Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


What do you do when you are the subject of nuclear threats, you don’t have the Bomb, and you can’t match up in planes, tanks, and ships? Mao’s answer was people’s war. And ping-pong. And fifteen years after gaining power, nuclear weapons.

Before demonstrating China’s ability to produce atomic weapons, Mao dismissed the Bomb as a “paper tiger which the US reactionaries use to scare people.” In the global contest between “reactionaries” and “revolutionaries,” China could not show “the slightest timidity before a wild beast.”

On January 28, 1955, Mao offered these remarks when the first Finnish Ambassador to China presented his credentials:

The Chinese people are not to be cowed by U.S. atomic blackmail. Our country has a population of 600 million and an area of 9,600,000 square kilometers. The United States cannot annihilate the Chinese nation with its small stack of atom bombs. Even if the U.S. atom bombs were so powerful that, when dropped on China, they would make a hole right through the earth, or even blow it up, that would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole, though it might be a major event for the solar system.

We have an expression, millet plus rifles. In the case of the United States, it is planes plus the A-bomb. However, if the United States with its planes plus the A-bomb is to launch a war of aggression against China, then China with its millet plus rifles is sure to emerge the victor. The people of the whole world will support us.

China produced world champion ping-pong players, a sport that helped thaw relations between Washington and Beijing. After a Chinese player won the world championship in 1959, Mao’s message of congratulations referred to ping-pong as China’s “spiritual nuclear weapon.” I learned of this gem from a book review of Nicholas Griffin’s Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

At that time, Chinese physicists were working on denser materials to develop non-spiritual deterrence. When they succeeded, Beijing issued a statement defending its decision as necessary to “oppose the US imperialist policy of nuclear blackmail and nuclear threats.” The following day, Premier Zhou Enlai announced China’s policy of no first use.

For aspiring wonks who want to know more: check out John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai’s book, China Builds the Bomb.


Having the good fortune to live along a beautiful country road that weaves between woods and cow pastures, I can assert with authority that natural beauty is no deterrent to throwing litter along the roadside. By my count, the most littered beer can, by far, is Bud Lite. Marlboro, followed by Camel, is the most littered cigarette pack. Drivers ingest unhealthy crap purchased at convenience stores a couple of miles away. Some find it more convenient to throw stuff out the car window than to put it in trash cans or recycle bins. Litter has a perverse, persistent logic: Trash your body, then trash the environment.

When convenience is reinforced by presumed national security imperatives, environmental problems are magnified exponentially. Countries don’t go to the expense of investing in the infrastructure to build nuclear weapons unless they have serious security concerns. Serious security concerns invite short-cuts that result in big messes that are very costly to clean up. Or not clean up. Environmental hazards were an afterthought during the first nuclear age; ditto for the second.

Cost estimates of nuclear weapon-related programs still focus on the measurable – production costs, plus projected overruns – while sidestepping clean-up costs, which are hard to figure, plus inevitable overruns, which have never been estimated properly. For example, two recent studies trying to cost out the modernization and maintenance of US nuclear forces and warheads – a Congressional Budget Office estimate of $355 billion by 2023, and a James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimate of $1 trillion over the next 30 years – either do not include clean-up costs or barely address them.

Then there’s the dismantlement, retirement, and health care costs associated with nuclear weapons. Air Force spokespersons have taken to comparing (favorably) their budget for strategic modernization programs to that of the US Postal Service, while neglecting to mention that the Congress now forces the Post Office to factor in pension costs when presenting its budget figures. Using this methodology, the Post Office’s revenues can’t meet expenses. What would US strategic modernization and nuclear laboratory costs be if these estimates included retiree and health care benefits?

A good friend of mine, Len Ackland, has written a fine book about the shortcuts and environmental degradation at Rocky Flats, near Denver. Every nation possessing nuclear weapons has similar messes and environmental time bombs. Which of these will wind up being most costly? Readers are invited to suggest nominations. Of all the environmental hazards the United States incurred when building the Bomb, the biggest sense of dread I feel relates to the magnificent Columbia River in Washington State. How much did Hanford really cost? Wait and see.


US intelligence agencies have been guilty of four general types of error — or more, depending on counting rules. The most costly type of error is a failure to recognize and pull together “actionable” intelligence in time to foil bad surprises. Type I errors are typically abetted by compartmentalization within the intelligence community. The failure “to connect the dots” prior to 9/11 wasn’t new; it used to be characterized as failing to detect signals in noise, as particularized in Roberta Wohlstetter’s masterful book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. A subset of this type of error is being unable to detect well-established, covert nuclear weapon programs, like Saddam Hussein’s prior to the first Gulf war.

Type II errors are the reluctance or inability to predict the possibility of pleasant surprises, which become possible when leaders change, when they realize dead-end policies, or when they mess up. It’s hard to predict good news. Leaders open to changing course remain surrounded by those who have survived by not taking risks or by engaging in bad behavior. Besides, strategic culture doesn’t change on a dime, so risk-takers have to send mixed messages, signaling new possibilities while protecting their flanks.

A subset of this type of error is assessing the existence of a well-established covert nuclear weapon program when it may have been halted by decision, incompetence, or dysfunction. Examples include Saddam Hussein’s Iraq prior to the second Gulf War and Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya.

Predicting more of the same is always a safer course than predicting the possibility of diplomatic breakthroughs – especially since the latter can brand the intelligence analyst as being hopelessly naïve. Did the US intelligence community see the course-correction in Burma coming, or was it as wrong as the Kremlinologists who misread Gorbachev? As noted earlier in this space, US Iran watchers and proliferation cynics may have gotten Rouhani wrong, as well – we’ll see.

Type III errors occur with the zealous collection of data that does far more harm to US diplomacy and international standing than might be gained from preventing bad surprises. This error is now a daily occurrence, enabled by new information-retrieval technologies and the lingering effects of suffering massive attacks on the US homeland over a decade ago. One measure of how much 9/11 remains with us is the reluctance of a President steeped in Constitutional Law to pare back the National Security Agency’s appetite for collecting and storing metadata on American citizens.

Type IV errors relate to discounting the possibility of paranoid behavior by bunkered adversaries. The presumption at work here, sometimes tested by those seeking to burnish their hardline credentials, is that bad actors won’t over-act, even when the US jerks their chains. This type of error was most egregiously on display in 1983, when some in the Reagan Administration were oblivious to the possible consequences of pursuing initiatives to keep the Kremlin off-balance. The US intelligence community, which found it difficult to distinguish between paranoid and aggressive Soviet behavior, failed to raise cautionary flags. For those interested in the particulars of this Year of Living Dangerously, check out the National Security Archives’ treasure trove of files about Able Archer.

The Obama Administration, chastened by ill-conceived, costly, and poorly executed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — the surge in Iraq being successful only on a timescale irrelevant to larger consequences — is unlikely to engage in Type IV errors anytime soon, whether or not the intelligence community speaks up.

The commingling of Type IV and Type II errors makes it hard to explore whether the potential for positive developments exists below layers of paranoia and pathology. Making overtures to reduce nuclear dangers in such cases requires heroic efforts to establish footholds for those not locked into enemy images, to relax the grip of those who are, and to assure allies and friends dubious of risky diplomacy. This would be as hard to do for North Korea in the future as it is now for Iran. Leaders who accept this challenge can expect very little help from intelligence agencies.


We are so used to hearing bad news about Pakistan that good news can go under the radar. Since May, there has been a changing of the guard at the positions of Prime Minister, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the President, all without wrenching national debate or damaging machinations. To put it mildly, Pakistan continues to face daunting problems, especially when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif only places confidence in an inner circle with little circumference, and when he is taking so long to tackle alarming domestic trends. But when judged by previous bumpy or wrenching leadership transitions, Pakistan is making progress.

Another baton pass: Lt. Gen. (ret.) Khalid Kidwai has stepped down as Director-General of the Strategic Plans Division. He has been in charge on Pakistan’s nuclear program for fifteen years, beginning even before the SPD was stood up. His successor is Lt Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat. Some US commentary has expressed concern about new sources of instability that might result from this baton pass. Transitions don’t always go well, but the absence of transition can stunt institutional growth and professional development. Mature, successful institutions have to pass this test. No one individual or institution is foolproof, but Gen. Kidwai has developed procedures and programs that will supersede him. I expect a successful hand-off at the SPD.

Rawalpindi has defined its nuclear weapon-related requirements expansively. When it comes to military and civil nuclear programs, Pakistan seems intent to compete with India. Gen. Zubair will probably preside over a period of consolidation, as Pakistan picks winners and losers among the many types of missiles it has flight tested. At the same time, production capacity for bomb-making material will grow, the sea-based leg of Pakistan’s deterrent will take shape, and warhead numbers will continue to rise. Major shifts in Pakistan’s nuclear plans and policies seem unlikely, but requirements could climb even higher, depending on developments in India and how Rawalpindi chooses to react to them.

Pakistan’s nuclear requirements could gain further elevation if China and India flight test MIRVs or deploy ballistic missile defenses, if nuclear enclaves in the region move toward counterforce targeting, and if requirements for tactical nuclear weapons are defined expansively. Any one of these developments, as well as another crisis or military clash with India, could induce still more growth in Pakistan’s production infrastructure – unless or until Rawalpindi’s impulse to measure itself against India on nuclear weapons subsides.


Are the new Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, taking the United States for a ride? Have they agreed to an interim deal on enrichment as part of a master plan to lull the West into a false sense of security so that they can reverse course after eviscerating crippling sanctions? And what’s up with their “charm offensive” in the United Nations, Europe, and even the Gulf?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t buying this for a New York minute. Neither is the House of Saud. Nor many on Capitol Hill, who are rallying behind legislation championed by Senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk that would have the practical effect of stymieing a more comprehensive nuclear deal by linking it to a long charge sheet of Tehran’s misbehavior.

All of which reminds me of the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev and the skepticism that accompanied his strange, un-Soviet-like pronouncements. Gorbachev’s accession to power was inconceivable without the track record of his predecessors, Andropov and Chernenko. Obama in the White House? Impossible without George W. Bush. The amazing Pope Francis was preceded by the disheartening Pope Benedict. Major course corrections sometimes require big messes. You’ve got to be in bad shape before trying to turn the corner. One definition of rock bottom is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Reagan and Bush administrations were initially caught off-guard by Gorbachev’s rhetorical flourishes and diplomatic initiatives. US intelligence community assessments, shaped by its top two resident Sovietologists, CIA Deputy Director Robert Gates and National Intelligence Officer Fritz Ermarth, were deeply skeptical of Gorbachev. Secretary of State George Shultz had to butt heads with the CIA repeatedly over these assessments. He wrote in his memoir, Turmoil and Triumph, that “Our knowledge of the Kremlin was thin… [and the CIA] was usually wrong.”

After yet another Gorbachev signal – a promise to stop arming the Nicaraguan Sandinistas – Bush’s White House spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, characterized Gorbachev as a “drugstore cowboy.” Most Americans were unfamiliar with the term, but its inference was plain: he was a phony who merely dressed and talked the part of Mr. Reasonable.

After a few months of drift, President Reagan embraced the challenge of engaging Gorbachev fully, despite his significant domestic obstacles and despite disturbing Soviet policies that Gorbachev couldn’t immediately tackle.

Now fast forward to Rouhani. Here are some passages from his recent commentary, “What Iran Wants in 2014:”

When I campaigned to become President of Iran, I promised to balance realism and the pursuit of the Islamic Republic’s ideals – and won Iranian voters’ support by a large margin. By virtue of the popular mandate that I received, I am committed to moderation and common sense, which is now guiding all of my government’s policies. That commitment led directly to the interim international agreement reached in November in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear program. It will continue to guide our decision-making in 2014.

Indeed, in terms of foreign policy, my government is discarding extreme approaches. We seek effective and constructive diplomatic relations and a focus on mutual confidence-building with our neighbors and other regional and international actors, thereby enabling us to orient our foreign policy toward economic development at home. To this end, we will work to eliminate tensions in our foreign relations and strengthen our ties with traditional and new partners alike. This obviously requires domestic consensus-building and transparent goal-setting – processes that are now underway.

This is remarkable language for a national leader who faces intense and perhaps disabling domestic opposition. He and Foreign Minister Zarif – who is playing the part of Eduard Shevardnadze – are going out on a limb at a time when many on Capitol Hill are reaching for chainsaws.

Their vehicle is the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act which, as advertised in the Washington Post by its co-sponsor, Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez, “guarantees immediate additional sanctions if Iran breaches its diplomatic commitments.” An analysis of this proposed legislation by Edward Levine identifies some of its trap doors:

Section 301(a)(2)(I) requires the President to certify, in order to suspend application of the new sanctions, that “Iran has not conducted any tests for ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 500 kilometers.”

Section 301(a)(2)(H) requires the President also to certify that “Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned, or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or United States persons or property anywhere in the world.”

Section 301(a)(2)(F) requires the President to certify that the United States seeks an agreement “that will dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure.” But while Iran may agree in the end to dismantle some of its nuclear infrastructure, there is no realistic chance that it will dismantle all of its uranium enrichment capability.

Section 301(a)(3), regarding a suspension of sanctions beyond 180 days, adds the requirement that an agreement be imminent under which “Iran will…dismantle its illicit nuclear infrastructure…and other capabilities critical to the production of nuclear weapons.” This raises the same concerns as does the paragraph just noted, plus the new question of what those “other capabilities” might be. At a minimum, such ill-defined requirements invite future partisan attacks on the President.

Section 301(a)(4) reimposes previously suspended sanctions if the President does not make the required certifications. This paragraph applies not only to the sanctions mandated by this bill, but also to “[a]ny sanctions deferred, waived, or otherwise suspended by the President pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action or any agreement to implement the Joint Plan of Action.” Thus, it moves the goalposts even for the modest sanctions relief that the United States is currently providing to Iran.

As admirable as these objectives are, Tehran does not accept them as breaches of “its diplomatic commitments.” Whatever progress toward their achievement may unfold lies in reaching a more comprehensive nuclear deal, not in disrupting and linking it to the entire panoply of issues now bedeviling US-Iran relations. President Reagan focused on deals with Gorbachev to reduce nuclear capabilities without linking them to shenanigans in the Horn of Africa or to the resolution of unilateral US interpretations of Soviet arms control commitments.

Political leaders usually don’t take big risks seeking interim deals only to torpedo more consequential ones. The torpedoing is instead done by onlookers who feel deeply uncomfortable with the shape of the new and by well-meaning or crafty politicians looking to score points while passing the buck for the messes they create.

It’s way too soon to argue that Rouhani is an Iranian version of Gorbachev. But they have embraced similar rhetoric to challenge stereotypes. Rouhani may well meet Gorbachev’s fate, as well. In this event, Iran, unlike the Soviet Union, won’t fall apart. It will instead revert to the familiar.


This graphic of the nuclear competition on the subcontinent was compiled by my colleagues, Julia Thompson and Lita Ledesma, to illustrate the contents of Stimson’s new book, Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia. It’s a sobering depiction of high-octane missile development programs and lethargic diplomacy. It still doesn’t begin to reflect the difficulties national leaders in India and Pakistan face in trying to stabilize their nuclear competition.

This graphic excludes strategic modernization programs in China. It makes no reference to ambitious changes in conventional military doctrines in China and India. It excludes developments in air and sea power that can bear on the nuclear competition. It doesn’t reflect the inherent instabilities of opposing nuclear doctrines that rely on threats of first use — including the use of tactical nuclear weapons — and threats of massive retaliation. Nor does this graphic reflect dysfunctional civil-military relations in Pakistan, India and perhaps China as well, that make it difficult to stabilize an extremely active triangular nuclear competition.

This graphic does, however, adequately demonstrate how empty Indian and Pakistani pledges were to pursue minimum, credible deterrence made by government leaders after testing nuclear devices in 1998. Leading strategic thinkers on the subcontinent expressed confident hopes back then that going public with nuclear capabilities would have stabilizing effects by relieving anxieties and facilitating diplomatic efforts to normalize relations. Here’s a sampler:

In some respects, India should be relieved Pakistan has gone ahead and tested its nuclear devices and declared itself a nuclear weapons state. Such a move has ensured greater transparency about Pakistan’s capabilities and intentions. It also removes complexes, suspicions, and uncertainties about each other’s nuclear capabilities. A certain parity in nuclear weapons and missile capabilities will put in place structured and mutual deterrents. These could persuade the Governments of India and Pakistan to discuss bilateral disputes in a more rational manner. – J.N. Dixit in Indo-Pakistan in War and Peace

A mutual minimum nuclear deterrent will act as a stabilizing factor. – K. Sundarji, in Weapons of Mass Destruction: New Perspectives on Counterproliferation

Deterrence will continue, but on a higher level. I don’t think we are going to see a slide toward instability. I don’t think anyone will allow it to happen. – Jasjit Singh, interviewed in Defense News

The nuclear option will promote regional peace and create stability. – K.M. Arif, in Pakistan’s Security and the Nuclear Option

Attainment of nuclear capabilities by Pakistan and India has helped promote stability and prevented dangers of war… Self-interest itself should persuade Pakistan and India to exercise due restraint. Continuance of responsible conduct is likely also because it could gain greater tolerance of their nuclear policies. – Abdul Sattar, in Pakistan’s Security and the Nuclear Option

These high hopes were based on false premises. Optimists discounted domestic political and institutional drivers pushing for more bombs and better ways to deliver them. The abstract notion of minimum, credible deterrence couldn’t compete with these drivers and with growing threat perceptions.

Another false premise was that a sense of normalcy could be midwifed by devices with horrific destructive powers. In every case where states have felt compelled by security concerns to cross the nuclear threshold, their sense of insecurity only grew when a nuclear competition predictably ensued.

A third false premise was that the Bomb would impart a sustainable boost to diplomacy. Prime Minister Vajpayee tried to do precisely this by traveling over the Partition’s blood-soaked ground to Lahore — the most symbolic act of reconciliation thus far in the subcontinent’s nuclear history. But the Bomb is utterly indifferent to its uses, whether for peace making or war fighting.

Peacemakers have thus far been easily trumped by others who have sought military advantage under the nuclear umbrella or the disruption of diplomatic initiatives. Vajpayee’s attempt at Lahore was torpedoed by the Kargil war. Far less ambitious attempts at reconciliation by subsequent Prime Ministers in India and Pakistan have been foiled by spectacular acts of terror on Indian soil.

Engineering missiles is easy compared to engineering diplomatic accords. Accolades are given to those who do the former; brickbats await those who try the latter. As this graphic shows, India and Pakistan have flight-tested a total of seventeen types of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons since the 1998 tests. Not all of these missiles will actually carry nuclear warheads, and missile types will be consolidated over time. But by any reckoning, seventeen is a very large number.

In contrast, the number of tangible diplomatic accomplishments since 1998 has been paltry. In 2003, Pakistan and India agreed to a cease-fire along the Kashmir divide. This agreement has often been breached, but remains essential. In 2005, another agreement was reached to provide prior notification of ballistic missile flight tests, followed by another in 2007 to provide notification of nuclear accidents. Other efforts have been made to increase cross-border trade, but progress has been beset by the usual bickering over linkages and conditionalities. Little of substance has been accomplished since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, whose planners have succeeded in raising barriers for those who wish to improve India-Pakistan relations.

A new Indian coalition government, regardless of its composition, can be expected to try again to improve relations with Pakistan. Significantly increased direct trade and nuclear risk reduction will again become possible. The likelihood of new explosions in India that can be traced back to Pakistan will also grow. National leaders in India and Pakistan will once again be tested whether they have the resolve to stabilize their nuclear competition and overcome spoilers.

Note to readers: A shorter version of this essay appeared in the Express Tribune, a Pakistani paper, on December 27th.


This year’s contest to come up with the best one-line characterization, haiku or limerick regarding nuclear developments during the Bush and Obama presidencies is over. It’s time to choose the winners. Our panel of judges – Tom Nichols, Josh Pollack and me – has reached the following conclusions.

Honorable mention goes to T for:

He raised eyebrows in Hradčany
New hope for a deal on test banning
For Godot we all wait
Prospects are not great
As the White House sits on its fanny.

Anon, always a contender, gets props for:

There once was a president’s son
Who bought into percent doctrine one.
While Saddam he deposed,
A few problems arose,
Buying time for Iran and Jong-Un.*
(*Requires creative pronunciation)

Building on this theme, we tip our hat to SQ, who stuffed the ballot box, for:

There once was a boy from Pyongyang
On whose word life and death seemed to hang
Plus his buddy the Worm
He made half the globe squirm
With alcohol, nukes, Sturm und Drang

Andrew gets kudos for:

We ask, before deals for Natanz,
Is the onus DC’s or Tehran’s?
Going mano-Amano,
We’ll need help from Bono,
To quell urges to start dropping bombs.

We are indebted to Continuing Resolution for this fine entry:

Two presidents, two visions
of an arsenal transformed,
but in the end
not much changed.

And now, for the envelope please… The winning entries are SQ’s:

Simply calling it
A strategy doesn’t make
Patience strategic

And this mordant entry from Ricki:

The Obama Administration’s nuclear posture is best described like spawning salmon in a drying river: doing what’s been done before out of instinct and expectation, doomed to failure, overtaken by events, and likely eaten by a (Russian) bear.

SQ & Ricki: send me a note ( with your mailing addresses and the inscriptions for your prizes.


Dear Readers:

We have some great entries into our year-end contest to come up with the best haiku, limerick or one-line encapsulation of either the Bush or Obama administration’s dealings with the Bomb.

We have not yet explored the depths of your creativity and playfulness. Contest entries are welcome until midnight, December 30th — midnight being as variable as your time zone. Missing so far: a one-line characterization of the Bush and Obama years. Hard to do.


Two talented, rising strategic analysts from the subcontinent, Sannia Abdullah and Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, have written a guest post about a collaborative project investigating the possibility of dismantling obsolete Pakistani and Indian ballistic missiles. More can be found about this useful initiative on the Generation Why website,

There’s also a video worth watching at:

Dismantling Obsolete Missiles in South Asia
Sannia Abdullah and Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

South Asia has a history of protracted conflict, arms buildup, and deadlocked dialogue leading to an atmosphere of mistrust and strategic anxiety. The geographical proximity of India and Pakistan increases the risk of an inadvertent catastrophic escalation due to miscommunication, false alarm or accident. A group of young security analysts, which we were part of, met in Sofia, Bulgaria to explore new ideas for confidence building measures (CBMs) suggested by Brigadiers (retired) Feroz Hassan Khan, from Pakistan, and Gurmeet Kanwal from India and members of the Colombo Confidence Building Process Group.

Such an accidental catastrophic war is a real possibility in South Asia with reports of increased nuclear alert in previous conflicts. Suppose that, during a time of increased political tensions, an aging missile accidentally detonates, setting off a chain reaction of misinterpretation that ultimately leads that country’s leadership to believe a preemptive attack has occurred. Such a possibility is not only unsettling but it is also destabilizing.

Both countries have missiles (the Hatf-1 in the case of Pakistan, and the Prithvi-1 for India) that are at or nearing the end of their operational lifetimes. Dismantling missiles that have been unilaterally declared as redundant, obsolete and retired is a usual practice followed by nations once more advanced systems are developed and operational. In their article, the two Brigadiers suggested making a ‘virtue out of necessity’: the transparent, parallel dismantlement of obsolete ballistic missiles. But some have worried that any sort of transparency would be too revealing; sensitive information about technology or operational details would be seen that should not be. This is what our group went to Bulgaria to test.

For a week, our group of young Pakistani and Indian security analysts met at the National Museum of Military History, where they have real missiles with striking similarities to the ones in South Asia, to design and test the so-called “modalities”—the actual procedures used—of a variety of transparency measures. Could we design procedures that would prevent the “loss” of sensitive information while still communicating enough to impart confidence? We divided into two teams to find out.

We tried a number of possible transparency measures, ranging from simply exchanging photographs of the missiles to be dismantled to conducting exchanges of “managed-access” visits to each other’s missile sites.

The first test was simply to take a series of photographs of the missile and email them to the other team. Remembering that building confidence is a lot different than verification, we realized that quite a bit of confidence could be instilled by simply photographing things like missile serial numbers as well as wide-angle views of the entire missile before and after its dismantlement. A CBM partner does not have to see everything about a missile or its environment to know it is real and that it has been dismantled. Sensitive technologies can be masked off or the view of the camera can be arranged so the image does not show what you do not want it to show.

We then explored more complex confidence building measures including the exchange of visits to a missile site. Such measures are, of course, inherently more intrusive but here too we discovered that steps could be taken to manage the visit and control what information might be seen by the visitors. A documentary, at the top of this post, was made of our experience so other young Indians and Pakistanis can see it is possible for our two peoples to work together to overcome these issues.

Of course, it is important to emphasize that what we did was explore the methodologies our two countries could use to identify any problems with a potential CMB. Our governments, if they agree that there are benefits to such CBMs, will need to decide for themselves which missiles—if any—are obsolete and which CBMs to use. We have, however, pointed the ways that could be used to identify any issues and overcome them.

And we had a lot of fun while doing it!!


It’s time, once again, for our annual year-end contest. This time, let’s change it up a bit, as we’ve pretty well mined lyrics, old and new, written about the Bomb.

This year’s contest will have two winners. One will be for the best one-line characterization, haiku or limerick regarding nuclear developments during the Obama presidency. The other will be for the best one-line characterization, haiku or limerick regarding nuclear developments during the Bush presidency.

As before, our year-end contest provides an opportunity to hear from you, the Silent Majority. We know you’re out there, and we know you have somehow maintained your sense of humor, despite all that’s not well in this world.

Josh Pollack and Tom Nichols of the Naval War College, who has written a new book, No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security, will serve as co-judges. Tom has offered a simple haiku to get your juices flowing:

A posture review
was released by the White House.
And still no one cares.

Limericks, anyone? Here’s my offering:

There once was a President who went to war
Not once, but twice, for interests most core
To slay dragons most nasty
But made errors most ghastly.
Sadder but wiser, with much left undone,
He passed the baton, with battles un-won.

We know you can do better. Winners will receive a signed copy of one of my soon-to-be if not already remaindered books.