Month: June 2006 (Page 1 of 3)

Do you feel safer?

A bit of good… well maybe just decent news today burried on page 15 of the Post, behind all the goings on in Gaza and the Supreme Court Ruling on Gitmo.

The Bush administration is expected to announce today that it has dismantled the last of the most powerful nuclear missile warheads left over from the Cold War….

The warhead at the center of today’s announcement, the W-56, was put into operation in 1963 atop the Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It had the explosive power of 1.2 megatons or “roughly 100 times greater” than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, according to Thomas B. Cochran, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s nuclear program.

The W-56 was retired in 1991, when the last Minuteman II ICBMs were taken out of their silos during the George H.W. Bush administration. However, it was not until 1999 that the government started dismantling the first W-56, a slow and precise process because of aging parts and nuclear materials, according to NNSA Deputy Administrator Thomas P. D’Agostino.

“It takes anywhere from a few weeks to a month for each warhead if there are no problems,” D’Agostino said. He noted that “they are difficult to take apart because they were not designed to be dismantled.

D’Agostino said NNSA is planning to put more emphasis on dismantling retired nuclear weapons, a process that in the past decade has provided a steady amount of work for the Pantex facility outside Amarillo, Tex., where weapons are assembled and disassembled. Up to now, the programs to refurbish operational warheads have used up almost all the operating space at the facility. But with that program declining, dismantling of retired weapons can increase.

An entire class of nuclear weapons– and really nasty ones at that– gone, never to be used in war.

Of course no good deed goes unpunished:

At the same time, however, a Senate subcommittee has added $10 million to next year’s budget to fund a design competition for the second warhead in a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons.

But Congress and the administration are pressing ahead with the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, which will guarantee production in the next decade of fewer but more reliable and secure nuclear warheads and bombs.

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Thoughts and prayers with Gammons

As most are aware, Baseball commentator Peter Gammons suffered a brain aneurysm at his home in Cape Cod, MA. As of this morning he is out of surgery but still in the ICU. He has been listed in good condition.

My colleagues and I here at the Duck are avid baseball fans. Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that Gammons’ Hall of Fame reporting over the last 15 years has made me both a more passionate and informed fan of the game. Always fair and balanced, Gammons never let the passion for his hometown Red Sox color his analysis. He always gave credit where it was due and would not hesitate to criticize his favorite team when it was warranted. I for one was happy for him the night the Sox broke the curse. He noted in his Hall induction speech that he found what he loved in baseball reporting. We as fans are all the better for it (ESPN has the full text of his Hall of Fame induction speech here–definitely worth your time).

I wish him the speediest recovery. Summer just wouldn’t be the same without him.

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Seek and Destroy

Russian President Vladamir Putin announced today that he has ordered the Russian Federal Security Service to “find and destroy” those responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Russian diplomats in Iraq (for background on the story, see here).

The announcement by Putin was followed by a statement passed in the lower house of the Russian parliament criticizing the “occupying countries” (i.e. the United States), noting that they have lost control of Iraq.

I haven’t been able to find out much more at this point (so far, the Guardian seems to have the best coverage), but it will be interesting to see a) the response from the US, and b) if Russia actually does anything on its own, such as introducing special units into Iraq to hunt down the kidnappers. It is unclear whether Russia already has some type of special forces on the ground, although Andrei Krivtsov, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, noted that there are “people responsible for security at the embassy” in Baghdad. Russia previosly sent intelligence agents to track down and kill a Chechen rebel leader who was taking up refuge in Qatar in 2004, so such an operation wouldn’t be beyond them. However, the prospect of dealing with the possible diplomatic and political repercussions from the United States would seem a bit more daunting than from Qatar.

I’ll post any updates later in the day.

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Water, water everywhere

I knew that there was a large problem as soon as I pulled my car out of the driveway. There was entirely too much traffic running through my normally quiet suburban neighborhood — we’re kind of buried back in the middle of a tangle of winding streets, so we don’t usually get many people driving through on their way to someplace. But there were a lot of cars out, driving in a slow line that bore all the characteristics of the blind leading the blind: drivers’ heads frantically turning from side to side, trying to figure out where they were supposed to go, and following the car in front of them in the vain hope that perhaps that person knew where they were going. For some reason, traffic was being diverted into the neighborhood, instead of zipping along on the larger roads that border it.

Now, I knew that it had rained pretty hard — I had been out there for quite some time the previous night bailing water out of a window-well after the sump pump shorted out, and the rain was really coming down in buckets and boatloads. After a couple of hours of barely staying ahead of the water level, my wife and I decided to move things out of the basement as quickly as possible and just let the basement flood, since there was no way that I could keep bailing all night long and the window-well was filling up in about five minutes. So we let the flood come, and the next morning I was on my way to the hardware store to buy a new sump pump when i noticed all of the unusual traffic. Maybe the rain had been worse than I thought — maybe roads were closed? I hadn’t checked the local traffic report before I left the house, but a quick phone call later confirmed that the rain had closed many roads. And the situation didn’t show any signs of getting better any time soon.

I navigated the hordes of aimless drivers, and made it to the store just in time to buy the last automatic sump pump on the shelf — and the stand in line with dozens of people buying pumps, wet-dry shop vacuums, and other paraphernalia that screamed “my house is flooded.” Come to find out, much of Coruscant Washington and the surrounding area was flooded by a “rare tropical deluge” that was generating massive havoc.

Talk about a disaster. Talk about a socially constructed disaster.
While endlessly bailing water I was thinking — because, honestly, there’s not much else to think about while trying desperately to keep water out of one’s basement — about the conceptual oddity of calling something, anything, a “natural disaster.” This strikes me as a curious locution indeed, as though “nature” were causally to blame for some set of observed outcomes. And that’s just weird, since “nature” isn’t a conscious being as far as I know, and isn’t really even a discrete entity at all; blaming “nature” is kind of like blaming “reality” or “existence.” Very odd, if you stop to think about it.

To the contrary, I’d say that a situation like the one we’re presently experiencing here in D.C. is socially constructed in at least two and possibly three ways. Blaming “nature,” and thus refusing to place social practices and phenomena squarely at the center of the issue, is just a more or less convenient way out of the problem — an especially convenient one if you happen to be or represent an insurance company (for example). It’s also empirically untenable.

The first and most obvious way that the current flooding in D.C. is socially constructed is causally. By this I do not mean that human beings somehow brought about the rains (although it’s possible that the stalled front and tropical storm activity that are, according to meteorologists, generating the present thunderstorms might be linked to human-induced global climate change . . .). Rather, I mean something simpler: if there were no houses standing where they are standing, if there were no capital city here, then the rainfall wouldn’t be a disaster. What is “disastrous” about these storms is that they are depositing a lot of water in places that are inconvenient for us, and if we were not interacting with the rainfall with our present set of expectations and arrangements then this wouldn’t be a “disaster” at all.

To put this slightly differently: human social practices are an indispensable, and relatively central, part of the complex of factors producing this disaster. In particular, those “infrastructural” practices that encode our expectations about rainfall and water flow are quite complicit in the present situation; if we expected this kind of rain, or if we were prepared to deal with it, the rainfall might not be anything particularly noteworthy. I am initially surprised when 2-3 inches of snowfall closes the city down; where I used to live in new Hampshire, 2-3 inches is a “dusting” and no one even really comments on it. But New Hampshire towns and cities have the proper infrastructure, both in the form of adequate snowplows and sanding truck and in the form of driver training and experience that includes the proper techniques for driving on snow-covered roads, to handle such a snowfall. What is “disastrous” about this rainfall is that no one is prepared for it, and hence the disaster can’t be causally explained without taking into account human social practices. Hence it’s socially constructed. QED.

A second way that this flooding is socially constructed is at the level of meaning. Lots of water in the basement might be a disaster; it might also be an opportunity for some long-overdue cleaning and disposal of various bags and boxes that are now drenched and falling apart. it might be an occasion to curse and complain; it might also be an opportunity to set other work aside and focus on other things for a while. This need not be just an individual-level practice (although the rather Pollyanna-ish narrative that would make lemonade out of the extremely sour lemons involved in a flooded basement is not bloody likely to be widely shared, I don’t think); social groups construct and sustain narratives that imprint meaning on events all the time. Indeed, the classification “disaster” itself is obviously the product of a set of meaning-making practices that lend a particular significance to a series of occurrences, since the act of labeling something a “disaster” is a highly charged political one with financial and legal consequences — and whether something is formally labeled a “disaster” or not has less to do with the events themselves and more with the social procedures through which those events are invested with meaning. Sometimes floods are a disaster; sometimes they aren’t; and what makes the difference isn’t the characteristics of the flood, but the way that we make the flood meaningful. Hence it’s socially constructed. QED.

Now, I think that there’s a third way that the current flooding in D.C. is socially constructed, but I suspect that I am about to lose many of those readers who have agreed with the (pretty banal) argument thus far. [Indeed, I’d be very surprised to find anyone who really didn’t agree with the argument thus far; it seems pretty cut-and-dried to me.] The reason is because I am about to jump right down the slippery slope that Alejandro over at “Reality Conditions” derides as a kind of anti-scientific relativism. But bear with me, because right after that I’m going to argue that this kind of strictly metaphysical dispute makes no difference, at least not in any practical sense.

As far as I am concerned, the current flooding in D.C. is socially constructed metaphysically. By this I meant that the fact that we refer to these events in this way, and that we experience them in the way that we experience them, is wholly contingent — and contingent not on some kind of dispositional essence of dihydrogen monoxide (that is to say, water), but contingent on the various social resources that we use in making the world that we inhabit. This goes beyond the causal kind of social construction, and beyond the meaning kind of social construction; I am instead claiming that there is no essence to the current flooding beyond our construction of the event. It could be a different event (not just the same event with a different meaning) if we were different and if we had different cultural resources to deploy. The social fact that it is a”flooding” and not something else tells us, in the end, a lot about ourselves and nothing whatsoever about “the essence of the world as it really is in itself.” There’s no outside to get to, no place from which to view the world that isn’t already implicated in a process of constructing it, and hence nothing like a final account of the world that would somehow really, really, capture its fundamental ontological character.

Now, you will notice (you sharp-eyed reader you) that I did not end that paragraph with a “QED.” That’s because the sentiment that I expressed there is a strictly metaphysical claim: it is not amenable, even in principle, to empirical verification or falsification. There’s no way to “prove” or “disprove” it, any more than there is a way to prove or disprove a claim like “there is flooding because God willed it to be so” or “there is flooding because of a series of unlikely natural occurrences, occurrences that would have unfolded in precisely the same way even if there were no humans around to notice them.” None of these can be proved or disproved, because they aren’t statements about things in the world. They are instead statements about the value or status of our claims about the world as a whole, and therefore (and pretty much by definition) can’t be empirically verified or falsified. They are, rather, “world-disclosing,” inasmuch as the world governed by the principle that things happen because they are God’s will is a very different world than the world governed by the principle of natural occurrences with defined probabilities within a certain range of error. And when I say that the world is different, I mean that the world as a whole is different, not that anything in particular within that world is different; whether God willed it or events happen because of concatenations of cultural resources, there’s still water in my basement.

I’ll go further: strictly metaphysical claims, which is the terrain on which the most intense battles about “relativism” and “truth” seem to be fought, do not matter to the analysis of empirical events, although they do matter intensely to the practical-moral procedures that we have for dealing with them. There’s no defensible answer to strictly metaphysical claims, which is why a responsible science (social or otherwise) should steer clear of them.

To see that metaphysical claims are irrelevant, consider the following three conversations:

Q: why are there floods in D.C. at the moment?
A: God willed it.
Q: okay, sure He/She did, but how was God’s will exercised?
A: well, there was this stalled front, and tropical moisture . . .

Q: why are there floods in D.C. at the moment?
A: the inherent properties of water came together with a combination of factors involving temperature and pressure.
Q: okay, but what combination?
A: well, there was this stalled front, and tropical moisture . . .

Q: why are there floods in D.C. at the moment?
A: because of the way that we experience events in our contemporary society.
Q: okay, and how do we experience these events?
A: well, there was this stalled front, and tropical moisture . . .

Once we get off of the insoluble “how many angels dance on the head of a pin” territory and return to something empirical, the dispute vanishes and we all end up talking about the same things. Of course, a scientific realist will interpret this as evidence that the really real dispositional character of the world is inducing us to talk about the same things in the same ways, while I interpret it as further testimony to the power of cultural resources . . . but that’s back into metaphysical territory again. And science can’t tell us anything about metaphysics, so let’s not pretend that it can.

Now, the fact that metaphysical speculations are insoluble and irrelevant analytically doesn’t mean that they aren’t important practically. Holding that events happen because of God’s will leads us to invest events with a particular kind of meaning, while holding that they happen because of combinations of natural occurrences leads to different sets of meanings (with different legal and financial consequences). And considering “nature” as a set of inert resources that we can exploit as we wish leads to things like the Grand Coulee Dam, while considering the planet as something that we are enjoined to cultivate under the eye of a watchful Creator might generate different courses of action — courses of action that might well have different causal consequences. So the metaphysical disputes that I have argued are irrelevant to a scientific analysis turn out to be vital to the other two varieties of social construction — even though, and perhaps precisely because, there is no way to definitively settle them.

In any event, I find all of this argumentation infinitely more satisfying than continuing to clean up my flooded basement.

[cross-posted at ProfPTJ’s Course Diaries]
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Speaking of Idiotic Cartoons…

…I submit the latest from Ted Rall (click here for larger image) :


I will leave aside the weak argumentation about the lack of importance of Afghanistan to the fight against al-Qaeda (however, who the hell cares where Bin Laden was physically on 9/11/01?? Wow, great argument Ted…), but will take issue with his claim at the end that Pakistan had a female President.

Here is a list of past Presidents in Pakistan. Maybe I am missing something, but I don’t see any women. Perhaps Ted was referring to Benazir Bhutto, who was elected Prime Minister in 1988 and again in 1993. In either case the point is worthless.

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Richard Perle: In his world it all makes sense

Over the weekend former defense secretary Richard Perle wrote an op-ed for the WaPo excoriating—no, not the Democrats, but Neoconservatives’ other favorite punching bad—the State Department for the current standoff with Iran over its nuclear program.

Besides throwing in the now requisite amount of references to resolve, appeasement, etc, etc, Perle makes the unusual claim that we should have “…referred the matter to the U. N. Security Council and demanded immediate action.”

Right, wait–what?

Bruce Jentleson over at America Abroad has an adequate response:

“2003, hmmm, wasn’t something else going on at the UN then, something that dragged down American credibility to an all-time low, something that Perle was among those most vociferous about going in-your-face to the UN…..something called Iraq?”

Yes, the man who wrote “Thank God for the death of the UN” is now crowing about the failure of the administration to take Iran to the Security Council—while that ‘abject body’ was already tied up with–ahem–other matters.

Yeah, sure, it all makes perfect sense–in Perle’s head that is.

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Missed Opportunity

In April I discussed a story making the rounds that the Bush administration failed to take Iran up on an offer to talk about its weapons program and support for anti-Israeli terrorists shortly after the President declared the end of ‘major hostilities’ in Iraq. Of course, whether the offer was legitimate or some sort of ploy has been debated a great deal. Stygius and Kingdaddy broatch the topic yet again and discuss its strategic implications in light of where we are today. More on the rise of President Ahmadinejad at the FT.


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Deterrence is no secret

It was revealed this week that the Bush Administration:

has secretly been tapping into a vast global database of confidential financial transactions for nearly five years, according to U.S. government and industry officials.
Initiated shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the surveillance program has used a broad new interpretation of the Treasury Department’s administrative powers to bypass traditional banking privacy protections. It has swept in large volumes of international money transfers, including many made by U.S. citizens and residents, in an effort to track the locations, identities and activities of suspected terrorists.


This secret snooping on global wire-transfers, working in conjunction with the NSA wiretap program, was (is) part of the Administration’s strategy for finding and disrupting global terrorist networks.

Aside from the obvious civil liberties concerns of gathering data on AmCits without a proper warrant, there is a key conceptual issue at stake that is likely to cloud the debate and mislead those trying to make a judgment on the use of this tactic. Specifically:

The White House vigorously defended today a secret program of combing through a vast international data base containing banking transactions involving thousands of Americans. Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials said the program, whose existence was revealed on Thursday night by The New York Times, was both legal and necessary to deter terrorism.

Emphasis added, on Deter Terrorism.

Simply put, a secret program like this can’t deter terrorism.

It can identify and monitor terrorist networks. It can signal terrorist activities. It can generate intelligence vital to interdicting terrorist activity. But, it cannot deter terrorism and terrorist attacks.

Deterrence, as studied in great depth by a number of IR scholars, is a relatively simple game. Party A threatens Party B with some sort of punitive action if Party B takes a particular action. Party A must clearly and credibly communicate the threat, and Party B must feel threatened enough to be dissuaded from undertaking the action in question. It revolves around a clear shared understanding of threat, credibility, and consequences. Deterrence failures result when either a) the threat is not severe enough to change Party B’s actions or b) the threat is not communicated in a clear, credible manner to create a shared understanding of consequences between the two parties.

So, to deter terrorists, there would have to be a standing, credible threat for the US to respond with significant force on a target the terrorists hold in high value. If the terrorists strike the US, the US strikes the high-value terrorist target. The threat of this unfavorable retaliation keeps the terrorists from attacking the US.

How does secret monitoring of international financial transactions fit into this equation? For the monitoring program to work, it must be secret. If terrorists knew they were being tracked, they would find another way to move money about the globe. Such secret monitoring does nothing to dissuade terrorist activity– in fact, just the opposite occurs. The more terrorists activity using this international financial system, the more valuable intelligence is gathered.

What it does not do is deter. Deterrence requires a public game, and really only works when totally and completely transparent. The transparency increases the credibility of the threat by leaving no room for doubt. The Bush Administration has disavowed highly public anti-terrorist measures and shown a lackluster commitment to public diplomacy while showing a penchant for secret monitoring programs, secret prisons, and secret wars. You can interrupt a particular chain of events in secret, but you can’t deter in secret.

So, if we want to talk about deterring terrorists, lets publicly talk about what we’re doing to raise the cost of terrorist action. That’s how you play the deterrence game.

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Battening down the hatches?

Just saw this headline at the BBC: Iran calls halt to petrol imports

I have no evidence for this statement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran was somehow readying itself and the public for potential punitive sanctions by the West, which may include disruptions to imported, refined oil.

For all the oil Iran produces and exports its refining capacity is sub-par, making them dependent on imported oil (yeah, it’s wierd I know). Just a thought.

Apparently the FP Passport and I think alike.

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Feed problems

Sunship has alerted me to some problems with the XML feed. Feedburner has detected two sets of problems:

1. We’re using 0.3 rather than 1.0. I’m not sure how to change this. If someone could let me know, I’d appreciate it.
2. Peter wrote his first post using a wysiwyg editor, and that created some series serious markup garbage that seems to be creating problems for XML. As an experiment, I’ve pulled his introductory post. Could someone let me know if that fixed the problem?

That’s all folks!

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Signaling and Grand Strategy: Or, Why Iraq Made Sense

In previous posts and other arenas I have argued that the Iraq War could not be explained simply by the threat of WMDs, the desire to liberate the Iraqi people, to spread democracy, to uphold the credibility of the UN, etc, etc. My point was that you must look at the operation in the larger context of a global struggle against innumerable threats to US security, both state- and non-state based, where the US for all its power recognized its limited resources and options.

Iraq was not an end in itself but rather the means to further the ends of our grand strategy; it was to serve as a demonstration to friends and foes alike. And if Ron Suskind’s new book is to be believed I might actually be right. Back in September I wrote:

“…we can view the Bush Doctrine as an exercise in coercive diplomacy–the use of threats to use force in order to either deter or compel an adversary to behave in a manner consistent with your wants and objectives. The new security environment as the Bush administration saw it post 9-11 included a number of rogue regimes with grudges against the US, an apparently large and potent terrorist network bent on attacking the US and US interests, and the potential synergistic relationship between these two–specifically with regards to WMDs. Given the large number of states, the nebulous nature of terrorist cells, and the limited options available to the US (for political and economic reasons), the administration crafted a doctrine which sought to further its security objectives through threats rather than the actual (more costly and arguably less feasible) application of force. By threatening to punish states and rogue leaders with regime change and preventive war unless they either stopped aiding terrorists compellence) or if they decided to aid terrorists in the future (deterrence) the US would be able (in theory) to maintain its security. However, the entire doctrine and its effectiveness depended (as all coercive threats do) on the United States’ ability to convince their target audience that the threat was credible–in other words, they had to convince their adversaries that they were both willing and capable of launching preventive wars and regime change. This is where Iraq fits in to the picture.”

In other words, the United States was trying to signal its capability and resolve to potential adversaries through its actions in Iraq.

Over at the WaPo, Dan Froomkin discusses the debate about our Iraqi policy—specifically the ongoing Congressional debate over “staying the course” and “cutting and running”, neither of which accurately portrays the true positions of either side. He argues that in order to understand why administration officials such as VP Cheney are so concerned with “staying the course” and why, even in the face of legitimate criticism over whether Iraq was ‘worth it’, they believe the war was necessary, one must look at the war in a wider context. To put it simply, “a withdrawal from Iraq may have less to do with Iraq, and more to do with the message it would send to the world about the limits of American power”.

Froomkin quotes from a Salon review of Ron Suskind’s new book, The One Percent Doctrine. The review asks a similar question, and answers it thusly:

“…[Suskind] argues persuasively that the war, above all, was a ‘global experiment in behaviorism’: If the U.S. simply hit misbehaving actors in the face again and again, they would eventually change their behavior.

‘The primary impetus for invading Iraq, according to those attending NSC briefings on the Gulf in this period, was to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States.’ This doctrine had been enunciated during the administration’s first week by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who had written a memo arguing that America must come up with strategies to ‘dissuade nations abroad from challenging’ America. Saddam was chosen simply because he was available, and the Wolfowitz-Feith wing was convinced he was an easy target.

“The choice to go to war, Suskind argues, was a ‘default’ — a fallback, driven by the ‘realization that the American mainland is indefensible.’ America couldn’t really do anything — so Bush and Cheney decided they had to do something. And they decided to do this something, to attack Iraq, because after 9/11 Cheney embraced the radical doctrine found in the title of Suskind’s book. ‘If there’s a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response,’ Suskind quotes Cheney as saying. And then Cheney went on to utter the lines that can be said to define the Bush presidency: ‘It’s not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence. It’s about our response.’ ” [my emphasis]

Froomkin concludes that “if you subscribe to that theory — that invading Iraq was fundamentally a way of delivering a message about U.S. power — you can see why anything short of absolute victory would be so unpalatable.”

I am now dying to get my hands on Suskinds book to get a better idea about his sources and to see what other references to signaling, reputation, and coercive diplomacy it might include. Suskind’s book is far from indisputable evidence to support my hypothesis, but it is nice to see something that suggests I might be on the right track.

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Clowns Indeed

Apparently, three protestors dressed like clowns (no, literally, circus clowns) broke into a nuclear launch facility in North Dakota and, I am not kidding about this, used a sledgehammer to disable the lock on the personnel entry hatch of a Minuteman III missile that provides access to the warhead and then hammered on the silo lid that covers the 300 kiloton nuclear warhead.

The three staged the event in part “to call for national repentance for the Hiroshima and Nagaski A-bombings in 1945.”

The three have been charged with criminal tresspassing. Duh. They are lucky they are still breathing.

Let me get this straight–three guys dressed as clowns armed with a bolt cutter and some hammers managed to sneak into the “secure” site and proceed to gain access to a warhead and then pound on it before being apprehended.

So how safe do you feel today?

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Friday’s maxim

Today’s maxim seems particularly appropriate, given recent discussions about Iraq and the potential for military conflict with Iran and North Korea.

The worst enemy of someone who begins a war is his belief in easy victory. For no matter how simple and certain it appears, a war is subject to a thousand accidents. And the confusion these accidents create will be even greater if they happen to someone who has not prepared his mind and his forces for them–preparations he would have made if he had considered the war difficult from the start. (Series C, 180)

Carter and Perry, I think, should take note.

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Tortured ethics

In case anyone had any doubts about the moral relativism of certain segments of the right-wing anti-terror warrior-punditry, Wretched provides a useful reminder.

Sleep Management, Stress Positions, Change of Scenery, Dietary Manipulation, Environmental Manipulation and Sensory Deprivation have already been acknowledged as unacceptable treatment, even for the hard core of the enemy. But surely these tiny cells were as bad as anything the Nazis were capable of?

Well, gee, we aren’t as bad as the Nazis. The contemporary US also looks pretty good in comparison to Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, the Akazu, and lots of others. My conscience sure is clear now. Thanks!

The best part, though, is Wretched’s empirical analysis.

Five and four passengers in a 2006 Volkswagen GTI each get 18.84 and 23.1 cubic feet respectively, in both cases less than the volume available in the detainee cells. And you can neither stand nor lie down in the 2006 Volkswagen GTI either. How about the twenty inches in width, isn’t that inhumanly narrow? I thought so too, until I looked at airline seats. The standard economy airline seat is 17.8″ wide. Business class seats approach 20″ and more. My own swivel chair is 18″ wide. I measured it. Take out a ruler and measure your own chair if you are as incredulous as I was. For further comparison, consider the proposed A380 Airbus Standing Seat, in which short-distance passengers would travel literally lashed upright to their chairs.

In the next installment, I’m sure we’ll learn that waterboarding isn’t that bad because, you know, Wretched went to the pool the other day and held his breath underwater for a really long time.

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Germany speaks truth to power

Previously, I’ve pointed out the overt hypocrisy of American non-proliferation policy. The U.S. continues to seek new nuclear weapons and maintains a very large arsenal of these weapons; yet, it tries very hard to prevent many other states from acquiring these same armaments.

Since the U.S. position is that states like Iran, Iraq, and North Korea should abide international norms about nuclear proliferation, this hypocrisy could be viewed as a fairly serious problem. Many realists, however, note that this sort of hypocrisy is normal in international relations.

In any event, the contradictions in American policy are fairly obvious and targeted states like Iran have no problem using this argument against the U.S.

This past week, the new German foreign minister not only noticed the tension in U.S. policy, he called for action (Reuters):

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — to make concessions in the context of the Iran dispute, Spiegel magazine reported.

“I am in fact of the view that, beyond the current Iran conflict, we must review the worldwide nuclear armament status,” Steinmeier told Spiegel.

“We are in favor of effectively applying the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It contains the promise of the nuclear powers disarming, and we should press them to do that,” he said.

He didn’t mention Israel in these quoted lines, but Israeli weapons are clearly at issue in the broader context.

Critical theorists like me are interested in pointing out hypocritical arguments because we think change is most likely to occur when the contradictions are apparent and no longer sustainable.

Note that German Foreign Minister Steinmeier is hopeful about the current round of diplomacy, which is not about broader disarmament:

“What is positive, however, is that we are apparently for the first time seeing Iran in a state of reflection.”

Given that the Bush administration has quietly abandoned the goal of nuclear disarmament “for the foreseeable future,” everyone must hope that Iran will make concessions about its nuclear program to resolve the current dispute.

The U.S. may offer Iran some shiny baubles and bangles, but it is not going to start dismantling the U.S. nuclear arsenal or research programs.

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Taepo-Dong this Valiant Shield

One rule of international politics: when something interesting happens, look to see what else is going on because sometimes the they are related.

In other words, perhaps the North Koreans read the news too and aren’t as irrational as the Bush Administration would have you believe. Or, context matters. Take your pick.

Lets review: The North Koreans are preparing to launch a Taepo-Dong II missle into the Pacific Ocean. They are demanding direct bilateral negotiations with the US as the entry price for halting the launch, and the US has rejected such a meeting. Today, former Secretary of Defense William Perry called for a pre-emptive military strike on the North Korean missile.

What else is in play?

First, as Bill recently posted (and I largely agree with him), and both William Arkin and Bill Perry also agree, is the US missile defense project. This project has been justified and built with just such a North Korean threat in mind, and this incident is clearly a test of the the whole notion of missile defense. It tests the operational aspect–does it work, and it tests the conceptual aspect–does a missile defense system actually deter North Korea from launching a missile.

Second, speaking of “normal nations,” Japan, like Germany, has operated with a reduced military presence since 1945. Unlike Germany, which has the EU as an outlet for global influence, Japan’s drive to assert itself as a “normal nation” gives rise to the re-militarizaton debate. This crisis has sparked significant outcry from Japan, and given new life to arguments for a more assertive and militarized Japanese foreign and security policy. It has also prompted a mini mobilization, with Japan deploying ships to “monitor” the missile launch. Koizumi has promised “severe” measures in response to a launch.

Third (and the original point of this post before I got sidetracked by a few things…), the US is currently engaging in Valiant Shield. The Post describes the scale as:

the largest U.S. military exercises in decades… The maneuvers, dubbed “Valiant Shield,” bring three carriers together in the Pacific for the first time since the Vietnam War. Some 30 ships, 280 aircraft and 22,000 troops will be participating in the five-day war games.

The exercises are taking place in and around Guam, home to a large and growing US military base (with 8000 Marines expected to relocate there from Okinawa) which is not all that far from North Korea. The Navy Times knows this:

But the exercise, the largest gathering of aircraft carriers in the Pacific since the Vietnam War, also comes at a time when North Korea has given strong indication it will test-fire a missile powerful enough to reach the United States.

All the more reason, officials said, to establish regional stability through strength and numbers. With more than 20,000 personnel, three carriers, 28 ships and 290 aircraft in the air, Valiant Shield boasts both.

“The ability for the American military to generate forces and to bring them all together on relatively short notice is something that I think should be reassuring to our allies in the Pacific,” said Rear Adm. Michael Miller, commander of Carrier Strike Group Seven. “All of this makes for a more peaceful and secure region.”

Valiant Shield 2006 began Monday, marking the first of what will become biennial exercises involving different arms of the U.S. military, Miller said. The three carriers involved are the Reagan, USS Kitty Hawk and USS Abraham Lincoln.

The Navy wants to be able to dispatch more carriers on shorter notice as North Korea remains a threat and China builds up its military.

Here’s where the relevant context comes in. Back in the late 80’s / early 90’s, the US and South Korea held a regular military exercise called “Team Spirit” where the US would test its ability to work with adn reinforce ROK forces in the event of an invasion from the North. This exercise drove North Korea nuts because they had to go on alert for the whole time just in case the US wanted to use the cover of the exercise to launch an invasion. This mobilization was very expensive and threatening for the North Koreans, and Team Spirit was cancelled as a concession to North Korea in the nuclear negotiations around the Agreed Framework.

Now, could North Korea be looking at Valiant Shield and thinking– this exercise, which brings all 3 US Pacific Carriers together, where a ship-based anti-balistic missile ssytem will be tested– this exercise is a threat to us, a prelude to a US preemptive strike on North Korea? With Perry calling for one, with the requisite forces in action around Guam, could this be a tit-for-tat response? You test your joint forces, we test our missile.

Could be. Stranger things have certainly happened in DPRK nuclear diplomacy….

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A normal nation

Yesterday Germany handily won Group A of the World Cup, defeating Ecuador 3-0 (their third straight victory) and advancing to the next round of competition. This wasn’t a huge surprise; Group A wasn’t exactly the strongest of groups this year, and the German team is quite the powerhouse behind stars like Miroslav Klose. So on march the Germans into the round of 16, facing Sweden on Saturday.

The press coverage of this has been very interesting. Everyone seems to feel the need to comment on the fact that the German public is celebrating and waving flags, displaying various symbols of the nation, and generally acting proud of their country. No one bats an eye when the populations of other countries engage in such behavior, but Germany — there’s a special case. Something about a Second World War, goose-stepping troops, attempts to dominate Europe by force of arms. You know, small things.

In order to understand this situation, and in order to understand why I think that this upsurge of German nationalism is nothing to be at all concerned about — contrary to the trepidation about national identity expressed by a vast number of liberal commentators and philosophers — we need to take a little excursion back to the early postwar period in Europe. Having just written a book on the subject, I think I’m reasonably well qualified to do just that.

May 1945: the German government, or what was left of it (a few officials holed up in a schoolhouse in Flensburg) surrendered unconditionally to the Allied forces. The country was in a shambles, with a lot of transportation and communication infrastructure in ruins. The invading troops also discovered evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity as they liberated various concentration and extermination camps, and wasted no time in publicizing what they had found — especially to the local German populace, often by lining up the local residents and marching them forcibly through the camps so that they could see the horrors with their own eyes. All of this produced a very understandable break in the previous narrative of Germany as a powerful, enlightened country destined to dominate the lesser peoples of the world, and an opportunity — even a need — for a new narrative that would place these events in comprehensible context.

Enter Konrad Adenauer, who (along with his political allies) provided just such a narrative: it wasn’t Germany’s fault, Germany was fine, Germany had also suffered under the domination of an Austrian corporal (namely, one Adolf Hitler) and had been yanked away from its proper path of serving as a powerful part of ‘the West.’ If only it had stayed true to its principles . . . but it hadn’t, and the results were clearly on display for everyone to see. Returning to those principles, and allying with countries (like the United States) that shared those principles would solve most, if not all, of Germany’s problems. Through a series of political events too complicated to detail here (I spend half of the book detailing that process, in fact), that narrative became dominant in German political and social life during the late 1940s and early 1950s, enjoying perhaps its greatest success with Germany’s accession to NATO in 1955.

The funny thing about dominant narratives, though, is that they don’t stay dominant of their own accord. This is because it’s not the content of the narrative per se that explains its dominance, but a variety of social and political factors — chief among those being the function of the narrative in holding together coalitions and knitting publicly available “rhetorical commonplaces” into a compelling account. And all of this takes practical discursive work to accomplish; it’s not as simple as “telling the truth” (which truth? whose truth?) or “fitting the facts” (which facts? whose facts?), in part because a compelling and dominant narrative produces our sense of the situation that it describes. Accepting a story about Germany as a ‘Western’ country that went astray implies certain kind of policy consequences, and it does so by casting events (the German defeat, the concentration and extermination camps) in a particular light and then drawing consequences from them. Different story, different light cast on events — different consequences. So it’s not the events themselves that keep a narrative dominant; instead, other social and political processes are what keep a narrative in place. And if those processes change or mutate, then the dominance of the narrative is placed into question. The demise of the “embedded liberalism” narrative — a narrative that used to sustain both genuinely multilateral international arrangements and domestic welfare states with a concern for full employment — during the last two decades provides a striking example of this phenomenon, as does the rapid disintegration of the Cold War “bipolarity” narrative and its replacement by a more aggressively unilateral America-as-global-liberator story. In neither case should the narrative shifts be blamed on “the objective world,” since major events like the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the oil crisis, and the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in September 2001 could have been interpreted differently, and thus could have led to very different policy recommendations.

So what happened to the “Germany went astray but we’re back on the right track now” postwar narrative? For a variety of reasons, the generation born during and immediately after the war was nowhere near as fond of the notion of a virtually blameless “German nation” that had somehow been duped by its leaders. Part of this was just the temporal distance from the war; part of it was a series of controversies over German rearmament and the military service requirement; and part of it, quite frankly, was the death of Adenauer himself, who had been the lynchpin of the ruling coalition for years. Canny political strategy had something to do with it as well: the opposition Social Democratic Party gave up the program of extreme social revolution in favor of a slightly modified version of the “social market economy” that Adenauer’s party had instituted after the war, and used the popular dissatisfaction with military issues to articulate an alternative story: the problem was nationalism, and Germany ought to focus on being a good citizen of Europe and the Western Alliance instead of making gestures in the direction of a stronger and more independent German nation. (In fairness, this was part of Adenauer’s strategy too, but it was framed differently: Adenauer wanted to redeem the German nation, whereas the new Social Democratic strategy was in many ways more about getting over the German nation.)

The punchline here is that sometime in the 1960s, German nationalism went rather out of fashion. The equation — reinforced by observers and commentators both inside and outside of Germany — was something like: German nationalism = Nazism = A BAD THING. Exit German popular nationalism, and enter “constitutional patriotism” — the rather thin alternative offered by public intellectuals like Jürgen Habermas, in which people were admonished to cultivate an intellectual appreciation of the governmental structures of their country instead of a more emotional attachment to a national community. (Does anyone else think that this sounds rather suspiciously like John Locke’s condemnation of “enthusiastic” religious movements for abandoning the firm constraints of cold reason? Maybe it’s just me.) Whatever the merits of “constitutional patriotism” in a detached, ethical sense, the major drawback is that it’s just not fulfilling. As Benedict Anderson once wryly pointed out, one cannot imagine a “cenotaph for fallen Liberals,” even as the notion of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier makes all kinds of social and political sense. There’s something emotionally compelling about waving a flag and cheering for one’s national community — or the team representing it — that doesn’t normally happen when one is engaged in a rational discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of particular constitutional regimes. But this option was largely taken off of the table for Germans, as nationalist outbursts were roundly condemned.

One of the most fascinating things about global football, and the World Cup in particular, is how firmly nationalist it all is. The country of Ghana is basically closing down early tomorrow so that people can go watch the US-Ghana match; the English are flying the St. George’s Cross in preference to the Union Jack; and a quick glance at the stands in any World Cup match reveals a sea of flags and national colors. Yes, the World Cup is about bloody good football (sometimes — Brazil has been very disappointing on the field so far), but it’s also about national pride. So it’s not at all surprising that Germans are celebrating their team’s success, and doing so in nationalist terms and terminology, with flags and banners and chants of “Deutschland, Deutschland.” What we are seeing here, I think, is yet another mutation in the dominant narrative that constitutes “Germany” — one that embraces nationalism, but combines it with anti-militarism (one does not see such cheering for German soldiers — not like in, say, the United States, where soldiers returning from Iraq get parades and celebrations galore) and a commitment to Europe. [But not to ‘the West’ — but that’s material for another post entirely.] It’s not a return to an older story; it’s a new story that, like every socially sustainable story, combines older elements into a novel construction.

Personally, I’d much rather have vigorous cheering for a football team than for soldiers — much less chance of innocents getting slaughtered, many fewer adverse effects on public discourse, and virtually no chance that a country’s population will mistake their success (or their “success”) on the field with a mandate from God to forcibly convert the whole world to their way of thinking. German nationalism, I think, is becoming normalized, and isn’t the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. American militarized nationalism? That’s another matter.

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Three things can happen; two are bad and the good one is far from certain

Much has been made of the activation of the nascent US-based missile defense system seemingly in response to North Korea’s imminent test of what we believe (but do not know) to be a long-range ballistic missile. The DPRK is obviously looking for attention given that the focus of the West has shifted drastically towards Iran recently. US officials are denying that they are considering shooting down a North Korean missile should it be launched. However, this scenario raises an interesting question; should the US have turned on the system at all in response to the North Koreans? This question is related to practical concerns regarding what the US may (unintentionally) end up signaling to international actors, friend and foe alike.

I would argue, in agreement with Michael Levi, that given the lack of reliability displayed by the system thus far the US would be better served not attempting an intercept of a DPRK test missile. I would go further and argue that simply turning on the system may have negative effects if the North Koreans do test fire even if we do not attempt to shoot down a missile.

By activating the system we have essentially signaled to the rest of the world that we are ready (if not necessarily willing) to use the system against a North Korean test. We can deny it, but what matters most is the conclusion others will draw for themselves. My guess is they see this (as most do) as a disuassive signal to the DPRK. So with the system on the DPRK has two options; to test fire or not to test fire. If the North Koreans do not launch then we dodge a bullet (no pun intended). But let us say they choose the former option. To paraphrase the old adage about passing in football, three things can happen and two of them are bad. Here are the scenarios:

  1. The US decides not to attempt an intercept of the test missile
  2. The US attempts an intercept and fails
  3. The US attempts an intercept and succeeds

Scenario three is obviously the best outcome. The US successfully downs a long-range missile, signaling to adversaries and allies that its defensive threat is credible. However, this outcome is far from certain–in fact, there seems to be a greater probability that we would fail.

Scenario two is clearly a bad outcome for the US since both adversaries and allies are now privy to what many have been speculating–the inability of the system to function in a reliable manner. Other international actors now become more fully informed of the (lack of) ability that our missile defense system.

Scenario one, I would argue, is just as bad as scenario two. By attempting to shoot down the missile and missing the US signals that the system doesn’t work. However, if we turn the system on and fail to react to a DPRK missile test the question will be raised in the minds of friend and foe alike–why not? Why didn’t the US try to intercept the missile? Some might argue that the answer would be that we knew the missile wasn’t targeted at US interests and didn’t have a live nuclear warhead. But we have no reason to believe that now, so why turn on the system? The only reason to turn the system on is to a) try to dissuade the launch in the first place and b) if the launch takes place, show the DPRK that developing such missiles is futile since we have a system that can make their deterrent value irrelevant. For this to work we would have to actually intercept a launched missile, regardless of whether the missile was an actual, imminent threat to our interests—we need a demonstration to project our reputation for a particular capability. So again, the question remains why wouldn’t the US try to intercept? The dangerous (and most likely correct) answer is that we are not confident that we could intercept it and wouldn’t want to show our hand.

In either case the situation does not look like one where the US can gain any considerable advantage. If we were more confident in the system’s ability I would say go for it—certainly there are complications from such an action but the signaling value of a successful intercept may outweigh those complications. However, given its mixed record so far I think we are risking a bit too much to dissuade the DPRK launch. There are other ways to dissuade such a launch that do not include the potentially negative signaling consequences recounted above.

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