A new Zogby poll came out today. What is getting coverage in a New York Times article is that 72% of U.S. soldiers in Iraq believe we should substantially withdraw sooner rather than later. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, I have been to Iraq, and I would want to come home, too. But what did surprise me (and was not mentioned in the NYT) is that 85% believe that the primary reason we are in Iraq is “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” while 77% said that “the main or a major reason” for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.” This is a year and a half after the 9/11 Commission dismissed any meaningful relationship between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks or al Qaeda. Perhaps we cannot expect American soldiers to be better informed than the public at large and a large slice of the public has often linked Iraq and 9/11, in no small part because of innuendo from the Administration or direct claims, particularly from Vice President Cheney. Yet, today polls indicate that less than a third of the public still believe that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. Soldiers in Iraq get their news through media that the military controls or at least is aware of. It is a shame that they are so poorly informed about why they are fighting.
FAS has just released our internet resource for biosecurity policy, bioterrorism information, and biodefense research. The site includes an interactive map that provides the locations of both operational and planned laboratories in the U.S. The organizations linked on the site present a wide array of perspectives on what actions individual scientists, research institutions, science journals, the public, and government can do to minimize the threat of bioterrorism while maximizing the benefits of life science research. They also provide important information on select agents, the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention and new approaches to biosecurity. We will be adding to the site over the coming years and welcome feedback on its design and content. You can visit the site at http://fas.org/biosecurity/resource/
A new review of Russian nuclear forces published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says that the Kremlin appears to be attempting to reassert its nuclear strength after years of decline in order to underscore Russia’s status as a powerful nation. Large-scale exercises have been reinstated and modernizations of nuclear forces continue with reports about a new maneuverable warhead and the mobile version of the SS-27 (Topol-M) expected to become operational later this year.
Yet the reassertion is done with fewer strategic warheads than at any time since the mid-1970s, approximately 3,500 operational strategic warheads. The number of operational non-strategic nuclear weapons has been cut by more than half to approximately 2,300 warheads.
Moreover, during 2005, Russia’s 12 nuclear ballistic missile submarines only conducted three deterrent patrols. This is a slightly better performance than in 2002 when no patrols were made, but a far cry from the 1980s when Soviet ballistic missile submarines conducted 50-100 deterrent patrols each year.
Been to Moscow lately? If you have, it’s impossible not to notice how commercial the city has become. New automobiles clog the wide boulevards and the air reeks with exhaust. Conspicuous consumption is now an ingrained part of life. Despite the staggering rift between rich and poor in Russia as a whole, Moscow has more billionaires than any other city in the world. Although still an emerging economy, Russia has been sailing along on profits made in the oil and gas industries, inspiring Russia’s leaders to reassert to the world that their nation is still a nuclear superpower.
Times are better in Russia than in the 1990s, when the ruble collapsed, and violent crime ran wild. President Putin is leading his country towards joining the global economy in an autocratic — but effective – fashion. Putin has wisely courted Western industry, and has secured Russia’s place as head of the G8. He also agreed to reduce Russia’s overall nuclear warhead count, but has at the same time stabilized the budgets for ROSATOM’s nuclear weapons programs. While not flaunting Moscow-style material wealth, Russia’s nuclear designers at the closed cities are now at least receiving their paychecks. And they’ve been busy building a new generation of warheads: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11179135/site/newsweek/from/ET/
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Thinking the President might mention it in his State of the Union Address, I had put up on the FAS website a page on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which includes a plan to restart plutonium reprocessing in the United States after a thirty year hiatus. The President did not, in fact, mention the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership specifically but it figured prominently in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) FY2007 budget rollout.
After the DOE budget came out, I needed to update my Global Nuclear Energy Partnership page (which is the number two hit in Google, right after DOE’s page, and the update will be done in a day or so). The one attempt the US ever made at commercial plutonium reprocessing was in West Valley, New York. So I googled “West Valley New York plutonium” to get some information on it. It turns out the DOE wrote a history of plutonium reprocessing at West Valley and it was, as you might expect, the very first Google hit: Plutonium Recovery from Spent Fuel Reprocessing by Nuclear Fuel Services at West Valley, New York from 1966 to 1972, U.S. Department of Energy, February 1996.
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The President has submitted a military budget of $440 billion dollars, with request for more than an additional hundred billion for the Iraq war expected later. It is finally time to say that the Pentagon budget has slipped its leash and is out of control. Not in the sense that the country is splashing money around without accounting for it but that the military budget process has escaped from meaningful political review and oversight. The Republicans know their biggest appeal to the American voters is as guarantors of their security, which they interpret as giving the Pentagon whatever it asks for, even as deficits climb. The Democrats are terrified of being seen as soft on defense so they don’t even dare ask questions. In this climate of fear we operate more on momentum than careful analysis and Congress can’t say “No” to the Pentagon on anything.
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Just after the FAS Strategic Security blog got going, I had to take a little time off for some surgery. Now I am back. Well most of me is back. My gallbladder is not back, but the rest of me is back.
I understand that the ethos of the blog world is that everything must be up to the second. Comments on the State of the Union address are expected before the speech is finished. But since we are just starting out, I will reach back into ancient history, sometimes are far as several weeks, to get items that are of interest before we settle down.
Next will be a little op-ed like piece.
On February 15th, Senator Edward Kennedy introduced S.2291, The <a href=”http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.02291:”Responsible Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, which aims to expand compensation and clarify liability issues that will arise if untested vaccines and countermeasures need to be distributed in the event of a pandemic disease outbreak.
The move is clearly designed to revise the sweeping liability protection inserted as part of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act in the Defense spending bill conference report. That bill is widely regarded as incomplete since it does not provide for funding for a vaccine injury compensation program. It has also been widely criticized for providing overly zealous liability coverage of drug and vaccine companies as well as those delivering countermeasures to patients. In fact, it requires that for any injured person to get around the liability protection, they have to prove that a drug company or medical professional administering the drug or vaccine engaged in “willful misconduct.” This is, of course, next to impossible.
The new bill…
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A long-rumored but never before seen Chinese underground submarine base is shown for the first time in a new article written by analysts from the Federation of American Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council. The article, published in Imaging Notes, shows newly acquired satellite images of the submarine base, three air bases, and China’s nuclear weapons lab at Mianyang.
A front page article in Washington Times was headlined “Commercial photos show Chinese nuke buildup,” but both the cave and submarines have existed for nearly three decades. Only now, thanks to commercial satellites, can the public see them.
The Imaging Notes article is a snapshot from a larger FAS/NRDC report on US-Chinese nuclear relations scheduled for publication later this spring.
“…Find them in all the caves where they are hiding, and eliminate them like rats,” President Putin told the Federal Security Service, or FSB, on Tuesday, urging them to intensify their hunt for Chechen rebels in the Caucasus. During this same speech to top leaders at the notorious Lubyanka, Putin stated that the Russian government supports Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as important to democracy, but he urged FSB staff to be vigilant in preventing foreign countries from using NGOs to influence Russia’s domestic affairs: http://www.kyivpost.com/bn/23826/Is Putin hinting that NGOs are linked to terrorist activities in Russia?
Or, is Putin talking out of both sides of his mouth?
On Thursday Putin infuriated Israel when he invited Hamas leaders to Moscow for a meeting, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/10/international/10hamas.htmll, saying that Russia did not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, even though the militant Islamist group recently elected to power in the Palestinian Authority has called for Israel’s destruction. Russian Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov offered a pragmatic commentary on the situation, hinting that the West needs to accept the Palestinian leadership: “Hamas is in power, this is a fact, and secondly, it came to power as a result of free democratic elections.”
Just a few years ago, Russia claimed to be a member of the Middle East “peace quartet” along with the European Union and the United Nations. It is hard to interpret Mr. Putin’s policy twists and turns, which seem to become more convoluted the longer he is in power.