Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk

 

Accidents happen. The least accident-prone nuclear weapons are the ones that are not in motion — but not always: see Eric Schlosser’s account of the Damascus incident in Command and Control.

Nuclear weapons in transit are more accident prone. The dangers associated with transit multiply with the number of vehicles carrying weapons in transit, which can spike during a crisis. The most accident-prone nuclear weapons are those in motion when hostilities commence, when standard operating procedures are subject to change. In this event, the most accident-prone nuclear weapons are those moved close to the forward edge of battle.

Nobel Prize-winning economist and strategic thinker Thomas C. Schelling (right) wrote about accidents in the September 1960 issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Here are some excerpts from “Meteors, Mischief and War:”

“The point is that accidents do not cause war. Decisions cause war. Accidents can trigger decisions; and this may be all that anybody meant. But the distinction needs to be made, because the remedy is not just preventing accidents but constraining decisions.

“If we think of the decisions as well as the accidents we can see that accidental war, like premeditated war, is subject to “deterrence.” Deterrence, it is usually said, is aimed at the rational calculator in full control of his faculties and his forces; accidents may trigger war in spite of deterrence. But it is really better to consider accidental war as the deterrence problem, not a separate one…

“Thus the accident-prone character of strategic forces—more correctly, the sensitivity of strategic decisions to possible accidents—is closely related to the security of the forces themselves. If a country’s retaliatory weapons are reasonably secure against surprise attack, preemptive or premeditated, it need not respond so quickly. Not only can one wait and see, but one can assume that the enemy himself, knowing that one can wait and see, is less afraid of a precipitate decision, less preoccupied with his own need to preempt.

“And it is apparent that there can be quite a difference between an accident-prone system, and an accidental-war-prone system…

“What matters is whether this affects the way we wish to conduct the war. If the concept of ‘accidental war’—or whatever we choose to call a war that is not initiated altogether deliberately—has any meaning, it is probably a war in which our urge for revenge and retaliation is less than our urge to curtail the consequences of the error, regardless of whose error it was. If our object, in the event war should come, is to save as much of the country as possible and to provide for its further security, we should think not only about how to deter war, and how to enter it most effectively if it comes, but how to terminate it to best advantage.”

Accidents involving nuclear weapons are most likely to occur in states that have a rising learning curve and a high tempo of nuclear operations, whether due to a crisis or to paranoia. The probability of accidents also grows when safety devices are insufficient to prevent detonation or radiological dispersion in the event of an accident. Inadequate safety and security mechanisms also increase the probability of unauthorized use.

If a nuclear weapon-related accident occurs in the absence of a crisis or hostilities, accidental war might possibly be averted depending, at a minimum, on where the accident occurs and whether accurate, credible information can be released quickly about the circumstances surrounding this event. If, however, the nuclear accident occurs during a crisis or during the onset of military operations, escalation control could be more difficult, regardless of where the accident occurs. The initiation of military operations might reflect a conscious choice by national leaders, but a nuclear accident could mock the best laid plans.

 
 

For his first term, President Barack Obama selected Significant Outsiders for his key foreign policy and national security posts. In his second term, he depends heavily on known commodities and loyalists. He promotes from within and keeps the State Department on a short leash. As his original appointees leave, their successors have less clout. Some senior positions in his inner circle have turned over three times in six years.

The Secretary of State has his hands full fire-fighting and trying to alter the ugly trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off. It’s not apparent what portfolios the national security adviser has decided to make her own. The Pentagon’s resources are contracting, and the Secretary of Defense cannot successfully downplay this fact when he travels abroad. The President’s advisers are hard-pressed to provide him cover in dealing with political foes, skeptical friends or foreign challengers. With some fires burning and others smoldering, senior officials find it hard to engage in preventive diplomacy except in the most immediate cases.

The White House is therefore susceptible to new crises and will be short-handed to deal with them if and when they arise. Since bad news in foreign affairs usually comes in bunches, this is a particularly vulnerable period for the Obama Administration.

The world is better off with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It is also more unruly. The United States spent its unipolar moment waging trillion-dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will take time to replenish the political capital lost in these campaigns.

The champions of these wars keep scolding the Obama Administration for not being tough-minded enough when someone steps out of line. Their reflexive prescriptions for toughness are a form of political amnesia as well as point-scoring. Obama Administration officials would also like to selectively forget recent history. The high-mindedness of their candidate’s 2008 foreign policy platform has been mocked and misshapen by brutality abroad. Think of how it feels to be Samantha Power, who chronicled the genocide in Rwanda and then spent time in Barack Obama’s Senate office. She now witnesses the Syrian Problem from Hell as US Ambassador to the United Nations. This harsh world mocks idealism and tough-mindedness in equal measure.

When presidents face difficult times, as all presidents do, they have two choices. One is to rely on confidantes and circle the wagons. The other is to bring in advisers who are not part of the President’s inner circle, but who have the standing and experience to help mend fences and deal effectively with crises. FDR reached out to two internationally minded Republicans, Henry L. Stimson and Frank Knox, as war clouds darkened over Europe and the Pacific. On a far less consequential but still meaningful scale, Ronald Reagan brought Howard Baker into the White House after the Iran/Contra debacle.

President Obama’s impulse has been to circle the wagons. This instinct is understandable, especially when reaching across the aisle has usually resulted in getting his fingers burned. When this president finds himself in trouble, he turns to former high-ranking staffers rather than Significant Outsiders.

Here is a sobering thought: If President Obama now sought to recruit heavyweights to build bridges, fight fires and defuse crises, whom would he call?

This problem transcends the Obama Administration. Another sobering thought: Who would a future Republican president rely upon to handle key foreign policy and national security assignments?

 
 

Massive retaliation is a siren song that appeals to states that cannot afford a nuclear competition but can afford to let an adversary cross the nuclear threshold first. It’s a money-saver, and it sounds persuasive, until the threat of massive retaliation is actually tested — when a nation’s nuclear bluff is called. What national leader would actually respond to the use of a single nuclear weapon, or just a few, with massive retaliation?

Of course, a single thermonuclear weapon targeted on a major city might be considered massive retaliation when compared to the use of a low-yield, tactical nuclear weapon. Great Britain and France are postured to do far worse – one of the consequences of relying on MIRVed missiles aboard submarines — but it’s hard to imagine their bluff being called, because plausible tripwires are so remote.

No nuclear doctrine can be persuasive when the use of nuclear weapons seems incomprehensible. States possessing nuclear weapons are therefore obliged to suspend disbelief and draw up plans for the unthinkable. Planning occurs in a vacuum until another mushroom cloud appears on a battlefield, whether by accident, inadvertence, or design. Only then will doctrine and declaratory policy be tested. But no possible test can be aced by the option of massive retaliation. Massive retaliation is the antithesis of nuclear planning. Yes, I remember that Lawrence Freedman defined all nuclear strategy as an oxymoron, but massive retaliation makes other nuclear employment options seem downright thoughtful.

The best-laid plans tend to go awry in conventional warfare, and we can only imagine how badly the execution of nuclear planning could go awry. Flexible response and graduated nuclear punishment were conceptualized to make greater sense of weapons in bloated arsenals. The problem was that no one could make a convincing case of escalation control in the smoking, irradiated ruin of a nuclear battlefield. The more rungs of graduated response that Herman Kahn conceptualized, the more he became an object of ridicule.

The Samson option is for losers, not for states with important equities, especially states that can afford to compete. Recoiling from the Korean War, the Eisenhower Administration briefly adopted a declaratory policy of massive retaliation as a deterrence booster and a money-saver. To refresh memories, here are the key passages from Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s famous speech, delivered to an august assembly of the Council on Foreign Relations on January 12, 1954:

We need allies and collective security. Our purpose is to make these relations more effective, less costly. This can be done by placing more reliance on deterrent power and less dependence on local defensive power… What the Eisenhower administration seeks is a similar international security system. We want, for ourselves and the other free nations, a maximum deterrent at a bearable cost… Local defenses must be reinforced by the further deterrent of massive retaliatory power. A potential aggressor must know that he cannot always prescribe battle conditions that suit him…

The way to deter aggression is for the free community to be willing and able to respond vigorously at places and with means of its own choosing… So long as our basic policy concepts were unclear, our military leaders could not be selective in building our military power…

But before military planning could be changed, the President and his advisers, as represented by the National Security Council, had to take some basic policy decisions. This has been done. The basic decision was to depend primarily upon a great capacity to retaliate, instantly, by means and at places of our choosing.

This declaratory policy began to be qualified soon after Dulles delivered his speech. The United States could afford to compete, but couldn’t afford to have just one, world-ending declaration of nuclear deterrence. Nuclear doctrine is supposed to be credible – a tall order under the best of circumstances – and massive retaliation failed this test, at least for the United States.

Which brings us to India. India’s “draft” nuclear doctrine, prepared by an eclectic group of advisors in 1999, stated that “any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor.” Perfectly reasonable language. Then, in 2003, the Indian Government put its imprimatur on the draft doctrine, highlighting several refinements. One was that “Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.” The word “massive” might have been chosen to stiffen Indian deterrence, but it opened a trapdoor by either narrowing New Delhi’s options or undermining its credibility.

India, perhaps more than any other state possessing nuclear weapons, might actually have its nuclear doctrine put to the test. One possibility is if, in a limited war, a weapon detonates when struck by conventional means because it lacks adequate safety mechanisms. Another is a breakdown of command and control in the fog of war. A third is if Pakistani military authorities use a detonation to demand stoppage of an Indian advance.

None of these scenarios might come to pass. Previous Indian governments have demonstrated great restraint after suffering attacks originating in Pakistan, preferring to go about the business of economic growth rather than to engage in retaliatory military strikes. The Indian Army’s “Cold Start”-like military plans have many weaknesses and might be left on the drawing boards. And Pakistani military and intelligence authorities might prove capable of preventing the usual suspects from carrying out new explosions on Indian soil during a very hawkish Indian government. These suppositions are conceivable. They are also about as reliable as declaratory nuclear doctrine.

The peculiarity here is that India, unlike the United States facing the Soviet Union, enjoys conventional military advantages over Pakistan – advantages that will grow over time. Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine threatens first use because of India’s conventional edge. This is understandable. But why has New Delhi adopted a posture of massive retaliation? Is it to save money or sound tough, like the Eisenhower Administration? How credible is this posture, and will New Delhi revamp it? And if New Delhi does vocalize the possibility of limited nuclear options, will this be good or bad for deterrence stability and escalation control?

 
 

Five years ago, President Barack Obama was preparing to deliver a speech in Prague calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Nongovernmental organizations, including the Stimson Center, helped with blueprints for getting to zero, and distinguished “formers” were lending their names to the cause. Now these initiatives seem like headlines from a bygone era. The pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons remains an essential complement to nuclear non-proliferation, but this quest cannot be divorced from international relations. President Obama continues to try to reduce nuclear dangers at Nuclear Security Summits and in negotiations with Iran, but progress comes grudgingly. The need of the hour is to prevent further backsliding, not to promote sweeping plans.

Aspirations matter, but nuclear arms reduction will occur only as quickly as conditions permit. The numerical top line of force deployments set in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty are in excess of the Pentagon’s needs. They are also in excess of Russian needs, but Vladimir Putin is building up to treaty limits and remains wedded to weapons that have symbolic significance instead of military utility. In all likelihood, US-Russian relations have yet to hit bottom, and it will take time before stabilization occurs and another treaty might be pursued.

The second tier of nuclear-armed states isn’t facilitating a global process of arms reductions. What remains of the nuclear forces of Great Britain and France seem divorced from contemporary international relations and immune from the deep cuts that have decimated their conventional power projection capabilities. China and India have been extraordinarily relaxed about strategic modernization programs. (Think of the ramifications if they acted otherwise.) But Beijing and New Delhi are standoffish toward multilateral accords to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons and in no hurry to improve bilateral relations. Their relatively lethargic pace of strategic modernization could be shaken by events in Pakistan, the East China Sea, or elsewhere.

The nuclear enclave within Pakistan has competed successfully with India and shows no evidence of reconsidering this pursuit. Its growing stockpiles of nuclear weapons and fissile material provide no help against extremist groups that reject the writ of the state. If Pakistan’s “foolproof” nuclear security breaks down in a crisis or limited war with India, or during a long-promised but frequently delayed counter-terrorism campaign, religious zealots could hold the state up for ransom. Then, with the benefit of hindsight, Pakistanis will view their nation’s embrace of easily portable, tactical nuclear warheads and their seven year-long opposition to a treaty cutting off fissile material production as the height of folly.

There are bottom-up impediments to nuclear arms reductions, as well. States are hedging their bets against outliers like North Korea and Iran, a Russian Federation that flexes its muscles and a rising China. The usual precincts on Capitol Hill will call for hurrying up strategic modernization programs, inviting repeat performances like the B-1 and the Ground-Based Interceptor. Instead, Washington is now obliged to counter concerns about retrenchment by sloughing off its obsession with deficit reduction and spending more money for defense programs that have actual military and diplomatic utility. Retarding onward proliferation also means reaffirming the nuclear umbrella held above friends and allies, as well as proceeding with sensibly configured, forward-based missile defense programs.

After the first US war against Saddam Hussein, the architect of India’s nuclear deterrent, General K. Sundarji, famously remarked that nuclear weapons offered the best defense against the designs of a major power. This observation gained credence in the air campaign against Muammar Qaddafi and now with Moscow’s annexation of Crimea after repossessing the nuclear weapons it left behind when the Soviet Union dissolved. Moscow’s pledge to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity lasted all of two decades.

Putin’s land grab is the latest beating that the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty has taken after it was indefinitely extended in 1995. Since then, the United States opted out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and waged a preemptive war against Iraq to prevent it from using weapons of mass destruction it did not possess. India, Pakistan and North Korea tested nuclear weapons, and Iran has flaunted a series of Security Council resolutions over its nuclear program. The Nuclear Suppliers Group has not recovered after Washington made an exception to global rules of nuclear commerce for India’s benefit, with Russia and China then opting to do their own deals. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has not entered into force. Negotiations on a treaty banning fissile material production for nuclear weapons have yet to begin. The George W. Bush administration figures prominently in this litany.

Three of the load-bearing walls of nuclear order – the NPT, a treaty-based process of strategic arms reduction, and the pursuit of abolition – are in need of repair. Nuclear Security Summits to set global norms for the responsible handling of dangerous material have been essential: If these stocks are not battened down, there is no basis for nuclear security. But larger gains are needed, and hard to envision anytime soon. Five short years after the Prague speech, the nuclear order has become wobbly.

 
 

Husain Haqqani has many detractors in Pakistan due to his shifting political allegiances and book publications. The thesis of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military (2005) is about a longstanding alliance of convenience between the Army and Pakistan’s religious parties “to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan and to put pressure on India,” which cemented the Army’s domestic dominance and policies with dire consequences. Husain treads lightly on the failings of Pakistan’s political class, which bid for the Army’s favors while accumulating wealth. Washington comes in for heavy criticism for backing military strongmen and for not making assistance conditional on behavioral change. Pakistan comes across as a “rentier state” – one that “lives off the rents of its strategic location” — yet another reason why this book did not receive rave reviews in Rawalpindi.

Payback came when Husain was forced out of his post as President Asif Zadari’s emissary to Washington. After the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, an orchestrated media campaign charged him of conspiring with a Pakistani-American living in Monaco to seek the Obama administration’s help to prevent an imaginary military coup attempt. Pakistan’s judicial system, which has difficulty prosecuting the perpetrators of mass-casualty attacks, quickly found sufficient evidence to launch judicial proceedings of treasonous behavior.

Husain is now back in the United States writing books. His latest, Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding, will add Pakistan’s diplomatic corps to his list of detractors. He has burned another bridge, this time with a historical narrative of Pakistan’s play book to secure US economic and military assistance. “Since 1947,” he argues, “dependence, deception, and defiance have characterized US-Pakistan relations. We sought US aid in return for promises we did not keep.” His sources – US archival material providing direct quotes and summaries of high-level exchanges, as well as personal recollections – are too detailed to be dismissed as anti-Pakistan propaganda.

Husain’s bottom line: “Pakistan and the United States have few shared interests and very different political needs… If $40 billion in US aid has not won Pakistani hearts and minds, billions more will not do the trick… The US-Pakistan alliance is only a mirage.” Not exactly your standard, dispassionate diplomatic history.

The book’s title and subtitle reflect publishing license. The story Husain tells isn’t epic; it’s just painful. And it’s not really about misunderstandings. Some US interlocutors, like John Foster Dulles, Richard Nixon, and Alexander Haig, initially wore rose-colored glasses, but no one on either side was delusional about the bilateral relationship for very long. Both sides were willing to accept long-term consequences in return for near-term gains.

Rawalpindi and Islamabad always have a hole card to play to keep Washington on tap: first serving as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and a door-opener to China, helping to expel Soviet troops from Afghanistan, then helping with some al-Qaeda conspirators and with logistical support for US troops in Afghanistan. Now Washington is ready to help with push-back against jihadi groups and to avoid worst cases on the subcontinent.

Throughout this long, twisted tale, Washington knowingly accepted false promises – whether about Pakistan not using US military assistance against India, not being in cahoots with extremist groups, or not having a nuclear weapon program – to work with Pakistan on a higher priority. Pakistani leaders come across as being far more capable at manipulation than their US counterparts, but their success in leveraging aid was wasted on ruinous policies. Pakistan’s internal weakness has now become its hole card and nuclear weapons its guarantee of continued external support.

Typically, US interlocutors leave office completely exasperated with Pakistan. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s parting shot, conveyed in private, was “Focusing your energies on an Indian threat that does not exist is a colossal mistake.” In his last appearance on Capitol Hill as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen referred to the Haqqani network, which attacks US and allied troops in Afghanistan, as a “virtual arm” of the ISI. New US officials then begin another cycle of engagement and disillusionment.

The most revealing and damaging passages in Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military relate to internal deliberations in May 1992 after Secretary of State James Baker threatened Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. US Ambassador Nicholas Platt handed Nawaz a letter from Baker and his own talking points, for added effect. Husain was then an advisor to Nawaz. A few days later, Nawaz convened his advisors. Husain took notes of the meeting. He writes that General Javed Nasir, the Director General of the ISI

argued that the jihad in Kashmir was at a critical stage and could not be disrupted. ‘We have been covering our tracks so far and we will cover them even better in the future,’ General Nasir said, adding ‘There are empty threats. The United States will not declare Pakistan a terrorist state. All we need to do is buy more time and improve our diplomatic effort.’

Nawaz Sharif agreed with General Nasir’s assessment, which reflected the consensus of the meeting… The highest levels of Pakistan’s government saw the problem as one of managing the country’s relations with the United States, not a substantive problem of adopting an incorrect policy… The Army Chief suggested that Pakistan could get off the hook with the United States for some changes in its pattern of support for Kashmiri militancy without shutting down the entire clandestine operation. This is precisely the policy Pakistan adopted.

Husain adds more telling details of this meeting in Magnificent Delusions — that Nawaz never opened Baker’s letter and that General Nasir added, “We know how to take care of the CIA. We know what they need and we give it to them in bits and pieces to keep them happy.”

What lies ahead? Husain concludes that Pakistanis “will someday have to come to terms with global realities…To think that the United States would indefinitely provide economic and military assistance in return for partial support of US objectives is delusional.” But it’s hard for Washington to walk away when the writ of the Pakistani state shrinks while stockpiles of nuclear weapons and fissile materials grow. Pakistan remains too important for Washington to sever transactional ties based on common interests. My guess is that future deals will involve smaller sums, with Beijing and Riyadh picking up the tab for Washington’s diminishing investments.

 
 

Ironies abound. My work involves trying to prevent big explosions – something I’ve failed miserably at on the cellular level. I am a survivor of a stage-four lymphoma and a Gleason nine prostate cancer. (For those not into medical numerology, these are bad numbers.) Long ago, my boss on Capitol Hill succeeded in blocking the US Army from getting into the binary nerve gas business. Now I have joined the ranks of those who have benefitted from a different kind of chemical warfare.

While in an altered state under the influence of chemotherapy, I wrote a slim book of axioms to help me get through these treatments, adding quotes from heavy hitters to give my axioms greater heft. If you are dealing with a serious health crisis or know someone who is, this little book might be of use.

For now, the book and the accompanying artwork is available only to those who use Apple products. It can be found at the iTunes store.

The sales hook: For the price of a get-well card, you can help yourself or someone you love get well.

Here’s a sample axiom:

Steer clear of self-doubt and the sympathy of others.

Dwelling in doubt is a poor substitute for hope in recovery. The sympathy of others corrodes hope. Sympathy is just another manifestation of ego: It is offered by those who mean well, but it’s an emotion that serves the needs of the sympathizer, not the person who seeks wellness. Your illness is about you, not the sympathizer. Ask clearly for support and prayer, not sympathy.

“Sympathy is easy to get, and it is not binding. ‘You have my sympathy,’ and inside we say, ‘and now let us move on to something else.’” — Albert Camus

 
 

US-India relations are not in great shape. One indicator: India’s National Security Adviser, Shivshankar Menon, reacted to the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat for visa fraud and disregarding US labor laws as “despicable and barbaric.” In contrast, Menon had difficulty finding his voice when a battalion of PLA soldiers camped out for three weeks nine miles inside India’s disputed border with China. Granted, the strip search was extremely worthy of outrage. But still, the differential in official Indian indignation was telling.

Another indicator: India’s liability laws have so far prevented US corporations from constructing nuclear powers plants on Indian soil. The George W. Bush administration and its backers worked very hard to secure a special exemption for India from the international guidelines of nuclear commerce, hoping to build up India as a counterweight to China. So far, they have little to show for their efforts. Bilateral ties will continue to improve, as evidenced by India becoming the number one recipient of US arms sales. But hiccups are the rule, rather than the exception when two democratically unruly, independent-minded, and exceptional states try to work together.

The malaise in bilateral relations reflects a deeper malaise within India itself. How can a country with so much potential, entrepreneurship, and vitality become so torpid? For a start: tired leadership with an absence of ambition, endemic corruption, and an inability to tackle longstanding, structural pathologies, including those relating to national security.

The Kargil Review Commission, led by K. Subrahmanyam, clarified a laundry list of failings after dissecting India’s intelligence and military deficiencies associated with Pakistan’s surprise initiative along the Kashmir divide in 1999. Failure at the macro level, Subrahmanyam wrote, was one of stasis:

There has been very little change over the past 52 years despite the 1962 debacle, the 1965 stalemate, and the 1971 victory, the growing nuclear threat, end of the cold war, continuance of proxy war in Kashmir for over a decade and the revolution in military affairs.

Fifteen years later, very little has been done to follow up on the Kargil Commission’s recommendations, prompting a spate of new reports and critiques. Here’s a sampler:.

“[S]tagnation of thought hardly serves the national interests.” – “India’s Nuclear Doctrine: An Alternative Blueprint,” Task Force Report convened by P.R. Chari of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, 2012

“Dealing with the challenges presented by Pakistan and China requires several crucial changes to our defence and security structures. First, we should establish a Maritime Commission that will guide the development of India’s maritime capabilities… Second, we need to increase functional efficiency and improve civil-military relations, and this will require the establishment of an integrated Ministry of Defence by populating the ministry with civilian and armed forces personnel… A Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff should head the existing Integrated Defence Staff, which should become the Military Department of the Ministry of Defence. Third, we should establish integrated commands—which will be both regional and functional that includes Special Forces, Air Defence and Logistics. Fourth, the regional commanders should report to a Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff…” — “Nonalignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the Twenty-First Century,” Sunil Khilnani et. al., 2012.

“[T]he nuclear balance in the subcontinent is far from reassuring.” –“Nonalignment 2.0”

“Indian defence spending will touch a 52-year low in 2014-15, in terms of percentage of Gross Domestic Product — 1.74 per cent of GDP this year, and 12.7 per cent of government spending.” –Blog post by Ajai Shukla, a writer for the Business Standard, February 21, 2014

“The naval chief’s resignation came hours after a fire on board the newly-refitted Sindhuratna claimed the lives of two naval officers and injured seven — the third in a series of submarine accidents, including an explosion on the Sindhurakshak which exploded and sank in Mumbai’s naval dockyard in August, 2013, killing 18 crew. Last month, the Sindhughosh ran ground on its way to Mumbai harbour, though without loss of life… The Navy has long complained of delays in submarine fleet modernisation, at a time when regional navies, notably China, are dramatically expanding their fleets.” — News report, The Hindu, February 27, 2014

“The civil-military dissonance is growing, and whether it is tardy planning or prudent fiscal outlays to nurture the military, the last 10 years have been feckless and arid.” — C. Uday Bhaskar, Indian Express, February 28, 2014

On the plus side, India is a thriving democracy, and democracies offer the potential for significant renewal after national elections. Polls suggest a very different government will take the reins this spring, one that promises renewal. India’s renewal will unsettle Pakistan and draw China’s attention.

Revived economic growth is necessary but insufficient to help with India’s complex security challenges. One big missing piece, as Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta argue in Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization (2010), is a clear sense of “strategic intent.”

Indian governments don’t issue national security posture statements. They don’t put arms purchases into a broader context. Yes, India demands strategic autonomy. But how? Yes, India must adapt to the rise of China. But what’s the strategy? Yes, India seeks to dissuade Pakistan from carrying out attacks through proxies. The Army has plans, but what is the national strategy?

Strategy in India takes a back seat to inference. Inference helps fend off external pressures and facilitates maneuvering through the thicket of India’s domestic politics. Even India’s nuclear doctrine was inferential — unveiled as a “draft” prepared by a quasi-official body. Inference allows Indian governments to muddle through, but inference is hard to update and risks magnifying weakness. The non-governmental reports excerpted above were prompted by frustration with muddling through.

India’s revival will require the opening of many spigots — procurement bottlenecks choked by corrupt practices, for a start. New Delhi will also be obliged to speed up arms acquisitions and increase defense budgets. Even then, India will punch well below its weight until civil-military relations become more cohesive and military service plans and operations become more integrated.

 
 


It’s not easy to leave the mothership, but artists sometimes flourish by venturing away from the familiar. George Harrison’s talent was constrained by the Beatles, who already had two musical geniuses as front men. Harrison’s crowning achievements came after the Beatles split up, topped, in my view, by “All Things Must Pass,” whose lyrics are way too profound to be confined to a broken romance. The same pattern holds for Jason Isbell, who was shown the door by the Drive-By Truckers. Lo and behold, Isbell is way deeper than the DBT’s two accomplished songwriters. I rest my case with “Relatively Easy.”

It’s harder to leave the mothership in politics than in the arts. Political parties cling to shibboleths long past their due dates. Posturing has always accompanied real lawmaking in American politics, but it’s hard to remember a time when there was so much posturing and so little legislating. Republicans on Capitol Hill make the “Do-Nothing Congress” that Harry Truman campaigned against seem hyperactive. Democrats had to figure out how to get past their loathing toward Richard Nixon to re-emerge as an appealing choice to voters. Republicans now face the same challenge with respect to Barack Obama and the Clintons.

Treaties are the mothership of arms controllers, affirming accomplishment and paving the way for next steps. Treaties have helped curtail nuclear proliferation, build down Cold War legacy arsenals, establish monitoring regimes, and nearly abolish chemical and biological weapons. One measure of these accomplishments is the extent to which they enable us to focus on outliers: Without the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Chemical Weapons Convention, and Biological Weapons Convention, there would be no outliers.

These treaties now have almost universal adherence. They matter greatly even when instruments of enforcement are left to the UN Security Council (NPT), challenge inspections are not invoked (CWC), or when, in the case of the BWC, there are no monitoring provisions whatsoever.

The Senate consented to ratify these treaties in large measure because they imposed restraints on others, not the United States. When the shoe was on the other foot, and constraints fell directly on US strategic programs, the Senate’s consent became far more challenging.

Strategic arms control and reduction treaties were enabled and undercut by deal-making. The practice of securing 67 votes in return for modernizing delivery vehicles and infrastructure began with the Limited Test Ban Treaty. One of the promises made for the LTBT – maintaining readiness to resume atmospheric testing – wasn’t kept. Likewise, not all of the promises made along with the Senate’s consent to ratify New START were kept: nuclear weapon programs are not immune from budget austerity.

Arms controllers now complain that the price of ratification has become way too high. Nuclear deterrence boosters complain about broken promises — especially the promise to build an over-sized facility at Los Alamos for a five-fold increase in plutonium pit production — and how multi-year appropriations can’t be locked down. Deal-making has lost favor.

Besides, no treaty ratification fights are in the offing anytime soon. The Obama administration doesn’t have the stomach or the votes to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The question on the distant horizon is whether we can learn to live without the entry into force of the next strategic arms reduction treaty.

There’s no need to make decisions in the near term. New START doesn’t expire until 2021, with the possibility of a five year extension. Treaty critics will try to require two-thirds consent to any reductions below New START limits, making the Senate’s consent conditional on a raft of spending commitments. Even then, ratification would be iffy.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan put the last nail in the coffin of SALT II ratification. Fast forward to Vladimir Putin. Relations between Washington and Moscow were rocky even before the contest for Ukraine’s future began to play out. It will now take a long time for bilateral relations to get back on track.

Leaving the treaty mothership will be very hard for arms controllers. But the CTBT’s norm against nuclear testing grows stronger with every passing year, and tight Pentagon budgets will result in deeper nuclear force reductions, whether or not there are new treaties. Arms controllers, in other words, don’t need to be supplicants whenever the time comes for future deal making.

Modest reductions are worthy of modest inducements, and no more. But deterrence boosters will demand everything but the kitchen sink, and arms controllers will find it hard to walk away from a deal. Without structure and intrusive monitoring, the “arms control enterprise” will wither alongside the “nuclear enterprise.” Very deep reductions, assuming they can be negotiated over the long haul, are inconceivable unless backed up by treaty-based monitoring.

Ukraine clarifies the obvious – that deal making in return for treaty ratification is an increasingly distant prospect. The longer the standoff between supporters of treaties and nuclear deterrence continues, the more both camps can expect lean years ahead. This impasse doesn’t play well abroad, either. It’s a recipe for trouble when partisans on Capitol Hill alternately deride treaties and nuclear weapons as relics of the Cold War, while friends and potential foes view them as essential.

 
 

The bronze medal goes to a brilliant person who can find a name that sticks to characterize a decade. Do we have one yet for 2000 – 2010? Anyone who gets to name an “age,” even if it’s not that widely applicable, like the Jazz Age or the Gilded Age, gets the silver medal. The gold medal goes to the genius who names an age that applies to just about everyone. The gold medal winner for me is W.H. Auden for the Age of Anxiety–or whoever coined this phrase earlier.

I came across this quote by Auden about the Bomb when leafing through a collection of old New York Times Sunday Magazines:

Our world will be a safer and a healthier place when we can admit that every time we make an atomic bomb we corrupt the morals of a host of innocent neutrons below the age of consent.

This quote led me to “The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue.” “Eclogue” is a poem where shepherds converse, from the Middle English,”eclog.” (I looked it up.) How’s that for serious poetic chops?

Auden’s thin book was published in 1946 and is set two years earlier, before the Bomb gave new meaning to anxiety. It’s about four people who meet in a bar (why would I kid you?) who express themselves in brilliant verse. They are deeply affected by the carnage of war, and they dwell in doubt and foreboding.

The Age of Anxiety is with us still, and shows no signs of diminishment. Auden’s mastery begins with this prologue:

When the historical process breaks down and armies organize with their embossed debates the ensuing void which they can never consecrate, when necessity is associated with horror and freedom with boredom, then it looks good to the bar business.

Here’s a sampler:

…Thousands lie in
Ruins by roads, irrational in woods,
Insensitive upon snow-bound plains,
Or littered lifeless along low costs
Where shingle shuffles as smabling waves
Feebly fiddle in the fading light
With bloated bodies, beached among groynes,
Male no longer, unmotivated,
Have-beens without hopes: earth takes charge of.
Soil accepts for a serious purpose
The jettisoned blood of jokes and dreams,
Making buds from bone, from brains the good
Vague vegetable; survivors play
Cards in the kitchen while candles flicker
And in blood-spattered barns bandaged men,
Their poor hands in a panic of need
Groping weakly for a gun-butt or
A friendly fist, are fetched off darkling.
Many have perished; more will.

 

…And the godless growing like green cedars
Of righteous ruins. The reticent earth,
Exposed by the spade, speaks its warning
With successive layers of sacked temples
And dead civilians.

 

…Sob, heavy world.
Sob as you spin.

 
 

Congressmen Randy Forbes of Virginia and Mike Rogers of Alabama convened a hearing on January 28th of their House Armed Services Subcommittees to raise awareness of China’s counter-space capabilities. Members asked thoughtful questions about a genuine strategic dilemma: US satellites are becoming more essential and more vulnerable. What will this mean for US-China relations?

My testimony tried to apply some historical perspective. The United States and the Soviet Union managed to avoid a “space Pearl Harbor” despite an intense ideological and geopolitical competition, severe crises and proxy wars, not to mention a nuclear arms race and a space race.

So how did we avoid scrapes in space? Washington and Moscow understood the escalatory potential of hostile actions in space, acknowledged satellite vulnerability, and retained significant capabilities to wage warfare in space, if the need arose. The last two conditions now apply to Washington and Beijing – but this won’t help unless the first does, as well.

What wavelength are China’s leaders on? We don’t know. Nor do we know whether Chinese leaders and the PLA are on the same wavelength. Civilian and military leaders in the United States and the Soviet Union were definitely not on the same page in preparing to negotiate on strategic arms and missile defenses. Eventually, there were many communication channels to discuss nuclear and space issues with the Soviet Union. Over time, veteran observers were able to figure out stratagems, habits, and red lines. Patterns of cooperation were hammered out despite competitive practices.

In space, the United States and the Soviet Union tested anti-satellite capabilities over sixty times. ASAT talks in the Carter administration went nowhere. And yet, Washington and Moscow agreed in 1975 to a docking of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft. We cooperate every day on the International Space Station.

U.S. and Soviet nuclear laboratory officials got to know each other during the Cold War. These working relationships helped to lock down nuclear weapons and fissile material when the Soviet Union imploded. After several scrapes at sea that could have escalated into severe crises, Washington and Moscow signed the 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement that established a channel of communication between naval officers. As the Cold War was ending, Washington and Moscow signed another code of conduct for ground and air forces operating in close proximity. These agreements didn’t stop competitive practices or the potential for crises, but they provided mechanisms to prevent incidents from spiraling out of control.

Comparable channels barely exist between the United States and China. There are no bilateral negotiations on nuclear and space issues. There’s a US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, but nuclear and space issues barely figure in these discussions. Congress has disallowed NASA from any bilateral engagement with Chinese colleagues. Nuclear laboratory exchanges have been limited ever since the Congressionally-mandated Cox Commission raised concerns about Chinese nuclear espionage in 1999. (Yes, the same guy who was asleep at the switch as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission prior to the 2008 economic meltdown.)

It’s hard to know what Beijing is thinking or the state of civil-military relations in China without channels of communication. Have Chinese leaders familiarized themselves with their military’s plans or understand the ramifications of the People’s Liberation Army military doctrine, test practices, and exercises? What are China’s intentions in space? How far will Beijing go to press its territorial claims? All good questions that outsiders are poorly positioned to answer.

If the United States and China have scrapes, they will likely be at sea or in space. China’s leaders have no experience in dealing with incidents at sea, and no one has experience in managing the escalatory potential of incidents in space. A US-China Incidents at Sea agreement or a broader regional compact would be helpful. The Obama administration hasn’t championed one. If it did, China’s leadership might not be willing to engage.

The Obama administration has been somewhat more proactive in space. It can endorse an international Code of Conduct drafted by the European Union that would, among other things, create a new channel for consultation and establish a norm against ASAT tests that cause lethal debris fields, like the one carried out in 2007 by the PLA. Dead zones in heavily trafficked orbits in space caused by debris pollution could become as prevalent as dead fishery zones.

Beijing has endorsed the general principle of an international Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations, but hasn’t yet signed up to the European draft. As long as this isn’t a priority for Washington or Beijing, the likelihood of unintended incidents and accidents grows.

Bottom line: Lines of communication, consultation, and agreements can help avoid scrapes between China and the United States. At present, these mechanisms are either nonexistent or insufficient.

Read a related post: Apollo-Soyuz Redux?, January 13, 2003. -Ed.