Ready for What: The Sclerotic Mentality of
Star Wars vs. the Poor Man's Nuke

December 6, 1998

Comment: #216


[1]Email from Staffer on Capital Hill, "DoD Numbers for Emergency Supplemental," 21 Oct 1998. Attached.

[2] John Donnelly, "Missile-Sensing Satellites May Be 'Untestable,'" Defense Week November 23, 1998, Pg. 1

[3] David Hoffman, "Rotting Nuclear Subs Pose Threat in Russia: Moscow Lacks Funds for Disposal," Washington Post, November 16, 1998, Page A1.

[4] David Hoffman, "U.S. Decries Russian Nuclear Security," Washington Post, November 27, 1998, Page A1.

[5] Lars-Erik Nelson, "Let's Buy The Russian Army ," New York Daily News, November 30, 1998

[6] Thomas Jandl, "Russia's Nuclear Waste: How the West Can Help," November 27, 1998, Page A28 (Letter to the Editor)

[7] Background information on Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (Mission, Objectives, Funding). Attached.


On 29 September 1998, General Henry Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Our current readiness is fraying and the long-term health of the total force is in jeopardy." The military, he concluded, is poised for a readiness "nose dive." Congress responded to Shelton's warning and immediately passed an "Emergency Readiness Supplemental Appropriation" to add about $8 billion to the defense budget for Fiscal Year 1999, which began on 1 October 1998.

The contents of this emergency supplemental, which include a $1 billion add-on for ballistic missile defense, say more about WHY Shelton has a readiness problem than about what it will take to fix this problem.

More broadly, the contents help us understand why Jacques Gansler, the Undersecretary of Defense of Acquisition, told the Association of the US Army on 2 September 1998 that the Defense Department was in a "Death Spiral." [see Comment #182].

But perhaps most importantly, an analysis of the implications of this supplemental put the spotlight on the most fundamental national security issue: Ready for What?

I. The Readiness Rave .. or How the Hogs Decorate the National Christmas Tree

Reference 1 is a table that breaks out and categorizes the additions to Pentagon's budget. The label "emergency" is important, because it means that budget increases do not count under the spending caps agreed to by the President and Congress in the bipartisan budget agreement. "Plus ups," therefore, do not have to be financed by reductions in other budget categories. This breaks down discipline and makes it easier to the hogs to feed at the trough. It opens the door for the porkers to add funds for all sorts of unrelated purposes. A frenzy results, which is more akin to a bunch of teenage ravers at a Christmas party than a serious policy deliberation, with each raver competing to throw the most spectacular ornament on a gigantic Christmas tree.

By the time dancing stopped at this year's "readiness rave," Reference 1 shows that the hogs added only $1.1 billion for hard core readiness, or 13% of the $8 billion "emergency" readiness addition.

By far the most garish ornament on the FY 1999 readiness Christmas tree is $1.0 billion added for the glittering faux emergency known as Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) aka "Star Wars."

To detached observers, this add-on suggests an obvious question: How will adding money to the Star Wars budget pull the military out of General Shelton's readiness nose dive or Mr. Gansler's death spiral?

II. What Star Wars "Emergency?"

The first point to note when trying to answer this question is that the $1 billion in emergency "readiness" funding earmarked for Star Wars will be added to the $3.5 billion for missile defense that Congress already approved as part of the Fiscal Year 1999 appropriations act.

Bear in mind, this $4.5 billion comes on top of a fifteen year cornucopia of almost $50 billion spent on BMD since Ronald Reagon's Star Wars speech in 1983. Yet the Star Wars Czars have yet to deploy a single operational BMD system.

Moreover, the leading BMD concepts are still years away from deployment, assuming the current candidates can be made to work, which is highly doubtful, as repeated test failures of the Army's THAAD missile defense system show.

In fact, it is probably IMPOSSIBLE to determine if a complete front-to-back national missile defense system can ever be made to work. The subsystems are so expensive and their interactions are so complicated that it may be impossible to realistically test BMD as an integrated total system. For that matter, even some of the components may be TOO EXPENSIVE to test realistically as integrated subsystems. Reference 2, a recent report by John Donnelly in Defense Week, is a case in point.

Donnelly says Phillip Coyle, the Pentagon's chief tester, has concluded that a central Observation & Orientation subsystem, the problem-plagued $7.5 billion Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning and tracking system may be "UNTESTABLE." The reason: required tests and simulations could be prohibitively time-consuming and expensive. This is only part of the growing SBIRS horror story. Recall Comment #213, which discussed the cost overrun and potentially illegal contracting practices now being considered to bail out the troubled SBIRS program.

Bear also in mind, Congress voted to add the "emergency" money over the objections of the program director, Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles. According to a 22 October 1998 email from the Center for Defense Information, Lyles told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "there is very little we can do" with the additional money. To make matters worse, the General Accounting Office (GAO), Congress's own investigative auditor, said there was TOO MUCH money in the current BMD program. GAO recommended that funding for troubled theater missile defense systems (a major component of the BMD program) should be REDUCED by $226 million.

So, (1) the BMD program has a track record of $50 billion over 15 years with no deployed product, (2) BMD has a history of repeated test failures, and to make matters worse, it may be economically and technically impossible to determine if developmental subsystems can ever be made to work together as an integrated total system, (3) the program manager says he can't spend the additional money, and (4) the financier's chief auditor says the program already has too much money.

Against this background, how can a reasonable person conclude that the emergency add-on of $1 billion to a $3.5 billion annual budget is needed to enhance the NEAR-TERM readiness of any BMD capability?

The answer should be obvious: A reasonable can not come to such a conclusion. A "logical" link between Star Wars and the Readiness Nose Dive, which is now demoralizing the troops at the pointy end of the spear, can only exist in the dark recesses of an irrational mind or in inside the beltway, where the inhabitants walk to the beat of different drummer.

Irrationality should be expected from Versailles on the Potamac, given the addiction of Congress to the narcotic of defense spending reinforced by a technology-obsessed Pentagon that puts caricatures of weapons but forgets to include people on its official posters celebrating the glory of Armed Forces Day. Readers of this list ought to know by now that logic, necessity, engineering reality, and common sense have little or nothing to do with the spending obsessions of a military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC) intent on preserving its comfortable cold-war life style.

The MICC is a faction. Factions exist to protect their own interests. In his seminal analysis of factions and the consequent need for checks and balances, Federalist #10, James Madison used human nature to explain why factions are a mortal danger to the well-being of any representative democracy. Put simply, when factions spend OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY, they can and should be expected to promote their own selfish interests at the expense of the national interest, unless they are controlled by an offsetting system of overlapping checks and balances based, in part, on the principle of pitting faction against faction and interest against interest.

Unfortunately, while the effectiveness of Star Wars programs may be unverifiable in a scientific or engineering or military sense, it is stunningly successful in a political engineering sense. By spreading contracts all over the country in hundreds of congressional districts [the effects of which, I should add, are hidden by the chaos of a corrupt accounting system, which also undermines the checks and balances of Article 1 Section 9 of the Constitution, see Comment #169 and related comments], the Star Warriors have created a nationwide meta-faction that can buy the silence those congressional voices who should be representing the competing interests.

Put simply, the Star Warriors (and the MICC generally) have used other people's money to buy off the Congress. In Congress, there are no longer any factions to pit against the MICC faction, because too many individual representatives have a piece of the action. The absurdity of funding Star Wars in the readiness rave proves that Madison's sacred checks and balances, not to mention common sense, are today notable only for their absence.

But there is another more frightening dimension to this horror story.

If untestable systems, an absence of deliverables, and unneeded budgetary add-ons were the only problems afflicting the BMD program, the breakdown of checks and balances would be cause enough for serious concern by those patriots who believe in the nobility of our constitutional design. But the MICC's greedy fixation on BMD is also weakening national security from a military perspective.

The obsession with missile defense against a vague future threat, which may or may not occur, is diverting attention and resources away from, and making us more vulnerable to, a far more serious clear and present danger. A brief historical excursion will help us appreciate why the OBSESSION with an impenetrable shield can actually become a LIABILITY to the defender and an ALLY to the attacker who wants to penetrate the defense.

III. Fantasy, Strategy, and Mental Sclerosis.

It is the nature of all fantasies to capture the imagination and blind the mind to reality.

The fantasy of a simple defensive strategy based on an impenetrable shield is a recurring theme in nature, whether it be in the form of the walls of Troy, the fortresses of Vauban, the Great Wall of China, McNamara's electronic line in Vietnam, or the skin of an armadillo. Unfortunately, the history of war shows repeatedly that he who tries to defend everywhere defends nowhere.

Wily adversaries have an long track record of successfully figuring out how to penetrate or bypass "impenetrable" shields.

Until Star Wars, the most spectacular defensive fiasco in the Twentieth Century was the failure of the Maginot Line to protect France in 1940. A brief examination of the mental sclerosis implicit in the French debacle will help illuminate the deadly vulnerability by our FIXATION on Star Wars.

The Maginot Line was a product of past experience but then, so was its undoing, blitzkrieg. The overwhelming impression made on all the armies which fought in World War I was the reality of tactical and operational stagnation. Traditional offensive tactics dating from the time of Napoleon and the smooth-bore musket were rendered ineffective by the power of defensive positions based on trenches, barbed wire, and the increased lethality of weapons, particularly indirect quick fire artillery and machine guns. Even though the French experienced the near success of the 1918 German offensive, which was based on their radically different tactics, they ignored the tactical lessons of this experience and hardened their belief that the general experience of trench warfare would continue into the future and be a more technically-advanced version of the past.

So, the French applied new technologies unimaginatively to old ideas, much like today's proponents of the Revolution in Military Affairs, who are intent on resurrecting the same tired vision of a computerized 'see-decide-strike' theory of techno-warfare that lay at the heart of McNamara's electronic line, Igloo White, which failed so spectacularly in Vietnam. And like today's Star Warriors, the French spent a fortune in the 1920s and 1930s on the idea that modern technology could build an impenetrable shield.

The result of the French OBSESSION was the infamous hi-tech trench/fortification system known as the Maginot Line. The French, to their credit, can at least claim they accomplished one thing that the Star Warriors have as yet failed to do. Their acquisition czars did in fact convert the massive R&D and procurement expenditures into combat hardware that was actually deployed on the battlefield!

While French thinking and doctrine was coagulating insensibly into a viscous mire of a soothing, unimaginative, high-cost, hard-wired, defensive techno-fantasy, the Germans were also studying the tactical, operational, and strategic lessons of World War I, particularly the reasons for the near success but ultimate failure of their offensive in the Spring of 1918.

The Germans were also obsessed with the stagnation of World War I, but unlike the French, who wanted to perpetuate it by constructing an impenetrable shield, the Germans wanted to restore mobility to the battlefield. They recognized the need for new tactics. Their new tactical concept was centered on the idea of penetrating defensive positions by infiltrating through them with a kaleidoscope of fast-moving, irregularly arrayed, small-units. Each unit would thrust forward at its own pace, as opposed to conventional synchronized WWI line-abreast assault. A central idea of the infiltration tactics was the idea of flowing through gaps and avoiding surfaces. Higher level commanders would reinforce the successful small-unit thrusts and bypass and seal off points of resistance. By empowering lower-level commanders to adapt to local conditions under a flexible system of generalized mission orders, based on the commander's general intention, the Germans evolved a decentralized system of command and control as opposed to the top-down centralized control philosophy used in World War I. The goal was to exploit the natural flow of these small-unit operations in order to UNCOVER and EVOLVE the conditions for an operational-level breakthrough which, in turn, could be expanded into a decisive deep-thrusting Napoleonic maneuver.

The idea of using decentralized, high-initiative infiltration tactics to procure operational and strategic success turned the classical Napoleonic/Clausewitzian/Jominian strategic tradition of a top-down, centralized command an control system on its head. Traditional top-down thinkers believed strategic brilliance at the top could procure the operational advantage, which, in turn, would be used to set up the asymmetric battle conditions for a tactical victory, with the whole conception being glued together by detailed synchronized instructions to the subordinate commanders, who were mere cogs in the grand design.

As most readers well know, the German efforts mutated ground conflict among advanced nations into what some observers have labeled Third Generation Warfare or blitzkrieg. The German mutation (a more accurate descriptor than "revolution") enabled them to infiltrate successfully through the Ardennes, bypassing the Maginot Line, explode into the rear of the Allied forces advancing in Belgium, with an expanding torrent of fast moving multiple thrusts, and defeat France in six terrifying weeks during May and June 1940.

The Maginot Line, like Star Wars, was the product of a top-down mentality. Like Star Wars, its was a TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN vision that repackaged old mechanistic ideas in new technological clothes. Blitzkrieg, on the other hand, was a bottom-up IDEA-DRIVEN conception, that was designed to exploit lower-level initiative. Despite this fundamental difference, the technology used in blitzkrieg, particularly tanks and Stuka dive bombers, created an overwhelming impression that captured the popular imagination, and the lesson lost on most contemporary observers was that machines don't fight wars, people do, and they use their MINDS.

It is important to understand that the ASYMMETRY in effectiveness produced by blitzkrieg was NOT the product of a technology revolution per se. The future belligerents of World War II all possessed the same emerging technologies during the 1920s and the 1930s (radio, airplane, tank, motorized transport, etc.). Indeed, in many cases, e.g., tanks, the German technology was inferior to that possessed by the allies, and in no categories was German technology decisively superior. Moreover, the Allies outnumbered the Germans in May 1940. The roots of blitzkrieg lay in the innovative operational thinking of military professionals who carefully studied the lessons of World War II and synthesized these historical lessons with the opportunities provided by the emerging technologies.

This is not to say other countries lacked innovative military thinkers. Patton, Tukhachevski, de Gaulle, and Fuller all sensed the potential of blitzkrieg in the years leading up to WWII, but their tactical and operational ideas fell on deaf ears, because their bureaucracies remained intent on fitting the new technologies into the well-established intellectual boxes whose sides were made up of the experiences of World War I, particularly the Somme, Verdun, and the Argonne. Only the Germans were able to shatter these boxes PRIOR to World War II and synthesize the unfolding technologies with a new understanding of past experiences into novel operational ideas, and then combine these ideas with the institutional changes needed to put their conception into practice. Indeed, once the effectiveness of their ideas were evident, only a few of their adversaries, most notably Patton, were able to duplicate their performance on a large scale.

With this background in mind, let us now begin to link the Maginot Line to Star Wars, which as the reader will see, is a much tighter link than that of Star Wars to readiness.

What is less well appreciated about blitzkrieg is HOW the far more agile, adaptable, decentralized operations preyed on France's sclerotic centralized, defensive, Maginot-Line MENTALITY, and thereby converted defender's FIXATION on a techno-fantasy into the attacker's ALLY.

When the German launched their attack in May 1940, the forward observations of their multiple-thrust infiltration operations made by French troops were filtered upward through the France's centralized command and control mindset to headquarters in the rear. French commanders had been conditioned and trained by the Cartesian ideal of a static, linear, defensive shield and a mechanistic pseudo-scientific theory of methodical battle. They expected to see an orderly linear attacks like they experienced at the Marne and Verdun.

This mental filter created a mismatch in mind, time, and space: whereas they had been trained to see and act on an methodical orderly image, the French saw and had to cope with a quick-changing, ambiguous, menacing reality. When filtered through the slower, more methodical rhythm of the French ORIENTATION, observations of the quicker, more irregular multiple thrusts of the German infiltration units became chaotic, and incomprehensible.

Energized by slower decisions, French actions became more and more disconnected from the quicker-changing reality of the German attack, which increased the mismatch in mind-time-space even further. As this mental isolation increased, French commanders ordered moves and countermoves that progressively degenerated into a non-adaptive, confusing, and ultimately chaotic jumble of non-cooperative activities. Senior French officers, sensing their failure, even began to cover their asses by issuing ambiguously-worded orders, which increased the mismatch between what they wanted to see and the world they had to deal with even more.

While the French mental process was coming apart, the Germans were reinforcing and expanding their successful tactical penetrations and bypassing points of resistance. Like an expanding flow of water down a hill (to borrow a metaphor from Sun Tzu), their overall infiltration attack was evolving from the bottom-up, expanding and coalescing into a coherent operational flow as it moved deeper into the rear of the French forces.

French troops on the receiving end of the attack sensed the growing German success and, perhaps more importantly, perceived their own loss of initiative, not to mention the increasing irrelevance and cynicism implicit in the orders emanating from senior officers becoming more fixated on their own survival. Increasing confusion, coupled with the increasing menace of the attack, created an atmosphere of anxiety, fear, and mistrust, and the incestuously amplifying sense of individual isolation and demoralization began to spread rapidly, which quickly exploded into alienation and panic. After suffering a tiny fraction of the casualties it suffered in World War I, the great French army, which fought so bravely in World War I, collapsed in six short weeks, and the Germans swept its troops into the POW cages. [For those readers interested in the dynamics of the French collapse when viewed from the French perspective, I recommend William Shirer's "Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940." While Shirer is more concerned with a political analysis, his book contains some excellent passages describing how the moral breakdown spread throughout the French army.]

Some readers will recognize correctly that this brief interpretation of the fall of France was written in the context of the research and theorizing of late American strategist Col John Boyd (USAF Ret.). While much of this discussion regurgitated well known facts, thanks to Boyd, we now have a much clearer understanding of WHY & HOW the methodical, static, linear thinking of the French produced an Orientation that filtered observations of unfolding events in a way that WORKED FOR and AMPLIFIED the effects of the far quicker, more adaptable, irregular, non-linear, deep penetration operations of the German army.

Boyd's work permits us to understand why an advantageous ASYMMETRY in Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loops permitted the Germans to get INSIDE the French decision cycle and how that penetration pulled the French decision process apart. While the idea of operating INSIDE an adversary's OODA loop appears to have been understood instinctively by Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, T.E. Lawrence, Guderian, Patton, and Giap, among others, but certainly not by Clausewitz, Jomini, or Westmoreland, the clash of wills in the context of opposing OODA loops operating in a mind-time-space frame of reference was only recently discovered and articulated in a formal sense by Colonel Boyd. [For and introduction to Boyd and his important work on the OODA loop, new readers are referred to Comment #199.]

With this background in mind, let us now see what the OODA loop can tell us about America's Maginot Line.

V. "Weakness Against Strength" or "Strength Against Weakness"

Today, America's inwardly-oriented, greed-based, BMD feeding frenzy is creating a French-like sclerotic mentality with regard to our defense against weapons of mass destruction. The overwhelming mass of our effort to defend against this threat is being allocated to a BMD techno-fantasy that, like the Maginot Line Mentality, views the threat as a methodical mechanical problem, in this case, one posed by a limited ballistic missile attack.

While planners in the Pentagon, their allies in the defense industry, and their benefactors in Congress are getting powerful and rich by terrorizing the country with visions of a missile attack, they not paying enough attention to our "readiness" to counter a far more likely, near-term "nuclear terror" to our homeland. Like the Germans in 1940, our adversaries could develop infiltration techniques to penetrate our OODA loops, and thereby bypass our defensive shield entirely, while similarly exploiting the sclerotic mentality produced by our defensive mechanical fixation to amplify the effect of their attack.

Let's see how terrorists or rogue nations might use a "poor man's nuke" to convert the sclerotic mentality of Star Wars into their ally.

Terrorists, criminals, or rogue nations could construct a radiological bomb by placing stolen radioactive waste products from nuclear reactors in a conventional explosive device like a truck bomb, container bomb, or a ship bomb. Such a bomb, if constructed properly out of powdered plutonium oxide (which is so toxic, a milligram can be lethal), and exploded by a properly designed shaped charge in "favorable" weather conditions, could in theory create a highly toxic cloud of radioactive dust that could render a large urban or suburban region uninhabitable for 50,000 years. At the very least, decontamination efforts would cost tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars. The potential costs of panic, disorder, and social breakdown, not to mention the loss of liberty caused by the need to restore order, could be far worse than the immediate consequences of such a blast.

When comparing the "threat" posed by the likelihood of such an indirect attack to that of a direct ballistic missile attack, several factors need to be considered.

First, when viewed in the context of opposing OODA loops, the poor man's nuke appears to offer the attacker distinct operational-level as well as strategic advantages over the ballistic missile.

In the first book ever written on the art of war, Sun Tzu (circa 400BC) advised the strategist to avoid an adversary's strengths and focus the attack on his weaknesses, particularly his thinking and plans. Our adversaries know that we have early warning satellite surveillance capabilities which can determine the source of a limited ballistic missile attack. Thus, if the attacker chooses to use a nuclear weapon or any weapon of mass destruction in such an attack, he will quickly reveal himself as a ruthless danger to the entire world. Such an attack on innocent men, women, and children will also cede moral authority to the United States. The clear decision-making advantage, coupled with the transfer of moral authority, will not be lost on decision makers in the United States. The attacker must assume, therefore, he (or at least the missile launching area) will be obliterated by a quick, overwhelming nuclear counterattack. In short, the clarity and obscenity of such a limited attack would require the resource-poor attacker to rely a suicidal military strategy of "weakness against strength" at the physical, mental, and moral levels of conflict as well as a counter-productive grand strategy that virtually guarantees his own isolation from the world of civilized nations.

We should therefore expect the attacker to hunt for a better strategy. What might such a strategy look like?

Materially weak adversaries also know the United States and its Allies in Europe are open societies, which makes them easy to infiltrate. If the attacker infiltrated a poor man's nuke into a city, harbor, or suburban region undetected and detonated it, he might be able to hide his responsibility and deny US decision makers a clear retaliation option. At the very least, the initial confusion or ambiguity surrounding the source of the surprise attack would stretch out and slow down our government's Observation Orientation Decision - Action (OODA) cycle or loop.

Indeed, such an attack could make strategic sense in a "strength vs. weakness" context, because it would place our government on the horns of the following dilemma:

On the one hand, a slower response time to a present danger could magnify the effectiveness of the attack by making our government look indecisive or impotent to an enraged population, and our frightened allies might be driven into a neutral posture by the interest of self-preservation. Even worse, alienation of an enraged population could reduce the moral authority of government, because such an attack might make the government look corrupt for wasting $50+ billion on a illusion that distracted attention and resources away from and increased our vulnerability to the horrifying carnage just created by the real threat.

On the other hand, an enraged population, goaded by a media frenzy, could turn up the political pressure for immediate decisive action. This could magnify the effectiveness of the terrorist attack even further by stampeding unsure decision makers into miscalculating and attacking the wrong target. If decision makers chose to limit the risk of miscalculation but still respond, a limited conventional counterattack, like another drive-by shooting with cruise missiles, they would look like weak and ineffectual. So the pressure to do something big will be great. But if the United States miscalculated and used nuclear weapons to attack the wrong target, it would cede moral authority on a gigantic scale. Indeed, the grand strategic consequences would be too horrible to contemplate. No one likes a drive-by shooting, whatever its motivation, and a drive-by shooting with nuclear weapons will enrage the world and permanently destroy any moral pretensions of the United States.

The risk of miscalculation is not an idle fear. We may have already seen one in the case of the retaliatory cruise missile attack on the pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan made in response to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

So, even if the attacker had a ballistic missile option for attacking our homeland, which today is an extremely remote threat, a more effective strategy would be to emulate the German attack in 1940 and use the poor man's nuke to by-pass the America's Maginot-Line (the BMD system) and move deep into America's political rear area. America's obsession with BMD would become the aggressor's ally in a "strength against weakness" strategy aimed at trapping the US government in swamp of paralyzing contradictions and irreconcilable dilemmas. So much for $50 billion and still counting.

In addition to its obvious military advantages over the ballistic missile in the mind-time-space domain of conflict, the poor man's nuke is far easier and cheaper to make and, therefore, much more likely to be employed.

Consider, please, the following.

Events in Africa, Saudi Arabia, the New York World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, Lebanon, and Belfast have clearly demonstrated that terrorists, rogues, and criminal elements of all stripes know how to build and are willing to use conventional car and truck bombs (the key to effective design lies in constructing an efficient detonators and the shaping of the explosive charge). While converting a conventional truck or ship bomb into a poor man's nuke is a substantially more difficult design task, the knowledge needed to handle radioactive waste materials and design shaped explosives out of readily available materials, like C-4 or Semtex, is widespread throughout the world. In particular, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of impoverished (and bitter?) nuclear technicians and explosives experts in Russia who need money to feed their families. One can not discount the possibility that some of these people will be induced by money to cooperate with terrorists, criminals, or rogue regimes.

The main hurdle in constructing the poor man's nuke is more related to obtaining the fissile material than in having the knowledge and skill needed to construct such a bomb. Unfortunately, the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Russia -- a growing economic depression, chaotic political infighting, growing corruption, a disintegrating military, rampant crime, persistent ethnic conflicts, growing anti-Semitism, and increasing xenophobia, etc. -- present a horrifying specter in this regard.

In Reference #3, David Hoffman of the Washington Post gives us a glimpse of how difficult or, perhaps more accurately, how easy it may be for an adversary of the United States to obtain the fissile material. He describes the problem of disposing the spent reactor fuel from nuclear submarines of the former soviet Union's Northern Fleet. I urge readers to read his report carefully. Hoffman says 50,000 spent fuel assemblies are now waiting to be moved to processing plants for disposal. But transportation and processing capacities are so limited, it will take will take 20 to 30 years move and process these assemblies. On top of this, more than 100 decommissioned submarines with intact reactors are rusting away in the fiords and bays around the Kola peninsula, because the Russians cannot afford to remove their spent fuel.

To make matter worse, the horror story in Reference #3 deals only with the Northern Fleet. There are reactors and unprocessed enriched uranium and plutonium waste products located throughout the former states of the Soviet Union. In Reference #4, Hoffman (in a follow-on story) describes the lax security at nuclear storage sites scattered across Russia.

According to Hoffman, experts reckon that Russia possesses about 1,200 tons of highly enriched uranium and 150 tons of plutonium, half of which is contained in weapons, with the other 650 tons is located in dozens of scientific institutes, military research facilities, and vulnerable warehouses. By way of comparison, 20 pounds of powdered plutonium oxide, (seven thousandths of one percent of the plutonium stockpile) would make a devastating poor man's nuke. How likely is a theft of a few kilos of plutonium?

Hoffman (and others) argue that some Russian storage facilities have no perimeter fences, armed guards, vehicle barriers, surveillance cameras, or radiation or metal detectors. According to a report just submitted to the North Atlantic Assembly, a forum of NATO legislators by William C. Potter, director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, storage buildings containing enough enriched uranium and plutonium to build approximately 70,000 bombs (regular nukes, not poor man's nukes) are "bursting at their seams."

I urge readers to study Hoffman's two articles carefully. They are excellent pieces of reportage, but understand, they do NOT describe breaking news. Indeed, the fact that they ended up on the front page of the Washington Post in late 1998 tells us something about the inattention of the Washington establishment with regard to the threat posed by a poor man's nuke which, I might add, is not even addressed in either article. A more comprehensive treatment of fissile horrors facing the world and a history of our government's procrastination in the face of this clear and present danger can be found in "One Point Safe," by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn (Doubleday, 1997).

Summing up, the following points seem obvious: First, even in the event an attacker has a ballistic missile capability, the poor man's nuke offers the attacker a more effective indirect strategy for getting inside our OODA loops than that embodied in a direct attack by a limited number of ballistic missiles. Second, the technical challenge posed by building a poor man's nuke out of conventional explosives and plutonium oxide waste products is far less daunting than that posed by building a ballistic missile with a reliably-fused nuclear warhead. Third the skills required to design and fabricate the conventional shaped charge and handle the fissile material are readily available and widespread. Fourth, the long pole in the tent should be obtaining the radioactive materials, but the deteriorating conditions in Russia are making it progressively more likely that terrorists or rogue nations may be able to obtain the requisite material and skills on the black market.

These considerations make the Poor Man's Nuke a far more likely near-term strategic threat than a limited ballistic missile attack, but the table of funding allocations in the emergency readiness supplemental (Reference 1) shows that Congress chose not to increase the funding needed to cope with this kind of near-term threat.

"Emergencies" are about the "here" and "now." Rather than pour more money down the $50 billion Star Wars rat hole to counter a threat which may or may not appear in the distant future, perhaps it is time to change priorities and direct some of this money to threats that pose a near term clear and present danger to our people, like the poor man's nuke.

V. Finish the Business of the Cold War Before Changing the Orientation of NATO

Two observations are clear: The most threatening aspect of the poor man's nuke is the availability of fissile materials and technical skills in former states of the Soviet Union. The most likely targets of this threat are the beneficiaries of the Cold War's conclusion, namely the wealthy nations in Western Europe, Japan, and the United States, as well as the pro-western reform factions in Russia itself.

It is undeniable, therefore, that this threat is inextricably tied up with the legacy and wreckage left over from the Cold War. The Cold War will not be truly over until the Western Alliance, Japan, and Russia collaborate to clean up this wreckage in way that does not provide the seeds of a future conflict.

The primary institutional vehicle for fighting the Cold War was the Western Alliance, especially NATO. Rather than celebrating NATO's 50th anniversary next April by expanding it and assigning it missions for which it was not conceived, perhaps the Western Alliance ought to use the existing organization and military manpower of NATO, in conjunction with military manpower of Japan and Russia, to construct a multinational military task force to finish the business of the Cold War.

How might this be done? Obviously, the details are too complex to be outlined by one person, so what follows is a broad architecture of ideas about forming a multinational task force to neutralize or dramatically reduce the threat posed by a poor man's nuke.

Any policy so aimed must be based on the explicit recognition that this threat is NOT a technical problem, and it does not have a technical solution. The poor man's nuke is a political problem that threatens everyone, including the Russians.

This basic fact means a political solution must be constructed within the context of a well-conceived grand strategy, otherwise it will be ineffectual. At a minimum, therefore, the political aim should reinforce the participants' commitments to the goals of the multinational task force and make them empathetic to its success, and that aim should attract the uncommitted to its cause or make them empathetic to its success. So, while the threat posed by the poor man's nuke may have been created by the collapse of the Soviet Union, any attitude of Western triumphalism (or use of the task force as a vehicle for increasing western influence or as a boondoggle for shoveling money to western defense contractors) at Russia's expense would be counterproductive in a grand strategic sense. One Versailles Treaty in the Twentieth Century is more than enough.

Russia is not the Soviet Union. It should be treated as an equal participant, with the empathy and dignity it deserves for having ended Soviet Union without bloodshed and hence ending the Cold War, and for struggling, however imperfectly, to evolve into a democratic member of the family of nations. Some people may object to equal treatment, because Russia is impoverished, sinking into social chaos, and can not afford to pay for its share of the task force. One way for Russia to make up for its dearth in financial resources might be by providing a larger share of human resources (paid for by the other participants) to the task force. This would have the added benefit of helping part of the Russian army support itself and resist the growing pressures of anarchy in the near term. [see former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft's concerns about supporting the Russian army in Reference #5].

Clearly the first objective [Phase I] of the multinational task force would be to FIND and SECURE the most toxic nuclear materials, particularly plutonium waste products of nuclear reactors, as soon as possible. These products are now stored in large numbers of insecure storage facilities across Russia. Once Phase I is accomplished, a comprehensive system for processing and disposing of these materials [Phase II] can be evolved and put into action. This is a complex issue and will take time. [Reference #6 gives the reader a an idea of a few of the political complexities which must be overcome in Phase II.] Phase III would be a more general long term effort (perhaps begun in parallel with Phase II) aimed at a finding permanent solution to the disposal problem (e.g., maybe the benefits of disposing of these materials in uninhabited geologically stable polar regions outweigh the ecological costs).

There are several objections to the idea of a multinational task force aimed at reducing the threat posed by the poor man's nuke for several reasons.

First, some may argue this effort duplicates the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which was established in 1991, and is already under criticism for having some of its money diverted into corrupt elements of the Russian society. This proposal outlined above goes considerably beyond Nunn-Lugar, however. Nunn-Lugar does NOT attach a high priority to the to reducing the threat posed by the poor man's nuke. As Reference #7 shows, its mission, objectives, and funding allocations are aimed primarily at helping post-Soviet Russia control and reduce its nuclear weapons arsenal. These efforts, which, incidentally, involve a lot money flowing to US contractors, are designed to assist the Russians in their effort to consolidate and dismantle warheads and delivery systems. Nunn-Lugar also is designed to keep weapons scientists engaged in civilian work so they don't take their expertise to rogue states.

While its aims are noble, Nunn-Lugar may be targeted at the wrong problem. In a recent phone interview with [Reference #5], Retired Army Gen. William Odom told columnist Lars-Erik Nelson, "We're better off if we let the missiles deteriorate in their silos" "After about a month without testing, the tritium triggers go bad. Instead, we're paying the Russians to pull out the fissile material, and if I am an Iranian scientist with my own weapons program, I'd much rather buy the fissile material than a degraded weapon."

A second more valid criticism relates to the breakdown of the discipline and the rampant corruption in the Russian army. In the same interview, Odom told Nelson that the Russian army is too corrupt to be of much use for anything [including, presumably, the multinational task force outlined above].

While there is plenty of evidence to support Odom's viewpoint, he may be overstating the conclusion. In a 4 December 1998 email posted on Johnson's Russia List (#2504), Jacob Kipp, an army officer, took issue with the sweeping character of Odoms conclusions, "General Odom is right on the details regarding the death of the old army, although he overstates his case to make it seem like the entire army is nothing but rapists, perverts, bullies, crooks, criminals and bums. Every general is corrupt. But American soldiers who served with Russian airborne troops in IFOR/SFOR (in Bosnia) have a different impression of those Russians. They found a way after four decades of Cold War to work together. I have had the good fortune to talk with many of these officers and some of these men on both sides and have been impressed with their professionalism and mutual respect. The force in Bosnia is only a small part of the 1.2 million men under the Ministry of Defense and it maybe exception, but after three years of cooperation it does deserve to be noted."

A third objection will be that the American military is already stretched too thin by existing peacekeeping operations and can not take on any new commitments without reducing readiness even further, particularly the long-term commitment outlined above. While it is true that overseas operating tempos are hurting readiness, one could also argue that is partly a question of low tooth-to-tail ratios, priorities, and funding. In the Army for example, as of last May, only about 7% of the active force manpower and 3.5% of the total force manpower is deployed on peacekeeping and training exercises overseas [see Comment #100, Why the Lilliputians are tying down the US Army], yet this deployment was causing serious readiness degradations in home units. A solution might therefore require shifting resources from missions and budget categories (like ballistic missile defense) aimed a lesser threats, mobilization of selected reserves, and decisive action to increase the tooth-to-tail ratio, beginning with reductions in excess headquarters staffs (since cold war ended, forces have been cut by 40-50%, manpower by about 30-35% and headquarters staffs by 15%).

A fourth criticism might be that the plan outlined above is an interdiction strategy aimed at drying up the sources of supply and such supply-side strategies have a long history of not working. There is truth to this argument, and the current war on drugs provides evidence of that truth. Nevertheless, there are certain characteristics of the poor man's nuke that may make it more vulnerable to an interdiction attack. Indeed, a comparison of the 'war on poor man's nukes' with the 'war on drugs' is instructive in terms of each war's supply or demand side focus.

First, attacking drugs by going to the source of supply, which is the preferred strategy, is ineffective, in part, because drugs are easy to produce in a small decentralized, easily hidden, production locations, which are easy to repair or move, if necessary. Drugs are also easy to process, hide, and transport, and they require very little in the way of special handling skills. Nevertheless, despite the low interdiction signature of drugs, the bulk of the government's funds remain allocated to ineffectual supply-side interdiction operations (if market price on the street is any indicator of supply availability), and comparatively little funding aimed at reducing demand at the final destination, the drug addict.

On the other hand, radioactive materials, particularly plutonium, have a relatively high interdiction signature. Plutonium is incredibly hard to produce. It requires a massive investment in technology and skills, which means production facilities are relatively easy to locate. Moreover, such materials are also hard to store and transport safely, because they require special handling skills, which also makes them easier to find. While the problem of finding the fissile material in the states of the former Soviet Union is an immensely difficult problem, it is nowhere near as complicated as finding the sources of illegal drugs. Yet if we examine the strategy implied by our funding allocation from a supply versus demand-side perspective, the overwhelming bulk of our funding is going to national missile defense systems, which are more akin a demand-side attack in the drug war (in the sense of trying to intercept a threat at the final point). A higher vulnerability to interdiction probably confers a greater chance of success in the case of poor man's nukes than in the case of the war on drugs.

I don't know if the preceding supply-side plan is feasible, but one thing is clear, adding $1 billion in emergency readiness funding for ballistic missile defense is money that would be far better spent against more realistic near-term threats.

But, even if it is feasible, there is one insurmountable problem with this proposal for neutralizing the threat of a poor man's nuke, it will not dull the people's minds with sclerotic fantasies of perfect security behind an impenetrable shield.

Chuck Spinney

Reference #1

Email from Staffer on Capital Hill, "DoD Numbers for Emergency Supplemental"

As I analyze various HAC and SAC tables, I make out the DoD and total 050 portions of the emergency supplemental as follows:

  • Readiness ...........................1.100 (13%)

  • Bosnia.................................1.859

  • O&M (Intelligence) .......... . 1.497 [Almost $1B for technical means; <20% for humint]

  • Y2K................................... 1.100

  • BMD...................................1.000 (no break down in available tables)

  • DoD Anti-terror...................0.529

  • Storm Damage.................... 0.259

  • Storm Damage (MilCon)......0.210

  • Def Health Prog...................0.200

  • DoD counter drug................0.042

  • DHP (non-emergency)..........0.002 offset. (fuel re-pricing)........ -0.067

  • DoD Total (051) ................7.731

  • DoE. (Defense Related).........0.525 050......................................8.256

  • [Total Emergency Related.....8.321]

  • Plus: Coast Guard.........................0.210

  • Counter Drug........................0.690

All is "emergency" unless otherwise noted and does not count under the spending caps agreed to by the President and Congress in the budget agreement. Note that hard core readiness (the $1.1 billion) is only 13% of this package.

Reference #7

Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR)

1. Mission Statement:

In 1991, Congress directed the Department of Defense to help secure former Soviet weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Since 1991, Congress has provided $2.3 billion to support Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) efforts.

Based on this congressional direction, CTR's mission is to provide assistance to eligible states of the former Soviet Union (FSU) in order to dismantle WMD and to reduce the threat of proliferation. This mission supports core U.S. national security priorities. In his May 1997 National Security Strategy for a New Century, President Clinton stresses that protecting the security of American citizens, territory, and way of life is the nation's number one priority. Toward this end, the U.S. security strategy identifies combating the spread and use of WMD, promoting arms control, and securing regional stability in the FSU as essential tasks. CTR plays a critical role in accomplishing each task.

2. Program Objectives:

The CTR Program translates congressional directives, national security priorities, and foreign policy goals into a coherent program with five objectives:

Objective 1: Assist Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus to become non-nuclear weapon states, and eliminate Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty (START) limited systems and weapons of mass destruction infrastructure.

Objective 2: Assist Russia in accelerating strategic arms reductions to START levels.

Objective 3: Enhance safety, security, control, accounting and centralization of nuclear weapons and fissile material in the former Soviet Union (FSU) to prevent their proliferation and encourage their reduction.

Objective 4: Assist the FSU to eliminate and prevent proliferation of chemical and biological weapons capabilities.

Objective 5: Encourage military reductions and reforms and reduce proliferation threats in the FSU.

3. FY 1999 Congressional Funding Authorization:

Section 1302 of Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for FY 1999 Public Law 105-261, H.R. 3616, TITLE XIII--COOPERATIVE THREAT REDUCTION WITH STATES OF THE FORMER SOVIET UNION

SEC. 1302. FUNDING ALLOCATIONS. (a) FUNDING FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSES- Of the amounts authorized to be appropriated to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 1999 in section 301(23), $440,400,000 shall be available to carry out Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, of which not more than the following amounts may be obligated for the purposes specified:

(1) For strategic offensive arms elimination in Russia, $142,400,000.

(2) For strategic nuclear arms elimination in Ukraine, $47,500,000.

(3) For activities to support warhead dismantlement processing in Russia, $9,400,000.

(4) For activities associated with chemical weapons destruction in Russia, $88,400,000.

(5) For weapons transportation security in Russia, $10,300,000.

(6) For planning, design, and construction of a storage facility for Russian fissile material, $60,900,000.

(7) For weapons storage security in Russia, $41,700,000.

(8) For development of a cooperative program with the Government of Russia to eliminate the production of weapons grade plutonium at Russian reactors, $29,800,000.

(9) For biological weapons proliferation prevention activities in Russia, $2,000,000.

(10) For activities designated as Other Assessments/Administrative Support, $8,000,000.

(b) LIMITED AUTHORITY TO VARY INDIVIDUAL AMOUNTS- (1) If the Secretary of Defense determines that it is necessary to do so in the national interest, the Secretary may, subject to paragraphs (2) and (3), obligate amounts for the purposes stated in any of the paragraphs of subsection (a) in excess of the amount specified for those purposes in that paragraph. However, the total amount obligated for the purposes stated in the paragraphs in subsection (a) may not by reason of the use of the authority provided in the preceding sentence exceed the sum of the amounts specified in those paragraphs.

(2) An obligation for the purposes stated in any of the paragraphs in subsection (a) in excess of the amount specified in that paragraph may be made using the authority provided in paragraph (1) only after-- (A) the Secretary submits to Congress notification of the intent to do so together with a complete discussion of the justification for doing so; and

(B) 15 days have elapsed following the date of the notification.

(3) The Secretary may not, under the authority provided in paragraph (1), obligate amounts appropriated for the purposes stated in any of paragraphs (3) through (10) of subsection (a) in excess of 115 percent of the amount stated in those paragraphs.

Boyd and the Military