Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


A dedicated band of anti-arms controllers, led by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, sought to foil President Ronald Reagan’s pursuit of nuclear arms reduction treaties with Moscow. One tactic was to publish charge sheets of Soviet treaty violations. For example, the Kremlin constructed a large phased array radar in the interior, instead of the periphery of the Soviet Union, where it belonged under the ABM Treaty. Threat inflation turned this radar and Soviet air defense programs into a comprehensive, game-changing, master plan to build national missile defenses. This didn’t happen when the Treaty was in force, and it hasn’t happened since its demise. The Soviet Union also blatantly disregarded the provisions of the Biological Weapons Convention. Other perceived violations relating to nuclear testing were subsequently disproven by intrusive monitoring. The largest category of transgressions related to treaty provisions that Washington sought but that the Kremlin cunningly refused to accept.

Critics of arms control rallied around these reports. One was finalized just prior to President Reagan’s first summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva. On November 18, 1985, while Reagan was en route to the summit, the Washington Post ran a front page story written by Walter Pincus headlined “Weinberger Urges Buildup over Soviet Violations.” The story cited a private letter from Weinberger to Reagan, accompanied by an eleven-page summary of the latest compendium of Soviet treaty violations, warning that “current and future Soviet violations pose real risks to our security and to the process of arms control itself.” The letter’s purpose was to dissuade Reagan from seeking new treaties by reminding him of the Kremlin’s premeditated, systemic “policy of treaty violations.”

Some concluded that Weinberger, who didn’t accompany Reagan in Geneva, or someone else in the Pentagon, leaked this material to sabotage the summit. Anti-arms controllers might well have wanted these documents — which were not only unclassified, but also lacked “for official use only” markings — in the public domain. But they didn’t leak them. I did. They were sent to me by someone who didn’t work at the Pentagon, and I passed them along to Pincus.

Reagan couldn’t have been pleased about the timing of this leak, but he was on Weinberger’s wavelength – at least with respect to treaty violations. In his very first presidential press conference, Reagan characterized Soviet leaders as having “openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat.” Even so, Weinberger and Perle were unsuccessful in steering Reagan away from pursuing ambitious nuclear arms reduction treaties.

These ambitions are now in short supply. No-one mistakes Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin for Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. New treaties seem unlikely any time soon, but this hasn’t stopped the usual suspects from taking blocking actions and gnawing away at useful cooperative practices with Moscow. True, the Kremlin is back to its old tricks, unhappy with the treaty negotiated by Reagan and Gorbachev. Missile flight tests that either circumvent or violate the INF Treaty’s provisions warrant tweaks in Pentagon programs; Putin’s annexation of Crimea warrants more than tweaks.

In my view, Putin’s actions provide more than sufficient reason to cast off the fixed pursuit of deficit reduction in the United States. US friends and allies have always taken cues about Washington’s resolve by looking to the Pentagon’s budget, and continued shrinkage invites more trouble abroad. Reversing this trend in applicable, non-pork barrel, and non-nuclear ways would send useful signals. This would require making new deals on Capitol Hill over defense and domestic spending, reassessing political orthodoxy, and having the White House do some heavy lifting. If these requirements continue to be in short supply after this fall’s election, they would provide further evidence, if more were needed, of Washington’s deep dysfunction.

What punishments make the most sense in response to Putin’s annexation of Crimea? How about a one percent reduction in Russia’s economic growth? Capital flight? A lowering of ratings to near-junk bond status? A weakened currency? The drying up of foreign direct investment? Economics is not my strong suit, but these seem like these meaningful measures, and more economic penalties appear likely. Putting in motion and implementing a five-to-ten year plan to substitute US for Russian natural gas exports to Europe seems like a no-brainer.

What punishments don’t make sense? Messing with cooperative US-Russian practices that continue to serve US national security interests. Cooperative aerial overflights under the Open Skies Treaty, as discussed here previously, certainly fall into this category. Messing with collaborative efforts on nuclear security is another.

The Nunn-Lugar CTR authority has ended, and continued cooperation with Russia’s Ministry of Defense will be hard to resuscitate. The United States has made significant investments in upgrading security at Russian nuclear weapons storage sites. It would be wise to seek collaborative sustainment of these upgrades, which were given impetus by President George W. Bush and Putin at the Bratislava summit in 2005. Work on these security upgrades managed to survive Russia’s military action in Georgia.

In 2003, the Bush administration also negotiated a new, fifteen-year framework agreement to allow for security upgrades at Rosatom facilities. Some on Capitol Hill now wish to predicate their continuance on reversing Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Trickle-down security upgrades at Rosatom facilities are as uneven and unreliable as trickle-down economics in the United States. US assistance with physical security and material accounting in the past have undeniably improved Russian efforts to prevent acts of nuclear terrorism. There is no evidence that nuclear security initiatives in Russia would be maintained, let alone improved, if Congressional opponents had their way, and considerable reason to conclude otherwise. Much of this work is done by the US nuclear labs, which would be penalized by their supporters on Capitol Hill if nuclear security programs with Russia were stopped.

Why take aim at collaborative steps to reduce nuclear dangers and cross-border tensions, especially when bilateral relations are deteriorating? Caspar Weinberger’s arguments were not convincing to President Reagan. Will they now be convincing to Reagan Republicans?


Henry Kissinger wrote two early, influential books on the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (1957) and The Necessity for Choice (1960). I bought these used books at bargain-basement prices at the Princeton University bookstore. The name on the inside cover suggests that I was the beneficiary of Klaus Knorr’s decision to thin out his library. I was at Princeton on a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship to write Strategic Stalemate: Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control in American Politics (1984).

The Necessity for Choice appeared at a time of great apprehension about Soviet strategic advances and the Eisenhower administration’s seemingly sluggish response. Kissinger, like many others, was under the misapprehension that the missile gap was real and that the Soviet Union was running laps around the United States in the strategic competition. The subsequent discovery that the Missile Gap was imaginary did not calm strategic anxieties because nuclear technologies and delivery vehicles were advancing so rapidly that no one could confidently predict a safe passage in this competition. Kissinger’s concerns resonated greatly at the time. Some have continued relevance. Here are a few passages:

A nation unsure about the circumstances that impair its safety can hardly be expected to address itself with confidence to its positive tasks. It will be torn between complacency and premonitions of catastrophe, between obsession with military security and dismissal of it. When it thinks itself in jeopardy, it will act as if military security were its only problem. When the danger does not materialize immediately it will lapse into euphoria. Its measures are likely to be fitful. Its national mood will alternate between hysteria and smugness…

A gesture intended as a bluff but taken seriously is more useful as a deterrent than a bona fide threat taken as a bluff…

In any given situation a country may be inferior militarily but superior psychologically. It may be able to deter not because it is militarily stronger but because it values an objective highly enough – or can make its opponent believe this – so that it can make plausible a threat to exact a price its opponent is unprepared to pay…

A gap inevitably opens up between deterrence and the strategy we are prepared to implement should deterrence fail…

Since deterrence depends not only on the magnitude but also the credibility of the threat, the side which has a greater reputation for ruthlessness or for a greater willingness to run risks gains a diplomatic advantage…


On March 24, 1985, Major Arthur D. Nicholson, Jr. was shot in the chest by a Soviet sentry while observing a tank shed near Ludwigslust, in East Germany. The 1947 Potsdam Agreement for the military occupation and reconstruction of Germany made provision for US, UK, French and Soviet military liaison missions which carried out observations of restricted areas and military exercises behind the Iron Curtain. Major Nicholson was on one of these “tours” when he was shot.

Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was rightly incensed, but reacted wrongly. He sought to shut down the annual consultative meeting of US and Soviet naval officers implementing the 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement, which obligated the two navies to talk to each other about proper conduct when operating in close proximity. President Ronald Reagan overrode Secretary Weinberger’s objections and decided to proceed with the maritime consultative meeting, as the US Navy wished.

This painful historical footnote is worth remembering after Vladimir Putin’s land grab in Crimea and his pot-stirring in eastern Ukraine. In reaction, some treaty opponents in the United States have made an issue of Russian overflights of US territory under the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. Moscow wants to use a digital camera that Washington has yet to approve.

Congressman Mike Rogers, the Republican Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, took serious umbrage of Moscow’s request in a letter to President Obama, accompanied by a press release, portions of which are reprinted below:

Given current world events, President Putin appears to be more than willing to disregard international norms of behavior in seeking geopolitical advantage. We should not now naively believe he will unilaterally adhere to the limitations of the Open Skies Treaty.

Rogers said, ‘Putin’s attempt to upgrade Russia’s sensing capabilities now is particularly problematic. I have serious concerns about the technical advantages Russia would gain.’

Before this tempest in a teapot gains traction, here are some pertinent facts:

An Open Skies Treaty was first broached by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955. It was too radical an idea for a paranoid Kremlin to accept back then. President George HW Bush resurrected this idea in 1989 to test Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost before taking the plunge into deep strategic arms reductions. The Stimson Center was championing cooperative aerial inspections at that time with grant support from the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Amy Smithson and I edited a book, Open Skies, Arms Control and Cooperative Security (1992), covering this ground. There weren’t many in this cheering section. Most arms controllers felt that the initiative was either of limited utility or a dodge, while anti-arms controllers worried that it would be a prelude to more consequential treaties. One typical qualm was ‘Why bother? We have NTM.’ There wasn’t much of an appreciation that collaborative ventures like Open Skies could strengthen US military ties with countries that didn’t have NTM.

Gorbachev consented to the Treaty, along with 26 other original signatories in 1992. Provisional application of some provisions began right away, while the number of signatories rose to 34. By the time all states deposited their instruments of ratification, ten years had passed – quick work in the multilateral treaty biz. Conditions changed, but the utility of the treaty didn’t. One of the initial benefits perceived by treaty backers was to help prevent friction between Hungary and Romania. Both countries subsequently became members of NATO. Now the most useful open skies flights take place over Russia and Ukraine. More on this later.

Since 2002, when the Treaty entered into force, cooperative aerial observation flights have become routine from Vancouver east to Vladivostok. Last summer, treaty overflights passed the 1,000 mark. Each flight carries approved, commercially-available sensors that are operated only at permissible altitudes. The suite of sensors on board are optical panoramic and framing cameras with a ground resolution of no better than 30 centimeters “at the minimum height above ground level;” video cameras with real-time display, again with a 30 centimeter resolution; infra-red line scanning devices operated in a manner that provides no better than 50 centimeter resolution; and sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar with a ground resolution of no better than three meters. Proof of concept flights and confirmation of sensor capabilities are carried out between the host country and the observing state. The data obtained from cooperative overflights are made available to all state parties.

Every state accepts a quota of overflights (Russia and the United States are obligated to accept up to 42 per year) which are divvied up among state parties. The United States, Russia, Sweden, Turkey and a few other countries have dedicated Open Skies aircraft. They are used on a timeshare basis by other states. Prior notification of overflights occurs no less than 72 hours in advance of the airplane’s arrival at a designated point of entry. There is no right of refusal for routine Open Skies missions. Flight plans are provided no later than 24 hours prior to the overflight. Missions are conducted in conformity with International Civil Aviation Organization standards and practices, as well as with national air traffic control rules, procedures and guidelines for flight safety. Overflights of the Kremlin and the White House are not a good idea; ditto for interference with takeoffs and landings at Sheremetyevo and Dulles.

Treaty overflights provide excellent opportunities for the United States to work with friends and allies, as well as to prevent US-Russian relations from going into free-fall. The Open Skies Treaty, like the Chemical Weapons Convention, has a provision allowing extraordinary monitoring measures. This provision has recently been exercised. Three extraordinary overflights have been carried out in conjunction with Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity; a fourth is in the works. These extraordinary measures, which the Kremlin has voluntarily agreed to, could get messed up by mischief makers in Moscow and/or Washington.

As for the brouhaha about equipping Open Skies aircraft with equipment that could give Moscow a leg up on intelligence collection, here are the facts: The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been pressing the White House to permit US commercial firms to loft satellites and sell imagery to customers, domestic and foreign, with better resolution than the Open Skies plane. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has already given his consent. It’s safe to assume that Russian NTM can also do better than commercially-available Open Skies sensors.

A long overdue Open Skies upgrade from film to four-band multi-spectral digital imagery is in the works. The new digital cameras would be operated in a manner that provides comparable ground resolution to that of the old film cameras. Treaty implementation and consultative processes have given consent in principle to the use of digital imagery, but in practice, not everyone is ready to proceed.

Russia has an Open Skies plane equipped with the new sensor. The United States does not have one ready for installation. In fact, the Pentagon’s Request for Proposals hasn’t been issued yet. The acquisition of this sensor may cost around $45 million, a pittance in the Pentagon’s proposed $500 billion budget for FY 2015 – but it’s not in the budget. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman issued a rare public complaint on April 21st about Washington’s “highly non-constructive” approach toward the Open Skies Treaty in general and allowing the use of their digital sensor in particular.

Relations between Moscow and Washington are bad and getting worse. Complaints about the Open Skies Treaty’s overflights seem trivial, mischievous or ill-informed – but could provide additional fodder for deconstructionists.


Mark Fitzpatrick is a highly respected, careful chronicler of nuclear proliferation. His monograph of A.Q. Khan’s activities is required reading. So, too, is his latest, Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers, in which he recommends that Pakistan be treated as a normal nuclear state if it facilitates the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, negotiation of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and helps reinforce other nuclear norms. Mark correctly identifies an intensified nuclear competition on the subcontinent as a grave danger. He reasons that by bringing India and Pakistan into the existing nuclear order, dangers might be averted. He’s right. But will inducements succeed in persuading Pakistan (and India) to accept the limits inherent in signing up to the CTBT and FMCT?

Pakistan’s official narrative is that of a reluctant, unwilling party to a nuclear competition with India. In reality, Pakistani leaders, civil as well as military, have viewed the Bomb as absolutely essential to maintain national sovereignty and territorial integrity. They rightly predicted that New Delhi would develop nuclear weapons and gain conventional military advantages, and countered by engaging in “anticipatory” proliferation.

As Mark writes, “Pakistan assumed the worst about India’s intentions and spared no effort in preparing a nuclear counterpunch.” Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s set the wheels in motion to acquire a nuclear deterrent two years before India’s first test of a nuclear device. Pakistan produced a deliverable nuclear warhead and possessed confidence in its reliability before India’s second round of tests. Today, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal compares favorably to that of a neighbor whose economy is eight times bigger.

Mark is tackling a significant problem that hasn’t climbed anywhere near the top of the New Delhi’s, Islamabad’s or Washington’s agenda. His book is timely because nuclear dangers will grow on the subcontinent as New Delhi applies itself far more seriously to nuclear matters in the years ahead. But I doubt that his inducements will look attractive to Pakistan — or India, for that matter. Sure, Pakistan would like to be re-branded as a normal nuclear state. But unless Pakistan’s anticipatory proliferation reflex changes, and unless its leaders demonstrate a sustained national commitment to reclaim the writ of the state against violent extremists, nuclear normalcy will elude Pakistan.

New Delhi hasn’t shown much interest in helping Pakistan become a normal, nuclear state. Negotiations over confidence-building and nuclear risk reductions measures have been desultory, easily interrupted, and long delayed. Indian and Pakistani interlocutors do not view these measures as having intrinsic value. Instead, they are chips to be played for something more important. Pakistan won’t sign the CTBT and join an FMCT without India. New Delhi has already gained the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s seal of approval without having to sign the CTBT or suspend production of bomb-making material. Why would India help usher Pakistan into the club of responsible states possessing nuclear weapons if this means curtailing capabilities against a rising China?

Defusing an arms competition requires choreographed efforts from the top-down as well as from the bottom up. Pakistan measures itself against India, while India measures itself against China. India will compete with China regardless of what Pakistan does. So, as long as Pakistan pegs its nuclear needs to what it anticipates India wants, inducements in return for treaties are unlikely to be successful. The FMCT may take years to materialize even after Pakistan lifts its veto on negotiations because both countries aren’t sure how big an arsenal they need. And the scenario providing the quickest path to the CTBT on the subcontinent (India resumes testing, followed by Pakistan, followed by signatures) would ratchet up the competition.

India’s nuclear requirements haven’t diminished after being re-branded as a normal, responsible state possessing advanced nuclear technologies via the US-India civil-nuclear deal. This deal has not yet yielded the profits for US nuclear power companies or the geopolitical gains anticipated by its backers. US arms sales to India are up, which would be the case with or without the deal. New Delhi has remained on Moscow’s good side, as evident by India’s UN vote on Russia’s seizure of the Crimea, and will avoid choosing sides between Washington and China unless Beijing becomes belligerent. US-India ties should improve under a new Indian government, but the predicted benefits of re-branding India have so far been illusory.

The arguments by backers of the civil-nuclear deal that it would be good for nonproliferation were fatuous. The deal enabled India to purchase uranium on global markets while refusing to place safeguards on no less than eight power plants as well as breeder programs. Pakistan’s anticipatory proliferation impulse kicked in once again, building a fourth plutonium production reactor and moving forward on other nuclear infrastructure projects. The dangers of deterrence and arms race stability on the subcontinent pre-dated the deal, but were compounded by it.

A civil-nuclear deal for Pakistan isn’t in the cards for many reasons, including Pakistan’s inability to pay for nuclear power plants except at the concessionary prices offered by China. Would some other way to designate Pakistan as a normal state possessing nuclear weapons produce better results that the deal given to India?

Many have tried to provide Pakistani leaders with inducements to take actions that were not perceived to be in their national security or political interests – and many have failed. If Rawalpindi were to conclude that it has sufficient nuclear capabilities to deter India, inducements might help — but they could also backfire, because those accepting favors will be accused of doing Washington’s bidding. Conversely, if Rawalpindi isn’t inclined to relax nuclear requirements, inducements will be wasted. The stewards of Pakistan’s nuclear program tell visitors that they intend to utilize sunk costs to implement planned requirements, perhaps through 2020. But this plateau could be a mirage, as requirements could continue to grow if stimulated by Indian ballistic missile defense programs or other technical advances.

Pakistan’s leaders have a choice to make: they can seek normal, neighborly ties with India or continue to engage in a nuclear competition while accommodating extremist groups that target India. Pakistan cannot become a normal state that possesses nuclear weapons unless it has good neighborly relations, and Pakistan cannot become strong without a strong economy. Until Pakistan gets its house in order, economic growth will be constrained.

These conclusions point in the direction of reclaiming the writ of the state against violent, extremist groups, vastly increasing cross-border trade, and seriously pursuing confidence-building and nuclear risk reduction measures with India. Pakistan cannot be at peace with India until it is at peace with itself. No nation can be considered normal when internal security threats grow alongside its nuclear arsenal. Here too, inducements won’t help; help can only come after Pakistani authorities make wise decisions. For Pakistan, nuclear normality begins at home; it’s not something that can be meaningfully bestowed by others.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Here’s a sample axiom:

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

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

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