Atomrakete – yes! “Atom-rocket”! One that will be in North Korean hands, and thus under the “Great Successor’s” personal control, and rather soon! (more…)
Atomrakete – yes! “Atom-rocket”! One that will be in North Korean hands, and thus under the “Great Successor’s” personal control, and rather soon! (more…)
The Norwegian paper Morgenbladet today carries a worldwide scoop: the first interview (Burma’s worst enemy) provided to the Western press by Sei Thein Win, a former major in the Burmese army who defected months ago. What makes what he has to say so remarkable is that he was – or he claims to have been – deeply involved in an alleged campaign by the military junta in power there to develop atomic weapons.
As written, the piece is really something out of James Bond. “I’m not really here” Sei tells the Morgenbladet journalist, who cannot be permitted to provide any outside details whatsoever of the defector’s location, to protect him against Burmese assassination-teams scouring Europe to find him. But we do get some internal details: the locale is an anonymous apartment where even the landlord is not allowed to know who his tenant really is; the major sports long hair quite unsuited to the military man that he once was, along with glasses that are for disguise, not actual use; the living room is “furnished with military minimalism” that includes only a table, a computer, a book of “Business English verbs” – and a razor-sharp dagger.
And inside his head is copious information that he has already spilled about the Burmese government’s attempts to develop its own nuclear weapons. He has brought along “hundreds of photographs” as well. The regime back home has already denounced him as a “deserter and criminal”; on the other hand, no less than Robert Kelley, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), calls him “a source with truly extraordinary information,” information which happens to be consistent with the other evidence investigators have accumulated about the alleged Burmese nuclear effort. Kelley himself has already heavily relied on Sei Thein Win’s account for a report he brought out last May under the imprint of the dissident TV/radio station Democratic Voice of Burma (based in Oslo – there’s the Norwegian connection), entitled “Nuclear Activities in Burma” (whose short version is available here for you on the Scribd site).
It’s damning testimony. Then again, it’s (so far) based on only one witness. Can he be trusted? How will the world’s great powers react? And what will “M” say – especially when he learns that the account on the Morgenbladet’s website is but an abridged one, that the full Norwegian article on Sei Thein Win is only to be found in today’s printed edition?
Miss Moneypenny, get our man in Oslo on the line immediately! Not so fast, Chief. Turns out that the Independent newspaper has grabbed the full Norwegian piece and – with some shifting words-and-phrases around – brought it out in English.
The alert came today in a brief article in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant: Pakistan has been picked as chairman of the Board of Governors of the IAEA, the Vienna-based international agency charged as the watchdog against any use of nuclear energy for military purposes, even as at the same time it is supposed to promote it for peaceful uses.
For anyone reasonably informed about recent nuclear weapons history, the name “Pakistan” does call forth many associations – but all of them related precisely to the sort of nuclear misuse that the IAEA is supposed to stop. Admittedly, the Volkskrant piece does devote a full three-quarters of its exiguous length to listing some of these doubts: Pakistan has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; Pakistan has been locked in a dangerous nuclear stand-off with arch-rival India ever since first conducting nuclear explosions in 1998; the Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was primarily responsible not only for his own country gaining a nuclear weapons capability, but also (for a price) North Korea, Libya (since dismantled) and potentially Iran.
Still, the irony of another Pakistani being chosen to chair the IAEA’s governors was better captured by the lead paragraph in this report from the AFP (and not just because it’s in English):
VIENNA, Austria — Pakistan, which refuses to sign the nuclear [sic] Non-Proliferation Treaty and was home to a notorious nuclear smuggling ring, was named head of the UN nuclear watchdog’s governing board here Monday.
The AFP also judiciously supplements the previous reasons to doubt Pakistan’s anti-nuclear credentials with the additional fact that that country’s atomic weapons stockpiles are now the focus of widespread worry that they will somehow fall into Taliban and/or Al-Qaeda hands.
Yet, strangely, the tail-end of this AFP piece describes how many at the top levels of international nuclear policy find this new situation not to be at all unusual. “They are a member” of the IAEA after all, notes one diplomat, quoted anonymously. And the US ambassador to the IAEA declares that “The United States of America looks forward very much to working with the Pakistani governor as chairman of the board of governors.” In this light, appointing a Greenlander, say, to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization would be positively a breath of fresh air; at least no Greenlander has been known to go around burning grain warehouses to the ground.
Ever hear of the B-61? Sounds like a US warplane, and that’s close but not quite right. Or maybe you’re not interested at all in the B-61, whatever it is – but, to modify the quote attributed to Leon Trotsky, the B-61 could well be very interested in you, at least in the event of nuclear war. For the B-61 is actually the leading thermonuclear bomb in the American arsenal, first designed back in 1963 at the height of the Cold War. And a there was a recent article in Der Spiegel (US Ministry wants to modernize old atomic weapons) about the drive that is now underway on the part of the US Department of Energy (which formally controls all American atomic weapons) and the Department of Defense to spend quite a lot of money to modernize the many B-61s still in stockpile.
Aside from being refreshingly arcane – anybody see any sort of coverage of this at all in the American press? I thought not – how is any of this important? In a couple of ways, actually. First there’s our old friend German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who explicitly campaigned during the last German nationwide election to have the Americans withdraw all of their nuclear warheads from Germany. It’s even a separate policy-point in the coalition agreement that undergirds the current CDU/CSU/FDP federal government in power in Berlin.
Obviously, though, if the Americans are seriously contemplating going forward with B-61 modernization, including for the many such warheads stored in Germany (the exact number is surely classified), then the German Foreign Minister can yell and demand all he wants, but it will remain painfully apparent that he has no say in the matter. Hey, they’re just devices sitting on German soil, each capable of annihilating a major city – but it’s highly unlikely that even Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel herself has any say, either, due to the web of defense agreements governing NATO military installations and US-German relations dating from back when Central Europe was a much more dangerous place.
It’s all something rather alarming to be made aware of, especially if you’re a German citizen, but this still is plainly the main message of this article’s author, Otfried Nassauer, even as he goes on in his article to describe – in what sometimes reads like rather unseemly detail – exactly what the proposed B-61 modernization plans entail. Right now there are five B-61 models, and that’s too unwieldy; those five are to be transformed into just two, namely Model 11 (which already exists and is said to be an atomic “bunker-buster” for tactical use) and Model 12 (brand-new, a multi-use model to take up the roles now covered by all the other models which are to be phased out). Further, in a yet more- explicit sign of the clear intention to keep these weapons in Europe for a long time to come, another aspect of the modernization will involve making sure these bombs are modified so that they can be delivered by the next generation of NATO tactical aircraft, such as the Joint Strike Fighter.
There’s yet another point Nassauer intends to make as well, however. Didn’t President Obama, in his speech to the adoring crowd last April in Prague’s Hradčanské náměstí (Castle Square), speak of his ambition to abolish nuclear weapons entirely? What ever happened to that notion? It’s true that Obama gets the last word in this modernization decision, which he will present in the “Nuclear Posture Review” that his administration is due to deliver to Congress shortly. But – surprise! – no sort of radical move to put aside the proposed modernization entirely is expected. There is too much money at stake, i.e. too many vested interests pushing for it both in DOE and DOD. Indeed, the main point of contention currently is whether the envisioned modernization will end up paving the way for the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons or instead just serve as a substitute for that.
But as for the Germans? Forget ‘em.
Let us now talk about Iran and nuclear weapons. Why? How about because the annual Munich Security Conference got started today and will run through the weekend, and, from a European perspective at least, that is currently the leading security issue.
But wait . . . here’s maybe a better reason to talk about Iran: the Munich daily Süddeutsche Zeitung is now reporting that that country has a design ready for atomic warheads. The newspaper hints heavily that this revelation is its exclusive scoop; according to information it has managed to obtain, the key to Iran’s efforts was a certain Russian nuclear expert, present in that country from the mid-nineties to the year 2000 (or maybe all the way to 2002), and whose work in developing a certain high-speed camera process was crucial to the Iranians being able to fashion a so-called two-point implosion system for setting off the nuclear explosion. Now the Iranians have the blueprints they need to develop bombs that in fact would be small enough to fit comfortably on the medium-range Shahab-3 missiles they possess. Supposedly, inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency know about this new development and concede that the warhead design would certainly work. (It was in fact an IAEA document that was the source for the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s revelations.) (more…)
As usual, the Economist provides an excellent cover-story editorial (Welcome to Moscow) discussing President Obama’s tricky task ahead as he pays a visit to Moscow prior to his attendance, starting next Wednesday, at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. One conclusion their writer draws is that nuclear arms control is probably the area where he can expect the most success (or even the only tangible success) out of that visit.
A report out of the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende (Hope for atomic agreement between USA and Russia, sourced to the Ritzau news-agency) largely confirms that assessment and adds further detail. For one thing, this will actually be the second time Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will discuss the subject. When they first met in London, at that G20 summit of early last April, they agreed to begin negotiations during this upcoming visit on strategic nuclear arms – which may have been somewhat of a no-brainer, as the current START-1 treaty that regulates the US-Russia strategic nuclear balance expires on 5 December of this year. In any case, it’s not like things have been quiet on this front (unfortunately); there is still that plan by the US to set up an anti-missile system in Central Europe, ostensibly aimed against Iran, with the control radar in the Czech Republic and the actual missiles in Poland, a topic which Medvedev is guaranteed to bring up into the conversations. Plus, the Russian president’s initial idea for greeting Obama’s election last November was to announce his intention to station short-range, nuclear-tipped “Iskander” missiles to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad as a counter-move to that anti-missle system, although he has not followed through yet with the actual deployment.
But there’s another problem that the Economist article did not bring up, and that is NATO’s current difficulties with its supply line to Afghanistan. Routing provisions through Pakistan via the Khyber Pass has been a risky proposition for some time, and a few months ago it also looked like the US would be losing access to a key airbase in Kyrgyzstan, although recently the two governments signed an agreement to open it up again for American military use. Still, it would be handy also to be able to use Russian facilities – as well as Russia’s considerable influence on the Kyrgyz government – so that cooperation here would be very welcome. The BT article says American officials likewise have hopes of being able to settle this during the upcoming Russo-American summit.
So reads this report from the Dutch daily De Volkskrant: the South Korean armed forces, starting in 2010, will take delivery of GBU-28 laser-guided bombs specifically designed to penetrate solid earth and/or concrete with their explosions. They have particular reason to find munitions like this useful – no, not to destroy hardened North Korean nuclear weapons sites (at least nothing like that is being publicly discussed) but rather to deal with the very many underground tunnels, most near the North-South Armistice Line, in which the North Koreans are known to be storing weapons and ammunition in support of any invasion of the South.
This development was recently revealed by an official at the South Korean Ministry of Defense. Of course, because of the recent North Korean nuclear explosion and rocket test-flights, and the accompanying heightened bellicose rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang, tensions are currently very high along that Armistice Line.
Don’t get too alarmed: it happened back in January, 1968, when a US B-52 bomber with four nuclear bombs on board crashed a few miles from an airbase near Thule, Greenland – then, as now, a self-governing province of Denmark. The first real problem was that there weren’t supposed to be nuclear weapons there in the first place, as the Danish had only approved the base for use in monitoring for a possible Soviet ICBM attack on the US over the North Pole, not as having anything to do with nuclear weapons themselves. And secondly, only three of those bombs were recovered from the crash site, but US authorities kept quiet about that, instead maintaining that all the weapons had been destroyed in the crash. In reality, three months later they sent a submarine to the area to look some more for the weapon, but with instructions for the officers in charge to lie about their mission to the Danish authorities, stating instead that they were there simply to survey the sea-bottom. (more…)
Sorry, the Olympics get started today, but that doesn’t mean that EuroSavant coverage will be dominated by them. You wouldn’t want that anyway, no? . . .
One aspect of the ongoing crisis around the alleged attempts by the Iranian government to develop nuclear weapons that usually goes unexamined is the attitude of Arab states, especially those in Iran’s immediate neighborhood. (Well, it’s true that the vagaries of the Iraq-Iran relationship have certainly received their fair share of attention – but let’s treat that as a special case.) Sami Al Faraj, President of the Kuwait Centre for Strategic Studies (all I could find on the Net was this), gives an enlightening interview to Der Tagesspiegel about the Gulf state perspective on Iran (specifically, that of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia) in the article “Against Iran Much Harder Economic Sanctions Are Necessary”. (more…)
As 2003 has turned into 2004, there has been a lot of movement world-wide in the area of – brace yourself for this all-too-familiar, overused bureaucratic term – “weapons of mass destruction” (call ‘em WMD) and the “rogue states” that, to various degrees, have pursued their acquisition in the past. Most prominent was Libya’s renunciation of such weapons and agreement to adhere to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards, even before actually signing any written accord to do so. But North Korea also recently allowed a team of US observers visit its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. For its part, back in October Iran signed agreements granting the IAEA more scope for inspection of its nuclear facilities, and even Syria started to speak publicly last week about its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Zbynek Petracek, in the most-recent issue of the Czech commentary weekly Respekt, surveys these developments in an article he entitles So That You Don’t End Up Like Saddam. But is all this breaking of the nuclear ice attributable to the downfall of the Iraqi dictator?
If it were, Petracek notes, that would be somewhat ironic, given that the WMD justification for the invasion of Iraq hasn’t panned out at all; last week also marked what was attempted as the “quiet” pull-out from Iraq of the main American team of 400 WMD-searchers (but the media are always watching, especially these guys). But actually there’s precious little connection; indeed, and unfortunately, there has been less progress in fighting the spread of WMD even after the fall of Saddam, even after he was caught in his spider-hole, than you would hope. (more…)
The current most-talked-about press-scoop about current conditions in the Middle East belongs to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. A search on Google News indicates that scattered English-language periodicals have picked up on its eyebrow-raising report from last Saturday. (I first became aware of it via the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.) As before, when Al Gore cited in a speech a damning interview about the Bush administration’s economic policies in Der Spiegel by top American economist George A. Akerlof, EuroSavant is glad to step in to assist its English-speaking audience. (more…)