In the news (August 6 – August 12 2013)

Letting the data flow

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced to the visiting new head of the  Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Lassina Zerbo, that China will open the flow of data from CTBTO monitoring stations on its soil to the organization’s data centre in Vienna.  “Yesterday, the world’s main nuclear weapons monitoring organization announced that China has agreed to begin sharing data from 10 stations on its territory. Seven stations register seismic waves and infrasound waves; three stations in Beijing, Lanzhou, and Guangzhou detect radionuclide,” reports Richard Stone.

The Question:   Monitoring any possible future DPRK nuclear tests will certainly be enhanced by China’s decision; but does it reflect support for the new head of the CTBTO – and what’s the quid pro quo? Or does it suggest China may be considering taking a more prominent seat at the nuclear non-proliferation table?

Preparing for the worst

At the behest of the United States Air Force, defence industry juggernauts Boeing and Raytheon are competing to construct a failsafe satellite communications system that would prepare for the worst by allowing the  President to remain in touch with his military assets even in the event of a nuclear attack – this despite the Air Force facing the need to reduce its budget by $500 billion over the next decade a consequence of so-called sequestration that limits federal spending in the U.S.

The Question: Perhaps more than twenty years after the end of the Cold War it would not be eminently more sensible to find more productive investment opportunities and ring fence military anomie..

Energy

More than two years after the Fukishima Daiichi NPP’s disaster, the Japanese government has decided to take a more direct role in clean-up duty that previously had been left in the hands of the plant’s operators TEPCO. Following rat attacks, blackouts and evidence of contamination entering the ocean from the site Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with cabinet ministers last Wednesday, telling them that “We must deal with this at the national level.” Critics and analysts see this move as a belated admission of the flaw in letting the same company that is partially to blame for the power plant’s inadequate preparedness for the disaster itself manage the clean up. .

The Question: Trojan effort has been expended by a small army of workers in the ongoing clean up, often working under hazardous conditions, but would a response to the disaster have been better served by a crowd sourced response, i.e. unlimited international consultation and hands on support from international experts response, together with citizen oversight?

Nuclear Disarmament

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence revealed that it has begun the process of dismantling Britain’s nuclear weapons stockpile. While the rate of three Trident warheads a year might seem rather leisurely, the end goal of “no more than 180 (weapons)” means that England is taking concrete steps to meeting its international disarmament obligations. What’s more, fewer of the nation’s missiles will remain operational aboard its four Vanguard-class submarines. Of course, the practical distinction between 160 and 120 seaborn warheads is still a little bit unclear. And we can only hope it will remain that way.

The Question:  Three down and more than two hundred to go. Do UK actions point to general reluctance among nuclear-weapon states (NWS) Nuclear Weapons States to pay little more than lip service to their NPT obligations.  

Iran

Iran’s newly appointed, Hassan Rouhani, continues to make moves towards conciliation with the West; on the nuclear front at least. The Guardian reports that the country’s new president is willing to negotiate with the US on aspects of its developing nuclear programme. Of course, the pall of US enforced sanctions would still hang over any proceedings, if they do actually happen. Rouhani himself has said that “There has been contradictory behaviour and messages. We never approved the US’s carrot and stick approach.” He’s also facing pressure from hardliners over his allegedly pro-western choice of picks for his proposed cabinet

The Question: Given the current impasse in U.S. politics will the hardliners in Washington and Tehran be the eventual winners?

Errata:

Citing perhaps the greatest putdown to a national-security journalist who over-relied on anonymous sources (he was “” A kind of official urinal in which ministers and intelligence and defense chiefs could stand patiently leaking“), filmmaker Adam Curtis examines the intelligence shibboleth. The story,   “Bugger: Maybe the real state secret is that spies aren’t very good at their jobs and don’t know very much about the world,” looks at the inaccuracies constructed and construed by Britain’s MI-5 before being punted to bumbling reporters. The read is interwoven with archive-video clips including a 7-minute shot of Kim Philby’s Soviet state funeral.

Over at the Middle East Policy Council, Gareth Porter has written a baroque analysis about why the IAEA’s so-called “Alleged Studies” documents may be bunk. His list of eight red herrings that should trigger the agency’s smell-test alarm may be only accessible to Total Wonkerrs.

The Questions:  Do databases and predictive algorithms reduce or increase the resource intensity of intelligence gathering? Computation was hailed to improve economic efficiency. How has security-clearance proliferation undermined stability? Why are the “Alleged Studies” documents assumed to be the element that “overwhelmingly” has shifted American public opinion toward confrontation with Iran, according to Porter? What percentage of the American public (or Congress for that matter) knows what IAEA stands for? 

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