This site examines the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War international security environment, which faces emerging and constantly evolving threats from state and non-state actors alike. Specific topics discussed include arms control; deterrence; civilian nuclear power; South Asian nuclear strategy and power balance; nuclear terrorism; and the role of the United States in nonproliferation.


On a Humorous Note ...

Great article from The Onion
March 23, 2005

BROOKLYN, NY—Toy non-proliferation talks between Donna and Adam Feit and their 8-year-old daughter Corinne broke down Monday when Corinne stormed away from the kitchen and slammed her bedroom door.

"The Feits had hoped to walk away from the dinner-table summit with a cap on the acquisition of new toys and a workable plan for the reduction of those already in their daughter's possession," said Nancy Flemming, the Feits' neighbor and friend. "But after less than half an hour of talks, Corinne said she wished she was never born and stomped to her room. It was nothing short of a meltdown."

The long-standing toy-related conflict between the Feits and their only child came to a head last week when the Feits announced that the rate at which Corinne was amassing toys was unacceptable, and that her new habit of storing toys in the garage and living room was in direct violation of household rules. The Feits suggested the two parties "have a serious talk."

Flemming, who witnessed the summit from a breakfast-nook stool, said the talks began amicably, with all parties enjoying a snack of Oreo cookies and milk.

"The cookies were a show of good will on the part of the Feits," Flemming said. "They generally discourage between-meal snacking, but they wanted to make it clear that they were willing to compromise in order to arrive at a point of agreement satisfactory to both parties."

Indicating that they had no plans to strip Corinne of playtime capabilities, the Feits opened with an offer to allow her to continue to acquire outdoor toys—including balls, bikes, and water guns—provided that she reduce her board games by half.

"Corinne conceded that her board games were in disarray, and agreed to nearly eliminate them if she could double her doll acquisitions," Flemming said. "That's when things turned ugly."

The elder Feits raised concerns that Corinne had accumulated enough dolls to entertain herself 10 times over, and certainly more plush toys than could be safely accounted for. Corinne countered that she did not have nearly as many Bratz dolls as her classmate Jenny Holmes, arguing that she had the right to pursue a relative degree of parity in the toy race.

"The Feits categorically rejected Corinne's proposed increase in doll acquisitions," Flemming said. "Prior to this move, Corinne had demonstrated a willingness to concede certain points to her parents. That changed as soon as the Feits tried to exact a binding commitment from Corinne on the doll point."

Corinne not only questioned her parents' jurisdiction over her, she openly defied it.

"Corinne said she didn't have to do what they said and they should just go ahead and try to make her," Flemming said. "Then she intimated that she could acquire toys through back channels, such as her grandmother. I can only speculate that Corinne was hoping to undermine her parents' authority with that gambit, but it hurt her cause."

Adam responded with the mandate that no new toys were to be brought into the house for three months, at which time the situation would be reviewed to determine whether Corinne had developed a greater sense of responsibility.

"Corinne responded to her father's sanctions by screaming, 'I hate you,'" Flemming said. "I doubt the two parties can hope for a peaceful solution anytime soon. Certainly, a cooling-down period is in order."

Flemming said the Feits were very disappointed that the talks broke down.

"Donna pointed out that toy reduction would serve Corinne's own interests," Flemming said. "She warned that amassing a stockpile of toys without proper containment devices, such as shelves or a toy box, could lead to the needless destruction of toys. And Adam noted that undocumented toy stockpiles could fall into the hands of hostile neighbors, such as the Peterson boy."

Toy-proliferation experts expect the impasse to last at least until morning.


Reconsidering History, or: We're Not Out of the Woods Yet

Unbelievable article from Jonathan Tepperman, writing for Newsweek in late August. Here's point of contention #1:

... all states are rational on some basic level. Their leaders may be stupid, petty, venal, even evil, but they tend to do things only when they're pretty sure they can get away with them ... Nuclear weapons change all that. Suddenly, when both sides have the ability to turn the other to ashes with the push of a button, the basic math shifts. Even the craziest tin-pot dictator is forced to accept that war with a nuclear state is unwinnable and thus not worth the effort ... The iron logic of deterrence and mutually assured destruction is so compelling, it's led to what's known as the nuclear peace: the virtually unprecedented stretch since the end of World War II in which all the world's major powers have avoided coming to blows.

Are. You. Kidding. Me. What about all the proxy wars and side skirmishes that have pockmarked the entire half-century since the end of WWII? Tepperman does recognize this, but justifies his rationale by saying that "these never matched the furious destruction of full-on, great-power war." I suppose adding up the number of civilian and military casualties in those proxy wars doesn't count for much.

But let's continue reading -- here's point of contention #2:

The record shows the same pattern repeating: nuclear-armed enemies slide toward war, then pull back, always for the same reasons. The best recent example is India and Pakistan, which fought three bloody wars after independence before acquiring their own nukes in 1998. Getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction didn't do anything to lessen their animosity. But it did dramatically mellow their behavior. Since acquiring atomic weapons, the two sides have never fought another war, despite severe provocations (like Pakistani-based terrorist attacks on India in 2001 and 2008).

Now since the author's brought it up, let me address this very clearly: no one can call the 2001 and 2008 attacks "provocations." Those were flat-out attacks. And while I am not determining who carried out those attacks (simply because there is no conclusive proof), one thing is for sure: an armed attack on a major city that yields loss of life and limb is much more than a provocation. To provoke someone is to insult them, question their intelligence, make derogatory remarks regarding their mother, and so on. 2001 and 2008 were not provocations. They were tragedies, disasters and by some accounts acts of war. Provocation, indeed. That's like calling 9/11 a "mishap."

Moreover, using India/Pakistan as a model to justify Tepperman's thinking is gravely short-sighted. There are many more issues between these two nations that need to be resolved. India and Pakistan's inherent mutual mistrust and occasional hatred is nothing like the Cold War rivalry between the US and the USSR, which was based on large-scale geopolitics and was driven by who would have the ultimate bragging rights and the last laugh. Distilling India and Pakistan's "rivalry" to make it seem anything remotely resembling the US/USSR rivalry is dangerous thinking.

Point of contention #3:

... are Kim and Ahmadinejad really scarier and crazier than were Stalin and Mao? It might look that way from Seoul or Tel Aviv, but history says otherwise. Khrushchev, remember, threatened to "bury" the United States, and in 1957, Mao blithely declared that a nuclear war with America wouldn't be so bad because even "if half of mankind died ... the whole world would become socialist." Pyongyang and Tehran support terrorism -- but so did Moscow and Beijing. Yet when push came to shove, their regimes balked at nuclear suicide, and so would today's international bogeymen.

Back up one second. You're telling me that a comparison between today's Kim/Ahmadinejad and yesteryear's Stalin/Mao is historically accurate? Mr Tepperman, are you taking into account all the historical, social, economic and cultural nuances that are absolutely IMPERATIVE if you are going to attempt such comparison? Again, oversimplification. Extremely dangerous and highly inaccurate.

Unfortunately, the rest of the article is filled with equally misleading ideas, poorly formed thoughts and conclusions based on dubious facts. At the end of the day, writing like this makes me extremely nervous, because Tepperman thinks he's doing the public a favor by distilling what must be extremely hard-to-grasp concepts into simplified logic and kindergarten logic. In reality, however, he's creating a set of misled and misleading arguments that certainly would make for a foolproof case for the uninformed, unaware masses. There is so much more to this debate!

Finally, Tepperman fails to address something I've discussed in the past: a world without nuclear weapons won't prevent conflict from taking place. It's still going to happen. Nukes don't really deter anything.

In the end, David Krieger at the New Age Peace Foundation says it best when he responds to Tepperman's conclusion with a very basic and humanistic bottom-line message:

“Nuclear peace,” [Tepperman] tells us, “rests on a scary bargain: you accept a small chance that something extremely bad will happen in exchange for a much bigger chance that something very bad – conventional war – won’t happen.” But the “extremely bad” thing he asks us to accept is the end of the human species.

We simply cannot let that happen.


Reconsidering 9/11, or: Progress Yet?

Eight years later, US forces are still engaged in two wars overseas, and though President Obama has pledged to bring our troops home, he is currently seeking to augment our presence in Afghanistan with a contingency of troops that would bring our total commitment on the ground to over 80,000. Eight years later, although other top al-Qaida leaders have been allegedly captured or killed, Osama bin Laden still hasn't been found. Eight years later, the tarnished image of the United States abroad has not been rectified, despite having a new President who has taken great pains to bridge the gap between the Islamic world and the US.

On the home front, our nation is no more secure now than it was in 2001, despite having a Department of Homeland Security dedicated to mitigating and eliminating any threats within our national borders. Muslims in the US and abroad (including this writer) are still stereotyped as harboring fanatical religious ideals and encouraging violence within their communities.

So what have we learned from 9/11?

One thing I have learned is that while we as a nation could have allowed that horrifying day to fundamentally alter our worldview, we have instead found comfort in solidarity. And although the manifestation of that solidarity has not always been positive or nurturing (anti-Muslim sentiment at home, collective support against an unseen "enemy" somewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan justifying our military engagement there), I myself have learned just as much from my compatriots here at home. As an American Muslim born and raised in the US, I have had less difficulty in "proving my Americanism" than my equally patriotic American Muslim friends who were born abroad and came to the States at a very young age. Yet all of us have stories to share and perspectives from which we can learn. I have faced discrimination from both non-Muslim Americans and non-American Muslims -- the former for not being American enough, the latter for not being Muslim enough. Yet the only divide between Muslim and being American is an imaginary divide of perception, not an actual divide of ideology or dogma. For being Muslim and being American are not antithetic -- rather, they are very symbiotic. But it has taken me much reflection to realize that. It's important now that we learn from each other, rather than typecast.

Another thing I have learned is that despite the best intentions and efforts of our leaders and government, the United States will ultimately be no safer today or tomorrow than it was eight years ago. The reason is simple and can be found in that inherent American worldview: no one can truly be denied the right to come to the US and make a new life. America is the land of opportunity, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, I will quote the State of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Ultimately, we all are immigrants, and we have witnessed just as much homegrown violence and extremism as we have experienced from sources abroad. There is no way to completely and effectively guarantee the security of our soil. The best we can do is train to be as prepared as possible to respond to any emergency or disaster.

Finally -- and this point is to bring today's post back into the fold of the blog's overall theme -- I have learned that the possession of a tremendously powerful nuclear arsenal by the United States did not prevent six men with boxcutters from hijacking two planes and shattering our world. Had our stockpile been twice as large as it was, it would not have changed a thing. By the same token, an arsenal half the size of what it was would have made no difference either.

In the past eight years, those with the foresight (and hindsight) to understand how we can create a safer and more stable future have been advocating loudly not simply for non-proliferation measures, but for complete and total global disarmament. Nuclear deterrence, they argue, is no longer acceptable; Cold War tactics can no longer apply in a non-zero-sum global arena; and identifying the enemy against which nuclear weapons would be most effective is next to impossible in an environment of asymmetric warfare. Thus, nuclear terrorism has become an extremely salient and urgent matter on which government leaders worldwide must collaborate, in order to prevent even a single nuclear weapon from falling into the hands of a rogue nation, splinter group or non-aligned party.

To draw an analogy -- the most safe form of sex is abstinence. Likewise, the best guarantee against nuclear terrorism is to not have the nuclear weapons at all in the first place. No one in the Obama administration has ever advocated for unilateral disarmament. This would be a diplomatically and militarily risky move, not to mention politically foolish. Mutual reductions, however, based on a timeline that culminates in Global Zero, is not only morally right, it is logistically and politically possible.

So perhaps today, on the eighth anniversary of 9/11, the real lesson we can take away from that horrendous experience is this: If we ever want to make significant strides towards protecting our world and guaranteeing the security of humankind, we must take action now to get rid of nuclear weapons worldwide.


Reconsidering Western Academic Fascinations, or: China's Rising Star

To deviate a little from this blog's very palpable theme, today's post is not nuclear weapons-related:

A recent New York Times article discusses an increasing trend among younger Americans to move to China for career opportunities:

Shanghai and Beijing are becoming new lands of opportunity for recent American college graduates who face unemployment nearing double digits at home. Even those with limited or no knowledge of Chinese are heeding the call. They are lured by China’s surging economy, the lower cost of living and a chance to bypass some of the dues-paying that is common to first jobs in the
United States.

The fascinating part about all this is not that recent university graduates and young professionals are becoming interested in a country halfway round the world; no, the exciting bit is that the region of interest is shifting. That is, the Islamic world had its opportunity. Now it's time to pass the torch onto China.

Prior to 9/11, most American students' fascination was, I feel, largely with one of two regions: either northern and central Asia (as Russia and the former Soviet states attempted to regain their foothold) or the European subcontinent (as the EU moved from conception into its early stages of formation and cohesion). After September 11, however, many Americans sat up and took notice of the heretofore largely ignored swath of land that stretches from Morocco in the West to Iran in the East. As reported in 2004 by Campus Watch, the demand on US university campuses for Arabic language courses skyrocketed:

Three years after terrorists struck the United States, enrollment in Arab-language courses across the nation is booming and colleges are working to meet growing student interest in Middle Eastern studies and government demand for Arabic speakers. Arabic is now the fastest-growing foreign language on the nation's college campuses ... Statistics gathered by the Modern Language Association showed enrollment in Arabic classes had nearly doubled to 10,596 students between 1998 and 2002.

How interesting that now, as China's economic star is on the rise (and no doubt bolstered by the 2008 Olympics), student enrollment in Chinese language classes is taking off in much the same way it did with Arabic just a few years ago.

What, then, does this shifting trend indicate in terms of US foreign relations? Witness the tremendous focus by the American government on the Middle East over the past 8 years, including two military campaigns in the region. Witness also the strategic alliances formed amongst government, private sector and academic institutions, all conceived in order to foster open dialogue, better understanding and shared mutual interests. Witness, finally, the rise of luxury haven Dubai in the heart of the region.

So -- as resources are exploited; as systems of government are challenged and sometimes replaced; and as foreign investment pours into a hitherto largely neglected region -- how do these changes affect foreign affairs? More importantly, when will the tide turn again?

For now we watch the rise of one of the world's largest countries (in terms of landmass and population) and one of the five recognized nuclear weapons powers. With tons of foreign investment coming in and interest in its language / culture / business ethics steadily on the rise, China is preparing to take the world stage as a true player in global economics and politics. The full scope and depth of China's importance on the world stage has yet to be realized -- though the Chinese government certainly has been flexing its muscle for quite some time now as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. But one thing remains certain: China will play an increasingly important role in global affairs, at both an economic and a military level.

Thinking ahead: when would a shift of focus away from China occur? 10 years from now? Longer? And if and when that shift does take place, what region will become the next great power player? (The Economist last week suggested that from a business perspective, Brazil might just be that place.)