Sunday, May 08, 2005

McNamara and Bolton: a story of Fission, not Fusion

I subscribed to Foreign Policy  (FP) a few months ago.  Not because I have any pretensions of being a policy wonk, but because I am fascinated by what happens when you get enough molecules together in the same place.  Individual molecules are fairly easy to understand, as are small collections.  Most of what happens with small collections is predicable with a few simple rules.

When the number of molecules involved becomes very large -- as is the case with international politics -- the predictability vanishes.  Of course, people still try to apply simple rules, then fail to notice the many exceptions.  Personally, I think this is one of the most interesting aspect of human psychology.  Once we establish a pet theory, we notice confirmatory evidence selectively, and take it as proof of the theory.  Somehow, evidence that contradicts the theory is ignored, discounted, or otherwise invalidated. 

FP is interesting to read, but it only comes out once every two months.  And the US Post Office seems to take forever getting it to me.  Fortunately, they have a website.  Usually by the time I get the print version, I've already read most of the articles.  This time, there are two in particular that I would like to mention.  Both are available openly.
Apocalypse Soon
Robert McNamara is worried. He knows how close we've come to nuclear catastrophe. Forty years ago, he helped the Kennedy administration avert a nuclear war. Today, he believes the United States must no longer rely on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. To do so is immoral, illegal, and dreadfully dangerous. By Robert S. McNamara
Will the Real John Bolton Please Stand up?
Is the man that President George W. Bush nominated to be U.N. ambassador the reform-minded, straight-talking John Bolton? Or is he the John Bolton who does not believe in the United Nations, who could not possibly build consensus in New York? Two prominent foreign policy minds—Morton Halperin and Ruth Wedgwood—face off on whether, when it comes to the United Nations, Bolton has the right stuff. By Ruth Wedgwood, Morton H. Halperin
Yes, the first was written by that Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during much of the Viet Nam war.  Oddly, he is turning into a bit of a dove in his latter years.  He supported an increase in our nuclear capabilities in the 1960's.  Also, in an act of pure premonition, he predicted the need for the US military to increase its ability to conduct counterinsurgency (COIN) operations:
As McNamara said in his 1962 annual report, "The military tactics are those of the sniper, the ambush, and the raid. The political tactics are terror, extortion, and assassination." In practical terms, this meant training and equipping U.S. military personnel, as well as such allies as South Vietnam, for counterinsurgency operations.
We had mixed results with COIN then, as we do now.  And people who think that terrorism is a new thing need to go back and learn some history.  Anyway, McNamara now has taken the stage in a very prominent forum, advocating for accelerated decommissioning of our nuclear arsenal:
If the United States continues its current nuclear stance, over time, substantial proliferation of nuclear weapons will almost surely follow. Some, or all, of such nations as Egypt, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Taiwan will very likely initiate nuclear weapons programs, increasing both the risk of use of the weapons and the diversion of weapons and fissile materials into the hands of rogue states or terrorists.
This particular FP article argues only one side of the issue: the correct one.  In contrast, the article about John Bolton was abstracted from a debate.  Thus, it argues both sides. 
By Ruth Wedgwood: [...] So this nomination is important. I’ve known John Bolton for a long time. At this time, in this place, it makes sense to put him in this job. Bolton has President George W. Bush’s confidence. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels abroad, she benefits from the fact that people know she speaks for Bush. Bolton has the same advantage and has pledged to work with Annan on reforming the United Nations. And it sometimes pays to have somebody who is hard-charging, even hard-nosed, in a job where they can put together a coalition. [...]
By Morton Halperin: [...] Why do I think that John Bolton cannot do the job Professor Wedgwood and I agree needs to be done? Not because of his temperament, but because of the views he has expressed over the course of his career. During his confirmation hearings, he had what’s called in Washington a “confirmation conversion,” in which he suddenly discovered the importance of the United Nations. But he can’t walk away from what he’s already said. [...]
How are the McNamara article and the Wedgwood/Halperin article connected?  John Bolton has been involved in the nuclear proliferation issue: an issue that John Kerry and George W Bush agreed (in one of their debates) is the single greatest threat to our security.  And how has Bolton done with this?  According to Halperin:
Yes, we have managed to renounce the ABM treaty, and Bolton negotiated a treaty with the Russians that limited strategic offensive nuclear weapons. People debate whether that treaty is useful for one second or not at all. It requires the United States to reduce its arms by some, but not very much, by the date at which the treaty expires. The next day there is no obligation at all. That’s John Bolton’s great contribution to arms control.

While Bolton has been in charge, North Korea has moved from possibly having two nuclear weapons to probably having 8–10, and the capacity to develop more. The United States got a deal with Libya on its WMD programs only after Bolton was taken off the case at Libya’s request. In the case of Iran, he argued for many months that we should not put any carrots on the table and simply threaten Iran after successfully invading Iraq. The administration has now repudiated that policy, and it is encouraging the Europeans to move ahead with both carrots and sticks.
One of the themes that runs through the article on Bolton is the notion that people can change.  Wedgwood thinks that Bolton will change, if given the opportunity:
Does one speak differently as a diplomat than one would on The O'Reilly Factor? Of course.
Perhaps she has a valid point.  McNamara has undergone a transformation; perhaps Bolton will too.  Indeed, it is common for persons involved with nuclear weapons to have a change of heart.  Many of the scientists who worked on the Bomb in the 1940's expressed great ambivalence.  Some went so far as to campaign for limitation of the arms race.  One prominent example was Philip Morrison.  On the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, we see this:
A Spherically Curious Mind: Philip Morrison, 1915-2005
Philip Morrison, a former Bulletin contributor and one of the physicists who helped assemble the first atomic bomb, passed away on April 22. Kosta Tsipis pays tribute to the man who was a moral reference point for generations of peace advocates, opponents of nuclear weapons, and younger physicists.

Of note, the offices of the Bulletin are on the University of Chicago campus, not far from the site of the first nuclear reactor

I used to subscribe to the Bulletin, long before I knew anything about, or had any interest in, the University of Chicago.  The most famous feature of the Bulletin is their Doomsday Clock.  In 1947, they came up with this metaphor to describe their perception of the risk of a nuclear war.  At that time, they set the clock at seven minutes to midnight.  Keep in mind that the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was seared into everyone's mind, and the USSR was developing nuclear weapons.  In the years since, the clock has been moved seventeen times.  During the presidency of George H. W. Bush, the clock was moved back to 11:43 PM, its farthest excursion from midnight. 

The last movement occurred when George H. W. Bush's son was a first-term president.  It now stands at 11:53 PM:

Mar/Apr 2002 cover
Mar/Apr 2002
2002 | Seven minutes to midnight

Little progress is made on global nuclear disarmament. The United States rejects a series of arms control treaties and announces it will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Terrorists seek to acquire and use nuclear and biological weapons.

Perhaps you recall the statement of George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign, when he stated he would be "a uniter, not a divider."  Now, the political landscape is more fractured than any time within my memory, the Doomsday Clock has been moved closer to midnight, and Mr. Bush wants to send one of the most divisive characters in Washington to represent us to the United Nations.  The icing on the cake: he wants to fund research on a new generation of nuclear weapons (462KB PDF). 

When George W. Bush spoke of uniting and dividing, we thought he was talking about the choices that politicians make: whether to promote compromise, or unilateralism.  No, he was talking about whether he would promote nuclear fission weapons, or fusion.  Now we know the truth: it's nuclear fission.  He's a divider after all.

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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