Saturday, December 29, 2007

IAEA’s 2007 Year in Review

Oh what a year. The IAEA recently put out an interesting “2007 Year in Review” that includes nuclear-related events and developments involving global security, environmental, and economic issues. Highlighted below are those most directly connected to nuclear weapons and nonproliferation issues.


  • Authorities in the Republic of Georgia report the seizure of illicit nuclear material during a past "sting operation" of nearly 80 grams of high-enriched uranium.
  • At the World Economic Forum, IAEA Director General ElBaradei calls for a "timeout" regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, urging all parties to emphasize negotiations.


  • IAEA Director General ElBaradei accepts an invitation from the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea) to visit the DPRK for talks in March.



  • At meetings of the IAEA Board of Governors, Dr. ElBaradei reports on the latest nuclear inspections in Iran.
  • An IAEA report presents a range of options for a new multilateral framework for assuring supplies of nuclear fuel while minimizing proliferation risks.
  • The IAEA and Iran jointly announce a work plan that will address all outstanding issues regarding Iran´s nuclear programme.



  • A July earthquake in Japan caused limited damage to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station, IAEA experts report.


  • The IAEA Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB) reports that fourteen incidents of nuclear trafficking involving unauthorized possession and related criminal activity took place during 2006.
  • Many of the world´s top authorities look into the nuclear crystal ball at an IAEA Scientific Forum examining nuclear development over the next quarter century.
  • The International Nuclear Safety Group - top nuclear safety officials from 14 countries and organizations - meets to review top issues involving nuclear plants and other facilities.


  • No country should have to rely on nuclear weapons for security under a global framework envisaged by IAEA Director General.



  • A new US intelligence estimate on Iran´s nuclear programme is received with "great interest" by Dr. ElBaradei.
  • Under tight security and IAEA safeguards, a night-time operation in Prague sends high-enriched uranium back to Russia, which supplied the fuel decades ago.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Joe Cirincione: A Nuclear-Armed Pakistan Teeters on the Edge

With all of the commentary and analysis on Bhutto’s assassination, surprisingly little has focused on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. And so comes one of the few pieces on the topic from Joe Cirincione on yesterday’s Huffington Post:

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the intensification of the political crisis in Pakistan at the end of the year brings into sharp relief our most immediate nuclear threat. It comes not from Iraq or Iran, but Pakistan. With an unstable military ruler, enough material for 50 to 100 nuclear bombs, strong Islamic fundamentalist influences in the country and armed, Islamic fundamentalist groups--including Al Qaeda--operating with its territory, Pakistan is the most dangerous country on earth. The nuclear weapons and material are believed secure for now, but increased instability could split the military or distract the units guarding the weapon materials, providing an opening for a raid by an organized radical group.

For all the focus on Iraq and Iran over the past six years, it is in Pakistan that Osama bin Ladin may have his best chance of getting the nuclear weapon we know he wants.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Nuclear Deck the Halls

With the holidays amongst us, it's important to remember the true spirit of Christmas: potential nuclear destruction. And so comes this song from The Bomblets, a new performance group in New Hampshire. (The best part of the photo? No, not the John "Bomb, Bomb Iran" McCain poster in the background, but the AC-DC t-shirt the bomblet on the left is wearing.)

Happy holidays to everyone!

Nuclear Deck the Halls

Nuclear proliferation, Falalalala lalalala
Threatens future generations, Falalalala lalalala
We don’t need no more construction, Falala lalala lalala
Weapons made for mass destruction Falalalala lala lala

Listen up this is our mission
Nuclear weapons abolition
We do not want to be fired
Time for us to be retired

Of foreign wars we must be skittish
Think of Russians, French and British
Vietnam and Afghan quagmires
Check the falls of previous empires

Genocidal threats to drop us
Don’t you think you’d better stop us?
We can use some higher wisdom
Nuclear war is terrorism

Don we now our bomb apparel
Listen to our Christmas carol
To heck with all this nuclear folly
Peace on earth would make us jolly.

Monday, December 24, 2007

North Korea Nutshell: Wish List for a New Year

As I'll be out of town for the holidays, I won't be able to provide any in-depth weekly review of events in and around North Korea (congrats to Lee Myung-bak as the new SKorea President). But instead of leaving a week with no post, I thought I would complete an important yearly exercise for those of us caught up in the pessimism that abounds in foreign policy. That exercise being to harness the positivity that surrounds the holiday season and attempt to view the next year in the most optimistic light possible. So in that spirit, I’ve put together a list of events that could, and I would argue should, happen in 2008. Most of the events here are linked in one or more ways, but the numerical order is random.

1. North Korea decides to make a complete declaration of all information pertaining to their production and usage of plutonium.

2. North Korea reveals information on its possible covert uranium program. This would include information on aluminum tubes purchased from Russia as well as possible centrifuges or other technology imported from Pakistan through the AQ Khan network.

3. During discussions concerning removal of North Korea from the terror related lists as well as the Trading with the Enemy Act, the United States makes completion of these removals contingent on progress on the Japanese abductee issue.

4. The North Koreans do the calculus and decide that it is more within their interest to move forward on Japanese abductees than risk losing U.S. cooperation.

5. The relationship between the U.S. and Japan avoids a possible pitfall and the Japanese lessen strict sanctions against North Korea and engage more thoroughly in the 6-Party talks.

6. Disablement of the 3 facilities at Yongbyon is completed and all related fuel rods are accounted for. A plan is agreed upon to have these rods shipped to either Russia, South Korea or Japan.

7. The U.S. Congress fully funds all aid requested by Ambassador Chris Hill.

8. Dialogue between North Korea and South Korea continues under the leadership of Lee Myung-bak. However, aid to the North becomes more contingent on progress in the denuclearization efforts.
8.5. A compromise is found over the extremely contentious Joint Fishing Zone on the two Koreas’ western coasts.

9. The 6-Party talks reconvene and agree on a final complete listing of North Korean facilities and certify the completion of disablement at Yongbyon. Upon completing this, a Joint Agreement is drafted and signed concerning the dismantlement of all existing nuclear facilities in return for a long-term comprehensive aid and development package.

10. The 6 parties assembled in these negotiations (Russia, China, U.S., Japan, South Korea, North Korea) agree to form a permanent organization for the purpose of regular meetings to discuss regional security issues. I would call it the North Asia-Pacific Peace and Security Initiative (NAPPSI), but that is just because it has a much snappier ring than “The 6-Party Talks.”

Friday, December 21, 2007

Nuke and NonPro Highlights of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill

The Center’s Leonor Tomero put out a great summary and analysis of the nuclear non-proliferation highlights of the FY 2008 omnibus appropriations bill. Her report significantly expands on my earlier post on zeroing out RRW and cutting GNEP.

The bill made significant contributions to the goals of effective nuclear non-proliferation by increasing funding for almost all nuclear non-proliferation programs, while cutting funding for controversial programs that undermine and jeopardize those goals. The highlights include:

  • Funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (that proposes to design and develop a new type of nuclear weapon) was zeroed out.
  • Funding for nuclear spent fuel reprocessing was cut by more than $200 million.
  • Funding for many of the important threat reduction programs that secure nuclear weapon-usable material in the former Soviet Union states and other countries, and for nuclear non-proliferation organizations, were increased by $340 million dollars.
  • Funding for other nuclear non-proliferation programs were increased by almost $270 million (including non-proliferation and international security program, non-proliferation and verification, research and development program, U.S. contribution to create an international fuel bank, and CTBTO and IAEA funding).
  • The bill requires a Nuclear Weapons Strategy for the 21st Century to be done in consultation with federal agencies and independent, non-government organizations.
  • The bill requires the President to submit to Congress in 2008 a Comprehensive Nuclear Threat Reduction and Security Plan to secure nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons-usable material by 2012.

Click here for the full summary and analysis.

Arms Control Person of the Year

The Arms Control Association just released a list of nominees for the first ever "Arms Control Person of the Year" to recognize some of the most significant figures and groups who have helped make the world a safer place this year.

Vote here to choose from the following candidates or make a nomination of your own.

The nominees are…

Jonas Gahr Støre, Foreign Minister of Norway for spearheading his government's initiative to negotiate a treaty banning cluster munitions after the failure of states to agree to such talks at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in 2006.

Representatives Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio) for leading the House of Representatives and Congress to zero out funding for the controversial Reliable Replacement Warhead program.

Prakash Karat, General Secretary of India's Communist Party and his left parties allies for slowing progress on the implementation of the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation deal.

Former Secretaries of State George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn for their catalytic January 2007 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling for renewed U.S. leadership on practical steps "toward a world free of nuclear weapons."

Christopher Hill, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, for negotiating and keeping on track the plan to implement the six-party agreement on the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Margaret Beckett, former U.K. Sec. of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, for her June 2007 speech calling for renewed action on key nuclear disarmament steps, including the CTBT, deeper nuclear reductions, and more, as a means to strengthen global nonproliferation efforts.

Jan Neoral, the mayor of the Czech village of Trokavec, whose residents voted 71 - 1 against deployment of a U.S. strategic missile defense radar in their town.

Phil Goff, New Zealand's Disarmament and Arms Control Minister, for his leadership on a nonbinding UN resolution calling on nuclear-armed states to lessen the alert level of their deployed weapons, which won the support of 124 countries despite U.S., British, and French opposition.

Lulzim Basha, Albanian Foreign Minister, for helping his country become the first to verifiably destroy its chemical weapons stockpile as part of its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Scottish Parliament for their June 14 vote in opposition of the U.K. government's replacement of the existent Trident nuclear-armed submarine system.

Vote, and stay tuned - the winner will be announced next month.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Russia Supplies Nuclear Fuel to Iran

The complex triad of relations between the U.S., Russia, and Iran got a little messier Monday when Russia announced its sale of nuclear fuel to Iran.

The delivery of lowly enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran's Bushehr power plant was not a surprise to the international community. It had been delayed several times in the past, and the Bush administration had a few weeks warning before Monday's announcement. This knowledge, however, does not diminish the extent to which this may affect relations between Iran and Russia, nor the extent to which it will complicate each country's already strained interactions with the U.S.

Development of the power plants at Bushehr and Darkhovin were planned before 1979 and then abandoned. The plan to further develop Bushehr with nuclear fuel from Russia has been delayed multiple times, whether in part because of international pressure not to acquiesce to Iran's nuclear desires, or because of publicly announced financial disputes.

Additional information on all of Iran's key nuclear sites can be found here.

According to the AFP, a representative for Atomstroiexport, the Russian contracting group responsible for the project, the plant will not be up and running before – at a minimum – the end of 2008. Two additional months are needed just to finish delivering the fuel rods, and tests will start six months after the deliveries are complete.

Russia has assured the international community that the fuel will be under the control of the IAEA, and Iran has "guaranteed" that it will only be used for the power plant at Bushehr and not be diverted for other purposes, reports the Times. Though some safeguards have been agreed to, concerns remain over exactly what will happen with the spent fuel.

"We for many years tried to stop [the sale], and for the last year we've known there was not a way to stop it, and that it was coming, and we held our breath on the timing," a senior Bush administration official told the NYT. This is not the moment they would have chosen.

In addition to coming during times of increased tension between Russia and the U.S. over America's planned missile defense site in Europe, the announcement came just weeks after international support for hawkish U.S. policies against Iran decreased in response to the NIE that identified Iran had ended its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003. Russia and China, already the most hesitant of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to agree to tougher sanctions on Iran, are now demonstrating even less willingness to side with U.S. policies.

Bush PR

While American and European officials stated privately that, "Russia's decision to deliver fuel to Bushehr further encourages Iran," the Bush administration has not publicly criticized the Russian sale.

On the contrary, they've attempted to validate the sale and fit it into their own vision for Iran. "If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there's not need for them to learn how to enrich," Bush stated. White House spokesperson Gordon Johndroe framed it as support from Russia for an ending to enrichment on Iranian soil. "There is no doubt that Russia and the rest of the world want to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," he stated.

While there isn't a complete lack of validity in some of these points, Russia's sale is arguably more significant in its encouragement of the development of an Iranian nuclear program than its attempt to decrease Iran's desire for its own enrichment cycle.

Iran PR

This perspective is confirmed by Iran. Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's own atomic energy organization, has announced that the sale does not indicate a cessation of their desire to enrich uranium on their own soil. The country plans to enrich uranium at the Natanz facility for a second power plant at Darkhovin, just as the Russian fuel will be used at Bushehr.

For Iran's own PR offensive, deputy head of the organization Mohammad Saeedi argued that the sale was a first step in deepening relations between Iran and Russia "in all fields in the future."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Congressional Schedule for DoD and DoE Bills

Provided below is an updated schedule of Congressional action on key Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Energy (DoE) bills, as prepared by David Culp of FCNL.

North Korea Nutshell: Cooperation

The theme of the week in the North Korea news scene is cooperation, or rather the lack thereof. This tends to be a rather common factor when dealing with North Korea as their foreign policy can be best described as erratic. Not to say that there aren’t some cold calculations done whenever the North decides to reverse course on something that was thought to have been already decided, but the frequency with which this happens tends to leave most people in the policy community with a certain amount of pessimism towards progress.

Anyway, last week started off well with the famed New York Philharmonic announcing that they had completed negotiations to add a stop in North Korea to their Asian tour. The two day visit will include a performance of both national anthems and some Gershwin and will conclude with members of the Philharmonic offering master classes to North Korean students. In 1959, the orchestra made a similar visit to the Soviet Union and in that case the orchestra helped to begin a process of closer cultural understanding during a time of intense strain between the two opposed nations. It can only be hoped that this visit will similarly help North Korea with beginning the process of becoming more open to the international community.

Things started heading south (pardon the pun) on Tuesday with the North Korean media decrying the actions of the American government as “criminal.” The U.S. had recently deployed some jets and other military related items in South Korea and the North quickly accused the United States of attempting to disrupt the nuclear talks and move the two countries closer to war.

Following this, news began to come out that one of the major holdups in the release of North Korea’s nuclear declaration was a refusal on their part to admit anything related to a suspected uranium enrichment program. Arms Control Today had an insightful piece on this revelation, and their sources revealed that the North was claiming that special aluminum tubes they had purchased from Russia were for non-nuclear purposes. They also denied ever purchasing centrifuges from the A.Q. Khan network, a fact contradicted by the account of exactly such a sale occurring in the autobiography of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. U.S. Ambassador Chris Hill has stated to Congress and the press many times that he will not accept any declaration that does not clearly outline exactly what has gone on involving these purchases. As the end of the year deadline looms ever closer, this point, along with the information pertaining to plutonium production, will serve to either make or break this current diplomatic effort.

Not wanting to be left out of the process, Congress decided that this would be a good time to weigh in on North Korean diplomacy. On Tuesday, a small group of Senators led by Sam Brownback submitted legislation requiring a wide range of activities North Korea must complete before the U.S. Senate would agree to remove them from the terror list. Given that almost none of the provisions in the legislation represent points from any of the agreements reached at the international 6-Party talks, the chance of North Korea agreeing to such demands is somewhere between slim and none. So far, this legislation has received little support, but it’s a sure sign that there will be at least some of a fight after North Korea meets its obligations and the time comes for the Senate to move on the delisting.

In what could be called a rather interesting coincidence, the Congressional Research Service issued a report on Tuesday claiming links between the regime in Pyongyang and Hezbollah and the Tamil Tigers. The report points to French and Israeli sources that state that they have evidence of both training and material support to Hezbollah beginning in the 1980s. It also mentions Japanese sources that claim similar actions with regard to the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. If the findings in this report are validated and begin to gain traction in the policy debate, there could be dire consequences given how unlikely it would be the U.S. could justify removing North Korea from the terror blacklist.

And just to prove that North Korea deserves its “Most Eccentric Nation” status, three largely positive events also taken place last week. First, after defense talks between North and South Korean ministers ended successfully, the first freight cars began running between the cities of Munsan in the South and Bongdong in the North. The 10-mile rail line will improve material transports to and from the joint North-South Gaeseong Industrial Complex, a project that involves South Korean investment in heavy industry using North Korean labor. This project represents the first of many transportation projects in the North that likely could never have happened without the softening of their policy of economic isolationism.

Kim Jong'Il also took the time to officially respond to President Bush's letter sent last week. In his reply, Kim essentially reconfirmed that North Korea would meet all necessary obligations as long as the United States kept its promises. While many would not look at this statement and not read much positivity into it, the fact that it once again affirms the North's position of meeting its obligations and moving forward with denuclearization progress should give observers comfort that the process is still on track.

Lastly, following a closed Senate Foreign Relations Committee briefing with Amb. Hill, East Asia Subcommittee Chair Barbara Boxer stated that the Senate would approve funds, including the $106 million already requested, to “support the process” surrounding the 6-Party negotiations. Some observers had worried that this funding may be stalled over concerns of a North Korean connection to a Syrian facility bombed a few months past. But these comments, coming after a briefing on the very latest developments on this and other subjects involving the negotiations, seem to say that negotiations can move forward in the short term without the fear of U.S. Senate putting up financial speed bumps.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Congress Releases Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Zeroes Out RRW and Cuts GNEP

Congress released today its joint House-Senate omnibus appropriations bill, the FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which zeroes out RRW and significantly cuts GNEP.

As noted in a summary from the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, the bill “prohibits the development of a reliable replacement warhead until the President develops a strategic nuclear weapons plan to guide transformation and downsizing of the stockpile and nuclear weapons complex.”

The accompanying explanatory statement details this further:

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Strategy for the 21st Century. – The Congress agrees to the direction contained in the House and Senate reports requiring the Administration, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy, the Administrator of the NNSA, the Department of Defense, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Strategic Command, and the Intelligence Community, and other appropriate independent, non-government science and security advisory organizations, to develop and submit to the Congress a comprehensive nuclear weapons strategy for the 21st century.

Reliable Replacement Warhead. – The amended bill provides no funds for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), as proposed by the House. As stated in both the House and Senate reports, Congress believes a new strategic nuclear deterrent mission assessment for the 21st century is required to define the associated stockpile requirements and determine the scope of the weapons complex modernization plans. The NNSA is directed to develop a long-term scientific capability roadmap for the national laboratories to be submitted to the Committees on Appropriations.

GNEP also took a significant hit. The bill funds the program at $179 million, $216 million below the President’s request, and roughly halfway between the House level ($120 million) and Senate level ($243 million). The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, nevertheless, had some harsh words for “the controversial initiative.” In their summary, they state that “the project will cost tens of billions of dollars and last for decades, but it continues to raise concerns among scientists and has only weak support from industry.”

The bill also significantly increases funding for several key nuclear nonproliferation programs. Although the top-line figure is $1.7 billion, $14 million below the President’s request, total funding for the programs is increased by $534 million by transferring unrelated work to other accounts, resulting in a 50% increase over the President’s request.

The bill must still be voted on and is subject to floor amendments, meaning that these numbers may change, but any amendment that increases funding for RRW would likely be difficult to win. If the bill passes with the current funding levels for both RRW and GNEP intact and is signed by the President, it would represent a tremendous victory for the arms control community.

National Security Legislative Wrap-up

This will probably be Congress' last week in session. The House will consider today the Omnibus Appropriations bill, a bill that covers the remaining 11 appropriation bills yet to be passed by Congress. The measure will include both the Energy and Water and Foreign Operations appropriations bills. The bill will then go to the Senate. Last week, Congress completed action on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Conference Report (H.R. 1585).


Last week, both houses of Congress approved the conference report on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1585. The House vote was 370 - 49 on December 12; the Senate vote was 90 - 3 on December 14. The $507 billion bill provided $66 million for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, barred funding for converting Trident nuclear submarines to carry conventional warheads, cut $85 million for construction and deployment at the Europe-based missile defense and established a 12-person commission to study U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

The Omnibus Appropriations bill, containing the 11 appropriations bills not yet passed by Congress, will eventually include about $70 million to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – without many or any restrictions or measures to requiring bringing home American troops from Iraq.

The Fiscal Year 2008 Energy and Water Appropriations bill has been folded into a larger Omnibus Appropriations bill covering 11 appropriations bills not yet enacted. The Omnibus Appropriations Bill should be considered this week. The bill apparently approves zero funds for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, $179 million for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership ($2! 16 below the President's request) and increases funding for non-proliferation programs by $505 million.

The Fiscal Year 2008 State, Foreign Appropriations bill has been folded into a larger Omnibus Appropriations bill covering 11 appropriations bills not yet enacted.

About a quarter of the Fiscal Year Supplemental Appropriations bill to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- which now totals about $196 billion -- was considered the week of November 12. The bill was called a "bridge," in that it would provide temporary funding for current operations until the full amount can be considered next year. The measure would have required some U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq to begin 30 days after the bill is enacted, and it set a goal -- but not a requirement -- that most troops be brought home by December 15, 2008. In addition to these measures, the bill required more time at home between tours of duty in Iraq, banned waterboarding and other torture techniques, and prohibited the establishment of permanent bases in Iraq.

The House approved the bill by a 218 - 203 vote. The Senate refused to bring up the bill; it voted 53 - 45 in favor of beginning debate, but 60 votes were required and the bill died. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tried to bring up a $70 billion bill to pay for the wars that had no restrictions, but his measure died 45 - 53. The Senate could reconsider the measure this week or next.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Biden and Richardson Highlight Cuts to Missile Defense and RRW in Dem Prez Debate in Iowa

Like the recent Republican presidential debates, Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate in Iowa featured little discussion of nuke and nonpro issues. There was no mention, for instance, of Iran or the recently released NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons programs. The debate (transcript here) instead focused mainly on domestic issues and the few references to nuke and nonpro issues were couched in those terms.

On how to balance the budget, Biden responded by highlighting cuts to several contentious programs, including missile defense and RRW:

BIDEN: … Just by eliminating the [Iraq] war, eliminating the $200 billion in tax cuts that aren't needed for -- goes to the top one percent, if you add it all up, and by cutting somewhere in the order of $20 billion a year out of the military for special programs, from star wars, to a new atomic weapon, to the F-22, to the Nimitz-Class Destroyer, you can save $350 billion.

Later as a follow-up, candidates were asked how they would pay for their proposed programs given the continuing costs of the Iraq war. Biden again mentioned cutting missile defense and RRW, with Richardson also jumped into the mix:

BIDEN: … You can take $20 billion a year out of the Defense Department just by eliminating weapons systems; not building the new atomic weapon, not building Star Wars.


RICHARDSON: Well, I detailed $57 billion in military reductions, which involve missile systems, procurement reform.

Loyal readers might recall that I highlighted Richardson’s ambitious plan back in late September. It includes scaling back the National Missile Defense program; eliminating the Pentagon's ‘Space-Based Offensive Weapons'; eliminating RRW and Complex 2030 [now called “Complex Transformation”]; reducing the U.S. nuclear posture to 600 deployed warheads, with 400 in reserve and eliminating all "tactical" nuclear weapons; and canceling the Airborne Laser Program.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Nuke and NonPro Highlights from Recent Republican Prez Debates

Not much to report on the nuke and nonpro front from the two recent Republican presidential debates, which largely focused instead on domestic issues. The first debate was held last Sunday at the University of Miami in Florida (transcript here), while the second debate was held on Wednesday in Iowa (transcript here).

In Florida, contrasting sharply with the numerous references to “winning” the Iraq war made by numerous candidates, the one mention of Iran came from Fred Thompson:

THOMPSON: … If we leave Iraq with our tail between our legs, we are going to enhance their ability to recruit young people who, they too, can help bring down parts of America and maybe America itself. We will leave an opening for Iran, as it, I still believe, continues to pursue a nuclear capability.

This comes nearly a week after the declassified findings of the Iran NIE was publically released, which found that Tehran ended its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.

The debate in Iowa was a little more substantive.

On the question of what the candidates could realistically accomplish if their first year as president, Hunter stressed the need for strengthening the military in the context of North Korea and Iran:

REP. HUNTER: First, you got to strengthen the U.S. military. You know, we have to look at the horizon past Iraq and Afghanistan and see the emergence of a North Korea with nuclear capability, Iran proceeding on that path despite what the NIE says, and also the emergence of communist China as a new superpower stepping in the shoes of the Soviet Union.

Paul had a different take:

REP. PAUL: Well, there's a limit of what you can do in one year, and at home it's more difficult. You would have to work with the Congress, but a commander in chief could end the war. We could bring our troops home. That would be a major event; it would be very valuable. We could be diplomatically -- we could become diplomatically credible once again around the world. Right now, today, we're not. Even our allies resent what we do.

We wouldn't have no more preemptive war. We would threaten nobody. We would not threaten Iran. Now it is proven once again Iraq didn't have the nuclear weapon, had nothing to do with 9/11. The Iranians have no nuclear weapon, according to our CIA. There's no need for us to threaten the Iranians. We could immediately turn the Navy around and bring them home, and I think this would be a major step toward peace.

The debate later briefly turned to Thompson’s earlier comments regarding the Iran NIE.

MS. WASHBURN: … Senator Thompson, you've expressed doubts that the recent report on Iran's nuclear capabilities is accurate. As president, how would you decide when to disagree with available intelligence, and then what would you do?

MR. THOMPSON: Well, that's probably the most important question that's been asked today.

We have a real problem with our intelligence community. It, along with certain parts of our military, were neglected for a long, long time in this country, and we're paying the price for it now. The fact is that nobody has any real confidence in the result that they're getting. The result you're talking about was directly contradicted by their strong beliefs just two years ago. So you've got to rebuild from the bottom up.

I think that, in the meantime, we have to rely on other people. The British are helpful to us. The Israelis sometimes are helpful to us. … In many respects, they have advancements that we don't have in terms of our intelligence capabilities. But the president cannot let … a piece of paper by a bureaucrat determine -- solely determine what his actions must be.

In other words, don’t let facts get in the way of ideology. That Thompson describes the NIE – the most authoritative intelligence assessment that expresses coordinated judgments from 16 intelligence agencies – as “a piece of paper by a bureaucrat” is striking. The lack of confidence in the intelligence community, Thompson seems to suggest, is not due to its failures involving the Iraq war and now its about-face on Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, but rather its inconsistency. Instead of changing their assessments in accordance to what the intelligence is telling them, intelligence analysts should stick to their previously held “strong beliefs,” lest the intelligence community be “rebuilt.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jonathan Schell: The Old and New Shapes of Nuclear Danger

The forthcoming issue of The Nation features a tremendous article by Jonathan Schell on nuclear abolition. Placing it in its current political context, he recounts the near breakthrough at Reykjavik and traces the idea’s development through to its current reemergence. (Note the shout out of Council for a Livable World, the Center’s sister organization, in the discussion of organizations working towards this goal.)

A few choice paragraphs:

With the end of the cold war, a new era of the nuclear age opened. At first it seemed that with the old restraining parity with the Soviet Union a thing of the past, the sole superpower could simply do anything it wanted. But harsher realities built into the very nature of the nuclear age soon began to reassert themselves. In the new laboratory of the new era, the educational process resumed. Once again a dialectic of pressures and counterpressures commenced. Once again the nuclear dilemma, having further matured (some fifty nations are now capable of building the bomb), was driven from hiding by political events. Once again, there were trials and errors. And once again, just as in the 1980s, an impasse appeared--the one we face today.

There are important differences, of course. The new era has brought a new set of nuclear dangers to the fore. In the cold war, the most salient lesson was that the bomb is equally destructive to all; in the post-cold war era, the inescapable lesson is that the bomb's technology is equally available to all competent producers, very likely including, one day not far off, terrorist groups. In the cold war, the driving force was the bilateral arms race; in the post-cold war era, it has been proliferation.

Nevertheless, the fundamental underlying lesson, built into the genetic code of the nuclear age and destined to last as long as that age does, is the same: nuclear weapons cannot be the source of advantage for any one nation or group of nations at the expense of the rest; they are a common danger and can be faced only by all together, through political and diplomatic means. Just as during the cold war the double standard inherent in the concept of American nuclear superiority could not be sustained, so today the double standard implicit in the two-class world of nuclear and nonnuclear powers is unsustainable. Just as the two Reykjavik leaders drew the lesson that only negotiation, not further buildups, could release the world from the common peril, so today we must give up the illusion that force can solve the proliferation problem and must turn to negotiation instead. Finally, just as the true solution to the cold war peril of annihilation could only be abolition, so it is today, because any other leaves the double standard intact, and the double standard is at the root of proliferation. Perhaps because this is the second time around, the lessons have been presented more quickly, for a critical moment of decision has already arrived.

Click here for the full article.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nuke and NonPro Highlights of the Conference Agreement on the FY08 Defense Authorization Bill

The Center’s Chris Hellman released his Highlights of the Conference Agreement on the FY08 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1585/S. 1547) today.

The House and Senate conferees completed their work on H.R. 1585, the FY’08 Defense Authorization bill, on December 6. The bill includes $506.9 billion for the Department of Defense and the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy. The bill also authorizes $189.4 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This funding is NOT counted as part of the $506.9 billion.

The full House is expected to take up consideration of the legislation on Tuesday, December 11.

Included below are highlights, funding provisions, and legislative provisions relating to nuclear weapons and nonproliferation issues.


Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) – Provides $66 million in funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), $22.8 million below the request, and restricts RRW program activities to phase 2A levels or below, design definition and cost study.

DoD Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (“Nunn-Lugar”) – Increase funding by $80 million from Administration request to $428 million, expanded the program to countries outside the former Soviet Union and repealed all the required annual certifications that encumbered the program.

Conventional Trident Conversion Program – The administration requested $175.4 million for research and development and advanced procurement for the Navy’s program to convert a portion of the Trident ballistic missile submarine fleet to launch conventionally armed missiles. The conference agreement includes no funding for Trident conversion, and allocates $100 million for conventional “Prompt Global Strike” program. Under General Provisions, conferees also extended annual reporting requirements on prompt global strike capabilities through 2009.

Missile Defenses in Europe – Reduced the budget request of $310.4 million for deployment of the proposed European missile defense system by $85 million to limit the use of funds for construction or deployment until Poland and the Czech Republic approve deployment.

National Missile Defense deployment – Require a certification from the Secretary of Defense that the Block 2006 Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is operationally effective before deploying more than 40 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) at Fort Greely, Alaska.

Iran missile defense deployment – State that the policy of the United States is to develop, test, and deploy an effective defense against Iranian ballistic missile threats, and to encourage the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to accelerate its missile defense efforts.

U.S. Strategic Posture Commission – Establishes a 12 member congressional commission “to look at the strategic posture of the United States in the broadest sense,” meaning that “conventional force structures, as well as nuclear force structures, must be included in the overall review and assessment of the strategic posture of the United States.” The commission is asked to include a threat assessment, a detailed review of nuclear weapons policy and strategy, and an examination of non-nuclear alternatives to nuclear weapons (both kinetic and non-kinetic). The Commission’s report would be due December 1, 2008.

Nuclear Posture Review – Directs the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Energy to conduct a review of the nuclear posture of the United States for the next 5 to 10 years. The new nuclear posture review (NPR) would be submitted to Congress in December 2009 (Section 1070). The Bush administration hasn’t conducted a thorough assessment of U.S. nuclear doctrine and policy since the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review.


Dept. of Energy nonproliferation programs
Request: $1.723 billion
House: $1.818 billion
Senate: $1.86 billion
Conference: $1.953 billion, $230 million above the request

DoD Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (“Nunn-Lugar”)
Request: $348 million
House: $398 million
Senate: $448 million
Conference: $428 million

National Nuclear Security Administration
Request: $9.4 billion
House: $9.5 billion
Senate: $9.5 billion
Conference: $9.6 billion, $189 million above the request

Environmental and Other Defense Activities
Request: $6.4 billion
House: $6.4 billion
Senate: $6.3 billion
Conference: $6.4 billion, $4 million above the request


Airborne Laser Program (ABL) – Provides $513.8 million, $35 million below the request. The House provided $298.8 million, and the Senate included $348.8 million.

U.S. Space Protection Strategy – Calls on the Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence to set forth the policy of the United States “with respect to the priority within the Nation’s space programs on the protection of national security space systems.” The strategy must explain planning through 2025 and the first report on the strategy would be due six months after the date of enactment. The conferees highlighted “the growing threat to and vulnerability of” U.S. space assets, especially after the “January 11, 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test and other counterspace developments.” Conferees suggest that Space Situational Awareness capabilities “could mitigate such vulnerabilities but continue to be under-funded.”

Destruction of U.S. Chemical Weapons Stockpile – Conferees included a sense of the Congress that the United States should “remain committed to making every effort” to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile by April 2012, the deadline included in the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, conferees included a binding provision that requires the destruction of the stockpile by December 31, 2017. Progress and “accelerated funding options” reports, including life cycle cost estimates for each facility, are required to survey what it will take to complete destruction by 2017.

Nuclear Power Systems for Major Combatant Naval Vessels – Requires that all new classes of submarines, aircraft carriers, cruisers, large escorts for carrier strike groups, expeditionary strike groups, and vessels comprising a sea base have integrated nuclear power systems. The Navy’s first test under this new requirement will be the next generation cruiser CG(X) (which will now become the “CGN(X)” to reflect nuclear power system).

Non-Federal Development of Chemical Agent Defense – Authorizes the Secretary of Defense to provide small quantities of toxic chemicals or their precursors to a State or local government, or a private entity incorporated in the United States, for development or testing of material designed to be used for defensive purposes. All such transfers must be consistent with the Chemical Weapons Convention.

WMD Civil Support Teams – Authorizes the creation of two additional Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams. These National Guard-equipped and certified teams’ mission is to assist local first-responders in determining the nature of a terrorist attacks, provide medical and technical advice, and pave the way for identification and arrival of follow-on assets.

Pakistan Frontier Corps – Allows the Secretary of Defense to use up to $75 million in O&M funds during FY’08 to enhance the ability of the Pakistan Frontier Corps to conduct counterterrorist operations along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Authorized assistance may include equipment, supplies, and training.

For additional information on the Fiscal Year 2008 defense budget, visit the Center’s website:

Monday, December 10, 2007

National Security Legislative Wrap-up

The House-Senate conference on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Conference Report (H.R. 1585) completed work on December 6, and sent the bill to the House and Senate for final approval, which is likely this week. The House and Senate appropriations committees are working on an omnibus appropriations bill which will cover the remaining 11 appropriation bills yet to be passed by Congress. The House is scheduled to vote on it Tuesday, and the Senate should vote on it later this week. The measure will include both the Energy and Water and Foreign Operations appropriations bills. The current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on Friday, December 14.


The conference report on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1585, has been completed, and it is is expected that the conference report will be voted on by the House and Senate this week. The bill contains $506.9 billion for defense programs plus $189.4 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan war funding.

About a quarter of the Fiscal Year Supplemental Appropriations bill to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- which now totals about $196 billion -- was considered the week of November 12. The bill was called a "bridge," in that it would provide temporary funding for current operations until the full amount can be considered next year. The measure would have required some U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq to begin 30 days after the bill is enacted, and it set a goal -- but not a requirement -- that most troops be brought home by December 15, 2008. In addition to these measures, the bill required more time at home between tours of duty in Iraq, banned waterboarding and other torture techniques, and prohibited the establishment of permanent bases in Iraq.

The House approved the bill by a 218 - 203 vote. The Senate refused to bring up the bill; it voted 53 - 45 in favor of beginning debate, but 60 votes were required and the bill died. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tried to bring up a $70 billion bill to pay for the wars that had no restrictions, but his measure died 45 - 53. The Senate could reconsider the measure this week or next. Both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pledged not to approve new war funding without any restrictions. The Senate may consider a less restrictive version at that point in December, but the House may wait until 2008.

The Fiscal Year 2008 Energy and Water Appropriations bill has passed the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee but may never get to the Senate floor, instead going directly to a House-Senate conference as part of a larger package of bills. It will be folded into a larger Omnibus Appropriations bill covering 11 appropriations bills not yet enacted. The Omnibus Appropriations Bill should be considered this week.

The Fiscal Year 2008 State, Foreign Appropriations bill is being considered by a House-Senate conference committee to work out the differences between the two bills. It will be folded into a larger Omnibus Appropriations bill covering 11 appropriations bills not yet enacted. The Omnibus Appropriations Bill should be considered this week.

Congressional Schedule for DoD and DoE Bills

Provided below is an updated schedule of Congressional action on key Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Energy (DoE) bills, as prepared by David Culp of FCNL.

Dem Prez Candidates on Iran … Again

Last week’s NPR-sponsored Democratic presidential debate in Iowa was initially dominated by all things Iran: the recently released NIE, the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Iranian involvement in Iraq, etc. (Some might recall that last month’s MSNBC-sponsored debate also was dominated by the topic of Iran.) It then turned to foreign policy doctrines, China, safety standards for toys, China again, and immigration. The full transcript can be found here.

Although chalked full of interesting moments, one highlight came in the spat between NPR moderators Robert Siegel and John Inskeep and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, with former Sen. John Edwards thrown in for good measure. After noting “there's no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program,” Kucinich took exception to Edwards’s claim that “everyone at the table would acknowledge that Iran represents a serious issue for the Middle East and for us.” He then reinforced the point that he, and he alone, has opposed every piece of legislation ever … that said all options are on the table and that Iran had nuclear weapons programs.

Provided below are some key portions of the debate as they regard to nuclear weapons and nonproliferation. Key points are bolded.

ROBERT SIEGEL: … The new National Intelligence Estimate contains a major change. It says that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003. Today President Bush said that nothing's changed in light of the report. He said the NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate, doesn't do anything to change his opinion about the danger Iran poses to the world.

For all of you — and let's go left to right across the radio dial — do you agree with the president's assessment that Iran still poses a threat? And do you agree that the NIE's news shows that isolation and sanctions work?

Senator Clinton.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I'm relieved that the intelligence community has reached this conclusion, but I vehemently disagree with the president that nothing's changed and therefore nothing in American policy has to change.

I have for two years advocated diplomatic engagement with Iran, and I think that's what the president should do. He should seize this opportunity and engage in serious diplomacy, using both carrots and sticks. I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we're not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.


MR. MIKE GRAVEL: Iran's not a problem, never has been, never will be.

What you're seeing right here is something very unique, very courageous. What the intelligence community has done is drop-kicked the president of the United States. These are people of courage that have watched what the president is doing, onrush to war with Iran.

And so by releasing this information, which is diametrically opposed to the estimate that was given in '05 by showing that there is no information to warrant what the White House has been doing, they have now boxed in the president in his ability to go to war. So, my hat is off to these courageous people within the bureaucrats — bureaucracy of the intelligence community.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think Iran continues to be a threat to some of its neighbors in the region, so they're still funding Hamas, they're still funding Hezbollah, and those are things we have to be concerned about. But it is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology. And that's been the problem with their foreign policy generally. They should have stopped the saber-rattling, should have never started it, and they need now to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.

I have said consistently since the beginning of this campaign that it is important for the president to lead diplomatic efforts, to try to offer to Iran the prospect of joining the World Trade Organization, potential normalized relations over time, in exchange for changes in behavior. That's something that has to be pursued.


SEN. CHRIS DODD: Well, again, this is 16 agencies that have drawn this conclusion, it wasn't just one. So it's a very compelling case that's been made here for exercising caution and pursuing what I've advocated, and others have as well, and that is, pursuing as much of a diplomatic solution to the problems that Iran poses. And there are some. It would be foolish to say otherwise here.

But the important point is we can't do this unilaterally. And that's one of the dangers here. If we really try to impose sanctions by ourselves or other such efforts here, they will fail. It's very important to understand the linkage, obviously, not only between Iran, but Iraq and Iran, and our ability to build this kind of international support for efforts to convince Iran on a variety of issues to move in a different direction is being seriously compromised by our continued military presence in Iraq.

So there needs to be not only understanding what's written in this report, but simultaneously understanding that that more multilateral approach is going to be hobbled and difficult as long as we find ourselves bogged down in the Iraq situation.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: With all due respect with anybody who thinks that pressure brought this about, let's get this straight. In 2003, they stopped their program.

You cannot trust this president. He is not trustworthy. He has undermined our security in the region. He has undermined our credibility in the world. He has made it more difficult to get cooperation from the rest of the world. He has caused oil to go up roughly $25 a barrel with a security premium because of his threat of war.

It is outrageous, intolerable, and it must stop. The president of the United States — it was like watching a rerun of his statement on Iraq five years earlier. This — Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly with the rest of the world at our side, but we've made it more difficult now because who is going to trust us? Who in Europe, who in China, who in Russia? It's outrageous.

MR. JOHN EDWARDS: … What — what I believe is that this president, who just a few weeks ago was talking about World War III, he, the vice president, the neocons have been on a march to possible war with Iran for a long time. We know that they've prepared contingency plans for a military attack. My view is that the — this has been going on since the famous "Axis of Evil" speech, and the United States Senate had an important responsibility in standing up to him and stopping him on the vote on whether to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. The president says we're in a global war on terror, and then he declares the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and also a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. It's absolutely clear and eerily similar to what we saw with Iraq, where they were headed — and there's a different approach, a smart approach using our friends in Europe and the European banking system to deal with this.


REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Just as five years ago I warned that there was no evidence that would merit war against Iraq and warned this country not to do it, so for the past few years I've been saying that there's no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. And unfortunately, the president, just as he was able to convince some of my colleagues here to vote for the war against Iraq, despite the fact there wasn't any real evidence, so he has been able to get some of my colleagues here — Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards — to say of Iran "all options are on the table." As a matter of fact, he's still saying that. So we really need to switch to not just diplomacy, but my candidacy offers the American people someone for president who was right the first time.


STEVE INSKEEP: Senator Clinton, as some of your opponents have noted, in September you voted on a resolution involving the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which, among other things, called them proliferators of mass destruction. In view of this latest intelligence estimate, which says Iran's nuclear program was stopped in 2003, do you believe that's still true?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, there were other purposes for that resolution. It does label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, and there is evidence that they do support Hamas and Hezbollah, as Senator Obama just said, and in addition have, until recently, been supplying weapons and technical advisers to various factions within Iraq.

Since that resolution passed — which was non-binding and did not in any way authorize the president to take any action that would lead to war — our commanders on the ground in Iraq have announced that we've seen some progress from the Iranians backing off, no longer sending in weapons and materiel, and beginning to withdraw their technical advisers.

INSKEEP: Forgive me, are the Revolutionary Guards proliferators of mass destruction?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, many of us believe that. You know, earlier this year, Senator Edwards told an audience in Israel that the nuclear threat from Iran was the greatest threat to our generation. Back in 2004, Senator Obama told the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board that he would even consider nuke — surgical strikes by missiles to take out Iran's nuclear capacity. So there was a very broadly based belief that they were pursuing a nuclear weapon.

INSKEEP: Let's hear from people you've just mentioned. Senator Edwards, do you remember saying that?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, first of all, Senator Clinton and I just have an honest disagreement about this, but a very strong disagreement. I think it's very clear that Bush and Cheney have been rattling the saber about Iran for a very long time, and I said very clearly when this vote took place on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that it was important for us to stand up to them.

INSKEEP: But your remarks in Israel that Senator — that Senator —

MR. EDWARDS: Well, everyone — everyone at the table would acknowledge that Iran represents a serious issue for the Middle East and for us

REP. KUCINICH: No, I do not acknowledge

INSKEEP: Congressman Kucinich does not, but —

MR. EDWARDS: Let me finish, if I can.

REP. KUCINICH: Let me characterize my own remarks.

MR. EDWARDS: If I can just finish, Dennis, for just a second.

But I do want it to be clear that, especially on an issue as big as Iran, it's very important for voters in Iowa — caucus-goers in Iowa and New Hampshire voters — to understand the differences. And I do believe very strongly that it was important for us to stand up because what Bush and Cheney did after the vote in the Senate is they declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.


SEN. OBAMA: Well, Senator Clinton's mention of the Chicago Tribune article back in 2004, I think, is a little bit misleading. Because what I was specifically asked about was if Iran was developing nuclear weapons, how could we respond? And in those situations, what I said is we should keep options on the table. But what I've been consistent about was that this saber-rattling was a repetition of Iraq, a war I opposed, and that we needed to oppose George Bush again. We can't keep on giving him the benefit of the doubt, knowing the ways in which they manipulate intelligence.


SIEGEL: … A moment ago when Congressman Kucinich objected to or interrupted the statement from Senator Edwards that everybody agrees Iran is a threat, you say, Congressman Kucinich, I misinterpreted your earlier remarks that Iran is not a threat.

REP. KUCINICH: All I did was raise my hand. I wanted a chance to respond.


REP. KUCINICH: … The point that Senator Clinton made was a valid point with respect to the comments of Senator Obama and also the comments of Senator Edwards at the Herzliya conference. See, when people say all options are on the table, as the three senators have, they actually encouraged President Bush and licensed his rhetoric. And what I'm saying is that I'm the only one here who in Congress repeatedly challenge, in every chance and every legislation, repeatedly challenge this mind-set that said all options are on the table and that Iran had nuclear weapons programs.

SIEGEL: OK. Cleared up.

REP. KUCINICH: I'm the only one who can make that claim.

SIEGEL: Clarified.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Second Guessing the Iran NIE

Gary Hart, Chairman of the Center’s sister organization, Council for a Livable World, recently wrote an interesting piece in the Huffington Post comparing Alan Dershowitz’s second guessing of the new NIE on Iran to the Right’s derision of any Cold War intelligence that challenged the notion that “the Russians are coming and they're 30 feet tall." As he sardonically notes, “Intelligence is good when it tells you what you want to hear. Otherwise, it is dangerously flawed if not sinister.” Click here for the full piece.

Council Board Member
Jim Walsh also had a great piece in the Boston Globe in which he asks and answers whether, given the intelligence community's recent failures, the Iran NIE is credible. In outlining why he believes the NIE on Iran is on target, Walsh argues:

First, the idea that Iran suspended nuclear weapons activities in fall 2003 is consistent with how countries typically behave. Throughout the nuclear age, governments have been reluctant to carry on clandestine nuclear programs when inspectors are on the ground. Saddam Hussein, for example, shut down his WMD programs in the early 1990s, because he feared inspectors might uncover his efforts. In fall 2003, Iran was under intense scrutiny regarding its nuclear program. As a consequence, Tehran agreed to join an upgraded inspections regime called the Additional Protocol. From an Iranian perspective, it would have been foolhardy to invite inspectors in only to get caught with an active program.

Second, it is consistent with what we know about Iran. This new intelligence estimate reverses a 2005 conclusion that Tehran was determined to get the bomb no matter what. That earlier conclusion always seemed at odds with the history of Iran's nuclear efforts, which could be called inconsistent at best. Though Tehran showed an interest in nuclear technology under the shah and again beginning in the mid-1980s, the program was slow to make progress, even though it was receiving help from Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's secret nuclear network. For a country that was "determined" to become a nuclear weapons state, Iran was taking its time.

Third, the fact that this intelligence estimate contradicts a previous report is itself a healthy development. When graduate students at MIT present their research, I often ask if they were surprised by anything. I always worry about the ones who say they found exactly what they expected. A good intelligence process is one that is open to being wrong and not afraid to report it.

Finally, this intelligence estimate offers its new conclusions despite the political consequences. The vice president and those of like mind are probably pretty upset right now. And the president, who can still make a case against enrichment in Iran, nevertheless finds himself on the defensive about his past statements. As for policy, the intelligence estimate makes it less likely that the United States will use military force, which is good, but that it may also have the effect of taking the pressure off or even emboldening Iran, which is bad.

Click here for the full piece.