Focal Points Blog

Cheonan: Retaliate with Diplomacy

The South Korean government has released its report on the sinking of the Cheonan, the ship that went down in March in the Yellow Sea near the maritime border with North Korea. Not surprisingly, Seoul has fingered Pyongyang as the culprit. The evidence is rather strong.

First, the South Koreans have produced a fragment from a torpedo propeller. Second, there’s Korean lettering that matches the font used in another North Korean torpedo the South Koreans have. Third, the South Koreans have matched traces of propellant to an earlier North Korean torpedo.

There are some reports of other possible culprits, including friendly fire from either South Korea or the United States. While such speculation is interesting, it seems rather far-fetched. In this age of wiklleaks, it’s hard to imagine a cover-up of such friendly fire succeeding. And the evidence implicating other actors is circumstantial to say the least.

More germane is the backstory that Mike Chinoy provides over at Forbes. When South Korean president Lee Myung Bak took office, he backtracked on his predecessor’s pledge to work with North Korea to build confidence around the disputed maritime boundary.

The North was infuriated by what it saw as a deliberate belittling of accords signed by its all-powerful leader–what one western analyst described as “sticking a finger in Kim Jong Il’s eye.” So Pyongyang responded in a predictably belligerent fashion–by ratcheting up tensions in the disputed waters.

Fortunately, no one is calling for military retaliation against North Korea. Even the Heritage Foundation is going only so far as to recommend an economic cut-off, further isolation of North Korea, and a clear condemnation in the Security Council.

Other than express legitimate outrage, what would these stepped-up containment efforts achieve? About as much as Lee Myung Bak’s initial hard-line posture. The North Korean government doesn’t apologize when pushed up against the wall. And the North Korean people have not risen up against their rulers when pushed into starvation.

Joel Wit points out that diplomacy remains our most viable strategy: “In the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking, the United States and South Korea must recognize that a return to dialogue would serve our interests. It is the only realistic way to rein in North Korea’s objectionable activities.”

This is not a particularly palatable message right now in Seoul. And it probably won’t go down very well here in Washington. But after a couple months of denunciations and attempted arm-twisting, it would be best if the countries involved in the Six Party talks take this advice to heart. If we want to prevent any future Cheonans, we need to sit down with North Korea. The last thing we want is a country with nothing to lose and plenty of weapons to go out in a blaze of juche.*

*Juche: North Korea’s state ideology of self-reliance.

Reader Challenge: Red Shirt Leaders Turn Yellow — Whither Now?

No reporter is closer to the action in Bangkok than Mark MacKinnon of the Toronto Globe and Mail. In fact, his reporting mate from the Independent, Andrew Buncombe, was struck down by an army shotgun blast. MacKinnon writes:

The day had begun in dramatic fashion. After nine weeks of crippling protests and six days of deadly clashes with Red Shirts around Bangkok, the army had begun a final assault on the main protest camp in the city centre. Armoured personnel carriers crashed through the crude bamboo-and-tire fortress the anti-government demonstrators had built to defend themselves. . . .

. . . we pressed on to the Rajprasong [Red Shirt] stage area. There, life was continuing much as it had for the past month, even with soldiers and armoured personnel carriers now just a few blocks south – but with one ominous difference: the Red leadership was nowhere to be found. The men who had encouraged tens of thousands to risk their lives in the name of “democracy” – paralyzing the commercial heart of Bangkok in the process – had disappeared and left their followers to fend for themselves.

[Leaderless] protesters could be seen lighting the Chit Lom station of Bangkok’s SkyTrain system ablaze [and] broke into the 45-storey Central World shopping mall, looting and then torching. … Suddenly, the gunfire . . . came to a halt. … the military had declared a temporary pause in its operations. It was an opportunity . . . to see if anyone remained. … At the Red stage, a lone woman remained. . . . “I keep my promises,” was the simple answer given by 45-year-old Pusdee Ngamcam, a retired nurse. “I promised not to leave until [the government] dissolved parliament. They haven’t dissolved parliament, so I’m still here. I don’t know where everyone else is gone.”

Damning testimony, isn’t it? Simple question for Focal Point readers: President Vejjajiva, seemingly under no pressure to hold a reelection now, is nevertheless tarnished by the 82 dead. But do the somewhat, uh, discredited Red Shirts have a future?

Nuclear Weapons Are a Gift From God

Many of us who have become dependent on drink or drugs turn for help to support groups; others, to psychotherapy. If we persevere with either, before long we’re likely to discover that, while active, we may have been approaching a cul de sac. But once there, we find it opens to a path to a higher ground hitherto unbeknownst to us. In other words, the humanity and usefulness to society that we enjoy today might never have come to pass if substance abuse hadn’t demanded that we reinvent ourselves. We need, as they say in support groups, to reach our bottom.

You’d think that humanity had reached its collective bottom in the 20th century with World Wars I and II. What more havoc had to be wreaked before we got the message that wholesale conflict would lead to the end of civilization? But, instead of “letting go and letting God,” to borrow from AA lingo, states remained in a defensive crouch, none more so than the victors. As well, the United States and the Soviet Union sought to solidify their newfound dominance by building up their nuclear arsenals as if they we were still on a war-time basis cranking out munitions.

Viewed from the perspective of one who’s suffered from substance abuse, it was as if two winos had dragged themselves from the gutter and stopped drinking. But, hedging their bets on sobriety, they carried around pints of Everclear 190 proof grain alcohol in their pockets in case they really needed a drink, even though they knew it would kill him.

Meanwhile, however much those of us who advocate for disarmament question whether nuclear deterrence was critical to averting another world war, one has yet to occur. But nuclear weapons’ arguable status as the last word in national security wasn’t what I had in mind when I described nuclear weapons as a gift from above.

The true gift granted by the existence of nuclear weapons is that, as weapons, they’re essentially too big for the planet to contain. They’re more suitable to lighting off in outer space. In other words, they demand that, once and for all, we step back and look at the whole subject to which nuclear weapons are a sub-category — mass warfare.

We’ve failed to take the cue, however. Since nuclear weapons were developed, the bulk of the reflection by the national-security world has been over the unique strategy adaptations called for by the possession of a weapon that essentially can’t be used. Meanwhile, about the best example of deliberation that disarmament advocates can come up with is that the abolition of nuclear weapons will lead to demilitarization and the redistribution of military expenditures toward human needs and the environment.

We’re just too emotionally invested in them — as well as economically. The 13-percent funding hike that the National Nuclear Security Administration is due to receive next year — a greater percentage increase than for any other government agency — is a tribute to the power of pork: its allure to Congress persons and its perceived importance to their constituents. Besides, writes Bruno Tertrais, a “realist” about nuclear weapons, in the April Washington Quarterly:

The intellectual and political movement in favor of abolition suffers from unconvincing rationales, inherent contradictions, and unrealistic expectations. A nuclear-weapons-free world is an illogical goal.

In fact, winning the abolition debate is well night impossible, especially when it arguments such as this by Tertrais need to be refuted:

All three Asian nuclear countries — China, India, and Pakistan — are steadily building up their capabilities and show absolutely no sign in being interested in abolition, other than in purely rhetorical terms. [As well as this] Smaller countries that seek to balance Western power may actually feel encouraged to develop nuclear weapons or a “breakout” option if they believed that the West is on its way to getting rid of them.

You can be forgiven for wondering how we’ll ever talk ourselves off the ledge. It turns out that the existence of nuclear weapons has done little to induce us to reexamine the tendency of our species to resort to mass warfare. Quite the contrary, the prevalence of nuclear weapons, as well as their immensity, seem to have created a mental block, or placed a governor, on our minds. It’s as if we’re prohibited from cycling our thoughts up to a frequency at which we might see our way of clear of nuclear weapons.

Bless the little children. For they shall lead us to a nuclear-free world.

However crucial the disarmament movement — in all its manifestations from policy adepts to peace workers to radicals — is, it’s time to recognize the truth. The most it can hope for is to keep disarmament near the forefront of the national debate and to win minor policy points. In other words, in and of itself, the disarmament movement is incapable of precipitating nuclear abolition.

Sweeping change can only come from the bottom up — from, in fact, the depths of the human heart. Apologies if you’ve heard this from me before, but, except for a few enlightened pockets, child-rearing practices around the world need a significant upgrade. Otherwise, the planet will never produce a critical mass of humans to whom a national-security policy that puts the lives of tens of millions of people at risk is no longer tolerable.

IR (international relations) types may argue that the human psyche comes in a distant second to political considerations as a cause of war. But the influential and recently deceased Swiss psychotherapist and author Alice Miller wrote (emphasis added): “The total neglect or trivialization of the childhood factor operative in the context of violence . . . sometimes leads to explanations that are not only unconvincing and abortive but actively deflect attention away from the genuine roots of violence.” In other words — surprise, surprise — abusing a child predisposes him or her toward violence and, arguably, an inclination to advocate or support violent solutions to international conflict.

How do we turn that ocean liner around? Measures such as these have already been implemented: laws banning corporal punishment, community centers to teach parenting skills, and programs that teach high-school students childrearing; others provide children with empathy training. The more they’re implemented, the more children will grow up unmarked by abuse. In short order, fewer individuals in positions of authority will find that strategies that put enormous numbers of individuals in harm’s way make sense.

At the end of the day (let’s hope not — that cliché is infused with frightening new meaning when applied to nuclear weapons), there’s still time to accept the gift of the message that nuclear weapons is trying to impart to us and stare mass — and all war — down. As Jonathan Schell writes in the Nation:

The bomb is waiting for us to hear the message.

Hello, Has Anybody Seen Our Idea of Governance in Afghanistan?

Whew. I feel so much better now that POTUS has assured us the US has, “begun to reverse the momentum of the insurgency,” in Afghanistan.

Oh. Sorry. Just kidding.

What it really made me think is that Mr. Obama needs to find advisors who haven’t already drunk the Kool-Aid. And / or get his own meds checked.

Here’s why . . .

Afghanistan is not a failing state. It is a non-state — a network of tribes that alternately compete and collaborate. It is a landscape of “sink holes” into which our idea of governance has fallen.

The window to shift that reality (if it ever truly existed) certainly closed with the onset of the global economic implosion. The western commitment to Afghanistan would have died of ‘donor fatigue’ and overstretch sooner or later anyway, but the meltdowns and bailouts have pushed that moment up. It is better, therefore, to leave now.

What’s the downside of an immediate departure?

Loss of prestige? The US has none to lose with any of the groups they’re attempting to defeat.

Loss of deterrence? Misapplied force encourages rather than discourages resistance.

The Taliban take over? Let them. If they succeed in governing and create development and stability, the US wins. If they fail and destroy their popular support, the US wins. (Yes, it will be difficult for some of the Afghan people, but let’s tell truths — the US didn’t care about them before 9-11, and actions have pretty well demonstrated they haven’t really cared since. And, honestly, would you rather have to wear a beard / burqa, or get smoked in an air strike?)

That al Qaeda will flourish? It’s more an identity than an entity, and you can’t defeat ideas with firepower.

The instability in Afghanistan spills over into Pakistan? Too late. That outcome was pretty much assured when the US underwrote the original Muj back in the 80’s and then walked away after the Red Army bolted. (If not in 1947, when parts of Pakistan were incorporated by force, while others were excluded by whim, such as splitting the Pashtun nation.)

The Pakistan government falls and loses control over its nukes? We’re not sure to what extent such control exists today. Nor that US presence and assistance to that government are not more destabilizing.

That heroin will flood the world? Legalize drugs and kill a major funding source for criminals and insurgents. Then shift the DEA budget to recovery and development work.

That Afghanistan will become a training ground (again) for terrorists? As long as there is a sea of disaffected people in which to swim, terrorists will exist. The solution is development and equity — not combat.

Even if all the above were to occur, such outcomes are not necessarily more or less likely whether the US stays or goes.

Science tells us it that “complex adaptive systems” (which include all human organizations, whether your family, nation states, the Taliban or the LA Lakers) cannot be precisely predicted or controlled. The behaviors and outcomes manifested by the system emerge from the complex interactions among the ‘initial conditions’ (which continually “refresh”), the rules of the system, and the relationships among the ‘agents’, or members of the system.

So US prestige / deterrence may be damaged far more by overstretch than by withdrawal.

Al Qaeda may become irrelevant even if the US leaves, or may flourish because of events far from Afghanistan.

The Taliban may win simply by outlasting the invaders. (Remember, the US has to win. They only have to not lose.) Or it may lose because a US departure robs it of legitimacy, and what’s left is a bunch of ignorant thugs the tribes eradicate.

The Pakistani government may fall because of US support, or lack of it. Or simply implode from its internal inconsistencies.

The Pak nukes may be captured by the OG’s in such a collapse, or covertly handed over by the ISI in its ascendance. (Remember A Q Khan?) Or spirited away by a brilliant covert op.

None of these outcomes necessarily emerge because of US presence or absence. They are not really within US control. (Though American policymakers cling to that illusion.)

Most important, AfPak is nowhere near as great a strategic threat to the US as another $10 trillion of national debt. American military adventures in west and south Asia appear on course to add $3 trillion plus. A bloated ‘defense’ budget, corporate welfare and bailouts are on course to add the rest.

When American voters finally figure out how to crunch those numbers, it’s turn out the lights time, because the party’s over.

Better to bail now.

The above is an update of a response to David Kilcullen’s 2/09 piece in Small Wars Journal titled, Crunch Time in Afghanistan-Pakistan, in which he called a “Prevent, Protect, Build, Hand-Off” strategy the only viable option. I suggested “Option C” — bail immediately.

When Leaders Sleep Do They Dream of Peace?

So I’m walking to work today and I suddenly start thinking about Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli PM. Sharon went into a coma back on January 4, 2006. To my knowledge, the man is still alive. Correct?

What an interesting story here. What if Sharon came back to us and wanted to work on a Middle East solution?

Reader Challenge: Is the Middle-East Peace Process an Artifact of Another Age?

National Security Network’s Erica Mandell at Democracy Arsenal in Carpe Diem on Middle East Peace writes:

Dear Mr. President, it’s time for Middle East peace. To use your own words, you gotta “keep on at it.” Don’t let this be a case of simply going through the motions either, like your predecessor, who waited until his last year office to get serious . . . . To sit back and watch efforts fizzle would squander a unique opportunity to have a lasting impact on a global issue.


As William Quandt, who was actively involved in the negotiations of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, explains, the time has lapsed when we can stand back and hide behind the notion that “we can’t want it more than they do.” As it turns out, we can, especially when our own interests are at stake.

On the other hand, writes Aaron David Miller in a Foreign Policy article, The False Religion of Mideast Peace:

. . . since the October 1973 war gave birth to serious U.S. diplomacy and the phrase “peace process”. . . . the U.S. approach has come to rest [on] a sort of peace-process religion, a reverential logic chain that compelled most U.S. presidents to involve themselves seriously in the Arab-Israeli issue. Barack Obama is the latest convert, and by all accounts he too became a zealous believer, vowing within days of his inauguration “to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors.”

The “dogmatic creed, with immutable first principles” includes:

First, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core, U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to protect U.S. interests; second, peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.

The peace-process creed has endured so long because to a large degree it has made sense and accorded with U.S. interests. The question is, does it still? . . . Is the Arab-Israeli conflict still the core issue?

Sadly, the answers to these questions seem to be all too obvious these days . . . The notion that . . . Arab-Israeli peace would, like some magic potion, bullet, or elixir, make it all better, is just flat wrong. In a broken, angry region with so many problems . . . it stretches the bounds of credulity to the breaking point to argue that settling the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most critical issue, or that its resolution would somehow guarantee Middle East stability.

Focal Points readers are urged to read the Miller article in full. Then let us know whether you think, like Ms. Mandell and the Obama administration, that we need to carpe diem the Middle-East peace process. Or, as Mr. Miller writes, is it over-rated, unobtainable, and no longer the key that unlocks the door to Middle-East stability?

Shahzad: A Pretext, Not a Man

Shortly after the failed Times Square attack, Gen. David Petreaus characterized the lone suspect, Faisal Shahzad, as a “lone wolf.” A day later, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder offered a sharply divergent view, describing the suspect as “intimately involved” with the Pakistani Taliban.

The competing assertions about Shahzad’s links relationship with Pakistani Taliban reflects a broader debate both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and Pakistan over how to handle Taliban elements in Waziristan province.

The Pakistanis, who have been rounding up militants and conducting their own interrogations, fumed at Holder’s assessment. They questioned the only real lead thus far, a friend of Shahzad and quasi-active member of the banned Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammad named Muhammad Rehan, and concluded that Rehan did not introduce Shahzad to the Pakistani Taliban.

“There are no roots to this case, so how can we trace something back?” an anonymous Pakistani security official said.

FBI agents also questioned those detained by Pakistani authorities; they have not produced any evidence or made any statements that contradict Pakistani findings—at least not publicly.

Pakistani officials believe the U.S. is trying to use the Shahzad case to pressure the country to launch a ground offensive against the militant hornets’ nest in Waziristan province.

“There is a disconnect between the Pentagon and the [Obama] administration,” a senior Pakistani government official said of the wide gap between Petreaus’ and Holder’s assessments. “The Pentagon gets it that more open pressure on Pakistan is not helpful.”

It may not be helpful, but is it true? On Tuesday, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kit Bond, cast doubt on the Holder version of events.

“I am not convinced by the information that I’ve seen so far that there was adequate, confirmable intelligence to corroborate the statements that were made on Sunday television shows,” Bond said a classified briefing.

Another possible reason for the administration’s eagerness to push a Shahzad-Taliban connection is that it would vindicate Obama’s drone-heavy strategy.

“[B]ecause of our success in degrading the capabilities of these terrorist groups overseas…they now are relegated to trying to do these unsophisticated attacks, showing that they have inept capabilities in training,” said John Brennan, a White House counter-terrorism official.

Can anyone else hear in that rationale the faint echoes of a certain conservative? It seems to me that the expanding reach of terrorist violence is proof of the drone program’s success in the same way that the growing violence of the Iraqi insurgency was proof that it was in its “last throes.”

And the crux of Brennan’s theory—that drone strikes have so harried the world’s experts in blowing people up that they can no longer properly train people in explosives—strikes me as wishful thinking.

His view is certainly a more reassuring one for the administration than the alternative, which is that the drone attacks’ collateral damage actually inspired the radicalism of Shahzad, a seemingly integrated American citizen.

The truth may be a combination of both, or something else altogether. It’ll be hard to know until—if—the fog of competing political agendas lifts.

A Final Survey of Nuclear Posture Perspectives

Once and for all, is the Obama administration nuclear posture review slumped or standing up straight? Here’s a sample of commentators whose insights — from fresh to just plain strange — jumped out at us. (The new START treaty is remarked upon as well.)

The Options Are on the Table

We’ll begin with the dependable Fred Kaplan at Slate:

Disarmament activists had hoped for more. But, like the single-payer advocates in the health care debate, they were fooling themselves if they expected it. [Still] Obama’s strategy carves out a novel, and very intriguing, chunk of middle ground. It rejects “no-first-use” … However, it does declare that the United States will not fire nuclear weapons first at any country that has signed, and is in compliance with, the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The distinction may seem semantic, but in fact it’s substantial. Throughout the Cold War and in the two decades since, presidents have. … commonly invoked [the phrase] “all options are on the table,” … Obama is now saying that in conflicts with countries that don’t have nuclear weapons and aren’t cheating on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, all options are not on the table. [Emphasis added.]

Take Russia’s Pronouncements With a Grain of Salt

From an Arms Control Association briefing, first Linton Brooks, former administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, on START:

The primary benefits of the treaty are two. One is transparency. Transparency leads to predictability; predictability leads to stability…The other benefit is, at a time when we and the Russians don’t have a track record of working as well together as we’d like, something that was reasonably difficult to do got done. [Furthermore the] Russians may issue a statement saying that they have the right to withdraw if we deploy defenses to threaten the strategic balance…It would be tragic if we allowed Russian statements made for domestic purposes to derail it.

A Promise, Not a Threat

Back to the NPR with Mort Halperin, well-known for working on nuclear policy and disarmament inside the government and out, from the same briefing:

It says that…our primary interest is to prevent anybody from using nuclear weapons rather than. . . that our purpose of nuclear weapons is to enable us to meet our own security threats…Now, there’s been some suggestions that this is somehow a threat against North Korea and Iran. I think that’s fundamentally wrong. … For the first time this is a promise to those two countries…If you come back into full compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty, you will have a commitment from the United States not to threaten or use nuclear weapons against you, period, full stop.

Nuke Useless Against Bio-terror if We Don’t Know Whodunit

At Foreign Policy, David Hoffman, author of last year’s acclaimed Deadhand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, writes of the NPR:

The document is filled with laudable goals [which] may help advance his dream of a world without nukes. But flying at high altitude also has certain advantages; you can avoid the rough terrain below. And down on the ground, the president stopped short of changing the status quo on critical issues that have lingered since the Cold War, such as tactical nuclear weapons and keeping missiles on alert. [Also the NPR] says that. . . the United States “reserves the right” to use nuclear weapons “that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons.” … The suggestion is that nuclear weapons are still a possible deterrent against an adversary contemplating the use of dangerous pathogens. This leaves unspoken the very real problem of attribution: in a pandemic or outbreak of disease it may not be at all clear, at least right away, to whom the nuclear missile should be addressed.

Star Billing for Missile Defense

Also at Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin writes:

For an Obama team that has been skeptical of the past U.S. administrations’ efforts to rapidly deploy ballistic missile-defense systems around the world, missile defense sure does get star billing in the [NPR, which] even features a photo of a missile being shot from an Aegis destroyer. [Though, it] was careful to mention missile defense as only one of several capabilities needed to counter non-nuclear attacks. But Secretary Clinton was less careful. “It’s no secret that countries around the world remained concerned about our missile-defense program,” Clinton said [before proceeding to defend] the role missile defense “can and should play in deterring proliferation and nuclear terrorism.”

Holding Itself Accountable

At Phronesisaical, Cheryl Rofer expands on Linton Brooks’s comment on the NPR’s transparency:

The entire document is unclassified and on the Web. There will be no smirking of “all options are on the table.” The options are there and readable by everyone. If the administration strays too far from what it has said, we can point that out. It means that within the bureaucracy there will be no excuses that they had the wrong classified annex when they made that decision or that they couldn’t find page 273 of their copy. It is a message that this administration thinks that accountability is important and intends to stand by its words.

All-in-All, Status Quo?

At the American Federation of Scientists Strategic Security Blog, Hans Kristensen writes:

The truly new in this NPR is that a good portion of it has very little to do with the U.S. nuclear posture and more to do with policies intended to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons to others. [But] it soon becomes clear that the actual reduction in the nuclear mission — at least for now — is rather modest, if anything at all. In fact, it’s difficult to see why under the language used in this NPR, U.S. nuclear planning would not continue pretty much the way it is now. [When] it comes to Russia and China. . . the NPR appears to continue the Bush administration’s policies.

Supreme Leader on the NPR: “Very Strange”

At Race for Iran, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett write:

More liberal Democrats and the professional arms control/nonproliferation community have been inclined to see the Obama Administration’s nuclear weapons policy as a “glass half full” rather than a “glass half empty”. … they depict the Iranian/North Korean exception as an unfortunate byproduct of interagency compromise which can be “worked on in the future.” This is regrettable [in part because] Iranian reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review has focused on highlighting the illegitimacy of U.S. threats to use nuclear weapons against Iran and other non-nuclear-weapons states. … Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told senior military commanders on Sunday that President Obama’s threats to use nuclear arms against Iran “are very strange and the world should not ignore them because in [a] century of claiming to advocate human rights and fight terrorism, the head of a country has threatened a nuclear attack.” [He added that] “these remarks show that the U.S. government is a wicked an unreliable government.”

Hawk Fears Mongolia Has Final Say on U.S. Nuclear Policy

At the Washington Times, Bill Gertz solicited an opinion from Keith Payne, director of the National Institute of Public Policy, a think tank that devotes much of its energy to advocating for missile defense. Payne zeroed in on an element of the NPR not often commented upon:

[He] said an alarming feature of the Nuclear Posture Review. . . is that the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the foreign powers that are represented in it will be able to indirectly set U.S. nuclear weapons policy. “The new NPR appears to place the UN’s IAEA and its Board of Governors at the heart of determining U.S. nuclear deterrence strategy options,” e-mailed Mr. Payne. … According to the new strategy, the U.S. will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear members that sign [and comply with the NPT.] Who will determine whether a state is complying with the treaty? “This question becomes central to U.S. nuclear deterrence policy,” Mr. Payne said. … “A quick check will reveal that NPT compliance is determined by the IAEA’s Board of Governors a board made up of 35 states, including Russia, China, Venezuela, Mongolia and Cuba.”

Waving a Cape at Terrorists

When it comes to conservatives, leave us not overlook the redoubtable Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post:

Of all [the NPR’s] malignant provisions. . . the most worrisome is the public declaration that, if the US suffers a biological, chemical or massive cyber attack, we will not respond with nukes. … The new policy guarantees that [our enemies will] intensify their pursuit of bugs, gas and weaponized computers. … Will [it] be the inspiration for an engineered plague that someday scythes through humankind?

But It Can Be a Glass Half Full to Conservatives, Too

Hudson Institute fellow and Former Bush administration NPT negotiator Christopher Ford writes:

Make no mistake: There are things in the Obama administration’s just-released 2010 Nuclear Posture Review that will make conservatives uncomfortable. … But on the whole, the most shocking thing about the document is how bad it isn’t. By contrast, for President Barack Obama’s supporters on the left and in the disarmament community, this Nuclear Posture Review is surely nothing short of a catastrophe. [It] turns out to be replete with things that are sure to drive the disarmers positively nuts [such as continuing] many key policies from the Bush administration, not least by stressing the importance of modernizing our nuclear weapons production infrastructure — on which Obama actually proposes to spend more than George W. Bush.

Are Conservatives Who Support the NPR Traitors to Their Cause?

At Think Progress’s Wonk Room, Max Bergmann writes:

In an interesting twist, the Wall Street Journal oped page today chose to highlight the split between moderates and extremists within the Republican foreign policy establishment. [It] published the thoughts of six former senior Nixon, Reagan, and Bush W. national security officials on Obama’s nuclear agenda. The result. . . clearly demonstrates that opposition to Obama’s nuclear agenda is only really coming from the far-right neoconservatives. Half the authors were firmly in support (George Schultz, Richard Burt, and Fred C. Iklé), one was lukewarm (James Schlesinger), and two were negative (Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle). Collectively, these pieces expose a conservative national security movement that is completely cracking.

Will the NPR Turbocharge the NPT Conference?

At the Guardian, Paul Ingram of BASIC (the British American Security Information Council) writes:

In less than a month, nations gather in New York to review the [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]. To reach agreement. . . require[s] clear signals that the United States — and other nuclear weapon states — [are] prepared genuinely to start the process of giving up their attachment to. . . nuclear weapons. Does this NPR do it? The simple answer is no. … But it. . . acknowledges the need for further movement. Whether this is enough for success next month remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, William C. Potter, Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, writes:

This document, combined with the New START accord, will have an impact on the NPT review conference. … But it is an open question at this stage whether the changes it outlines will be sufficient to convince the majority of non-nuclear weapons states that sufficient progress toward disarmament. . . is being made.

How Historians Will See It

We’ll give Arms Control Wonk’s Jeffrey Lewis of the New America Foundation the final word:

[About the details] none of that will matter a year from now. I suspect we will look back at this period — the release of the Nuclear Posture Review, the signing of the Prague Treaty [his name for START — Ed.], the Nuclear Security Summit and the NPT Review conference — and say that this was a pivot point, the moment when we began talking about nuclear weapons on terms that are different from those of the Cold War.

Okinawa and Obama’s Base-Based Addiction

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been going back and forth on the Okinawa base issue. As a candidate he pledged to close the Futenma air base and not relocate any of its personnel within Okinawa prefecture. But then, after Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan won the elections last year, the U.S. pressure campaign began. And Hatoyama moved further and further toward Washington in a vain effort to curry favor with the Obama administration.

In the latest episode, Hatoyama visited Okinawa last week to try to sell the island on his new idea: a modified base relocation plan that would put the replacement facility on a pier jutting into the waters off Henoko in the northern part of the island and also establish a new facility on Tokunoshima island (which is technically not part of Okinawa prefecture even though it has traditionally been part of larger Okinawan culture). Hatoyama’s proposal doesn’t please anyone. No one on Tokunoshima, which the United States occupied until 1953, wants a base. The people of Henoko – and Okinawa in general – reject the pier compromise, which would pose the same environmental risks to the marine ecosystem as the original plan. And the United States will probably not be thrilled about giving up on the full-blown Henoko base outlined in the 2006 agreement with Japan.

Nearly 100,000 Okinawans protested the original base plan back on April 25. They are planning to form a human chain around the Futenma base on May 16. Organizers expect 30,000 people to form the 13-kilometer chain. Latest polls show that 90 percent of Okinawans oppose relocation of Futenma within the prefecture.

So, what’s the likely outcome? The United States, which has pledged not to go forward with basing without local consent, will not get a new base any time soon. Hatoyama may well lose his position. And the Okinawans will have to put up with the dangerous Futenma base in the meantime.

Of course, the Obama administration could just decide that, with the Cold War over for 20 years, it can close one of its 90 military facilities in Japan. But alas, it seems that like most of his recent predecessors in the office, Obama has an incorrigible addiction to bases…

Reader Challenge: Is Jerusalem ‘crumbling under the weight of its own idealization’?

In a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal last week, Eli Wiesel described Jerusalem as “the world’s Jewish spiritual capital” and “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.” The Sheikh Jarrah [Just Jerusalem] activists who, unlike Wiesel, actually live in Jerusalem, say: “We cannot recognize our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name.” They describe the city they call home as “crumbling under the weight of its own idealization.” . . . writes Paul Woodward at War in Context…Jerusalem is crumbling under the weight of its own idealization.

From their letter:

Our Jerusalem is concrete…its streets lined with synagogues, mosques and churches…populated with people, young and old, women and men, who wish their city to be a symbol of dignity…Your Jerusalem is an ideal, an object of prayers and a bearer of the collective memory of a people…The tortuous municipal boundaries of today’s Jerusalem were drawn by Israeli generals and politicians shortly after the 1967 war. … encircling dozens of Palestinian villages which were never part of Jerusalem…we cannot stand by and watch our beloved city [with its] gross inequality in allocation of municipal resources and services between east and west…being used as a springboard for crafty politicians and sentimental populists who claim Jerusalem is above politics and negotiation…We, the people of Jerusalem, can no longer be sacrificed for the fantasies of those who love our city from afar.

Jerusalem is a microcosm of the idealization of Israel in general. Since it only seems to facilitate further marginalization and oppression of Palestinians, do readers think there is any way to disabuse those, especially outside Israel, of the notion that Jerusalem is the repository of all things spiritual?