Saturday, January 10, 2015

⚓️⚓️⚓️Celebrating the Birth of the Nuclear ⚓️⚓️⚓️

Celebrating the Birth of the Nuclear Navy
USS Nautilus (SSN 571) Water color by Albert Murray
USS Nautilus (SSN 571)
Water color by Albert Murray
From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
The director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program will host a ceremony Jan. 9 at Naval Reactors’ Washington Navy Yard headquarters celebrating one of the first major milestones of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.
Adm. John M. Richardson, joined by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, and the Department of Energy Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, will honor the 60th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear-powered warship, USS Nautilus (SSN 571), getting underway on nuclear power. It was on Jan. 17, 1955 at 11 a.m. when Nautilus Commanding Officer Cmdr. Eugene Wilkinsonannounced “UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER.”
In addition to being an engineering marvel, Nautilus was the first in a long line of nuclear-powered ships to serve the U.S. Navy with an outstanding record of more than 155,000 million miles safely steamed on nuclear power. Just as important, she represented a huge leap in American energy security, increasing strategic independence, sustainability, and operational capability.
Adm. Hyman G. Rickover on USS Nautilus.
Adm. Hyman G. Rickover on USS Nautilus.
Getting Nautilus “underway on nuclear power” was a remarkable accomplishment that began with the concept of harnessing the power of splitting uranium atoms in 1939 by scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory. That concept became reality when then-Capt. Hyman G. Rickover, an engineering officer, signed onto the project in 1946. Just six years later, on June 14, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed the keel of the first nuclear-powered submarine.
Nautilus Launching Program
It was Jan. 21, 1954 when Nautilus was launched at Electric Boat Shipyard, Groton, Conn. The boat was commissioned a few months later, Sept. 30. For a video of the 60th anniversary of the commissioning, please click here.
USS Nautilus in New York on Aug. 25, 1958, following her historic voyage across the North Pole on Aug. 3. US Navy photo
USS Nautilus in New York on Aug. 25, 1958, following her historic voyage across the North Pole on Aug. 3. A ticker tape parade was held to celebrate the occasion. US Navy photo
Nautilus’ career was a record-setting one, including being the first submarine to cross the North Pole – under the ice – on Aug. 3, 1958. After 25 years and four refuelings, Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980. Two years later, the first nuclear-powered submarine was designated a National Historic Landmarkby the Secretary of the Interior.
After undergoing historic ship conversion in 1986, USS Nautiluscontinues to serve her country at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton.

Blue Angels Begin 2015 Winter Training 2.3K Navy Live / by U.S. Navy

By Lt.j.g. Amber Lynn Daniel
Blue Angels Public Affairs Officer
It is a new year, and your U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, are already hard at work preparing for the 2015 air show season. Last week we relocated the entire squadron from our headquarters in Pensacola, Florida to our annual training facility in sunny El Centro, California, and we are thrilled to be back in the skies doing what we do best!
The week has begun with an aggressive flight schedule – two to three flights a day for both the Diamond formation (which includes Boss and pilots 2, 3 and 4) and the Solos (pilots 5 and 6). Flying the demonstration is a physically demanding task, and practicing this many times a day – from sunup to sundown – means every member of the team must bring their “A” game.
EL CENTRO (Jan. 7, 2015) U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, Right Wing pilot Lt. Matt Suyderhoud flies below Commanding Officer and Flight Leader Capt. Tom Frosch during a training flight near El Centro, Calif., Jan. 7.
EL CENTRO (Jan. 7, 2015) U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, Right Wing pilot Lt. Matt Suyderhoud flies below Commanding Officer and Flight Leader Capt. Tom Frosch during a training flight near El Centro, Calif.
With our flight schedule in full force, I was offered a chance to take a backseat ride today. This was my first one with the 2015 team, and although our new pilots have only been flying training flight together for a week, they are already looking sharp. Flight training begins by practicing formation flying and basic maneuvers. With each flight, our new team sets the building blocks for more complicated maneuvers. But there are no “easy” flights – every flight requires precision and total concentration. During these initial flights the pilots learn what markers on the jet to focus on (Also known as “flying paint” – for many maneuvers, pilots 2 and 3 fly formation by focusing their eyes on specific points on Boss’ jet) and how to move the plane for each particular maneuver. By our first show March 14, they will have flown more than 120 training flights; the culmination of those flights at the El Centro Air Show will demonstrate the world-renowned eighteen inch wingtip-to-canopy separation the Blue Angels are known for.
As the Public Affairs Officer, I am fortunate to often be granted the opportunity of flying in the backseat during practices. I’m often asked “What is it like to ride in the back of a jet?” This can be tough to explain, but I’ll try. Think of it as trying to drive a car while someone continues to add and remove sacks of flour on your body. These sacks each weigh the same weight as your body. For some maneuvers, the pilots will experience 7 g’s (G is short for gravitational force) – the equivalent of 7 of those sacks of flour pushing down on you!
During today’s practice, the team focused on maneuvers that are relatively low G, mostly two to three. Although it doesn’t sound like much, don’t be fooled! After an hour in the backseat, I emerged from the jet covered in sweat and shaking with the effort of sustaining alternating low G forces. It made me appreciate the efforts our pilots go through – the same efforts Navy pilots around the world face around the world, around the clock. It isn’t an easy job – but they make it look that way!
We will be periodically checking back in to Navy Live to update you on the team’s progress. This is America’s Navy, and the Blue Angels are your flight demonstration team. It is an honor and a privilege to wear the Blue Angel flight suit, and we will continue to work hard to perform to the standards set by our predecessors all the way back in 1946. Wish us luck and clear skies!

Red Guards and Nuclear Missiles 10 All Things Nuclear

Red Guards and Nuclear Missiles
China’s nuclear weapons are a source of unending controversy in the United States, in part because the debate is littered with misinformation. The problem is so pervasive that even seasoned researchers have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction.
An outstanding investigative journalist and the author of a well-documented book on the troubled history of the U.S. nuclear weapons program mistook fiction for fact when commenting on the history of China’s nuclear program in a November 2014 editorial, writing:
“During the Cultural Revolution in China, members of the red guards launched a missile with a nuclear warhead on a flight path over populated areas – an extremely risky and perhaps unauthorised launch.”
China did conduct this risky test on 27 October 1966. But the nuclear-armed missile was not launched by red guards. It was authorized by Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai, supervised by General Nie Rongzhen—the military officer in charge of China’s nuclear weapons program— and certified as technologically feasible by Qian Xuesen, the founding director of the U.S. Joint Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who returned to China from the U.S. after being accused of espionage during the McCarthy era.
The journalist was misled by questionable information in a recently published case study of China’s nuclear command and control system. The study claims the radical politics of the Cultural Revolution was the decisive factor in a red guard inspired push by the newly-formed Second Artillery—China’s missile force—to conduct the October 1966 test.
But that claim is wrong, according to publicly available Chinese histories..
Instead, preparations to conduct the test began after a meeting of the Central Military Commission at its headquarters in the Western Hills of Beijing in early 1966. During the meeting all of the key technical institutions involved in China’s nuclear and missile programs presented information on the feasibility of conducting a successful test of a nuclear warhead mated to a modified version of China’s DF-2 missile. The decision to go forward with the test was taken in a meeting chaired by Premier Zhou Enlai and held in the Xinjiang Room of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 11 March 1966, five months before the Cultural Revolution started.
Poor Use of Sources
The sole reference the case study associates with the sensational claim that Chinese red guards conducted an unauthorized test of a nuclear-armed Chinese missile is a 1985 article published in the Beijing Review. But in fact, the article—an excerpt from General Nie Rongzhen’s autobiography—says exactly the opposite.
Nie, whose leadership of the nuclear weapons program was challenged by the radicals in the labs, indicates there was a careful and deliberate process leading to Mao and Zhou’s authorization to conduct the test. In addition to this article, numerous Chinese language histories of the nuclear program tell the same story. The case study does not reference any of them in support of the claim about the effect of radical Chinese politics on Chinese views of nuclear weapons. It is an oversight that is difficult to understand, especially since these histories are well known and generally accepted as credible both inside and outside of China.
The case study claims the radicals wanted to “accelerate the nuclear weapons program.” However, Chinese historical accounts indicate the leadership’s primary concern was that the radicals would delay it.
This is especially true in the case of the October 1966 test. The histories show that the outbreak of Cultural Revolution political activities within the various departments working on the nuclear program started just as preparations to conduct the test were entering their final phase. The case study mentions the radical activity in Qinghai, and suggests that ideological debates related to the pace of the nuclear weapons program led to unauthorized efforts to accelerate a test that was already imminent.  But the Chinese histories tell a very different story. They indicate the officials in charge of China’s nuclear program were concerned that red guards might commandeer the train scheduled to carry the nuclear warheads from Qinghai to the test site, and in doing so delay the scheduled test indefinitely. Red Guards had begun commandeering trains all over China and the leadership of the facility in Qinghai where the warheads were stored called Premier Zhou Enlai to implore him to take efforts to prevent the red guards from taking the Qinghai train.
General Nie was concerned that other logistical problems associated with the politics of the Cultural Revolution might delay not only the October 1966 test but the upcoming test of the hydrogen bomb. Nie also contacted Premier Zhou Enlai to obtain an order preventing various types of red guard activities within the nuclear complex, including putting up big character posters, conducting struggle sessions and engaging in mass public protests against supposed counterrevolutionaries. The emphasis throughout was on preserving order and discipline within the labs and the military so that Cultural Revolution activities would not disrupt the nuclear weapons program.
So not only does the case study fail to provide any documentation to support the claim that the red guards tried to accelerate the nuclear program by conducting an unauthorized test, the available sources, when examined, show that the Chinese political leadership, and the leadership of the nuclear weapons program, were forced to take extraordinary measures to prevent the red guards from derailing it.
Putting the Chinese People at Risk
The most recent historical account of China’s nuclear weapons program is a 2011 work called “Fate of the Nation: The Secret Course of China’s Liang Dan Yi Xing.” Authors Tao Chun and Chen Huaiguo offer their version of the standard Chinese explanation behind the Communist Party leadership’s decision to conduct a risky test of a nuclear-armed missile in October of 1966:
 After China’s first nuclear weapons test, the United States tightened its complete blackmail and strategic encirclement against China, enlarging the scale of the Vietnam War, and organizing the so-called crescent moon of military bases encircling the eastern Pacific coast like a sickle hanging over China’s head. At the same time the Americans intoxicatedly believed that Sino-Soviet relations were changing and that the situation demanded the Soviets carry out a crushing preemptive nuclear attack while China still had not completely mastered the practical ability to use nuclear weapons. 
In truth the Soviet threat to China was equally great. In 1963, after China and the Soviet Union completely broke relations, the Soviets moved their armies into Mongolia and were on the border of Inner Mongolia on a line to Beijing just over 500 kilometers away, with strategic nuclear forces deployed in Central Mongolia and along the Chinese-Soviet border to the east, posing a serious threat to China.
After China’s first nuclear weapons test, the West thought it was just a nuclear demonstration, still not a weapon, and not something to make a fuss about. This led Chinese leaders to feel that in the past they didn’t have hard enough stuff and they couldn’t straighten their spine, and now with nuclear bombs they still could not take a breath. Because if all you have is a nuclear bomb, that won’t do, it still isn’t a weapon, it does not have eyes, have long legs, know how to run— so all you can do is blow up yourself with it, no? Therefore, whether or not we could quickly possess a useable nuclear weapon became a question of life or death.
On 14 May 1965 a Hong 6 aircraft dropped a nuclear weapon at the nuclear test site and this test of an airborne nuclear weapon was a success, demonstrating once and for all that China possessed a nuclear weapon that could be used in a war. However, all of the aircraft China could use were backward, and any U.S. or Soviet fighter could easily intercept them. Considering China’s practical conditions at the time, relying on the quantity or quality of the aircraft available to China for a nuclear deterrent was naturally a non-starter. This is also to say developing a nuclear-armed missile was a road China must walk.
The Americans believed China could not master nuclear missile technology in a short period of time. At the time U.S. Secretary of Defense McNamara predicted it would be five years before China would have a nuclear-armed missile. Why did he say that? Because it took the United States twelve years from their first nuclear test to launch a nuclear-armed missile, and about the same amount of time for the Soviet Union, so for China to use ten years to develop the same seemed normal. In five years they certainly could not. This, fundamentally, was the U.S. prediction. 
Considering all this, with research on the hydrogen bomb proceeding at the same time, the test of a missile armed with a nuclear weapon made it on to the agenda of the Specialized Committee…
The following clip from a 1999 film produced by the August 1st Movie Production Studio of the People’s Liberation Army offers the same basic story of the events leading up to the test.
It is misleading to downplay the sense of urgency behind the Chinese leadership’s decision to conduct the October 1966 test with claims about the ideological influences of the Cultural Revolution. Portraying the decision to conduct the test as the intemperate push of radicals obscures the motivations driving the Chinese leadership’s decision to put their own population at risk. The test was conducted over populated areas because there were no other viable options available to the Chinese leadership at that time. They could not, as the United States did, conduct such a test over the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. Zhou Enlai, at the end of the 11 March meeting that authorized the October 1966 test, admitted that if the worst happened it would be a crime against the Chinese people.  But he also realized, along with everyone else in attendance, that despite all their best efforts there was a real risk of catastrophic failure. As authors Tao and Chen relate, “The meeting ended. There was no clapping, and the attendees’ faces were full of imposition as they quietly left the meeting place.
These people knew they were creating a risk of an accidental nuclear explosion over populated areas of their own country. That seems more deserving of our concern and consideration today, as the United States negotiates with China on the possibility of nuclear reductions, than imagining the October 1966 test was the reckless act of a bunch of unauthorized Chinese radicals.
The Need for More Careful U.S. Scholarship on China’s Nuclear Program
Of course, all of the histories published in China are subject to question. The archived original sources on which they are based are not open to scrutiny, even to trusted researchers currently working in China’s nuclear weapons labs.  State-authorized histories of China nuclear weapons program are not objective chronicles of events conducted by dispassionate academics. There are, most likely, quite a few details about the history of China’s nuclear weapons program that will not be known until the Chinese government decides to open its archives to independent scholars.
Nevertheless, in the meantime, U.S. analysts who make claims to expertise about that history are obliged to consult everything that is available and to present what they find as accurately and honestly as possible. Sensational claims in particular require careful vetting and full documentation. Without it, scholars who are less familiar with that history and unable to read Chinese language sources are easily led astray. More importantly, U.S. decision-makers who rely upon the expertise of U.S. analysts inside and outside of government need to know the information about China’s nuclear weapons program those analysts produce is credible.

⚓️Plymouth-based Royal Navy ship and American colleagues reportedlysearching for Russian submarine spotted in British waters By PlymouthHerald ⚓️

HMS Somerset
HMS Somerset
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THE ROYAL Navy is working American allies to hunt for a Russian submarine thought to be lurking off the coast of Scotland, it’s been reported.
Plymouth-based anti-submarine frigate HMS Somerset is thought to be working alongside the US Orion maritime patrol aeroplanes currently based at RAF Lossiemouth to try and locate the Russian boat.
The emergence of the Russian submarine is said to be linked to the alleged departure from Faslane Naval base of one of the Royal Navy's Vanguard-class nuclear submarines, which carries Trident missiles.
The base, at Gare Loch on the River Clyde, is the home of the UK's ballistic missile submarines.
Peter Roberts, a senior fellow of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, told The Independent: "HMS Somerset is a capable platform and I have no doubt that her deployment alongside these U.S Navy aircraft is related to the reported departure of a Royal Navy Vanguard ballistic missile submarine from Faslane, and the countering of any Russian deployment from over the horizon."
This week's operation follows a deployment last month by maritime patrol aircraft from Canada, France and the U.S.
The periscope was sighted in waters where British submarines would normally surface as they head into or out of Faslane.
On that occasion, it was also suggested that a suspected Russian submarine may have been trying to track one of Britain's four Vanguard-class boats, reported Mail Online.


Read more: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Royal-Navy-American-allies-reportedly-searching/story-25830571-detail/story.html#ixzz3OOaJpL7c 
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WWI as ’cause or associated factor’ of mental illness

WWI as ’cause or associated factor’ of mental illness

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Image: Getty
Image: Getty
Dear Editor,
I was fascinated by Prof Brendan Kelly’s account of the clinical features of shell shocked soldiers in the Richmond War Hospital, Grangegorman, Dublin (‘Treating shell shock in returning WWI soldiers’, IMTNovember 28, 2014) and look forward to reading his book from which it was abstracted. As he recounts, the Richmond and the Belfast Mental War Hospitals were distinct entities within the larger hospital settings.
Interestingly, the 69th Report of the Inspectors of Lunacy, published in 1921, provides details on soldiers and sailors admitted to the country’s District, Auxiliary and Private Asylums and Mental Hospitals exclusive of the War Hospitals during the five years 1915-1919 in whose case WWI was assigned as “a cause or associated factor” of insanity. These numbered 790, of whom 576 served overseas, the remainder being on home service. No clinical details of their illnesses were supplied.
The Report also recorded the number of civilian cases of insanity admitted to the same hospitals from 1915-1919 in which WWI was perceived as a contributory factor. These constituted 103 cases in which the war was assigned as a principal cause of the insanity and a further 113 in which it was allocated a contributory cause. While, as often in psychiatry, causal attribution has something of the speculative about it, these cases collectively contributed 1.19 per cent of total admissions over these years.
Also, may I beg your indulgence, Editor, to make amends for my neglect, in my piece on Marie Curie (IMTDecember 5, 2014), of the pioneering work of Dubliner Dr Walter Stevenson in the radium story and whose method of collecting radon gas was adopted by Curie. Stevenson was surgeon and radiologist at Dr Steevens’ Hospital and used radon in the treatment of cancer as early as 1904 and published on it in the 1920s. His memory is publicly honoured by a plaque on his former residence at 60 Lower Baggot Street.
Dr Dermot Walsh,
Formerly Inspector of Mental Hospitals.

Science Café, The 100th Anniversary of World War I: How ChemicalWeapons Led to Cancer Chemotherapy

Science Café, The 100th Anniversary of World War I: How Chemical Weapons Led to Cancer Chemotherapy

Categories: General | Intended for 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

6:30 PM - 7:30 PM | Add to calendar

Location Details

Sunnyside branch of the Public Library, 1049 Bank Street

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No registration required.

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$0.00

About this Event

Host Organization: The Faculty of Science
More Information: Please click here for additional details.
Presented by Professor Jeffrey Manthorpe, Department of Chemistry
One of the most lasting impacts of World War I was the advent of modern chemical weapons and January 2015 is the 100th anniversary of their introduction. While the use of weapons such as chlorine and mustard gas in WWI are well known, this presentation will show the surprising scientific connections and history of how chemicals designed to kill enemy soldiers have led to medicines that now allow us to fight cancer, infections, mental illness, and cystic fibrosis.

Trade can bring war - WWI

Review: Trade can bring war


By Guest Contributor
 
JANUARY 9, 2015
By Edward Chancellor
The author is a guest columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Few doubt that international trade usually increases the wealth of nations. Does it also bring peace? Many think so, but economic historian James Macdonald points out in “When Globalization Fails: The Rise and Fall of Pax Americana” that the last high point of globalization ended just over a century ago in a devastating world war – between countries which were also each other’s largest trading partners.
New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman writes about the “Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention,” positing that no two countries that are part of a global supply chain have ever fought a war with each other. Macdonald decries such thinking as simplistic and unhistorical.
Nor is Friedman original. Victorian liberals such as Richard Cobden and John Stuart Mill had very similar ideas – Cobden going so far as to claim that free trade would “draw men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language, uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace.” Trade between countries, however, can lead to intense competition for raw materials, whilst also producing in some nations an acute sense of geostrategic vulnerability. Rather than bringing eternal peace, trade between nations may lead to war.
Conflict can be avoided, however, if trade falls under the protection of a benign global hegemon, such as Victorian Britain whose Royal Navy ruled the oceans for nearly a century after Napoleon’s downfall. Danger arises, however, when the supremacy of the dominant superpower is challenged.
At the turn of the 20th century Britain ceded economic primacy to the United States and Germany. Under Kaiser Wilhelm, the Germans became increasingly assertive. They hungered for the natural resources and prestige conferred by imperial possessions, whilst fearing that Britain’s continued naval dominance threatened Germany’s overseas trade. Admiral Tirpitz, head of the Kaiser’s navy, declared that a “state that has actively taken up trade… cannot exist without a certain measure of naval power, or else it must go under.”
The extensive trade among the Great Powers did not prevent a naval arms race. Colonial conflicts also became more frequent. Then came 1914. “If the liberals [such as Mill] had been right,” says Macdonald, “these countries should never have gone to war.”
World War One taught that economic interconnections created national vulnerability. Economic self-sufficiency was seen as a potential solution. Autarky appealed to military strategists in both Nazi Germany and Japan in the 1930s – and was even supported at the time by that economic weather vane, John Maynard Keynes.
Among the war aims of both Germany and Japan was a desire to establish self-sufficient economic blocks. Yet Japan’s moves to construct its so-called “Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” threatened U.S. supplies of rubber and tin, and after Japan moved military forces into Indochina, America restricted Japan’s oil supplies. The Japanese replied in turn by bombing Pearl Harbor. “When the overlay of racial barbarity is removed from the Second World War,” writes Macdonald, “what remains is a struggle for resources.”
During the Cold War, the superpowers’ scramble for resources became less intense. The Soviet Empire was both self-sufficient in raw materials and almost completely withdrawn from global trade. Meanwhile, trade in what came to be known as the free world fell under the protection of the dominant U.S. superpower.
America exercised its power during the post-war period, in Macdonald’s view, in an unthreatening manner to “protect its allies rather than its own narrow self-interest.” In this respect, Pax Americana was similar to the Pax Britannica that had prevailed in the middle decades of the 19th century.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the dramatic rise of China in recent years have changed the geopolitical landscape. Since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, China has developed a very open economy, with trade amounting to over 50 percent of GDP. Yet Beijing refuses to accept American military hegemony. The strategists of Wilhelmine Germany fretted about the Royal Navy’s control of the North Sea. Their contemporary Chinese counterparts are painfully aware that at any time the U.S. Navy can throttle China’s trade through the Malacca Straits.
In recent years, the Middle Kingdom has been building up its navy and lately become involved in a number of maritime territorial disputes with its neighbours. Japan, under nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is seeking to strengthen its military capacity. An arms race in Asia threatens.
Beijing has also developed quasi-autarkic ambitions. China’s investment-driven economy cannot survive without imported raw materials. Its state-owned enterprises have sought, largely unsuccessfully, to acquire foreign supplies, with failed bids for the U.S. oil producer Unocal and the Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto. The same autarkic logic explains China Development Bank’s large loans to Venezuela and other countries collateralised with future supplies of oil.
Although China is a net importer of most raw materials, Beijing has used its dominant position as a supplier of rare earths for political ends. In 2009, as a dispute with Japan over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands flared up, China effectively banned the export of rare earths, a vital component for Japan’s electronics manufacturers.
The rise of China, in Macdonald’s view, threatens to undermine America’s global hegemony and bring to an end the Pax Americana. The parallels with the rise of Imperial Germany over a century ago are worrisome, to say the least. Meanwhile, the antics of Putin’s revanchist Russia suggest historical analogues of a 1930s vintage, as the UK’s Prince Charles has imprudently observed.
“When Globalization Fails” is a scholarly and readable account of how economic development and trade can exacerbate geopolitical tensions. It deserves to be read in the corridors of power, from Washington to Beijing. After all, the best hope of avoiding a repetition of past catastrophes lies in understanding how they came about.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The real threat from North Korea is the nuclear arsenal built over the last decade


5 minutes to midnight
01/07/2015 - 06:49

The real threat from North Korea is the nuclear arsenal built over the last decade

Siegfried S. Hecker

SIEGFRIED S. HECKER

Siegfried Hecker is a senior fellow and affiliated faculty member at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and the Freeman Spogli Institute for...
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The threats, turmoil, and media circus surrounding the Hollywood satire The Interview, in which bungling American journalists assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, have put the country in the international spotlight again. Often forgotten amid all this comedy, though, is the very unfunny fact that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has been relentlessly expanding for a decade, and poses a real and deadly threat to the rest of Northeast Asia.
During my first visit to North Korea in January 2004, North Korean officials were eager to show my Stanford University colleagues and me the plutonium bomb fuel they produced following a diplomatic breakdown with the George W. Bush administration. Four years ago, during my seventh visit to the country and two years into the Obama administration, they surprised us with a tour through an ultra-modern centrifuge facility, demonstrating that they were capable of producing highly enriched uranium, the alternate route to the bomb.
Pyongyang likely had no nuclear weapons in January 2003 when it walked away from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The plutonium produced in the early 1990s had been tied up for almost a decade in spent fuel, which was stored safely with US assistance and kept under international inspection. Today, North Korea may possess a nuclear arsenal of roughly 12 nuclear weapons, half likely fueled by plutonium and half by highly enriched uranium. How did things go so wrong?
I will briefly trace North Korea’s nuclear developments spanning 30 years and five US administrations to underscore that blame for the immensity of this policy failure does not lie solely with one party’s leadership or the other. Nor was it a failure of US policy alone—South Korea’s policies vacillated greatly during this time, none of them proving successful. China placed peace and stability ahead of denuclearization, and along with the United Nations it was slow to appreciate the seriousness of the problem and typically reacted with too little, too late.
The North, for its part, has remained focused on its nuclear program through three generations of Kim family leadership, beginning under the current leader’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung. Unlike South Korea’s leaders, the Kims chose bombs over electricity to secure the regime’s survival at the expense of the well-being of its people.
During the Reagan administration in the 1980s, Pyongyang quietly laid the foundation for a nuclear weapon option by starting construction of indigenous plutonium production reactors and a reprocessing facility capable of extracting bomb-grade plutonium.
North Korea’s nuclear program first made international headlines during the George H.W. Bush administration, when satellite imagery of the reactors and reprocessing facility was aired. Pyongyang produced its first plutonium in the 5 megawatt-electric gas-graphite reactor and demonstrated the ability to extract plutonium by reprocessing the spent fuel. North Korea also likely explored uranium centrifuge technologies as a parallel route to the bomb at this time.
The Clinton administration faced the first serious North Korean nuclear crisis, but was able to negotiate a freeze of the North’s plutonium program with the Agreed Framework in 1994. During the second Clinton term, Pyongyang attempted its first long-range rocket launch, then followed it with a missile-testing moratorium. It also appeared to keep its weapon option open by clandestinely pursuing uranium centrifuge technologies. Pyongyang stepped up its missile and nuclear import-export business with Pakistan, Libya, Syria, and possibly Iran. Nevertheless, no more plutonium was produced and the two large reactors under construction deteriorated over the years beyond repair. Pyongyang retained a hedge by keeping the spent fuel in storage under international safeguards. 
The George W. Bush administration confronted North Korea about its apparent clandestine centrifuge program and effectively killed the Agreed Framework, leading Pyongyang to restart its plutonium production reactor, reprocess plutonium from the stored spent fuel, and build a bomb. Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006, a year after it signed a joint statement with the United States, China and others in which it committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs. Although the test was only partially successful, it marked a turning point in the North’s nuclear program. The regime dropped all peaceful nuclear pretenses and declared itself a nuclear weapon state. It accelerated its uranium centrifuge program, while agreeing once again to freeze the plutonium production reactor. It also covertly shipped uranium hexafluoride, the precursor to enriched uranium, to Libya. And in spite of being closely watched internationally, it built a plutonium production reactor for Syria, which Israel destroyed in September 2007. President George W. Bush left office with Pyongyang likely possessing five or so nuclear weapons.
The Obama administration was greeted by a long-range rocket test, followed by a second nuclear test in May 2009—this one apparently successful. The centrifuge program matured sufficiently that in November 2010, North Korea declared it operational and revealed it to us during our visit. It coincided with Pyongyang’s decision to build its own experimental light water reactor, which requires low-enriched uranium fuel. Concurrently, North Korea completed the new Sohae rocket launch site in the northwest to complement the older and smaller Tonghae site in the northeast.
Nuclear expansion continued apace through the leadership transition to Kim Jong-un upon the December 2011 death of his father, Kim Jong-il. One year later, North Korea successfully launched a satellite into orbit aboard the Unha-3 long-range rocket. It was followed by a third nuclear test in February 2013. Construction of the experimental reactor continued at a good pace. In addition, the fuel fabrication complex at the Yongbyon site expanded enormously, including doubling of the centrifuge hall we saw in 2010. Construction at the Sohae rocket launch site has been equally massive and indications are that the engines of the rocket motor used in the KN-08 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) were tested there recently. Kim Jong-un also managed to have the new constitution declare North Korea a “nuclear-armed state.” The only good news is that nuclear exports to other states likely dried up, not for lack of trying on Pyongyang’s part, but rather for lack of customers—statehood has been virtually destroyed in Iraq, Libya and Syria, and Iran is pursuing nuclear negotiations.
So, with two years left in the Obama administration, Pyongyang likely has roughly 12 nuclear weapons with an annual manufacturing capacity of possibly four to six bombs.  By the time the president leaves office, North Korea may conduct another nuclear test and have an arsenal of 20. Five US administrations determined to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear weapon state through various combinations of diplomacy, threats, ultimatums, and sanctions all failed. The George W. Bush administration failed miserably and, to date, the Obama administration has done as badly.
Why does an expanding North Korean nuclear program matter? The progression from developing the nuclear weapon option, to having a few bombs, to fielding a nuclear arsenal has made Pyongyang increasingly reliant on its nuclear weapons for regime survival and has dimmed the prospect of a denuclearized Korean peninsula. More bombs and better bombs matter—these may instill Pyongyang’s leadership with a false sense of confidence and almost certainly expands what it may think are its tactical and strategic options. The potential for miscalculations and accidents increases, and the consequences will be greater if it has more bombs and more sophisticated bombs with greater reach. In case of turmoil or a chaotic transition in the North, rendering the nuclear weapons and the enterprise safe and secure becomes more difficult. And, a financially desperate leadership may risk the sale of fissile materials or other nuclear assets, perhaps to non-state actors if the state market remains dormant.
What to do? The North Korean nuclear crisis cannot be solved in isolation; it requires addressing the fundamental security, economic, social, and human rights issues. Whether we like it or not, Pyongyang will retain its nuclear weapons in the near term as a hedge to provide security, but with time it may recognize that these weapons will never lead to prosperity. The road to resolution and eventual prosperity for the North Korean people requires a comprehensive strategy that first halts the steady expansion, then rolls it back, and eventually eliminates nuclear weapons as called for in the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement. All this will take creative leadership by the United States, South Korea and China.
The absurdities in The Interview, North Korea’s alleged retaliatory cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, and US counter-threats and sanctions may be worthy of analysis, but when it comes to the real threat that Pyongyang poses to the world, they amount to no more than a giant distraction.

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