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U.S. National Security Strategy reports, like the one issued by President Barack Obama on February 6th, are quickly forgotten. They do, however, provide useful temperature-taking devices. Compare, for example, the National Security Strategy report released by the George W. Bush administration in 2002 with the Obama administration’s 2015 report.

There are many common themes in these two reports, built around values, alliances, and the like. U.S. national security strategy is, after all, built around core interests that don’t change from one administration to the next. New administrations do, however, change emphasis. They undertake course corrections, triggered by external events and the temper of the electorate.

The Bush administration’s first National Security Strategy report, issued soon after attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon by al-Qaeda operatives flying hijacked commercial airliners, presented an ambitious, muscular, and fateful course correction. Here are some excerpts:

We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants.

America will hold to account nations that are compromised by terror, including those who harbor terrorists— because the allies of terror are the enemies of civilization. The United States and countries cooperating with us must not allow the terrorists to develop new home bases. Together, we will seek to deny them sanctuary at every turn.

As a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed… History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action.

The United States will use this moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe.

Having moved from confrontation to cooperation as the hallmark of our relationship with Russia, the dividends are evident: an end to the balance of terror that divided us; an historic reduction in the nuclear arsenals on both sides; and cooperation in areas such as counterterrorism and missile defense that until recently were inconceivable.

We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends.

We must deter and defend against the threat before it is unleashed.

We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries… The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

Compare these ringing declarations with the following passages from the Obama administration’s 2015 National Security Strategy:

We have to make hard choices among many competing priorities, and we must always resist the over-reach that comes when we make decisions based upon fear.

Our resources will never be limitless. Policy tradeoffs and hard choices will need to be made.

In an interconnected world, there are no global problems that can be solved without the United States, and few that can be solved by the United States alone.

We mobilized and are leading global efforts to impose costs to counter Russian aggression

We will prioritize collective action to meet the persistent threat posed by terrorism today, especially from al-Qa’ida, ISIL, and their affiliates.

We will be principled and selective in the use of force. The use of force should not be our first choice, but it will sometimes be the necessary choice. The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our enduring interests demand it: when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; and when the security of our allies is in danger. In these circumstances, we prefer to act with allies and partners. The threshold for military action is higher when our interests are not directly threatened. In such cases, we will seek to mobilize allies and partners to share the burden and achieve lasting outcomes. In all cases, the decision to use force must reflect a clear mandate and feasible objectives, and we must ensure our actions are effective, just, and consistent with the rule of law. It should be based on a serious appreciation for the risk to our mission, our global responsibilities, and the opportunity costs at home and abroad. Whenever and wherever we use force, we will do so in a way that reflects our values and strengthens our legitimacy.

[W]e shifted away from a model of fighting costly, large-scale ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in which the United States—particularly our military—bore an enormous burden. Instead, we are now pursuing a more sustainable approach that prioritizes targeted counterterrorism operations, collective action with responsible partners, and increased efforts to prevent the growth of violent extremism and radicalization that drives increased threats.

When Presidents are re-elected, their second National Security Strategy report is usually more tempered than the first. This is true for both the Bush and Obama administrations. The national mood shifted greatly after 9/11 and then shifted again in reaction to the dispiriting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The pendulum is now swinging back again, and will gain momentum in the next administration.


Trend lines on the subcontinent have become more pronounced after President Obama’s visit as chief guest at the Republic Day parade and reports of Chinese President’s Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit for Republic Day celebrations in Pakistan. The juxtaposition of Obama’s visit in New Delhi with a near-total power blackout in Pakistan was brutally stark. While Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were signing up to a new ten-year defense framework agreement, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif was visiting Beijing.

China and Pakistan will remain “all-weather friends,” with Beijing picking up some of the slack of a contracting U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Chinese help with arms co-production and development – presumably a subject of discussion between Gen. Sharif and his hosts – will grow as Washington gravitates more toward New Delhi. None of the joint ventures in defense production announced during Obama’s visit were eye-popping, but this trend is unmistakable and will be given further impetus by incoming Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

The George W. Bush Administration hyped a transformation in U.S.-India relations, symbolized by a civil-nuclear agreement. A weak Congress-led Indian government couldn’t begin to meet the hype, and the nuclear deal became a glaring example of the gap between promise and performance. Obama is now working with an ambitious, results-oriented counterpart who enjoys wide popular and parliamentary support. The impasse over liability needed to be addressed to demonstrate Modi’s ability to deliver. Whether a “breakthrough” has been found to facilitate plans by Westinghouse and General Electric to build nuclear power plants in India is still not clear, but at least New Delhi can now claim to have gone the extra mile in finding one.

The hype of the Bush administration has now been replaced by a mutual agreement not to over-promise while working in a more concerted fashion where interests are in concert. Symbolism and substance are in greater alignment. One area of converging interests relates to China’s more assertive behavior in the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean.

Beijing downplayed the significance of Obama’s trip to New Delhi, but has surely noted that the joint statements released after Modi’s visit to Washington (shortly after receiving Xi in India) as well as after Obama’s trip both referenced maritime muscle flexing by China’s Navy. Here are the relevant passages from the “U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” released during the Obama visit:

We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.

We call on all parties to avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Indian Navy is hard to find in the South China Sea, but it’s rare for New Delhi to poke at the Dragon. China poked first with port visits along the littoral of the Indian Ocean. Xi Jinping made an error in judgment when his visit to India in September, 2014 was accompanied by aggressive patrolling by the PLA along the disputed Sino-Indian border. Modi’s message to Xi (translated from the Hindi), was, “Even such small incidents can impact the biggest of relationships just as a little toothache can paralyze the entire body.”

Xi’s more muscular approach to asserting China’s interests around its periphery has generated push back from a more assertive Indian leader. New Delhi isn’t in the business of containing China; it is in the business of seeking more trade and investment with China – while improving conventional and nuclear capabilities oriented toward China. Modi’s success in improving relations with the United States could help him leverage improved relations with China. How these two confident, dynamic leaders choose to deal with their border dispute will be telling.

Where does this leave Pakistan? Closer to China and farther behind India. Pakistan’s sense of insecurity wasn’t helped by the Obama visit, and subsequent steps demonstrating greater U.S.-Indian cooperation will be vexing. Washington’s choices mirror the divergent national fortunes of India and Pakistan. The United States has never been able to move beyond a transactional relationship with Pakistan. Washington will continue to help Islamabad refinance its debt and help Rawalpindi’s undertake counter-terrorism operations, while waiting for Pakistan’s leaders to come to grips with the underlying sources of its economic and internal insecurities. U.S. ties with India have the potential to move beyond a transactional relationship because they have far greater upsides.

A presidential visit with perfect pitch to India produced discordant notes in Pakistan. National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz issued a statement of concerns, qualms, and disappointments, touching on familiar bases, especially U.S. nuclear deal-making with India and assisting India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other oversight bodies. Pakistan has not yet taken initiatives to recast its position in the nuclear order and to facilitate its entry alongside India into the NSG.

The rapport between Obama and Modi can come in handy in the event of another nuclear-tinged crisis on the subcontinent. India-Pakistan relations cannot improve in the absence of dialogue, but Modi is focused on more important diplomatic initiatives. In the past, dialogue has been interrupted by grievous acts of terror on Indian soil perpetrated by groups like the Lashkar e-Toiyba. The Pakistani government has yet to clarify whether its new counter-terrorism plans apply to the LeT. The absence of dialogue diminishes India. Another attack against India by the LeT or another group finding sanctuary within Pakistan will further diminish Pakistan.


The most important post-Cold War initiative to reduce nuclear dangers undertaken by the United States has come to a quiet, unceremonious end. Cooperative threat reduction programs to secure loose nukes and reduce surplus force structure in the remnants of the former Soviet Union were the crowning achievements of the distinguished legislative careers of Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. These programs became necessary and possible only when Moscow was a supplicant and when Washington was generous to a battered rival. Think of a Marshall Plan narrowly tailored to weapons of mass destruction and disruption, and think of recovery in terms of preventing proliferation and nuclear terrorism – and you have the essence of the Nunn-Lugar initiatives.

A quarter-century after the Cold War ended, bilateral relations have again reverted to hard times. These programs are now deemed unnecessary and inappropriate by Russian President Vladimir Putin and by majorities in both houses of the U.S. Congress. Russia is no longer a supplicant, and the U.S. Congress is no longer feeling generous.

The good works of Nunn-Lugar are usually summarized by numbers – missiles, bombers and submarine hulls cut up, warheads dismantled, fissile material safeguarded, and security upgrades at sensitive sites. The extraordinary nature of these accomplishments seemed oddly diminished by the photo-ops that prompted the occasional news story of work in progress. These pictures and stories of distinguished U.S. visitors observing the dismantlement of the detritus of the Cold War didn’t begin to convey the breadth and unprecedented nature of this work.

A second major story line of the Nunn-Lugar initiatives is that of cooperation among nuclear weapons labs. Individuals who once competed in squeezing maximal explosive yields out of confined warhead spaces turned to innovative, pragmatic ways to prevent the international trafficking of huge stockpiles of poorly secured warheads and fissile material. A control system based on Big Brother, guns and guards had to be reconstituted when the powers of the Soviet state melted way. New systems of material accountancy needed to be created. All of this was accomplished on the fly by lab-to-lab cooperation and by government collaboration. Very few of the individuals involved in this extraordinary work have received public recognition.

The Soviet Union dissolved with an excess of 27,000 nuclear weapons, enough plutonium and highly enriched uranium to triple this number, and 40,000 metric tons of deadly chemical weapons. That none of these numbers turned into proliferation nightmares is an accomplishment of world-historic proportions — at least equal, in my view, to the those of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in ending the Cold War nuclear arms competition, of George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin in consolidating steep nuclear arms reductions, and of Bill Clinton in protecting the Non-proliferation Treaty by securing the accession of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus as non-nuclear-weapon states.

The Nunn-Lugar initiatives were also notable for their parentage on Capitol Hill. During the Cold War, the U.S. Congress served as a prod to the Executive Branch to take many useful diplomatic initiatives; none were more important than Nunn-Lugar. Nowadays, Congress serves as a brake on nuclear diplomacy.

The heroic efforts of the Nunn-Lugar initiatives maintained and strengthened the nuclear order under conditions of unparalleled stress, when international and major power relations were in severe flux. This paramount accomplishment joins others at the top tier of the Nuclear Age: the absence of mushroom clouds on battlefields since 1945; unnatural accords between superpower adversaries limiting and reducing their nuclear arsenals; the end of nuclear testing by major powers, and accords buttressed by international monitoring arrangements limiting the scope of proliferation. Few could imagine any of these rarefied achievements when these hard climbs were first undertaken.

National leaders do not now harbor plans to operationalize ambitions of this magnitude. President Obama’s repeated endorsement of a world without nuclear weapons doesn’t qualify, because it isn’t a priority and lacks workable plans and conditions for its realization. In contrast, the Nunn-Lugar initiatives were absurdly ambitious, patently necessary, and achievable with the right mix of political leadership and technical ingenuity. In a world where superpower competition abruptly shifted to cooperation, the unacceptable became possible, and the truly difficult took a bit longer.

The times we live in are neither so dismal nor so rich with opportunity as to invite heroic efforts on this scale. And the requirement of bipartisanship in the United States – a necessary condition for success at this level of magnitude – is now sorely lacking. The order of the day is to maintain as much security cooperation as possible with Russia while contesting its actions in Ukraine, developing patterns of security cooperation with China, and reaching a constraining nuclear accord with Iran.


Above: Monument to the Chagai (or Chaghi) Hills nuclear test site, Faizabad Interchange, Islamabad, Pakistan.

What benefits are conferred by nuclear weapons? Do they provide status? Not like in the past. North Korea and Pakistan haven’t gained status by having the Bomb. Instead, they have become more worrisome countries. Do they alleviate security concerns? Possessing nuclear weapons against a similarly-armed foe or against an adversary with stronger conventional capabilities provides a sense of deterrence, dissuasion, and national assurance. To give the Bomb its due, during the Cold War, nuclear weapons helped keep border skirmishes limited between major powers, fostered cautionary behavior in severe crises, and reinforced a natural disinclination to engage in large-scale conventional wars. These were – and remain — significant accomplishments.

But the Bomb always promises more than it delivers. Possessing the Bomb, even in significant numbers, has not deterred limited border clashes between nuclear-armed states, conventional wars with non-nuclear-weapon states, punishing proxy wars and severe crises. The Bomb isn’t stabilizing; it exacerbates security dilemmas and can engender risk taking as well as caution. The Bomb promises advances in security that are quickly undercut by countermeasures taken by wary adversaries.

States that acquire nuclear weapons don’t feel safe without them. They also do not feel safe with them – if they have something to fight about with another nuclear-armed state. Having assured retaliatory capabilities helps, but assurance erodes in an interactive nuclear arms competition. A key threshold for erosion occurs when the contestants move from counter value to counterforce targeting. Increments in counterforce capabilities lead to and decrements in deterrence stability – even under conditions of absurd nuclear overkill.

Strategic and deterrence stability are about political relations, not technical advances. The United States and the Soviet Union never achieved deterrence stability until the Soviet Union was heading toward collapse. Brief periods of détente were interrupted by clashes of interest in far away as well as sensitive places. Constraints on nuclear testing and arms limitation treaties negotiated with great effort were accompanied by modernization programs that lessened mutual security. Deterrence stability between the superpowers was accomplished only when two unorthodox leaders – one whose economy was cratering – threw nuclear orthodoxy out the window and sought to normalize ties.

India and Pakistan will find deterrence stability as elusive as the nuclear superpowers, even though their nuclear competition pales in comparison and they have not yet embraced counterforce targeting for longer-range delivery vehicles. Deterrence stability on the subcontinent, as elsewhere, rests on the prospect of resolving or mutually agreeing to defer issues in dispute and, in Pakistan’s case, regaining a monopoly on the use of violence within and across its borders. In the near term, these prospects are iffy, at best. Deterrence instability is inherent when an interactive nuclear arms competition gets mixed up with religion, inheritance, and regional security issues, not to mention a history of conventional and sub-conventional warfare.

There’s more hope for India and China to work out arrangements of deterrence stability — if their border dispute remains shelved or resolved, and if they manage to avoid venturing into counterforce capabilities. The combination of a quiet, albeit contested border, plus growing trade and investment ties alongside mutual strategic restraint would make for a stabilizing mix. But this won’t be easy.

For more on the contested valuation of nuclear weapons, aspiring wonks can check out a volume of essays, Nuclear Diplomacy and Crisis Management, co-edited by Sean Lynn-Jones, Steve Miller, and Steve Van Evera (MIT Press, 1990). Robert Jervis’s essay argues that nuclear weapons have only limited utility is preventing war:

“It is rational to start a war one does not expect to win… if it is believed that the likely consequences of fighting are even worse. War could also come through inadvertence, loss of control, or irrationality… At best, then, nuclear weapons will keep the nuclear peace; they will not prevent – and indeed, may facilitate – the use of lower levels of violence.”

John Mueller’s essay in this volume – and his provocative book, Atomic Obsession (2010) – argues otherwise, “that nuclear weapons neither crucially define a fundamental stability nor threaten severely to disturb it.” Here’s more from Mueller:

“Escalation is key: what deters is the belief that escalation to something intolerable will occur, not so much what the details of the ultimate unbearable punishment are believed to be.”

“It almost seems … that the two major powers have forgotten how to get into a war… There hasn’t been a true, bone-crunching confrontational crisis for over a quarter-century.”

“Since preparations for major war are essentially irrelevant, they are profoundly foolish.”

This week’s pop quiz: Do Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Vladimir Putin’s actions into eastern Ukraine support Jervis, Mueller, or both?


Secretary of State John Kerry is headed for the subcontinent, where his most important messages will be delivered in private and his public remarks will be as bland as possible. That’s how the game is played. Don’t expect U.S. officials to say much in public about nuclear issues or the pathways to confrontation and conflict between India and Pakistan. Press releases and public statements are designed to avoid unnecessary controversies. Since even minor instances of public candor raise hackles, U.S. public diplomacy consists of whispers and indirect messages.

Among the issues deemed too neuralgic and counterproductive to talk about publicly are most things related to Kashmir. During the 1990s when Indian human rights abuses and Pakistani support for jihadi groups crossing the Line of Control were painfully evident, Washington was mostly quiet. Early in the Clinton administration, Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel declared that the status of Kashmir wasn’t a settled issue – a true enough statement, since neither India nor Pakistan recognizes each other’s holdings – and New Delhi went ballistic. Ever since, Kashmir has been almost a non-issue.

Foggy Bottom has steered clear of even hinting at a possible settlement, even though its outlines would be status quo-oriented, and thus friendly to India. A U.S. diplomatic push would nonetheless stir up an indignant response in India and furious opposition in Pakistan, accompanied by spikes of terrorism within both countries. Kashmir is therefore off the table, with the exception of anodyne statements about the need for a bilateral settlement and concerns over ceasefire violations.

Also off limits are public statements related to nuclear dangers in southern Asia. Arms competitions are heating up between India and China and between Pakistan and India. If China has carried out its first flight test of a multiple warhead-carrying ballistic missile in December, this would be an important milepost. On October 7th, former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon told an audience at Brookings that India would “ultimately” go down this path, as well. Both countries are learning how to operate SSBNs, extending the range of their ballistic missiles, and pursuing advanced cruise missiles. U.S. public statements tread very lightly on these developments. New Delhi and Beijing also keep mum, as if acknowledging each other’s strategic modernization programs would make them more consequential.

The nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has been more intense, with no less than seventeen types of nuclear-weapon-capable delivery vehicles having been flight tested since their bombs came out of the basement in 1998. U.S. officials do not volunteer very much about these developments. The joint statement following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s September visit to Washington was silent on worsening regional nuclear dynamics.

Another neuralgic issue is nuclear security in Pakistan. Whenever bad actors in Pakistan assault a military facility, the question invariably arises whether Pakistan’s nuclear assets are secure. Official U.S. statements are carefully crafted, giving due credit to Pakistan’s efforts to improve security while correctly noting that every country has room for improvement. After the January 2014 U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue, Secretary of State Kerry expressed “confidence in Pakistan’s commitment and dedication to nuclear security.” An artful formulation, with much left unsaid.

Another subject that U.S. diplomats don’t talk about in public is India’s growing economic ties to Russia after the annexation of Crimea and incursions into eastern Ukraine, undermining international sanctions. To add insult to injury, the “prime minister” of Ukraine accompanied Vladimir Putin on his December visit to meet with Indian businessmen.

Also not fit for public diplomacy, except in oblique terms, is the Government of Pakistan’s hands-off policies toward the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the outfit behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The most likely pathway to another nuclear-tinged crisis between India and Pakistan begins with the LeT. Another verboten topic is Pakistan’s ties with the Afghan Taliban, including the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and the Haqqani group leadership. When a rare mention of Pakistan’s links to those who have carried out cross-border attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan appeared in a November 2014 Pentagon report to the Congress, Islamabad was in high dudgeon.

How deeply are these issues discussed in private? I assume most of them are, with the level of depth dependent on how high up these issues are on a list of talking points. But since there are so many neuralgic issues to discuss in private, I also presume that some get very short shrift. Public diplomacy can provide a nudge or a gentle chide, but it can also prompt a strong negative reaction, making diplomatic objectives harder to accomplish. Private U.S. messages could use occasional public reinforcement, but Washington has been well trained by India and Pakistan to respect their sensitivities.


As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to count blessings and announce the winners of ACW’s year-end contest to name movie titles and creatures related to the Bomb.

The arms-control business is a notoriously glass-half-full/half-empty enterprise. In the spirit of the season, let’s acknowledge some positives. The stock values of nuclear weapons for major powers continued to fall after another year without mushroom clouds and nuclear testing. Vladimir Putin spent large sums modernizing his nuclear arsenal and flexing muscle while Russia’s economy tanked. Another year has passed without the explosion of a dirty bomb. Also a year of curtailed Iranian centrifuge enrichment programs – not nearly enough for some, but more than skeptics had reason to expect. A year in which India and Pakistan did not have a crisis. A year in which the framework for strategic arms reductions remained in place, despite Ukraine and Crimea. A year when Bashar al-Assad gave up much of his chemical arsenal — safely removed from a war zone. A year in which norms for arms trade have been codified. They will be broken, but it’s a start. Not such a bad year, after all.

As for the year-end contest, we have four winners. Cameron has come up with this impressive list:

Lt. Col Glenn Manning, “Amazing Colossal Man” “War of the Colossal Beast”
Giant Grasshoppers, “Beginning of the End” — not a blast, but radioactive materials
The Cyclops, “The Cyclops” — not a blast, but radioactive materials
Mutated ants, “Them!”
The Beast, “Beast from 20 Thousand Fathoms” — released not created
Six-armed Octopus, “It Came from Beneath The Sea” — released not created
Gojira/Godzilla, “Godzilla”
Son of Godzilla, “Son of Godzilla”
Mothra, “Godzilla v Mothra”
Rodan, “Rodan – US Version”
Godzilla’s offshoots made with G’s irradiated cells:
Space Godzilla, “Godzilla v Space Godzilla”
Biollante, “Godzilla v Biollante”
Destoroyah, “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah”
Anguirus, “Godzilla Raids Again”
Mutant cavemen, “World Without End”
Incredible Hulk, “The Incredible Hulk” — Gamma Bomb
Zombies, “Night of the Living Dead” — radiation from crashed probe
Creatures, “Fiend Without A Face”
Creatures, “The Horror of Party Beach”
CHUD, “C.H.U.D” — nuke waste
Big Brain et al., “The Hills Have Eyes”
Irradiated Mutants, “Chernobyl Diaries” — Not a nuke test per se
Crabs, “Attack of the Crab Monsters”
Mad Doctor who turns into ragebeast, various flora and fauna, “Danger on Tiki Island/Brides of Blood”
Giant Leeches, “Attack of the Giant Leeches” — radiation from Cape Canaveral
The Behemoth, “Behemoth, the Sea Monster”
Kamacuras mantises, “Son of Godzilla” — created separately from Godzilla’s origin
Yongary, “Yongary, Monster from the Deep”
Gamera, “Gamera”
H-men, “The H-Man”
Crocodile, “Crocodile”
Frankenstein’s heart, “Frankenstein Conquers the World”
Lizard creature, “The Hideous Sun Demon”
Skynet, T-100, T-1000, “Terminator” + “T2: Judgement Day”
Giant behemoth (it’s different from the regular kind), “The Giant Behemoth”
Radioactive cloud/eyes, “The Crawling Eye” — the cloud is radioactive, the reason for its existence is aliens.
Spiderman, “Spiderman”
Apes, “Planet of the Apes”
Mutant children, “The Gamma People”
Voltage-devouring alien, “The Black Hole”
The monster, “Monster a-Go Go”
Mud creatures, “X: The Unknown”
Atomic eels, “Deep Shock”
Strange monster, “The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues”
Mutant telepathic cannibals, “In the Year 2889″
Radioactive trees, “The Crawlers”
Mushroom creatures, “Matango”
Radioactive reporter, “Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter”
Zombies, “Caustic Zombies” — 3-Mile Island this time
Radioactive wasps, “Monster from Green Hell”
Atomic Dog, “Atomic Dog”
Mutant, “Day the World Ended”
Gamma Ray fish blood swilling ape, “Monster on the Campus”
Irradiated Wendigo, “The Half-Life Horror from Hell”
A mutated Ron Candell, “Most Dangerous Man Alive”
Danny, “Plutonium Baby” — evidently one of the worst movies of all time
Hideous extra-dimensional being, “Alien Beasts” — radiation weaponry
Zombies, “Zombie Self-Defense Force” — from aliens, not nukes

The second winner is Jon Davis for this outstanding entry:

20 Million Miles to Earth
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
Attack of the Crab Monsters
Beginning of the End
Bride of the Monster
Brides of Blood
Captain America
Cat-Women of the Moon
Class of Nuke ‘Em High
Cosmic Monsters
Creature From the Black Lagoon
Day of the Animals
Devil Girl From Mars
Die Monster Die
Empire of the Ants
Fiend Without a Face
Forbidden Planet
Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster
Hideous Sun Demon
Horrors of Spider Island
I Was a Teenage Werewolf
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Invasion of the Saucer Man
It Came From Outer Space
It Conquered the World
Jellyfish Eyes
King Ghidorah
King Kong
Monster From Green Hell
Monster From The Ocean Floor
Monster X
Night of the Living Dead
Plan 9 From Outer Space
Planet of the Apes
Redneck Zombies
Robot Monster
Showa MechaGodzilla
Spider Man
Spontaneous Combustion
Super Fuzz
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Amazing Colossal Man
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
The Beast of Yucca Flats
The Beginning of the End
The Being
The Blob
The Chain Reaction
The Chernobyl Diaries
The Children
The Crawling Eye
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Giant Gila Monster
The Giant Behemoth
The Hills Have Eyes
The Horror of Party Beach
The Hulk
The Incredibly Shrinking Man
The Invisible Atomic Monsters from Mars
The Mole People
The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues
The Quartermass Experiment
The Thing from Another World
The Thing From Outer Space
The War of the Worlds
X The Unknown
War of the Colossal Beast
World Without End

The third winner is Izzi for coming up with this amazing list:

Akira (Akira)
Big Mama (The Hills Have Eyes)
Big Brain (The Hills Have Eyes)
Blair (The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning)
Brain Monsters (Fiend Without a Face)
Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk)
Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (CHUD)
Chameleon (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Chrissy (Class of Nuke ‘Em High)
Cyst (The Hills Have Eyes)
Eddie Kasalivich (Chain Reaction)
Giant Ants (Them!)
Giant cockroaches (Damnation Alley)
Giant Crabs (Island Claws)
Giant Fish (The Chernobyl Diaries)
Giant Spiders (World Without End)
Godzilla (Godzilla)
Goggle (The Hills Have Eyes)
Grabber (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Hansel (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Karen Sawney Bean (The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning)
Karen Silkwood (Silkwood)
Killer Bugs (Damnation Alley)
Kiyoko (Akira)
Kronos (Kronos)
Letch (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Lizard (The Hills Have Eyes)
Lt. Col. Glenn Manning (The Amazing Colossal Man)
Masaru (Akira)
Mercury (The Hills Have Eyes)
Mothra (from a Godzilla film and several others)
Nancy Fowler Archer (The Fifty Foot Woman)
Over-sized Locusts (Beginning of the End)
Papa Hades (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Papa Jupiter (The Hills Have Eyes)
Pluto (The Hills Have Eyes)
Radioactive monsters (The Horror of Party Beach)
Radioactive rock band (Human Highway)
Radioactive salamander (Class of Nuke ‘Em High)
Rhedasaurus (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms)
Ruby (The Hills Have Eyes)
School Children (The Children)
Shotaro Kaneda (Akira)
Spiderman (Spiderman)
Stabber (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Suzie (The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning)
Takashi (Akira)
Tarantula (Tarantula)
Tetsuo Shima (Akira)
The Being (The Being)
Turtle (Gamera, also a Godzilla Film)
Teenage Werewolf (I Was a Teenage Werewolf)
Unknown Watcher (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Venus (The Hills Have Eyes)
Zombies (Night of the Living Dead)

The fourth winner is Sid, for also venturing into TV, video games, and professional wrestling:


1. Giant Ants from Them!, 1954, invade picnic baskets everywhere.

2. Godzilla ruins the hopes and dreams of numerous architects and civil engineers in numerous Godzilla adaptations<

3. Plant-Human Radioactive Hybrid Monster from The Horror of Party Beach, 1964. Often listed as one of the worst movies of all time.

4. Locusts eat radioactive vegetables, terrorize schoolbuses, and subsequently invade Chicago in Beginning of the End, 1957

5. Haphazard nuclear testing grows Lt. Glenn Manning into The Amazing Colossal Man, 1957

6. Radium deposits, and not nuclear testing, turns Test Pilot Bruce Barton into a 50-foot tall one-eyed monster who is afraid of Nobody in The Cyclops, 1957

7. In a touching portrayal, the Beast Who Brings Death With It’s Touch stalks human beings who struggle to survive in a barren wasteland in Teenage Cave Man, 1958. Considered the worst film of all time by its lead actor. The director, Roger Corman, once stated, “I never directed a film called Teenage Caveman.”

8. Survivors of Armageddon now simultaneously fight radioactive rain, a giant radioactive monster, and human folly in Day the World Ended, 1955. Director Roger Corman’s movie similarly makes its way onto worst-movies lists.

9. Avoiding their fates on the dinner plates, the crab monsters from Bikini Atoll terrorize an expedition to the islands in Attack of the Crab Monsters, 1957. Writer Charles Griffith described the pitch for the movie by nuclear-obsessed director Roger Corman as such, “Roger came to me and said, "I want to make a picture called Attack of the Giant Crabs, and I asked, "Does it have to be atomic radiation?" He responded, "Yes."

10. Roger Corman attacks movie-goers again with atomic leeches in Attack of the Giant Leeches, 1959.

11. The incredible melting man melts audience brains in The Incredible Melting Man, 1977

12. A falsely accused island prince is buried inside a hollow tree by a witch doctor. American ingenuity and science resurrects him as Tabanga, the horrible tree man who wants revenge on his executioners in From Hell It Came, 1957

13. The Class of Nuke ‘Em High, 1986, combines drug use, teenage pregnancy, and mutant radioactive squirrel-human hybrids at Tromaville High School, located next to a nuclear plant in New Jersey, as the town’s marijuana supply turns radioactive in this traumatic high school comedy-drama. Popular fan theories posit the contamination came from New Jersey’s ambient radiation and not from the nuclear plant.

14. A movie so gruesome, it was exiled from the country of its origin, Japan, Prophecies of Nostradamus, also known as Catastrophe: 1999 or The Last Days of Planet Earth, 1974, involves a whole host mutant creatures ranging from mutant cannibal human beings, leeches, trees, and flying carnivorous foxes.

15. In an apparent trend for these kinds of movies, The Beast of Yucca Flats, 1961, has been called one of the worst films of all time. A defecting Soviet scientist, turned mad by the radiation he pledged his life to study, features in this film the Department of Energy will likely ask to be renamed “The Best of the Nevada National Security Site.”

16. Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (C.H.U.D.) wage war against the Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal (C.H.U.D.) squad in sewers of New York City over who owns the naming rights to the acronym C.H.U.D. in Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (C.H.U.D.), 1984.

17. The apparent reverse-vampire in The Hideous Sun Demon, 1959, turns into a horrifying monster when exposed to the radiation of the Sun.

18. Astronauts returning to Earth hundreds of years after a nuclear war contend with their debilitating arachnophobia when fighting giant radioactive spiders in World Without End, 1956.

19. Michael Langdon breaks into stardom in I Was a Teenage Vampire, 1957. I suppose the past tense implies he got better.

20. An Air Force Major faces off against a fiend in The Fiend Without a Face, 1958.

21. Children, already a handful, are turned into radioactive children in a movie inspired by the Three-Mile Island disaster in The Children, 1980.

22. In 1977 and 2006 adaptations, The Hills Have Eyes reiterates the theory that radiation turns human beings into cannibals that stalk the desert.


23. The original Night of the Living Dead, 1968, offers radiation as a potential reason for the rise of the brain-eating living dead.


24. Creatures in the children’s show Adventure Time, set in a magical world filled with fantastical creatures many years after “the Mushroom Wars.” A discerning adult finds a horrifying future most children who watch the show will miss.

25. Duke Nukem, the yellow villain with mottled skin, represents the horror of nuclear radiation in the cartoon show Captain Planet. One of my favorite shows growing up.


26. Numerous monsters and creatures from the post-apocalyptic videogame series Fallout including Ghouls, Rad-Scorpions, and Super Mutants.

27. Numerous monsters and creatures from the post-apocalyptic videogame series set in the ruined post-nuclear Moscow metro system, Metro 2033.


28. A true monster in professional wrestling, Bryan Clark was Adam Bomb, a fallout-affected wrestler billed as being from Three Mile Island. Wrestling moves of his include the Atom Smasher and the Neutron Bomb.

These entries are very, very impressive. I had no idea there were so many creature features related to the Bomb. Winners: please send me your mailing addresses and the inscriptions you would like in your books.

To all ACW readers: Take heart, and may the new year be kind to you and your families.


Update: The “read more” link should work – The Wonktern

Even for a nation accustomed to severe trials, what happened in Peshawar on December 16th was unbearable. Pakistani children, mostly belonging to military families, along with their teachers, were gunned down with automatic weapons held by nihilists posing as religious zealots. Another ring of Dante’s Inferno reached — beyond murdering health care workers trying to inoculate children from polio.

Conspiracies occlude reality in Pakistan. Zealots still given air time tell viewers not to believe the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s press release admitting responsibility for slaughter. Also disregard the group photos of stalwart child-killers. Apologists continue to say it was because of the Americans. Or the drone strikes. Or the Indians, Israelis, Uzbeks, or Arabs. At least Imran Khan, the most popular politician in Pakistan at present, and a former apologist for the TTP, has now pinned responsibility where it belongs. As has Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Party.

The Peshawar tragedy has given impetus to a long-delayed action plan against terrorism. Military courts will hear terror cases and capital punishment has been resumed. The first executions were of those attempting to kill President/General Pervez Musharraf and those involved in storming General Headquarters. Other key elements of the National Action Plan, as laid out in a government release on December 24th, include:

  • A commitment to ensure that no armed militias are allowed to function in the country
  • Strengthening and activation of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority
  • Countering hate speech and extremist material
  • Choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organizations
  • Ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organizations
  • Establishing and deploying a dedicated counter-terrorism force
  • Taking effective steps against religious persecution
  • Registration and regulation of madrassas
  • Ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media
  • Administrative and development reforms in Federally Administered Tribal Areas with immediate focus on return of internally displaced persons
  • Dismantling communication networks of terrorist organizations
  • Tangible measures against abuse of internet and social media for terrorism
  • Zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab
  • Taking the ongoing operation in Karachi to its logical conclusion
  • Empowering Balochistan government for political reconciliation with complete ownership by all stakeholders
  • Dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists
  • Formulation of a comprehensive policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees, beginning with registration of all unregistered illegal refugees
  • Revamping and reforming the criminal justice system, to strengthen counter-terrorism departments including granting of powers to the provincial Criminal Investigation Departments to intercept terrorist communications


Pakistan’s future depends on implementing this long-overdue agenda. So, too, do the reduction of nuclear dangers and normalization of relations with India and Afghanistan, held hostage by Jihadi groups finding safe havens in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, who sleep-walked through the first year of his third try as Prime Minister, now has a chance to redeem himself and his office.

The challenges are immense, commensurate to the errors in judgment that preceded them. Rawalpindi doubled down on militant Islamic groups after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, and is now living with the consequences. Momentously bad national security decisions always exact terrible downstream consequences – a dynamic to which U.S. observers can relate.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States are working more collaboratively than ever to deal with the TTP on both sides of the Durand Line. Will they also work together against the Afghan Taliban? Pakistan government and military leaders now repeatedly assert that there will be no distinction between “good” jihadis and “bad” jihadis. National security adviser Sartaj Aziz, during an unguarded moment in an interview with BBC Urdu on November 18th, spoke otherwise: “Why should Pakistan target those who do not pose any threat to its security? The enemies of America have become enemies of Pakistan for no reason.”

Everyone will be able to tell the truth about Pakistan’s ties to the Afghan Taliban in the months ahead – by what Pakistan’s security forces do and what they don’t do. Skepticism is warranted until proven otherwise.

And then there’s the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Three weeks before the mass execution of school children, Hafiz Saeed, the head of the Lashkar — rebranded as the Jamaat ud-Duwa — convened a massive public rally in an honored public square commemorating the path to an independent Pakistan. He rode to the event on a groaning white steed. No government official or security agency dared impede this rally. Hafiz’s relative, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, collared as the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai massacre, was granted bail from gentle custody only one day after the Peshawar slaughter, along with another declaration by Nawaz of Pakistan’s enduring enmity against extremist violence. The state immediately acted to extend custody after this embarrassing juxtaposition, but Pakistan’s judiciary is just not able to deal with those who carry out mass-casualty attacks against India. No fewer than seven judges have sat on the hot seat during unhurried judicial proceedings against Lakhvi.

How, then, will Pakistan implement its new zero-tolerance policy for extremism in the Punjab, where the Lashkar maintains its base? Concerns raised during a recent trip to Pakistan about the LeT were met with silence, or with the oblique rejoinder that its parent group, the Jamaat ud-Duwa, engages in many social welfare programs.

Taking on the TTP is now job one; if there is a game plan to deal seriatim with the ISI’s deadly offspring, the LeT will be last in line. For now, Pakistan is the recipient of the world’s condolences. If the LeT carries out another mass slaughter in India, triggering a nuclear-tinged crisis, condolences will be replaced by condemnation.


The space debris problem continues to grow as diplomats move at a snail’s pace to take remedial steps. Every piece of space debris about the size of a marble is a lethal weapon, traveling with the approximate energy of a one-ton safe dropped from a five-story building. Anything struck by a debris fragment this size will create a new mutating, lethal debris field. NASA’s Donald J. Kessler co-authored a seminal article in 1978 [Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 83, no. A6, June 1, 1978] which forecast that pin-ball effects created by successive collisions would eventually make low Earth orbit unsustainable for space operations.

Wake-up calls abound. The indispensable industry trade weekly, Space News, reports in its October 6th issue that space-faring nations are doing a “mediocre job,” especially in low Earth orbit, of respecting voluntary guidelines on debris mitigation endorsed by the United Nations in 2007 after almost two decades of deliberation by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordinating Committee, a consortium of space agencies from almost all major space-faring nations. A study by the French space agency, CNES, concluded that 40 percent of the satellites and rocket bodies launched from 2000-2012 will not meet voluntary guidelines.

Again from the October 6th issue: Cubesats that are launched in bunches, on shoestring budgets, without onboard propulsion, are creating significant new debris hazards. Heinz Klinkrad, director of the European Space Agency’s debris office, is quoted as saying, “Most mitigation guidelines were not meant for these very small satellites… They are all going to the same altitudes, which means they will constitute a kind of curtain, which increases collision risks.” Space News reports that, “The data point to more than 350,000 “conjunctions,” or close encounters in which a cubesat and another space object came within five kilometers of each other between 2005 and June of this year.”

Man-made weapons already exist in space – over 25,000 of them – in the form of lethal debris fragments. In contrast, there are no confirmed man-made weapons in space purposely designed to kill another satellite. The International Code of Conduct drafted by the European Union is designed to tackle the first problem. A draft treaty proposed by Russia and China is focused on the second problem. While the “Kessler syndrome” is becoming a reality, diplomats sonorously argue over the merits of these two approaches.

The EU’s draft International Code of Conduct would strengthen norms for debris mitigation, including debris created by kinetic energy anti-satellite (ASAT) tests. The EU’s draft also seeks to set and strengthen norms relating to no harmful interference against objects in space, the development of space traffic management procedures and the establishment of consultative arrangements.

Beijing and Moscow agree in principle to the need for a Code, but they aren’t ready to become stakeholders. Instead, they proffer a draft Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, which harkens back to the old Soviet campaign against Star Wars. This treaty’s language is imprecise and its provisions unverifiable on key matters. Nor does it dwell on the most urgent threats to satellites – weapons in the form of debris that is already up there, as well as ground-based means to mess up satellites.

India, like Russia and China, is not yet ready to endorse the International Code of Conduct. New Delhi is moving in this direction, as is evident by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in September at the UN General assembly declaring, “We should ensure that there will be peace, stability and order in the outer space and cyber space. We should work together to ensure that all countries observe international rules and norms.” But South Block remains unsatisfied with the EU’s handiwork – on procedural rather than substantive grounds. The EU wasn’t inclusive enough, and New Delhi wants a legally-binding instrument, not a voluntary Code of Conduct.

For those who haven’t been following languid diplomatic engagements, here are the arguments offered against signing up to the International Code of Conduct, along with decidedly non-diplomatic rebuttals:

The draft Code of Conduct does not prohibit the placement of a single weapon is space.

Can you tell me what constitutes a “weapon” and how you can confirm that one has been placed in space when the launching state denies it? And what about the 25,000 or so weapons that already exist in space in the form of debris fragments large enough to produce more cataclysmic, debris-generating events?

The draft Code includes language affirming a nation’s right to self-defense.

And so does the UN Charter. What do you expect – nations to forego the right of self-defense? And if these words aren’t in the Code of Conduct, which states would give up this right?

Reaffirming the right of self-defense will encourage pre-emptive war in space.

States have insisted on the right of self-defense since the space age began without blowing someone else’s satellites to smithereens. These capabilities exist and won’t go away, but have yet to be used because ASAT warfare could be ruinous for everyone. Wars to pre-empt emerging threats here on Earth haven’t turned out so well lately; they won’t in space, either. Deterrence, peaceful preventive measures, common sense and national interest, codified by norms, can help prevent satellites from being attacked.

A Code of Conduct will not stop ongoing military space programs that are becoming more worrisome.

Granted, the Code of Conduct won’t stop programs worth worrying about, just as treaties mandating deep cuts in strategic nuclear forces don’t stop modernization programs. Accomplishing something worthwhile is better than not accomplishing anything. Would you prefer more or fewer rules of the road for the sustainable use of outer space?

A Code of Conduct isn’t good enough. We need a treaty banning ASAT tests, especially “hit-to-kill” ASAT tests that produce mutating debris fields.

Everything in space and lots of things on the ground are potential ASATs. How do you ban multi-use technologies that have ASAT potential? Or tests that have utility for ASAT purposes but which are labelled as being for something else, like missile defenses? A “hit to kill” ASAT test ban is verifiable and useful, but it won’t stop ASAT testing designed to miss. Nonetheless, an explicit norm banning kinetic energy ASAT testing is worth including in the Code of Conduct.

A Code of Conduct will discriminate against newer space-faring nations.

Debris does not discriminate. Newcomers, like pioneering space-faring nations, have equally strong reasons to set and strengthen norms to mitigate debris, stop debris-causing ASAT tests, reduce harmful interference of all kinds, and to establish space traffic management procedures.

We need a legal instrument, not rules of the road.

Treaties are great. Ambitious, multilateral treaties now take decades to negotiate and enter into force. The treaty banning all kinds of nuclear testing has taken over fifty years – and counting – to reach this finish line. Why not accomplish something useful quickly, like strengthening norms that could, over time, become customary international law?

We need an international negotiation under the UN’s auspices to perfect a Code of Conduct rather than something cooked up by the European Union.

All right, if you insist. Let’s investigate whether the EU’s draft can be improved with practical, non-faith-based fixes that can be negotiated quickly. But let’s not replace the EU’s open-ended consultations with never-ending negotiations, as non-serious complaints about the Code suggest. Essential norms aren’t strengthened by waiting for stragglers – especially states that offer weak arguments not to act against the clear and present danger that debris poses to all space-faring nations.

Will diplomats still be haggling between a Code of Conduct and a space treaty eight years from now, when the newly-completed Chinese space station takes a catastrophic hit from a debris fragment dating back to the 2003 Chinese ASAT test? Or whenever another collision brings all space-faring nations closer to the Kessler syndrome?

Note to readers: A shorter version of this essay appeared in the December 16th issue of Space News.


(Post has been updated. See below.)

I’m getting concerned. No one has submitted a list of movie monsters that are bomb-related. Is anybody out there working on this? Is this contest to name enlarged movie creatures due to man’s folly going to flop?

Update | 19 Dec 2014

Here’s a sweetener, courtesy of Bradley Laing:

Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

Horror of Party Beach


Now Bradley has not named the monsters in question for his first two entries. Seeing as how I’m completely unfamiliar with the “Horror of Party Beach” — which seems like a must-see movie — I’m at a loss to know the creature. I’m beginning to think this creature does not have a name. Or a nickname.

Come to think of it, the beast from 20,000 fathoms probably didn’t have a name, either.

Godzilla is the exception to the rule. And maybe his real name was different. We just don’t know.

So I think I need to change the rules of this contest on the fly. Just list the names of monster movies built around creatures with plot lines related to the Bomb. And if the creatures have names, then by all means list them, too. We could use this as a tie-breaker. Or something.

Hmmmm. I will be the first to admit that this contest was poorly conceived. Sometimes group think really is better than solo excursions.

If I change the contest to naming movies built around bomb-generated creatures, including creatures with no names, then I have to allow sequels, and sequels to sequels.

So be it. For franchises, it’s OK to list separate movie titles. Extra credit for listing creatures with names or nicknames.

These contest rules are subject to change.


The “nuclear enterprise” – as the nuclear weapons complex and force structure in the United States have been successfully rebranded — is bloated and in need of paring. It is also in need of repair. The Pentagon commissioned two high-level studies to clarify particulars and remedies. Repair work on an aging command and control infrastructure and a broken security culture is not optional.

Supporters of the nuclear enterprise also seek far larger expenditures to recapitalize all three legs of the Triad. Whatever sums are spent on strategic modernization programs will not reduce threats unless the United States also repairs and modernizes non-military means of threat reduction. Investing in one without the other is a poor investment strategy. Nuclear weapons deter threats in kind; they don’t reduce them. Deterrence without diplomacy is downright dangerous.

The diplomatic threat reduction enterprise consists of the men, women and institutions, domestic and international, dedicated to reducing threats posed by dangerous weapons. The primary locus of non-military threat reduction in the United States is the State Department, but other agencies provide crucial technical and analytical support. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency used to be dedicated to this mission, but it was folded into the State Department in 1997 to facilitate the Senate’s consent to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. If you google ACDA now, the first entry that pops up is the American Choral Directors Association.

The arms control brand, which made a splash in the 1960s, has come upon hard times. The arms control brand still evokes images of formal negotiations where progress is counted in numbers. A decade ago, I argued (in Cooperative Threat Reduction, Missile Defense and the Nuclear Future) for the rebranding of “arms control” as “threat reduction” – with apologies to this website and the Arms Control Association. My reasoning: arms control has expanded well beyond formal negotiations to encompass collaborative laboratory initiatives to improve nuclear security, checkpoints at border crossings, sleuthing for illicit transfers of radiological material, the creation of centers of excellence to improve personnel training, mine demilitarization efforts, greater transparency in arms transfers, improved monitoring for very low-yield underground testing, the development of codes of responsible conduct, and dozens of other activities.

The merger of ACDA and State has not been kind to the WMD threat reduction mission, which has suffered from insufficiently funded mandates, poor personnel management, and the absence of mechanisms and slots to recruit new talent. The seventh floor of the State Department is fighting so many fires that it has neglected basic housekeeping needs. The person whose job it is to attend to those needs has been awaiting confirmation for over 500 days. (As this is written, Frank Rose finally appears set for a confirmation vote.) Unlike the nuclear enterprise, the non-military threat reduction enterprise has no powerful constituency to demand budget redress or ameliorative steps. Supporters of arms control have not horse-traded very well on Capitol Hill.

The State Department’s personnel practices have failed to maintain a work force commensurate to the tasks of threat reduction in the 21st Century. Foreign Service Officers rotate in and out of trouble spots, while civil servants, who work on threat reduction all the time, don’t spend enough time in trouble spots. Half of them are nearing retirement age. Unlike the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community, the State Department has few ways to bring in new talent with skill sets related to regional security and proliferation.

Despite personnel and funding constraints, great progress has been made by employing non-military means of threat reduction. The biggest achievements in reducing strategic forces and nuclear stockpiles occurred right before and soon after the Soviet Union dissolved. More recent successes have not received their due. Partial achievements – like the eight-year moratorium of plutonium production in North Korea, or constraints on Iran’s uranium enrichment programs – are derided as failures, even though these results compare favorably to the costs of attempting to reduce WMD threats by military means.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons spent $87 million to demilitarize most, but not all, of Bashir al-Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons. This price tag is equivalent to ten days of air strikes in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State targets. The United Nations spent less than $20 million per year from 1991 to 2007 to help prevent Saddam Hussein from reconstituting his stocks of chemical and biological weapons. It cost the United States over a trillion dollars, on top of incalculable human costs, to confirm what UN monitors were figuring out. For roughly $15 million per year, the International Atomic Energy Agency has monitored the down-blending of enriched uranium in Iran and constraints on operating advanced centrifuge designs while keeping a close watch on declared facilities to provide early warning of breakout. No one can confidently estimate the costs, monetary and otherwise, of a military campaign to improve on these results.

We don’t know what additional public health and nonproliferation benefits might accrue from the Biological Weapons Convention if it were allowed a Secretariat of more than one person. The United States spends less than $30 million per year to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s international monitoring system and Secretariat. These costs are not trivial, but they fade in comparison to the costs of another competitive round of nuclear testing.

By definition, all cases of diplomatic engagement relating to weapons of mass destruction are hard and failure can be extremely costly. The exact same calculus applies to the use of force. As with military campaigns, diplomacy doesn’t always succeed in reducing threats. Vladimir Putin, for example, isn’t ready to negotiate deeper reductions in deployed strategic forces. In other cases, such as North Korea and South Asia, Washington hasn’t really tried sustained or meaningful diplomatic engagement to reduce nuclear dangers. Most of the time, progress comes after years of effort. Beijing is only now beginning to engage more fully on cooperative threat reduction.

If the use of force is to be a last resort in hard cases, then investing in non-military means of threat reduction is a matter of simple prudence. The non-military threat reduction enterprise, like the nuclear enterprise, is in need of repair. The State Department would be wise to follow the Pentagon’s example by convening a blue-ribbon commission to clarify shortcomings and remedies.

Documenting the ugly particulars of how capabilities for diplomatic means of threat reduction have been degraded is a precondition for renewal. What is the extent of understaffing, mal-deployment and under-resourcing, and how might these be improved? Clarifying these deficiencies will come to naught unless sympathetic Members of Congress are as tenacious in fighting for remedies as supporters of the nuclear enterprise. Otherwise, threats will grow regardless of how much is invested in strategic modernization programs.