January 26, 2005

Walk-Ins

From time to time, a foreign national will walk into a US embassy and start divulging sensitive information.  In some circles these people are known as walk-ins.  And today, the comments section of Winds of Change had, what can be considered an inadvertent walk-in of sorts.

Recently there has been a great deal of discussion about the validity of the notion of "activistism."  Activistists tend to define themselves by their apparent desire for protest for it's own sake, rather than as a tool to achieve specific political ends.  Much of this discussion has been carried on in posts by Marc Cooper, Michael Totten, myself, and most recently Joe Katzman at Winds of Change.  The current debate deals with, in part, about the role of activistism in today's left, and the ideological nature of those who seem to be calling the shots in the Democratic Party.  Closely related to this subject is the notion that the activist left is completely tone deaf on national security, due to the apparent allergy that the far left has to the field of strategic studies.

In the comments section of Joe Katzman's roundup of discussion about activistism, a certain T.J. Madison manages, in his comment, to provide a glaring illustration of this allergy to strategic thinking in just under 100 words.

In the context of discussion about prevailing trends in the Democratic Left, T.J. Madison has become an unintentional walk-in in the debate about the intellectual proclivities of the activistist left and the role of activistism in the Democratic weakness on security.

T.J.'s comment and my analysis follow:

That's why they don't offer alternative strategies for avoiding a nuclear 9/11: they just don't care.

I've offered my strategy. Here it is again:

As you'll see below, his strategy is about a nuclear 9/11. Which, in terms of utility via applicability is wonderfully useless. It's not to say that a nuclear 9/11 is a trivial possibility, but it is worthwhile pointing out that the phrase "nuclear 9/11" is used as a short-hand to describe the entire vocabulary of threats related to the use of WMD in a terrorist attack. In creating a strategy so neatly focused on the nuclear threat, one runs a very real risk of simply making chemical and biological weapons more attractive. And if you are familiar with exercises like Dark Winter, one quickly notes that the any WMD terrorist attack is of great significance. So, in essence, T.J. has opted to focus on one microscopic element of national security in order (as you may gather later on) to provide a vehicle for his preconceptions about the military and national security.

Step 1: Secure the Russian nuclear arsenal and upgrade their early warning system.

The first statement, securing the Russian nuclear arsenal, is breathtaking in its oversimplification of complex issues. One gets the feeling that there is some desire to believe that a sitting President can magically snap his fingers and by so doing, secure thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons belonging to a sovereign state. This is something we can safely call a non-trivial difficulty.

"There are vague Russian claims that the stockpile [of non-strategic nuclear weapons] has been reduced, but many questions remain about what “reduced” means. How many weapons are there really? Where are they located? What is their level of readiness, their viability? Are they secure from theft? Why does Russia still need so many of these weapons? On none of these issues has Russia been forthcoming. All are unanswered questions that lessen confidence in the fidelity of Russian claims. The ambiguity represented by Russia’s stated willingness to reduce these nuclear weapons while refusing to engage in meaningful discussion on any of these questions is indeed troubling."

Moreover, one of the most significant problems with the effort to secure fissionable material arises from peculiarities of management in the Soviet economy. Since production was mandated by quota, many managers would hoard surpluses off the books so that if a production shortfall arose, the hidden cache of surplus product could be used to overcome production shortfall. And yes, this was a very common practice among those responsible for producing weapons-grade fissionable material.

The second element (which seems to be added as an afterthought to the afternoon's work of securing a stockpile of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons) is that we should upgrade the Russian early warning system. First off, no argument supporting the concept that this would enhance our security is presented. If we were to hazard a guess about the rationale, we might suppose that T.J. is under the impression that anything done to make another state secure will make us safer. Except that this approach is far from accepted gospel truth in the strategic community. It may have merits, and it may not, but it is certainly an argument that cannot be presented without support. One could, arguably, make the assertion that enhancing Russian strategic nuclear warfighting capability is akin to buying North Korea billions of dollars in conventional weapons to reduce their inclination to produce nuclear weapons.

The other element that tickles me about this assertion that the US should spend a significant amount of money on Russian capabilities is T.J.'s later commentary about military bureaucracy.

Step 2: Offer to buy up stray nuclear material for a fixed (high) price, no questions asked. Send the CIA guys with suitcases full of cash out there to buy up all the nukage.

Going back to basic economics, what happens when demand for a product is set artificially high? That's right, supply increase to meet that demand and market inefficiencies result. In other words, if you start paying for nukes, there becomes absolutely no reason not to manufacture them. Imagine a situation in which the US will pay $100 million dollars for every nuke they can get their hands on. Then guess how long it's going to be before the Iranian, Pakistani, North Korean, and Indian intelligence agencies set up front operations to cash in on this new export line. With this image in place, one might significant difficulties in continuing with non-proliferation efforts, as the US would have just turned fissionable material into highly concentrated cash. The proposition that we would start bailing out big suitcases full of money to unsavory people with no questions asked is tantamount to an engraved invitation for abuse.

The next problem is how, exactly, we can do things like convince others to limit the size of their nuclear arsenals when we will have, in effect, paid huge amounts of money to increase our nuclear stockpile.

Additionally, I would also be quite interested if this program would cover only completed weapons, all weapons-grade fissionable material, or all fissionable materials. Would any quantity of material be fair game, or only amount sufficient to be used to make weapons? Does T.J. intend to extend this to all radiological materials that could be used in a dirty bomb?

And finally, just because we start throwing money around doesn't mean that a group that obtains, by hook or crook, a functioning device is going to sell us their bomb. If Al Qaeda steals a nuke, they probably aren't going just decide to pawn it because we've artificially inflated the market price for "nukage."

Neither of these things are being done, likely because they would be too cheap and too effective to justify the existence of the current military bureaucracy.

And this statement is the gem that compelled me to write this post.

"Too cheap" except for the rebuilding of Russian strategic nuclear warfighting capabilities. And the whole business about men in trench coats wandering around throwing vast sums of cash to people with parcels that set off Geiger counters. Not to mention the continually expanding size of the program that will occur once we've made violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty a viable investment strategy.

"Too effective" except for the economic, and logistical shortcomings mentioned above. Too effective except for the fact that this kind of effort would demand someone waving the magic cooperation wand at Moscow. And too effective, except for the other significant elements of the WMD triad that this effort would, presumably, leave unchecked.

But fortunately, T.J. has a scapegoat - justification of the current military bureacracy. Breathtaking, isn't it? How incisive, how insightful. How truly, fundamentally stupid.

One arrives at the conclusion that T.J. is under the impression that we field things like aircraft carriers (the sort providing Tsunami relief right now) because Admirals stalk the halls of Congress yammering about loose nukes. That we spend money on things like rebuilding Iraq and training the Iraqi military because we just don't like to play nice with Russians.

I just can't helped but be amazed that, evidently, our entire defense budget would be slashed if only intelligent people absorbed the deep lessons contained in T.J.'s 100-word nugget of brilliance.

Additionally, I like the concept that spending money on American defence capabilities is perpetuating the current military bureacracy, but spending money on Russian defence isn't. Yes - we'll increase the nuclear warfighting capability of the only country on the planet to be a rival in the strategic nuclear arena, because, as T.J. seems to believe, it will make us all safe and snuggly warm.

No, much like T.J. I can't possible imagine how blowing the bottom out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation regime by, effectively, paying people signficant cash to violate it, could possible do anything other than help cut the bloated military bureacracy down to size.

Furthermore, I can't possibly see how (as implied) curbing our military capability wouldn't do a thing to get other countries to believe that we were now less capable of defending our interests in places like northeast Asia.  Nope - no chance that our security assurances that keep the peace in numerous places across the globe wouldn't just become worthless paper once we've shown those rascals in the Pentagon what's what.  Heck, and once those security agreements have been devalued, there's no chance that conflict might erupt because people think we're a paper tiger.  Nope, nothing like that happened at all, eventually leading to the 1991 Gulf War.

That, and the notion that, given current troop rotation levels in Iraq, that it would also be, somehow, better if we just spent less money and had fewer troops altogether. Or the inevitable impact that a slashed military budget would have on our peacekeeping capabilities.

No, you see, T.J. has got it all sussed out, because evidently threats to our security are all monocausal and easily discovered by those of keen insight. Because T.J. understands that there aren't any bad people out there, only bogeymen conjured up by those evil capitalist guys at the Pentagon.

If people wonder why the activistist left has destroyed the credibility of the Democratic Party on national security, just remember T.J. - the accidental walk-in.

(Simultaneously launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Demosophia, The Jawa Mercury, & Anticipatory Retaliation)

By Bravo Romeo Delta at 05:25 PM | Comments |