Monday, August 31, 2009

Nuclear Nations II

Japan is an interesting proposition because of North Korean nuclear weapons, and its Taepodong series of long range missiles. Japan has begun to feel vulnerable.

When China tested its first nuclear weapon in 1964, Japan's Prime Minister Eisaku Sato told President Lyndon Johnson that Japan needed to go nuclear. The PM admitted that because of Hiroshima and Nagaski Japanese public opinion would be against such a move, but added that the younger generation could be educated to accept such a necessity.

Forty-five years later that sentiment has not changed.

Japan ranks third in the world behind only the U.S. and France in nuclear capactity, which means it produces a lot of plutonium from spent fuel that could be weaponized. Most of this material is sent to Europe for safe stockpiling. As of 1995 Japan had sent ll.4 tons of the stuff to Europe and kept nearly five tons in country. By 2010 those numbers are expected to triple.

That against the backdrop it only took about 8 kg of plutonium to make the Nagaski bomb.

And against the backdrop of Japan's very strong missile program capable of sending objects into lunar as well as earth orbit.

And against the backdrop of a statement thirty-five years ago by Prime Minister Tsuomu Hata that " . . .it's certainly the case that Japan has the capability to produce nuclear weapons but has not made them." Left unsaid was yet.

Japan is said to be a "screwdriver turn" away from producing nuclear weapons, and in fact could begin stockpiling within one year of a startup program.

It makes Japan a de facto nuclear state.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nuclear Nations

Everyone knows the the nine nations that already posses nuclear weapons, and the ability, to one extent or the other, deliver them: The U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France, China, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea.

Some of those countries have what has been called a triad defense, ie three ways of delivering nukes on target; via silo or mobile land-based launches, aircraft drops and guided missile sub launches. There's also evidence that nuclear missiles can be launched horizontally from submarine torpedo tubes. And of course there are the famous suitcase nukes, much beloved in fiction, but having some basis in actual fact.

Other countries rely only on fighter/bomber aircraft and a variety of mobile missile launchers.

But, and this is important, according to Laurence Martin in his book The Changing Face of Nuclear Warfare, which was published a number of years ago, at least eight other nations have the materials and the expertise to construct nuclear weapons. Among them, including some surprises, are Argentina, Brazil,Egypt, Iran, Libya, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan.

What he means is that those nations posses uranium reserves, maintain research reactors which can produce the raw materials for weapons grade products, most of them operate power generating reactors also capable of producing material that could be re-processed into weapons grade products, and some have constructed enrichment, reprocessing and heavy-water plants, and have personnel trained at the very good to excellent level.

That's not to say any of those nations, other than Iran, are actually making efforts to produce nuclear weapons--but they have the means and the capability to do so. If the will is there, the world's nuclear club could double in size.

What should we do about it? What can we do? Maybe Kirk McGarvey knows.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Iran: A military solution

I'm not the only one who thinks that if it comes to a showdown over Iran developing a nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver the devices that a military solution is possible.

Of course it would be in Israel's best interests to take down any bomb producing facility inside Iran before the weapons became operational.

But, Gen. Chuck Wild (USAF four star retired), a very knowledgable man on this issue, says that the the U.S. has a military option that would pose no strain on our presently deployed troops.

He made a three point argument in a recent Wall Street Journal op ed piece.

--Going public that we were seriously preparing for a military strike (even though we weren't) could make Tehran rethink the cost of developing nuclear weapons.

--The next step would be to blockade Iranian ports which would effectively cut nearly one-third of its gasoline needs. The political leadership is already under enormous pressure from its citizens, and the kinds of economic dislocations that such a blockade would produce could be destabilizing.

--If all that didn't work, and if the diplomatic wrangling failed, Gen. Wild maintains that the U.S. could launch a devastating attack on Iran's nuclear and military facilities. This would only involve Air Force and Navy air assets that are not heavily strained in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The general concludes his argument that " . . .the risks of military action must be weighed against those of doing nothing."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Iran and the bomb

Iran with a nuclear device and the means to deliver it frightens a lot of people, especially the Israelis who, given the slightest provocation, wouldn't hesitate to make a surgical strike on the facility. For that they would need a couple of U.S. made bunker-busting bombs, but they do have the national will for such an action.

But, and there some very large buts. First of all Iran may be only months away from having enough weapons-grade uranium, but that is a long way from putting together a bomb. Could be five years out. It takes a fairly sophisticated bit of engineering to actually manufacture such a weapon, produce the trigger for it and then test the device--all in secret. Holding Israel back during all of that would be a feat in itself--worthy of a novel.

Which would leave Iran with what? One bomb tested--assuming it works--and perhaps enough fissionable material for a second, certainly not for the half-dozen or more needed to truly provide for a nuclear deterance.

And even then, according to Richard Bennett in the Asia Times of February 28, 2009, if Iran were to be foolish enough to fire a bomb on Tel Aviv, most of the deadly fall out would be carried on the prevailing winds back to the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and even Iran itself.

Israel's overwhelming nuclear response would mean the end of Iran as a modern state. Nothing of any importance would be left inside the country which would have been turned into a wasteland.

According to Bennett, who is an intelligence and security analyst, simply having nuclear weapons does not make a nation a super power. At best such weapons would do nothing more than act as a deterrrent against an attack.

Iran may get its bomb, but it's not as big a threat in the region as many people think it is. Israel, needs to wait and watch. And if and when the time comes to take action, the U.S. needs to supply Israel with those bunker-busting bombs.