'doing something' while not actually doing anything.

And I know those on the left understand the concept--it is what many of you accuse Bush of doing in the War on Terrorism.

DMBeaster wrote:

You don't need to wonder to hard about this one. The Bush people prefer no treaty to one that might in some minor way also constrain their unilateralism.

Actually that should be our “unilateralism” that we’re talking about constraining, since any treaty would be putting these constraints on US power and not just “US power when exercised by the Bush administration.”

carsick,

Oh, I mean the whole process of having inspectors running around the country trying to find stockpiles of weapons and whatnot, while at the same time the government agents of the country in question are moving the material/weapons, trying to confuse the inspectors, hiding documents, and so forth.

This does not mean that inspections cannot work, but I think that if a country is actively working against the inspectors and has enough land area to work with, then it is awfully difficult to know what is really going on.

Now, the alternative to this would be clandestine operations to find evidence of nukes, but it is awfully difficult to do this as well. And, one can rarely be certain of the evidence derived from these activities.

So, yeah, I think that inspections are almost always a farce. The exceptions would be countries like South Africa and Ukraine (I think), that accepted inspections and worked with the inspectors.

Iron Lungfish wrote:

Wait, let me see if I'm reading you right, Thorley... treaties tend to be weak instruments, so it's better to pass treaties... that are intentionally as weak and toothless as possible?

I said nothing of the sort. What I said was that it was possibly a negotiating tactic to get something else or it might be better not to have the treaty if it meant compromising our intelligence and/or defensive capabilities.

As for concessions-for-mini-nukes, how is this not begging for a disaster? We get an empty treaty with no power to do anything, and we start cranking out weapons that give every halfway-industialized nation in the world an incentive to get nukes, or more nukes, to counter the new nukes we're using.

I’m not convinced that the countries trying to get nuclear weapons would not do so but for the US nuclear weapons systems. In which case, sacrificing our ability to take out their programs seems incredibly foolish.

I’m not convinced that the countries trying to get nuclear weapons would not do so but for the US nuclear weapons systems. In which case, sacrificing our ability to take out their programs seems incredibly foolish.

At the moment, we possess nuclear weapons but not really the will to use them -- certainly, not without nuclear provocation like, e.g., a strike on an American city. The development of mini-nukes, however, raises the very real possibility that the US will actually utilize nuclear weapons in combat without the other side having deployed similar weapons first. [Consider the various calls to mini-nuke Iran or North Korea in 2002-03.] As such, this has the potential to create a new arms race in mini-nukes -- yes, even amongst countries which might not have previously attempted to acquire nuclear weapons -- as these would be the strongest weapons that one could actually deploy without the specter of MAD. It's the difference between the paper and the tiger.

As for "sacrificing our ability to take out their programs"... what, we lack that capacity without mini-nukes? That seems, well, improbable.

Mini-nukes--harder to make than other types. Not likely to be a first developed nuclear weapon.

Mini-nukes--harder to make than other types. Not likely to be a first developed nuclear weapon.

Not to be snide, but didn't you vociferously dismiss that kind of argument when discussing North Korea's switch from plutonium to enriched uranium bombs?

As far as I can tell no I didn't. The uranium process was easier to hide than the plutonium process. But both could be done with 1950s-level technology. So far as I can tell that isn't true with the so called mini-nukes. They are difficult to make and difficult to maintain. If you are going to become a nuclear power, it is much easier and frankly much more effective to get the big ones.


"As for "sacrificing our ability to take out their programs"... what, we lack that capacity without mini-nukes? That seems, well, improbable."

Actually I suspect you haven't been paying attention if you believe that. The deep bunkers that the Germans and French had been so helpfully providing to Arab clients are theoretically resistant to the weapons currently available.

The deep bunkers that the Germans and French had been so helpfully providing to Arab clients are theoretically resistant to the weapons currently available.

Do you have a cite for that, Sebastian, or is this a random peanut gallery shot at France and Germany simply because they took the strongest stance against the Iraq war?

As far as I can tell no I didn't. The uranium process was easier to hide than the plutonium process. But both could be done with 1950s-level technology. So far as I can tell that isn't true with the so called mini-nukes. They are difficult to make and difficult to maintain. If you are going to become a nuclear power, it is much easier and frankly much more effective to get the big ones.

One of the (post-facto) arguments in support of the 1994 treaty with North Korea was that it prevented the (relatively) quick'n'easy plutonium bomb from being designed and instead forced NK to attempt the more difficult enriched uranium route. Your responses to this have been, in the past least, quite vociferous that this is an inadequate response.

What you're arguing here, however, seems to be somewhat similar: it's OK for people to be running around with nukes as long as they're harder to build. [Analogous, perhaps, to forcing NK to take seven more years to complete their nukes.] Now maybe the barrier to entry is sufficiently high that this is a distinction with a difference -- part of the problem is that I'm not sure what definition of "mini-nukes" is being used, part of the problem is that I'm not sure what technical barriers exist to be overcome -- but I'm not yet convinced that this isn't just another delaying game of the type you've so often decried.

Actually I suspect you haven't been paying attention if you believe that. The deep bunkers that the Germans and French had been so helpfully providing to Arab clients are theoretically resistant to the weapons currently available.

My understanding was that the really deep bunkers (600ft and deeper) were functionally immune to mini-nukes anyway -- or at least, their destruction via mini-nukes would cause so massive a plume of fallout as to render the tactic worthless. [See, e.g., this article in Popular Mechanics.] It's much more efficient, by pretty much any metric, to take out such a deep bunker with a real (i.e. 100kt or higher) nuke than it is a mini-nuke. In fact, I'd heard from a friend who follows such things that any target vulnerable to mini-nukes without such unacceptable collateral damage would actually be vulnerable to conventional munitions (like a JDAM or one of its successors), though I haven't looked into this myself.

[Those with a greater knowledge of HEW should feel free to correct me at this point.]

Of course, it's also important to realize that "taking out their programs" need not be synonymous with "launching a direct military strike at their facilities", although that's certainly an option. We have, or at least should have, a whole arsenal of dirty tricks for dealing with such things; let's not discount them out of hand.

[And I too would like a cite on a) the French and German involvement in the supplying of deep bunkers to the Arab world, as well as b) the unicity of that involvement.]

As an addendum to the above, here is the Nature article to which the Popular Mechanics article refers. Someone with fuller access to the journal might want to track its references to see what, if any, controversy it's kicked up.

"One of the (post-facto) arguments in support of the 1994 treaty with North Korea was that it prevented the (relatively) quick'n'easy plutonium bomb from being designed and instead forced NK to attempt the more difficult enriched uranium route. Your responses to this have been, in the past least, quite vociferous that this is an inadequate response."

It is an inadequate response, but not for the reason you seem to think. It is inadequate because the "Agreed Framework" is supposed to reaffirm the "North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula"
and cease ALL NUCLEAR WEAPONS RESEARCH ON THE PART OF NORTH KOREA. It does this specifically and by incorporation. Same thing with reaffirming NK's requirements under the NPT. So you are correct that I find the response that uranium enrichment was ok is valid, but you are incorrect about I why I thought it was invalid.

Now that the Medium Lobster has posted on this issue, I find that all my earlier doubts about the Bush administration policy have been resolved. As far as I can tell, the Medium Lobster agrees with Sebastian's position, and therefore so do I.

I prefer my lobster well done.

If a treaty can lull someone into a false sense of complacency, and therefore we don't want any verification process in this one, why sign it at all?

If Bush is resisting verification because he wants MORE teeth in this treaty, why has this not been trumpeted far and wide? After all he needs some good press these days.

Why do people keep referring to Israel or Pakistan, who are not signatories and are therefore irrelevant to the argument?

Does the treaty have a price tag on verification and who is supposed to pay what percentage of it, and if so why is this not reported in the news either? If it is going to be really expensive and the costs will be weighted towards the pre-existing nuclear powers like the US, that would be an argument that people could at least wrap their heads around. But just saying "cost" by itself is not.

Anna in Cairo: Israel and Pakistan are not signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. However, one of the whole points of this new treaty is that it would cover them.

If they signed it, which is not a sure thing.

Sheesh. I should know better than to start talking about North Korea on ObWi, because every time the conversation gets started I have to leave for a couple of days. Since this thread is almost dead I won't reply fully; rather simply to note the following:

So you are correct that I find the response that uranium enrichment was ok is valid, but you are incorrect about I why I thought it was invalid.

My understanding, from our previous debates, was that not only did you regard the argument about the plutonium-to-uranium switch as proof that the treaty had failed -- which is a reasonable position, although I think it overlooks certain things -- but that you refused to give any positive credit for the delaying of NK's nuclear ambitions whatsoever. It was this latter that I was attempting to address, not the former.

We could be talking semantics here, of course, but I just wanted to clarify my earlier statements.

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