Friday, February 25, 2005

I was going to write about Iran, and the similarities and differences between dealing with that nuclear problem and NK. I had even contemplated talking about Condi's short skirt and long jacket, but the Post did that today.

Instead what caught my eye was more Iraq related material, but this of a slightly different vein.
Reports out this week indicate that all 3 major force providers for US ground troops in Iraq are having difficulty meeting recruiting needs.
The Army is "having difficulty" meeting its recruiting needs.
The Marines--usually aces at recruiting--are finding too Few to join the Few and the Proud.
The National Guard isn't doing well either, having difficulty recruiting part-time soldiers.
Its gotten so bad with the Guard and Reserve that Pentagon officials are worried that the reserve forces might break.

This is quite telling, I think--and should hit home for many of you in that 18-21 cohort who might have considered such a career choice or know someone from back home who did.
What all of the articles mention is that no one wants to go to Iraq. Parents, in particular, don't want their children joing the military to head off to Iraq, but many of the the young adult would-be recruits are of a similar mindset.

Here's the interesting (or an interesting--you can probably point out others) thing: Bush's is very strong politically among military families, and many of these military recruits (but by no means all) are from solid red states. I would guess that if you polled them Bush would get a high approval rating.
But no one wants to go to Iraq.

Back in the Vietnam days, as the war was winding down, John Kerry, then a veteran protesting the war, famously asked a Congressional committee how you could ask a soldier to be the last one to die for a mistake.
Now, with the recent election as a guide, it seems that American public does not view Bush's Iraq policy as a mistake.
But fewer and fewer Americans are willing to sign up and take that risk.

Monday, February 21, 2005

So, North Korea is out, and now they are back in Nuclear talks, reports CNN.
Does this show that their previous invectives and threats were all a ploy? Or is this a ploy?

To preview the upcoming debate, so much of this depends on the lens--theoretical and political-- through which you view the whole North Korea crisis.

On the one hand, it could all just be that Kim Jong Il is in fact a paranoid, crazy leader and more than a bit lonely.
If that is the case, then North Korea is an isolated incident, quite different from Iran, Iraq, and all other potential nuclear proliferators. What can you do with a madman who has learned to love the bomb?
On the other hand, he could be crazy like a fox. For a guy in his position, he could be behaving quite rationally.

But, what, exactly is rational? Common usage of the word implies some sort of value system to make actions comprehensible. The standard theory of rational decision making merely holds that a rational actor maximizes his potential outcomes by doing what is best for him in a certain circumstance.

Though, again, depending on your theory, your views of rationality might change.
Rational actors do what they can given the rules of the system in which they operate.
Once Upon a Time, in the Cold War, the rules of nuclear weapons were simple and easily understood--deterrence. Faith in deterrence led leading political scientist Kenneth Waltz to posit that more nuclear states would in fact be better. Father of realism that he is, the whole argument pushes realism and balance of power politics to its logical extreme.
But that assumes that we are still playing by the same rules as we were during the Cold War. What if these rules have changed? David Sanger made a powerful point when he discussed the new rules of nuclear proliferation this week. The old rules seem to be changing. No one is quite sure what they are changing into.

edited: I saw this story in the Post today about the importance of the language US diplomats use with North Korea. I find this fascinating. One might think that sticks and stones can break bones but words can't hurt. Yet in this case, it seems language matters a great deal to NK.

So, continue the debate, what ever do we do about North Korea?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I saw this article and it got me thinking....

The NYT has a report about how the Army is working to replace soldiers with robots.

Its not a frickin' shark with a laser beam attached to its head, but close.

Now, this is nothing new-- there has been a continual shift to automation with the increase of technology for decades. But, what if they are actually able to take away the soldier and replace him/her with a robot. There already are robotic planes, even some armed with missiles, and robots to detonate bombs. But what if you give them guns? You would have "casualty free" war, where the US could fight with no military personnel on the front lines.

What would this mean for US foreign policy? What would this do to the idea of fighting war as we know it?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Contuing to ride the nuclear train....

So, North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons.
They have claimed this before, but perhaps this is more serious? The latest twist is that they are also pulling out of the 6-Party talks and want only direct talks with the US.

Predictably, the US says "No" and that it won't reward such behavior.

While I don't want to preempt our debate in a few weeks, there is plenty to talk about here.

First, how dangerous is this situation, really? The alarmist line is that its bad for North Korea to have nukes-- they might use them or worse, they might sell them. But, they could also become a "responsible" nuclear power like Pakistan, India, China, or Russia and settle into a nice relationship of deterrence with the South and US (as David Kang might argue, for those of you who have been in my 206 class). After all, we have been playing this game with them for over 10 years now. But then again, they might not.

Second, whatever is Bush to do? The conventional wisdom is that a) Bush has failed for allowing North Korea to get so far along in its nuclear program, and b) he should start talking to the North Koreans before things get any worse (linked article has some good background on this).
But, really, what can he do? The options here are pretty limited, and all seem to stink.

Now, in a moment of self disclosure, I will admit to having published an article on this topic, so if you want to know what I really think, you can find it, read it, and then we can talk about it.

But I want to know what you think.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The US is considering redesigning some of its nuclear weapons.
The Bush Administration asked for $8.5 million to study this in the annual budget request.

The existing nuclear arsenal was designed to deter the Soviet nuclear arsenal, a fundamental element of the Cold War. That struggle ended 15 years ago, yet today, the US retains more than 9000 nuclear warheads (for a complete list, try here and here).

We stopped designing new bombs quite a while ago, mostly because to design a new weapon you need to test it, and following the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which Clinton signed but the Senate never ratified), the US won't test new weapons. So, the Energy Department, which maintains the US nuclear stockpile, has the new job of keeping these weapons in long-term storage but still workable order.

So, here is the question: What should we do with our nuclear weapons? Keep them should we ever need them? Keep them to reinforce US strength? A military backed by nukes is a much stronger military than one that isn't. The new ones that the Bush Administration wants to design include "bunker buster" type weapons that would burrow deep into the ground and then detonate. They would be used to attack fortified caves and tunnels in places like, say North Korea or Iran.
Should we get rid of them? Its not like chopping up a car for scrap--what do you do with all that nuclear fuel? Nevada certainly doesn't want it. Plus, dismantling them when the Russians aren't cooperative on thier START I and START II obligations might send the wrong signals.
What do we do with all our nukes?

Monday, February 07, 2005

So, I would have posted more things this weekend, but I was busy with the Superbowl.
Pats win. woo hoo for all you New England types. I was excited that Mike Vrable caught a TD pass (again). He is, of course, an Ohio State alum.

One thing that I did read that I found interesting was a short, almost aside of an article Saturday in the Post about the President's request for the defense budget next year. The line that got me: "Once war spending is included... Defense Department expenditures in 2006 will almost certainly exceed the entire $433 billion economy of Russia."
Wow. that's a lot of money.

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