Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


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.


This year we’re switching things up. Instead of combing through lyrics about the Bomb, we’re doing movie monsters linked to the evils of nuclear testing. How many of these  creatures made it to the big screen? (Godzilla, in various permutations, counts as one.)  I’ll hold on to your lists until year’s end. The ACW reader who goes the extra mile and comes up with the longest list of bomb-related cinematic creations will receive the usual prize: a personally inscribed and autographed copy of one of my remaindered books.


Let’s be honest: There is a vast, left-wing, cinematic conspiracy against the Bomb. How many monsters resulting from the evils of nuclear testing were created to scare the bejeezus out of the movie-going public?  Google and Wikipedia can give you a head start on compiling this list. The ACW reader who goes the extra mile and comes up with the longest list of bomb-related cinematic creatures will receive the usual prize: a personally inscribed and autographed copy of one of my remaindered books. Scant compensation, I know. An ACW coffee mug would be better. The winner, with accompanying list, will be announced at year’s end.


A recent trip to Pakistan gave me reasons for hope as well as despair. Pakistan still has what it takes to succeed, as is evident from the vitality of its black economy. But governance will fail without leadership, revenue generation and internal security. Progress is evident on the third front, but not the first two. Pakistan is still suffering from the effects of dynastic politics and military rule. The latter isn’t in the cards; the former has been shaken up by Imran Khan, the most popular politician in the country who, so far, shows little evidence of being able to govern effectively.

The ongoing military operation against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan, which was preceded by quiet steps to prevent blow-ups elsewhere, has been successful, suggesting that the powers of the state security apparatus remain intact. One notable exception – the explosion near the Wagah border crossing – occurred not for lack of prior warning, but for a failure to connect the dots, which happens in many countries. Whether the state security apparatus has the will and the means to succeed against groups that have targeted India, like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, remains an open question.

Demography isn’t exactly destiny, but it explains a lot, and has a bearing on nuclear dangers. The Stimson Center’s resident demographer, Wilson Center Global Fellow Richard Cincotta, predicted upheavals in North Africa before they happened by running the numbers. I asked him to take a look at Pakistan, where state failure is often predicted, but whose resiliency has surprised doomsayers. Read Rich’s analysis of demographic trends in Pakistan (in PDF format).


During this Thanksgiving season, let’s try something different: Rather than focus on doom and gloom, what hasn’t been accomplished and what irreconcilables are trying to undo, let’s focus on an improbable success story.

Despite the odds, prolonged efforts to cage the Bomb have been surprisingly successful for major powers. No one confidently predicted this success when the Bomb made its surprise entrance, and certainly not when early attempts at nuclear abolition quickly failed. And yet, after decades of hard work, the utility of nuclear weapons for major powers has been progressively diminished, even though they retain thousands of warheads.

Success has been achieved despite powerful constituencies that resisted progress every step of the way. Treaties banning atmospheric nuclear tests, limiting yields of underground testing, and then ending all tests with explosive yield were bitterly contested. Opponents mistakenly equated greater national security and public safety with more nuclear testing, but the reverse has proven to be true. Critics also misfired by attacking the Strategic Arms Limitation accords pursued by the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. These efforts were strongly opposed for allowing the Soviet Union greater leverage and nuclear war-fighting advantages over the United States. Instead, the combination of diplomatic engagement and containment resulted in the Soviet Union’s dissolution from its own contradictions and dysfunction.

Next, critics challenged verifiable strategic arms reduction accords pursued by the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Obama administrations as weakening America and shriveling extended deterrence. In actuality, alliance solidarity is challenged more by opposing treaties and their ratification. Even the administration least interested in negotiating verifiable reductions in nuclear forces did its part: Under George W. Bush, the United States reduced stockpiled weapons by huge amounts.

The incremental process of nuclear arms control and disarmament between Washington and Moscow has had staying power, despite rocky intervals. To be sure, strategic modernization programs continue. There are now and always will be difficult periods between major powers. Even so, the Bomb is not nearly as influential and useful as previous generations thought. Stockpile size and force structure for four of the P-5 have dwindled. China has yet to accept the responsibilities that come with membership in the P-5 and the Nonproliferation Treaty, but it has — so far — adopted a very different, saner nuclear force posture than the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War or at present.

Success has been far more elusive with nuclear newcomers, who now pose the greatest threats to nuclear order. Each new member of the nuclear club believes in the utility of nuclear weapons, challenging the norms accepted with deep reluctance by earlier entrants. Newcomers increase stockpile size to shore up systemic weaknesses or to deter stronger states. They aren’t yet ready to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It will take many years of strenuous effort to cage the Bomb in these hard cases. The pathways for doing so are familiar, including constraints on nuclear testing, the slow accretion of nuclear risk-reduction measures, and diplomacy to ameliorate security concerns.

Caging the bomb in the hardest cases seems as unlikely now as during the first decades of the U.S.-Soviet competition. Nevertheless, progress is possible when unlikely combinations of national leaders permit. Norms still matter, even for outliers: Who wants to join North Korea in testing nuclear weapons and threatening to use them? Caging the Bomb in hard cases is still possible because disgrace as well as incalculable danger will result from the first battlefield use of nuclear weapons after a hiatus of almost 70 years. If, by a combination of luck, common sense, and wise leadership, the superpowers could avoid Armageddon, India and Pakistan may be able to, as well. But they aren’t working nearly hard enough to succeed.

Trend lines reflecting the Bomb’s diminishing utility for major powers have withstood the advent of new states (also less than predicted) possessing nuclear weapons. Sudden shocks to well-established norms remain entirely possible, and one of these days, we may finally be shaken from our sense of complacency against all things nuclear except for Iran. Even then, major powers will have great difficulty finding utility in weapons too powerful to test, let alone use.