Thursday, April 8, 2010

[Short entry] News "analysis" NY Times style

NY Times staff writers David Sanger and Thom Shanker graced us a couple of days ago with some chicken-little one-liners in Obama’s Nuclear Strategy Intended as a Message.

There are too many speculative gaffs in this article to take it very seriously. They opine: "Mr. Obama’s new strategy makes just about every nonnuclear state immune from any threat of nuclear retaliation by the United States." Unless, of course, the unlikely scenario occurs that a country -- their leadership or population -- does something that the Obama administration doesn't like. Then we'll group them with the "outliers", N. Korea and Iran and then we can continue to threaten them with annihilation.

As far as the stated policy objective of Obama's "new" nuclear doctrine is concerned, even Sanger and Shanker appear to agree with Lindsay and Takeyh writing for Foreign Affairs who have concluded that a nuclear-armed Iran poses little by way of existential threat to the US (though they lament the difficulties in getting Iran to 'go along' with US interests in the region).

Simple errors of logic aside, Sanger and Shanker really hurl into the abyss down toward the bottom of the article:
If a backpack nuclear bomb went off in Times Square or on the Mall in Washington, the Pentagon and the Department of Energy would race to find the nuclear DNA of the weapon — so that the country that was the source of the material could be punished. But the science of “nuclear attribution” is still sketchy. And without certain attribution, it is hard to seriously threaten retaliation.
Hard to believe you can get so much chicken-little thinking into one sentence. Each syllable of this sort of screed should be weighed by the reader. First -- there is no known nuclear device that can fit in a backpack (I think Sanger and Shanker watch too much Lost). "Nuclear attribution" is far from its state-of-the-art development. But calling it "sketchy" is just wrong. Nuclear material is well tracked and the properties of known fissile materials, from all the nuclear nations, are recorded in detail. Attribution is almost certain given the detonation forensics and human intelligence, which is very good on issues related to nuclear material.

The article is essentially fantasy and the Obama nuclear doctrine is the latest in a series of "might equals right" diplomacy.

It's only disappointing if you expected any leadership from Obama.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

[Short entry] NYT: Obama Limits When U.S. Would Use Nuclear Arms

Much ado about not so much again, in today's Times. The article roll-out contends that "change," in the form of "limits," is afoot. But in the second paragraph the other shoe drops (usually we have to wait for the last two or three paragraphs in Sanger and/or Baker articles for this denouement). There we find out that "outliers" like Iran and N. Korea -- the only countries who have declared that the best reason they have to seek a nuclear weapons program is because of their fear that the U.S. may attack* -- are excluded from the new "approach."

*Addition: See the report "Situation in the Korean Peninsula -- a North Korean perspective" available via the CSIS website. The first paragraph at the top of the second page of the report:
The DPRK made nuclear weapons and has strengthened its self-defensive war deterrent to maintain the sovereignty and the right to existence of the nation in the face of the increased aggressive threat by the U.S.
Earlier in this article, we find the motivation for using the term "aggressive threat:"
Second, tensions are the result of all kinds of military
exercises and arms reinforcement conducted by the U.S. on the
Korean peninsula. No sooner had the U.S. Administration
taken power than it conducted the unprecedented large-scale
joint military exercises “Key Resolve” and “Foal Eagle” in
and around south Korea in March and thus severely threatened
the security of the DPRK. These were nuclear war exercises
for the preemptive attack on the DPRK entirely in its scale as
well as its contents. This is well known through the fact that a
larger number of U.S. forces than in the past and attackable
military equipment including two aircraft carriers and nuclear
submarines were thrown in the joint military exercises and the
period of exercises was doubled.

Now, these are certainly exaggerated claims, in tenor if not in substance. But the fact remains: the U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula is taken as a threat. Is it necessary to carry out foreign policy in this manner?