How they learned to hate the bomb

A New York Times review of The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb: On the day after a nuclear bomb annihilates Washington, New Delhi, Islamabad, Seoul, Tel Aviv or Moscow, vaporizing and burning to death hundreds of thousands of people, our present complacency about nuclear proliferation will look like daylight madness. Even the chilliest of realists have shuddered at our capability for radioactive massacre. In 1977, the strategist George F. Kennan declared, “No one is good enough, wise enough, steady enough, to have control over the volume of explosives that now rest in the hands of this country.” Nuclear arms, he concluded, “shouldn’t exist at all.”

Philip Taubman’s fascinating, haunting book, “The Partnership,” is about the drive to abolish nuclear weapons — and, implicitly, about why it will probably fail. Taubman, a former reporter and editor for The New York Times, tells the stories of five American national security mandarins who, in the twilight of their illustrious careers, stunned their peers by campaigning to scrap all nuclear arms. They are not exactly pacifist hippies: Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, Republican secretaries of state; William J. Perry, a Democratic secretary of defense; Sam Nunn, a Democrat who had been chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Sidney D. Drell, an influential Stanford physicist. Their continuing activism, Taubman writes, “has induced sitting presidents and foreign ministers to embrace ideas not long ago ridiculed as radical and reckless,” and has “powerfully influenced Obama,” who advocates a world without nuclear ­weapons.

These five men had done much to foster a nuclearized world, and had prospered for their contributions to its infernal machinery. Much of “The Partnership” consists of eerie tales of the atomic cold war, charting the upward progress of these grandees. When they broke ranks, Taubman writes, “it was roughly equivalent to John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan and Jay Gould calling for the demise of capitalism.”

The core of the book is Shultz, the group’s “undeclared leader” and its “most committed” member. Taubman affectionately writes that he “radiated probity, pragmatism and Republicanism.” “I had never learned to love the bomb,” Shultz says. At the Reykjavik summit in October 1986, as President Reagan’s secretary of state, he had a heartbreaking brush with nuclear abolition. (Taubman was there as a reporter.) The American and Soviet chiefs came close to a historic deal to eliminate all their nuclear weapons. But the agreement foundered over Reagan’s “quixotic quest to build a missile shield,” which Mikhail Gorbachev rejected. Shultz, skeptical about the missile defense project, was disappointed.

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Obama wants US taxpayers to pay for an Israeli defense ‘scam’

Israel’s newly developed “Iron Dome” missile defense shield will supposedly provide vital protection from rocket attacks from Gaza or Lebanon.

The system’s manufacturer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, says:

The Iron dome is a cost effective system that can handle multiple threats simultaneously and efficiently [and] has been selected by the Israeli Defense Ministry as the best system offering the most comprehensive defense solution against a wide range of threats in a relatively short development cycle and at low cost.

Israel receives $3 billion annually in military aid from US taxpayers, so you’d imagine that the Israeli government would allocate some of that generous aid to pay for Iron Dome. No, instead President Obama just agreed that we should chip in an extra $205 million because Iron Dome “addresses an immediately existing threat to each Israeli citizen,” a senior administration official said.

But while Israel isn’t willing to cover the cost of deploying this system, it is already looking at opportunities to sell it to NATO.

As for the “low cost” the manufacturers tout, perhaps what they mean is that it will be a low cost for Israelis so long as its paid for by Americans. Whether the system would have any real value — that’s a completely different question.

Some of the harshest criticism of the system comes from inside Israel where Tel Aviv University professor and noted military analyst Reuven Pedatzur charged that despite the well-known ineffectiveness of Iron Dome and other missile defense systems, “for the aeronautics and defense industries, it’s a matter of money; and for politicians, supporting such projects allows them to tell the public that they’re doing something, they’re trying to find answers to the threats we face.”

“The Iron Dome is all a scam,” he said. “The flight-time of a Kassam rocket to Sderot is 14 seconds, while the time the Iron Dome needs to identify a target and fire is something like 15 seconds. This means it can’t defend against anything fired from fewer than five kilometers; but it probably couldn’t defend against anything fired from 15 km., either.”

Added Pedatzur: “Considering the fact that each Iron Dome missile costs about $100,000 and each Kassam $5, all the Palestinians would need to do is build and launch a ton of rockets and hit our pocketbook.

The David’s Sling is even worse, he said. “Each one of its missiles costs $1 million, and Hizbullah has well over 40,000 rockets. This issue has no logic to it whatsoever.”

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How Obama flubbed his missile message

How Obama flubbed his missile message

President Obama’s decision Thursday to scrap the Bush administration’s missile-defense umbrella for Europe is being bemoaned by Republicans at home and top diplomats from Poland, which was slated to be the main staging ground for the missile system.

But Zbigniew Brzezinski—who as Jimmy Carter’s Polish-born national security adviser confronted problems in Iran, Afghanistan, and the Middle East—says that dropping the missile-shield program gives the U.S. more defense options in Europe. At 81, Brzezinski, an early and enthusiastic Obama supporter, is as opinionated as ever about what America is doing right and wrong when it comes to the key foreign-policy issues.

Brzezinski, who was considered a hawk in the Carter administration and was often touted by Democratic politicians as the party’s response to Henry Kissinger, spoke to The Daily Beast about how Obama flubbed the delivery of his decision to the Czechs and the Poles, why dropping the program won’t convince Russia to help us on Iran, and the effect of a possible Israeli preemptive strike on Tehran. [continued...]

Russia abandons plans to deploy missiles near Poland

Russia will drop its controversial threat to deploy missiles near Poland in a reaction to shifts in U.S. missile shield plans, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Saturday.

After President Obama decided last week to scrap the U.S. plan for missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, Moscow was widely expected to follow suit and abandon its threat to deploy Iskander missile systems in the far western Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

“Naturally, we will cancel the measures that Russia planned to take in response to the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems,” Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said in an interview with Echo of Moscow radio. “Common sense has finally prevailed over ambitions.” [continued...]

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U.S. shelves nuclear-missile shield

U.S. shelves nuclear-missile shield

The White House will shelve Bush administration plans to build a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move likely to cheer Moscow and roil the security debate in Europe.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell confirmed Thursday that a “major adjustment” is planned and said the decision was made to better protect U.S. forces and allies in Europe from Iranian missile attacks.

The U.S. is basing its move on a determination that Iran’s long-range missile program hasn’t progressed as rapidly as previously estimated, reducing the threat to the continental U.S. and major European capitals, according to current and former U.S. officials. [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — In this instance, missile defense could be described as a technology that might work in the future to meet a threat that might exist in the future. The Obama administration’s decision — if given it’s rosiest interpretation — can be taken to mean that it has much more interest in actual threats than potential threats.

Is this dose of realism going to color its approach to Iran? Possibly. Equally possible is that it is merely concerned with bolstering unity within the P5 plus one before confronting Iran.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy wrote:

…two senior officials explained the administration’s thinking about the missile-defense review.

“This is a recharacterization of what the threat is and how you respond to the threat,” one official said, explaining that previous designs were geared toward the future threat of Iranian long-range missiles, whereas the Obama team wants to focus on the missiles Iran has now, which are short- and medium-range and can only reach Europe.

In an interview with The Cable, Tauscher herself made that argument and also said she wanted to spend more on existing technologies and less on development of futuristic systems.

“What is important is to get the priority of the threat right, current versus emerging. The point of this is to understand the threat, understand what you need to deter and defeat the threat, and what you have to deploy that’s proven technology to deter and defeat the threat,” said Tauscher, “You get those right, it leads you to a place.”

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NEWS, ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Missile defense against what?

Europe’s missile shield: NIE casualty?

TThat the new U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran’s nuclear program has put the kibosh on hawkish calls for a military response has been discussed to death, but there’s been very little focus on a second potential casualty: the U.S. plan to base ground-based missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic. The plan to station interceptor missiles in Poland and tracking radars in the Czech Republic is regarded warily by citizens of those countries, and with outright hostility by the Russians who see it as aimed at blunting their own missile capability in the event of a showdown with the U.S. The plan has helped freeze U.S.-Russia ties to Cold War levels of enmity, with President Vladimir Putin just last week suspending Russia’s participation in 1990s Conventional Forces in Europe treaty.

Against the barrage of criticism from the Russians, Pentagon officials have always insisted that the purpose of the missile-defense system is to protect Europe and the U.S. from an Iranian missile attack. “It’s not the Russians that we’re worried about,” Air Force Lieutenant General Henry “Trey” Obering, chief of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said over breakfast earlier this year. “It is the Iranian missiles that we’re worried about.” But if the best those missiles could carry is conventional explosives, the case for deploying the missile defense system in the face of the heavy diplomatic cost and financial burden ($4 billion through 2013) becomes increasingly dubious. For one thing, the Pentagon faces mounting bills of tens of billions of dollars to “reset” the U.S. military — replacing everything worn out in Afghanistan and Iraq — over the coming decade. [complete article]

Russia alleges U.S. ‘rollback’ on anti-missile plan

The United States has backed away from proposals it made orally in October to allay Russian fears about the deployment of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, alleged Wednesday.

Lavrov said an oral proposal to permanently station Russian officers at sites in Poland and the Czech Republic to ensure that the system’s radar would not be used to peer into Russian airspace was withdrawn when the United States submitted its proposals to Moscow in writing last month.

“We received the document, and unfortunately a serious rollback from what we agreed upon was evident,” Lavrov said at a news conference Wednesday in his first detailed comments on the U.S. written proposals. “The issue no longer concerns the permanent presence of Russian officers at possible facilities . . . in the Czech Republic and Poland.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — I’m not sure why I haven’t read anyone else make this observation, but there’s always seemed to me to be a glaring contradiction that the administration on the one hand asserts that Iran will never be allowed to possess nuclear weapons, while on the other hand argues to its European allies that they need a missile defense shield for protection against Iranian ballistic missiles. Either the shield was always presumed to be unnecessary or it was always presumed that efforts to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons would fail. The Pentagon’s claim that the “missile-defense program is not geared to any kind of specific defense against a specific weapon,” is baloney.

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NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The ambiguous missile threat

Administration diverges on missile defense

President Bush said yesterday that a missile defense system is urgently needed in Europe to guard against a possible attack on U.S. allies by Iran, while Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested that the United States could delay activating such a system until there is “definitive proof” of such a threat.

The seemingly contrasting messages came as the Bush administration grappled with continuing Russian protests over Washington’s plan to deploy elements of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The Kremlin considers the program a potential threat to its own nuclear deterrent and has sought to play down any threat from Iran. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — It’s always struck me as odd and transparently contradictory for the Bush administration to push the line that missile defense is essential for protection against Iran and at the same time to assert that Iran will never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. But it now sounds like Gates is trying to inject an element of rationality into the equation — no doubt Bush and Cheney will regard his suggestion — that their policies should be commanded by reason — as an act of subordination.

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