February 2006


Iran& Nuclear weapons--global21 Feb 2006 05:57 pm

Michael Spies

The US and the EU3 have said that Iran’s resumption of uranium enrichment activities amounted to crossing a “red line“. But a story run by Reuters on Sunday indicates that IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei may also be stepping over that line. Reuters quotes a diplomat close to the IAEA who said ElBaradei “told diplomats that Natanz (pilot enrichment plant) is Iran’s bottom line, a sovereignty issue, a reality we may have to deal with.” In any deal involving the pilot plant, Iran would be expected to foreswear proceeding with plans to establish a commercial scale enrichment facility.

The compromise proposal would allow for Iran to conduct low scale enrichment within its territory, under the close supervision of the IAEA. The enrichment would be conducted at Iran’s pilot fuel enrichment plant (PFEP) in Natanz, where Iran recently resumed activities. The 164 centrifuge cascade installed there is believed to have suffered extensive corrosive damage from disuse during Iran’s suspension of fuel cycle activities under the negotiations with the EU.

The PFEP has floor space for about 1,000 centrifuges. At full capacity, not likely to be attained for several years, this plant would be capable of churning out enough highly enriched uranium for no more than two bombs per year. David Albright, demystifying the myth of an imminent Iranian nuclear threat in technical detail, describes “Iran’s last technical hurdle to building a centrifuge plant“:

A key part of the development of Iran’s gas centrifuge program is the operation of a 164-machine cascade at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Facility (PFEP) at Natanz. The installation of the first such test cascade was finished in the fall of 2003 but it never operated with uranium hexafluoride prior to the start of the suspension in November of 2003. It was not operated during the suspension. Until the start of the suspension, Iran had used uranium hexafluoride in single machine tests and a small cascade of 19 machines. Several of these tests encountered problems.

To operate this cascade at the pilot facility, Iran needs to take several steps before it can introduce uranium hexafluoride into the system. It first has to repair or replace any damaged centrifuges. According to IAEA reports, about 30% of the centrifuges crashed or broke when the cascade was shut down at the start of the suspension. In addition, Iran disconnected some of the pipes and exposed the pipes to humidity which could have caused corrosion. After making necessary repairs, Iran then has to finish connecting all the pipes, establish a vacuum inside the cascade, start the process of turning on the centrifuges and then running them under vacuum for several weeks, and prepare the cascade for operation with uranium hexafluoride. Iran may start enriching uranium in a subset of this cascade sooner, but it could take two or more months to ready the whole cascade for the use of uranium hexafluoride. If Iran does not encounter any significant problems, such as excessive vibration of the centrifuges or leakage of the vacuum, Iran could then introduce uranium hexafluoride into the entire cascade and start enriching uranium. Iran would want to operate the cascade for several more months to ensure that no significant problems develop and gain confidence that it can operate the cascade with uranium hexafluoride. Absent major problems, Iran will need roughly six months to one year to demonstrate successful operation of this cascade.

According to Albright,

Once Iran overcomes the last technical hurdle of operating its test cascade, it can duplicate it and create larger cascades. Iran would then be ready to build a centrifuge plant able to produce significant amounts of enriched uranium either for peaceful purposes or for nuclear weapons.

The PFEP can hold a total of six, 164-machine cascades for a total of about 1000 machines, although Iran may build fewer cascades or change the number of centrifuges per cascade. Without major modifications, this facility is unlikely to be used to make significant amounts of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons.

Despite the final conclusion that the PFEP is unlikely to produce much HEU, Albright was quoted in the Reuter’s story as suggesting ElBaradei’s idea is “naÔve” because it could lead to further concessions to Iran. But from the perspective of Iran’s implacable defense of its “rights” recognized under Article IV of the NPT, it’s unclear who would be conceding what to whom.

Uncategorized18 Feb 2006 01:57 pm

Jackie Cabasso

Late the other evening, while semi-watching the Olympics on TV, I was mulling over a problem I’ve been struggling with when talking to the media. Our language doesn’t seem up to the task of describing the darkly wacky political world of 2006. In these over-the-top times, some new terminology is called for. A few examples for which the words I know fail me:

  • The week’s dominant news story: Vice-President Cheney’s accidental shooting of a Texas GOP bigwig who suffered a heart attack as a result of migrating bird shot. Barely noticed: new photos showing Iraqi prisoners abused by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib. Not mentioned: the 30,000 or so people who die each year from gun violence in the United States.
  • The cartoon wars that have erupted halfway around the world, and show no sign of calming down. Fortunately, nonviolent methods of protesting the offending cartoons have emerged. The Iranian confectioner’s union has decreed that the pastries formerly known as “Danish” will hereafter be called “Roses of Mohammed” (shades of “Freedom Fries”). Apparently, while it is a no-no to depict the Prophet’s image, it’s OK to name a pastry after him!
  • Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, an elite member of a questionably elected, unquestionably secretive, decidedly militarist and increasingly unpopular administration, has compared Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected, wildly popular, progressive socialist President of Venezuela, to Hitler.
  • President Bush, in his recent State of the Union address, warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose “a grave threat to the security of the world,” the same language he used prior to attacking Iraq. One week later, his budget request to Congress openly disclosed that the United States is planning to redesign and replace every weapon in its huge nuclear arsenal, and with Russia, to launch a global plutonium economy.

For a committed surrealist, it doesn’t get any weirder than this. But the old terminology just isn’t up to the task. Describing U.S. nuclear weapons policy as “hypocritical” doesn’t even begin to address the magnitude of the geopolitical discrepancies. Describing as “Orwellian” the Quadrennial Defense Review’s recasting of the war on terrorism as a never-ending “long war,” just doesn’t cut it. (Is anyone else getting tired of all the violence?) We need a whole new lexicon to describe our current predicament. Watching the Winter Olympics is mildly distracting. But it gave me an idea: we’re not just “going to hell in a handbasket,” we’re going to hell in a luge — head first, at 80 miles an hour!

U.S. military& Iraq war& Social movements and protest15 Feb 2006 02:34 pm

Andrew Lichterman

Yesterday, Grandmothers Against the War gathered at the Oakland, California armed forces recruiting center to offer to enlist to replace those serving in Iraq. The recruiters closed and locked their doors. The police closed off the northbound lanes of Broadway, Oakland’s main downtown thoroughfare, and over 300 people demonstrated peacefully against the war on the street and sidewalk in front of the recruiting center.


Nuclear weapons--U.S.& U.S. military& Military budget& Strategic weapons and space10 Feb 2006 03:07 pm

Andrew Lichterman

“Global is defined as the capability to strike any target set in the world.” Prompt Global Strike (PGS) Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) Study Plan Draft 28 Oct 2005, p.10

The Air Force has put out a “Prompt Global Strike Request for Information,” beginning the process of examining alternatives for new weapons capable of hitting targets anywhere on earth. Supporting materials state that the Prompt Global Strike Analysis of Alternatives will examine “a range of system concepts to deliver precision weapons with global reach, in minutes to hours.” Prompt Global Strike (PGS) Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) Study Plan Draft 28 Oct 2005, p.9 The PGS AoA Study Plan Draft provides a laundry list of the kinds of concepts under consideration:

  • “High Speed Strike Systems. This approach requires development/adaptation of a piloted, remotely controlled, or autonomous subsonic/supersonic/hypersonic vehicle (aircraft, sea craft, or missile) to deliver precision standoff or direct attack subsonic/ supersonic/ hypersonic munitions.
  • Operationally Responsive Space. An expendable and/or reusable launch vehicle that can deliver precision guided munitions.
  • Military Space Plane. A reusable launch vehicle that could directly deliver precision guided munitions.
  • Ground or Sea-based Expendable Launch Vehicle. This approach consists of either modification of current space launch vehicles, conversion of deactivated intercontinental ballistic missiles or sea-launched ballistic missiles, or building a new launch vehicle to deliver weapon payloads; such as small launch vehicle or submarine launched intermediate range ballistic missiles. An advanced reentry vehicle/body; such as, a common aero vehicle could be developed to accompany these missile systems.
  • Air-Launched Global Strike System. This concept consists of an aircraft that air-launches Pegasus-like space launch vehicles configured with weapons and/or an aircraft delivering supersonic or hypersonic long-range cruise missiles.” Prompt Global Strike (PGS) Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) Study Plan Draft 28 Oct 2005, p.9

Several of these concepts already are being examined in other studies or already are under development. (see, for example, the Land Based Strategic Deterrent Analysis of Alternatives and the Force Application and Launch for the Continental United States (FALCON) program. While these plans for new kinds of strategic weapons are ramping up, the Pentagon also wants to upgrade existing long-range forces, making its bombers more capable and putting conventional warheads on Trident submarine launched ballistic missiles. (see William Arkin’s Early Warning blog for an overview of these programs.) New long-range weapons are a high priority to the Bush administration, which announced in the recently released Quadrennial Defense Review that it plans to “begin development of the next generation long-range strike systems, accelerating projected initial operational capability by almost two decades.” U.S. Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, February 6, 2006 p.6 (more…)

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Secrecy and democracy03 Feb 2006 12:21 am

Andrew Lichterman

Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, a leading analyst of U.S. nuclear weapons programs and policies, has discovered that the Pentagon has withdrawn its draft revised doctrine for use of nuclear weapons, and the existing doctrine documents as well:

The Pentagon has formally cancelled a controversial revision of Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations after the doctrine was exposed last year in an article in Arms Control Today in September 2005 and the Washington Post. The revised draft included for the first time descriptions of preemptive use of US nuclear weapons, and caused the Senate Armed Services Committee to ask for a briefing, and 16 lawmakers to protest to President Bush. (See Kristensenís full account of the cancellation of these documents)

The draft document and that which it was slated to replace, along with other U.S. nuclear weapons doctrine statements (some now also “cancelled,”) are archived on the Western States Legal Foundation web site.

As Kristensen notes, although the documents that caused the controversy may have been withdrawn, there is no indication that U.S. nuclear weapons use policy has been changed. The episode says more about this governmentís penchant for secrecy than it does about any reevaluation of nuclear weapons policies. Like the NSA spying scandal, the government response is not to engage in a real debate about policy, but to deny that they are doing whatever caused the controversy, while removing evidence that they might be from conspicuous public view. The United States remains prepared to use its fearsome nuclear arsenal in a variety of circumstances beyond retaliating for nuclear attack, from destroying the chemical and biological weapons of an adversary before they can be used to nuclear weapons use against conventional forces that threaten to overwhelm U.S. troops. Other public documents from the Department of Defense and the military services that have not yet been ‘cancelled’ say many of the same things as the documents that attracted public notice, and then were withdrawn. (more…)

Disarmament& Iran& Nuclear weapons--global& U.S. military& Nuclear power02 Feb 2006 12:09 pm

Jackie Cabasso

After agreeing to comment on the State of the Union Address for the Institute for Public Accuracy (as one of many commentators), I forced myself to watch the Commander in Chief make his annual grand performance, fortified by a martini and surrounded by close friends. Afterwards, I went home and struggled to find words that would convey my outrage, while also attempting to offer some cogent information and analysis. I was nearly overwhelmed, because the speech was long, there was so much provocative rhetoric to react to, it was so Orwellian, and I was on a tight deadline. There was also so much missing, like — in a speech rife with glowing references to growing international “democracy,” “political freedom,” and “peaceful change” — no reference was made to the recent elections in Latin America. On the domestic front, though the Pres declared “… our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another,” he didn’t even mention Hurricane Katrina. And the speech raised some questions for me, which there was no time to look into. Why were Zimbabwe and Burma added to the “hit list,” along with Syria, North Korea and Iran?

The Institute for Public Accuracy quoted from some of my musings, along with a number of esteemed colleagues, in their February 1 news release, Responses to State of the Union Address, and a related critique for public distribution, A Critical Look: The State of the Union 2006, here’s the rest. I want to stress that these comments by no means represent a comprehensive analysis of the speech — just a few uneven thoughts triggered by specific references in the speech.

Though this year’s State of the Union Address was no where near as over-the-top as last year’s 2005 version of “Manifest Destiny,” two words continue to characterize the Bush Administration’s approach to the world: “arrogance” and “hypocrisy.” Bush began his speech by acknowledging the loss of Coretta Scott King. But, Mrs. King early on recognized the insidious link between U.S. militarism and civil rights, taking a stand against the Vietnam War even before her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, came out against the war. Surely she would not want to be remembered in association the Bush Administration’s “long war” of empire or its unchecked domestic surveillance activities. (more…)

U.S. military& Military budget& Secrecy and democracy01 Feb 2006 11:29 am

Andrew Lichterman

“Our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy - a war that will be fought by Presidents of both parties, who will need steady bipartisan support from the Congress.” George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 31, 2006.

Every four years, the U.S. Department of Defense issues its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a broad outline of U.S. military policy and the types of programs that the Department wants to implement it. The next (2005) version is due out in February, but InsideDefense.com has published 42 pages of the draft QDR (subscription required). Resources and commentary on current and past QDRís can be found at the Project for Defense Alternatives.

“Orwellian” is a term that is overused, but both the language and the content of the 2005 QDR, echoed by George Bush in his State of the Union speech, evoke resonances of “1984,” Orwell’s tale of dictatorship sustained by eternal war. Several locutions that recur throughout the QDR manifest a vision of war without end, fought increasingly by forces that are both less visible and less accountable. Over and over the QDR authors tell us that we are fighting what they now call “the long war” — an even more open-ended term than the “war on terror,” since it can be fought against anyone, anywhere, anytime. Bush used the same phrase in his State of the Union Address to underscore his favorite theme: he is a War President, and must be allowed to do whatever he alone deems necessary. The draft QDR puts a bit more meat on the State of the Union’s rhetorical bones, giving us some idea of how those in power plan to use this “long war” as a justification for more war and less democracy. (more…)

Iran& Nuclear weapons--global01 Feb 2006 10:27 am

Michael Spies

On Monday, January 23, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that the P5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, China, France, Russia, UK, US, padawan permanent member Germany, and the European Union have agreed on a compromise proposal to “report” Iran to the Security Council. The statement does not necessarily predetermine the language of any International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board resolution, which will likely be tabled on Thursday and must be agreed to by a majority of states on the 35 member Board. Nor does it signal that any future Security Council action will necessarily involve the imposition of economic sanctions, contrary to the assumption of much of the U.S. media. However, it does indicate how the most powerful states on the Board will seek to shape how this matter is brought to the Security Council.

The major compromise on the part of the US was to agree “that the Security Council should await the Director General’s report to the March meeting of the IAEA Board … before deciding to take action to reinforce the authority of the IAEA process.” The US Permanent Representative to the UN, John Bolton, holds the rotating Security Council presidency for the month of February. Possibly a factor underwriting this compromise, the agreement thus ensures that this issue will not come the Council while Bolton has the authority to set its agenda, to the relief of anyone who hopes for a diplomatic and non-confrontational outcome to the Iranian dilemma (Paul Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute disagrees). Argentina, which voted in favor of the IAEA finding Iran in non-compliance in September, holds the Security Council presidency for March. (more…)