On Autonomous Weapons

Our readings on autonomous weapons featured some very direct back and forth on the idea of banning “killer robots.” I think the issue can be split into three broad categories, focusing on the ethics of the development and use of autonomous weapons, the issues they face in international law, and the practicality of their use and prohibition.

Ethics. Gubrud raises the idea that it is contrary to the principles of a shared humanity to allow machines to determine an end to human lives. There is some value in humans making the decision the decision to kill. Opponents to this idea believe that humans killing other humans is no more ethical than robots killing humans, and that the substantive question in this issue relates to matters of practicality. Is it more ethical for a human to be the decisionmaker, and if so, is it enough reason to oppose the development of these weapons?

International Law. Gubrud also presents the argument that autonomous weapons should already be illegal under international law. He argues that robots cannot satisfy the principles of distinction and proportionality which determine just conduct in war; AI can neither reliably distinguish combatants from noncombatants nor weigh collateral damage against military gain. Ackerman opposes this view in his article, claiming that the codified Rules of Engagement are something that an AI can certainly understand and base decisions upon; Gubrud mentions the US’s “collateral damage estimation methodology”, which could serve as a base for a robot to determine proportionality. Neither side claims that the data-gathering and decision-making abilities of the technology is adequate to meet legal requirements yet; in your opinion, will it ever be? What advantages would robots have in this regard, and what challenges would you anticipate for those working on this technology?

On a different note legally, Gubrud also brings up the Martens Clause, supporting the idea that the strong public consensus against autonomous weapons can also determine the standing of autonomous weapons in international law. What role should public opinion play in this legal question, and what should be considered along with public opinion?

Practicality. There are a number of issues related to the practical implications of the development or ban of autonomous weapons.

First, would a ban even be effective? Gubrud points to an already developing international consensus for caution with the technology as a sign that a ban could develop and work, and he, Russell, Tegmark, and Walsh point to successes in banning other types of weapons. Ackerman counters by claiming that robots offer too much of a technological advantage for a state to resist and that the technology is too accessible, even to regular citizens, to effectively control. Trying to ban the tech would be a waste of effort better devoted to preventing abuse. We’ve studied weapons bans as they relate to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; is the issue of controlling autonomous weapons fundamentally different? What effects would a ban have on the use of robots for domestic suppression? Terrorism? Are there alternate means to prevent abuses?

Another aspect to consider will be the effect on international stability. With no emotional attachment to these robots, and little political cost for their loss, will they lead to riskier, more aggressive, and more frequent military actions? What are the prospects for an arms race featuring dozens of countries, similar to the broad interest and investment in drone technology today?

What will be the effects on consumer technology? The open letter opposing the development of autonomous weapons argues that public backlash against killer robots will hurt support for the entire fields of robotics and AI. Ackerman alludes to the idea that military research is a key driver of progress in consumer technology.

Finally, is there any aspect of the debate that these authors failed to address? — Trevor

On Superintelligence

First, for anyone who is a little lost, wants a simpler explanation, or is really interested in the topic, I found a funny, detailed blog post that has some graphics and examples that explain AI and superintelligence pretty well. (From what I can tell).


It also has this graphic which I think articulates some of the ideas from Bostrom’s article in a visual way.


In his article, Bostrom describes the coming of a moment in which artificial intelligence will surpass the intelligence of a human mind. This moment, Bostrom stresses, is both closer than we think and incredibly dangerous. At this point, AI will be able to improve itself and replicate and an intelligence boom will occur. The biggest question when this occurs is whether or not the goals of the AI will coincide with the goals of the human race. Bostrom hopes that such an AI will, but fears what would happen if it doesn’t.

I have several questions. First, do you buy it? Do you believe that by the time our generation is nearing death (2060-2080) AI will have become superintelligent? If so, what would the implications of such a world be? If AI is capable of performing all work, would human beings serve any real function at all?

Also, how do we make policy regarding AI? Should the government draw the line at superintelligence and only allow AI systems up to that point? Or do we encourage the responsible development of AI to any level? — Kennedy

Cyberwarfare: On Whose Authority?

So far, most covert cyber operations come from the White House in coordination with the Pentagon; most notably the Olympic Games program started under G.W. Bush and culminating with the infamous Stuxnet attack. Constitutionally, only Congress has the power to declare war. So, what constitutes an “act of war”?

According to Farwell and Rohozinski, we should look to the UN Charter. Article 2(4) prohibits the “threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or independence of any state,” and Article 51 states that nothing “in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations” (111). Based on this logic, an act of war would occur with the use of force.

Does software code qualify as “use of force”? Farwell and Rohozinski (111-116) suggest a few elements to consider: pre-emptive/coercive action; uniformed combatants as coders; a pattern of employing cyberweapons; intent of the cyberweapon (regardless of actual impact); an evolving technological arms race; unsettling the confidence of the adversary; and disrupting momentum for an adversary’s offense. McGraw contends that a cyberattack is anything with a “kinetic” effect—that is, anything with a physical, real-world impact (112). Rid would disagree, since cyberwarfare has never caused the loss of human life (11). Could cyberattacks constitute a “use of force”? Which authority should regulate outgoing cyber engagement: Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, or the CIA?

On the receiving end, who should run offense in the attack of a private company? Private industry owns and operates 90% of US civilian critical infrastructure (Farwell and Rohozinski 110), such as financial services, public transportation, and power grids. Should a cyberattack be dealt with in domestic criminal courts, or should a higher power determine the cutoff for civilian impact? — Molly

Ever Evolving and Ever Changing: Where Do We Stand in the World of Cyber

From this week’s reading it is definitely evident that there is not one unified lens through which to view or understand cyber. Cyberwarfare, cyberesponiage, cyberattack, cyberdefense – the list is endless. Throughout the last few months we have been evaluating current issues but have had a framework to guide how we see each topic. In the world of cyber all bets are off and this makes it difficult to wrap one’s head around the realm.

To kick off the discussion I think it makes the most sense to talk about three topics in Cyberspace: (1) Who should we be scared of, (2) How could the US prepare to stop cyber threats and (3) Is cyberwar realistic?

1. Who should we actually be scared of?

A big topic in cyber surrounds the ability of non-state actors to easily and cheaply get involved in cyberwarfare. Without the need to spend billions creating bombs and nuclear weapons, non-state actors can easily wage attacks in cyberspace. According to McGraw in “Cyberwar is Inevitable” he says that most modern control systems are so poorly designed that they’re vulnerable to attacks devised over 15 years ago. Cited in Gartzke’s “Myth of Cyberwar,” Joseph Nye claims that non-state actors are a scary and real threat. Do you buy this? A non-state actor can definitely temporarily dislocate a country’s systems but Gartzke argues back that this might not actually create a lasting shift in the balance of power. To this end, is this cyberwar? Is this an effective attack? Look to the authors mentioned in Gartzke’s footnotes – Arquilla and Ronfeldt, for more nuance. Should the U.S. perceive a cyber threat as credible if it cannot be backed up with military force like Russia did with Georgia in 2007?

2. How could the US prepare to stop cyber threats?

McGraw offers a sobering reality in “Cyberwar is Inevitable” of the lack of technological expertise and security of legacy systems supporting our nation’s critical infrastructure. I personally worked in a technology capacity for the US government this past summer and was also dismayed at the lack of technical understanding by government employees. Employees themselves present one of the largest points of vulnerability for cyber attacks (look up “phishing” in which cyber attacks are administered when a government employee accidentally clinks on a sneaky malicious link). What were your thoughts on McGraw – are his arguments apt or is he just over hyping the lack of US cyber defense?

In “New Reality of Cyber War,” Farwall talks about the need for firewalls, cyber hygiene (training folks), detection technology, honey pots, and secure resilient networks. He claims that these methods are for obviously defensive purposes, but all of these mechanisms however could be portrayed to our adversaries as building offense capabilities – will this make countries like China and Russia build up their offensive capabilities in response? Will the US simply be causing an escalation and “cyber arms race.”

3. Is cyber war realistic?

Finally it is important to talk about whether cyber war is even something to be concerned about. In “There Will Never Be A Cyber War,” Rid claims that warfare relies on three criteria – violence, having a viable means to an end, and politically-motivated. He claims that in cyberspace, “no cyber offense has ever caused the loss of human life. No cyber offense has ever injured a person. No cyber attack has ever damaged a building.” Now contrast this with McGraw in “Cyber War Is Inevitable.” He speaks to the technical vulnerabilities in our power grids and financial services systems. They include exploitable “zero days” which could knock out the entire system for weeks (realistically). What damage is done to the US economy if one or more of these systems were taken out? Gartzke cites a former secretary of defense saying that there will soon be a cyber Pearl Harbor attack. To contrast these points of view I recommend looking at past examples of cyber attacks – Stuxnet and the Estonia Botnet attacks. Each is different – do either constitute war under Rid’s criteria? Is cyber war realistic? — Max

Societal Verification in the Connected Age

In Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, Duncan Watts discusses the capabilities and limits of predicting and utilizing both individual and group behavior trends. Unraveling the conceptual bases of some commonly-known studies (such as the small-world method and the strength of weak ties/balance theory), Watts explores the introductory premises of aggregations and networks. In analyzing the domino effect of the Keller-Allston line failure on August 10, 1996, he opens the conversation over how individual behavior can be aggregated to collective behavior. He claims that although individual behavior is often well interpreted, collective behavior can sometimes be undeterminable through aggregation: “although genes, like people, exist as identifiably individual units, they function by interacting, and the corresponding patterns of interactions can display almost unlimited complexity” (26). Do these claims challenge or extend your perspective on previous topics of this semester such as nuclear deterrence or the prisoner’s dilemma exercise? Contextualizing these ideas into the readings from this week, how do these ideas of networks and group dynamics play into the U.S.’s application of new media and crowdsourcing into its nonproliferation strategy?

Extending Watts’ ideas into the discussion of societal verification, which application examples seem most appropriate for implementation (considering the potential benefits, effectiveness, possible consequences, and vulnerability pitfalls)? In “Societal Verification: Leveraging the Information Revolution for Arms Control Verification,” Hinderstein and Hartigan state that “‘societal verification’ refers to the concept of incorporating non-traditional stakeholders into verification and transparency regimes to increase the likelihood that violations of international commitments are detected” (1). They note several State Department recommendations such as giving citizens the ability to detect radiation spikes with the use of sensors, employing the use of quick response codes, etc (5). How would you compare these examples of societal verification to the China/North Korea example in the Lee/Lewis/Hanham piece? Are there certain uses of data analytics that are prone to be more valuable or more misleading? Do some examples jeopardize the vulnerability of citizen privacy and anonymity more than others? — Zoë

Strong and Weak Ties in the International Context

In Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted, Gladwell discusses the importance of strong ties in making radical changes and the ultimate shortcomings of weak ties. This is an interesting view as Granovetter’s original study on strong and weak ties found that many weak ties, or casual acquaintances, prove much more critical in gaining information or pursuing opportunities, most famously in job hunting (as discussed on p.49 of Watts’s book). However, Gladwell points to the student protesters and shows that without their strong connection and ability to talk “in a way that works only with people who talk late into the night with one another” they never would have had the courage to begin the protest at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro. Of course other people with less strong connections did join the protest, they needed that initial commitment to seed their beginnings, similarly to how Ivanna relied on her friend Evan to begin her search for her Sidekick and only after initial friends helped did others join in with email support.

This seems like a very conclusive argument that only strong ties can be trusted to start important movements. However, in an international context having these very strong ties is definitely not always possible if attempting to verify an opposing state. Here, it seems as if there is often reliance on the information provided by weak ties through social media and the trust of that information, as it is easier to discover. Yet, this information can often be flawed, as Gladwell points out with Twitter’s reaction to the protests in Moldova and Tehran. These reactions may have largely overplayed the people’s involvement. This is not surprising since if only a few people post on subject, it can lead to a quick cascade where thousands not the event praise their support regardless of actual present numbers.

As both strong and weak ties have their pros and cons in international scenarios which do you think is best for governments to pursue? In this context, strong ties would likely be the classic view of intelligence agencies, which have a high entrance barrier but also high trust, and weak ties are posts on social media which provide an extremely low entrance barrier and almost no trust at all. Of course this can also extend to beginning or monitoring new social revolutions, in addition to verification of weapon systems or other governmental actions. In any of these scenarios, is it best to trust weak ties or try to implant strong ties? Would there be any practical way to combine the two for a maximum advantage? Has either become entirely worthless in the modern world? — Ben

Deterrence in the 21st Century

In “Nuclear Strategy, 1950-1990: The Search for Meaning, Thomas Nichols discusses the evolution of U.S. nuclear strategy since the beginning of the nuclear age, through 1990. While initially he describes a country unsure of how to wield its new power that defaults to a “Massive Retaliation” strategy, this soon evolves into a much more complex “Flexible Response” strategy with a focus on making escalation a certain inevitability in response to certain aggressions by Russia. After the 1970s, however, both powers had accumulated an effectively equal arsenal, complete with quick response protocols, which led to a situation of “parity.” In such a situation, the key was actual a mutual understanding of each others arsenal and response protocols that allowed for global stability, with a strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) as it’s lynchpin. This led to a search on both sides for a way out of such a situation, through research into both missile defense as well as continued build-up of nuclear arsenals. President Bush finally established a U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) that has left us in a more or less stable nuclear position in regards to Russia.

Was the build-up of nuclear weapons and evolvement of nuclear strategy a unique product of post-WWII history though? Nichols notes a number of times the ways in which U.S. leaders saw the Soviets as willing to risk their own people for military victories. How has the bipolar world in which nuclear strategy developed impacted the way we continue to conduct deterrence strategy? Now that nuclear weapons have become somewhat (if very limitedly) more widespread, what new challenges in deterrence do we face? Or does it always boil down to the two powers with overwhelmingly superior arsenals (which continues to be the U.S. and Russia)? I also found Nichols discussion of the protection of allies very interesting. Although an invasion of Europe today by any power is probably not particularly imminent, as a nuclear power what responsibility does the United States have in terms of retaliation against any country that launches nuclear weapons? The instability of many regions today makes a flexible response solution much more complex and difficult to accurately predict. But what role if any does the U.S. owe the world in terms of response and deterrence, in light of its status as both a nuclear power and global leader? — Michelle

Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals

Cohn’s article on the technostrategic language of nuclear deterrence apologists is definitely one of the most intriguing articles I have read on the subject. Cohn criticizes the defense analysts that she worked with at “the Center” as being just as irrational and unrealistic as the “idealistic activists” that they are so opposed to. The very language that these defense analysts use shows “currents of homoerotic excitement, heterosexual domination, the drive toward competency and mastery, the pleasures of membership in an elite and privileged group, the ultimate importance and meaning of membership in the priesthood, and the thrilling power of becoming Death, shatterer of worlds” (717).

More compelling than Cohn’s descriptions of the content and nature of this technostrategic language, however, is her denouncement of the complete unreliability of the “abstract conceptual system” that is created by the use of this type of language (709). Cohn argues that “limited nuclear war” can only exist in an abstract system where we assume completely rational actors uninfluenced by emotions, political pressures, madness or despair. Saying that “the aggressor ends up worse off than the aggressed” can only be understood in a world where people are more concerned with the possession of nuclear weapons than the destruction and mass murder of entire cities of people. Neither one of the previous situations, however, accurately describes the global political and social structures that exist today.

But does this mean that there is no merit to nuclear deterrence theory at all? Nichols’s account of nuclear strategy during the Cold War shifted from a strategy of “Massive Retaliation” to struggling to determine extended deterrence to finally settling in to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). There seems to be something inherently irrational about trying to calculate limited nuclear war using mathematical models not based in reality, but what about deterrence theory and MAD? Even the political leader facing inordinate amounts of domestic pressure to start a nuclear war would hesitate to do so if he or she knew that both sides would do “unavoidable and permanent damage” to each other (27). Is there a certain lower limit above which deterrence theory’s abstract models make sense and below which they don’t?

And if the mathematical models inherent to technostrategic language are inapplicable, are there any other practical ways to speak about deterrence theory and nuclear warfare? Given that scientists speak in technostrategic languages, do we want to involve academics and professionals from less mathematically strict disciplines to refocus the reference point on damage done to human lives rather than damage done to weapons? — Jessica

Tough Questions About the Iran Nuclear Deal

In their report The Iran Nuclear Deal: A Definitive Guide, Samore et al offer a comprehensive analysis of the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and supplementary protocols that together comprise the ‘Iranian nuclear deal.’ According to the authors, the agreement contains – from the perspective of the United States and other “P5 + 1 powers” that hope to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons – both significant strengths and weaknesses. A brief summary of highlights is provided below.

As the report notes, “the JCPOA effectively blocks the plutonium pathway [for weapons development] for 15 years” through a redesign of the Arak heavy water reactor and a comprehensive ban on the building new reprocessing facilities or reactors. Furthermore, Iran has publicly pledged to adhere to permanent enforcement (past the 15 year deadline of the JCPOA) of the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol to the NPT, which together require Iran to: declare all stockpiles (and the locations of) of nuclear material, allow IAEA inspectors to seek access to “undeclared” research and development sites, and permit IAEA monitoring of facilities and locations indirectly related to the plutonium and uranium fuel cycles, such as mines, concentration plants, and equipment manufacturers. The authors note that these provisions (and others) significantly hamper Iran’s ability to conduct research using nuclear materials at “undeclared” facilities, although the “detection of covert activities is heavily dependent on effective intelligence.”

Despite JCPOA’s stringent restrictions on the “plutonium pathway” to nuclear weapons, the agreement allows, in the words of the authors, “Iran to retain a substantial [uranium] enrichment infrastructure, with the technical capacity to expand its [uranium] enrichment program after 15 years…” After the entirety of JCPOA’s production restrictions are removed (after 15 years), Iran will retain the technological and material capability to produce HEU. Furthermore, the authors note the practical limits on detection of covert research of technologies that do not require nuclear material, such as centrifuge or explosives design and testing.

Feel free to respond to part (or all) of my questions.

  1. The authors are confident that, barring a major failure of intelligence/detection by the United States and other P5 + 1 powers, the deal will effectively prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon over the next 10-15 years. Do you share that assessment? Are the weaknesses of the JCPOA described by the authors unavoidable given practical and political constraints, or potential loopholes given Iran’s past unwillingness to fully cooperate with IAEA monitoring efforts under the NPT?
  2. What are the broader implications of the deal, particularly for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)? How does the deal relate to Sagan’s “Norms Model” and his suggestion that, in the post-Cold War world, effective ascension to and compliance with the NPT enhances a country’s international prestige? Will Iranian compliance (or blatant non-compliance) strengthen the NPT, or serve to effectively undermine the global nuclear monitoring regime should Iran be caught violating the agreement?

    In my personal assessment, the agreement could very well strengthen the NPT over time, if Iran fully complies (or is forced to comply by effective monitoring). The United States and other nuclear powers have reaffirmed their commitment to nonproliferation under the NPT. Further, in signing the agreement, Iran has made a public commitment to remaining a non-nuclear weapon state. Should it begin to develop nuclear weapons after the 15-year life of the agreement, Iran could once again open itself up to preventative action from the international community, while damaging its international reputation (and economic health).

  3. Do you agree with my assessment? Where would you place Iran within Sagan’s nuclear proliferation model, and how does that affect how Iran would respond to lifting of the JCPOA constraints in 10-15 years?


The Iran Deal: A Few Issues

The Iran Deal fueled an intense debate in the U.S. But whatever side you found yourself on (either “for” or “against”), the recent official ratification of the deal by all parties signified the termination of the original debate. Therefore, it is important to now focus on the future ramifications of the deal. To that end, this post seeks to highlight four core issues of the deal and the possible consequences they could bring about.

The first issue stems from the sanctions relief. According to “Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew…[Iran will conservatively receive] roughly $56 billion” (Rick Gladstone). The primary worry, which even President Obama acknowledges, is that the sanctions relief “will mean more money for terror groups” (Raf Sanchez) like “Hezbollah of Lebanon and Hamas of Gaza, regarded by the United States…as terrorist groups” (Rick Gladstone). Thus, the money Iran receives through this deal can (and probably will) exacerbate other problems in the region, not to mention the unsettling fact that the United States and the other members of the P5+1 will knowingly fund, in the words of the U.S. Department of State, a “State Sponso[r] of Terrorism” (U.S. Department of State).

The second issue with the deal is intelligence. As the Harvard Kennedy School’s The Iran Nuclear Deal: A Definitive Guide, states, “Intelligence is the key” (37). Without it, the deal unravels. So the question remains: Will the intelligence community of the P5+1 be able to effectively track Iran’s behavior and activity? Unfortunately, their track record isn’t reassuring. For instance, it wasn’t until “the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (the People’s Holy Warriors), a Marxist-Islamist Iranian dissident group now known as the National Council of Resistance, revealed the existence of the uranium-enrichment site at Natanz and the heavy-water reactor at Arak” (Reuel Marc Gerecht) did the United States or any other country have any idea they existed. So if Iranians lied before and did such a good job at it (or really, the international community did such a poor job at tracking the activity), what is stopping them from doing it again?

What should be stopping them is the willpower of international community, which stands as the third key issue. The Harvard Kennedy School’s The Iran Nuclear Deal: A Definitive Guide confirms that “[t]he JCPOA and Resolution 2231 establish a process for UN sanctions to automatically snap back in the event of a substantial violation” (62). The first flaw in this is noted a page later: “Whether or not the U.S. and EU would be able to once again capture and sustain broad-level support for cutting back Iranian energy imports is unclear” (63). This is especially “unclear” (63) now that “Russia…reach[ed] an understanding…with Iraq, Syria and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State” (Michael R. Gordon). This shows that moving forward, the interests of each country will change and could include the protection of the Iranian regime, thus diminishing the chances that the international community will be able to combat Iranian violations. However, many could still argue that in the case of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, these nations can put aside their differences. Recently, the international community had an opportunity to do just that, but unfortunately showcased its weak will: “On Sunday [Oct. 11, about two weeks ago] the [Iranian] regime tested a new long-range, guided ballistic missile code-named Emad (‘Pillar’) in violation of the nuclear deal. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231…prohibits Iran from conducting ballistic-missile work for eight years” (Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal). To date, no snap-back sanctions have been installed. This reality certainly calls into question the reliability of the international community and their desire to enforce the deal. It will be very interesting to see the state of the world in 15 years.

Last, the most profound issue of the deal: Can it change the Iranian regime’s behavior? One can hope. But so far, no change has manifested. Not only did the Iranians, as mentioned earlier, just test an inter-continental ballistic missile (N.B. “such missiles have never been built to carry conventional warheads” (Reuel Marc Gerecht)), but their rhetoric has only intensified. For instance, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei posted on his Twitter page on Sept. 9, 2015 (a month and a half ago) this message: “Firstly, you [the Israelis] will not see next [sic] 25 years; God willing, there will be nothing as [sic] Zionist Regime by [sic] next 25 years. Secondly, until then, struggling, heroic and jihadi morale will leave no moment of serenity for Zionists” (Ayatollah Khamenei). Not only is this message is horrible and deeply troubling, but it also eerily speaks to what could happen beyond 15 years. And remember, after 15 years, the deal holds no more weight. — Michael

Balancing Risks: Nuclear Energy & Climate Change

In Balancing Risks: Nuclear Energy & Climate Change, Socolow and Glaser discuss the concept of stabilization wedges, which are defined as strategies motivated by climate change and designed to prevent its full impact by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. A major focus of the paper are energy efficiency wedges, of which approximately 8 would be required to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The authors look specifically at nuclear power as a potentially effective wedge that would, if used throughout the world by 2050 at a much higher rate than at the present, contribute 25% of total global electric power in a much more efficient manner than alternatives like coal. There are clearly advantages to nuclear power, namely that it is time-tested, has small physical flows, and minimal carbon emissions. However, there are also real and imagined disadvantages or risks.

What disadvantages do you see to the widespread use of nuclear power as part of a solution to climate change? Are risks like plants being considered military targets or the problem of storing nuclear waste legitimate hazards?

The article mentions declining public opinion on nuclear power in the developed world. Does this pose an issue for widespread adoption? Is it reasonable?

Finally, the authors ask: “Can nuclear power be decoupled from nuclear weapons?” Given what you’ve read in the paper and learned in class, how would you answer this question? — Sebastian

Three Models for Nuclear Weapons Proliferation: Theory and Practice

In Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb, Sagan discusses the three theoretical models that affect a states’ decision to build a nuclear arsenal. Although the three “theoretical frameworks”/models share common features with the well-known international relations theories (i.e. realism, liberalism, institutionalism), it’s interesting to look at and analyze each of them individually.

  • The Security Model: the concept of balance of power is central. Sagan argues that states use nuclear weapons as a deterrent tool or as a coercive tool to force a change in the status quo. Sagan also suggests that “every time one state develops nuclear weapons to balance against its main rival, it also creates nuclear threat to another state in the region” (p.58) causing a domino effect. Is this always true or only when states feel directly threatened? Why didn’t Ukraine or the post-Soviet Union states develop a nuclear weapons arsenal?
  • The Domestic Model: like liberalism, argues that state behavior is dictated by state preferences, in this case by: 1) state’s nuclear establishment, 2) units in the military, 3) politicians. Nonetheless the author fails to identify under which conditions these three actors come together and produce the desired outcome. How do you think these actors come together? Of these three actors who do you think is more decisive?
  • The Norms Model: stresses the importance of “nuclear symbolism”. According to this model states build nuclear arsenals because “they are part of what modern states believe they have to possess to be legitimate, modern states” (p.74). Do you think the same principle could apply to terrorist groups (i.e. ISIS)?

Final questions: Do you think there could be other reasons affecting a state’s decision to build nuclear weapons? How would the international scenario change if every country had a nuclear arsenal? (Consider the Russian military intervention in Ukraine) — Marco

[Re]Considering Our Options

In “Climate Engineering Reconsidered”, Barrett et al. discuss the effectiveness and the political feasibility of geoengineering as either an emergency measure or a stop-gap. After considering various hypothetical applications, such as staving off an altered monsoon, the authors conclude: “when the use of geoengineering is politically feasible, the intervention may not be effective; and that, when the use of geoengineering might be effective, its deployment may not be politically feasible,” (527). In other words, it’s time to find Plan B.

What’s interesting about this article, though, is that the authors are quick to emphasize that geoengineering – which, used in this context, consists of injecting sun-scattering sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere (Solar Radiation Management, or SRM) – is Plan B, and that our best course of action is still Plan A: good old-fashioned adaptation. While not as technologically impressive as geoengineering, adaptation avoids many of the challenges posed by the more advanced option, namely dependency/addiction and the introduction of unknown side effects. Barrett et al. also mention the risk of politicization of geoengineering, in which countries could threaten economic or military action, or even the use of “counter-geoengineering”, in order to control how other nations employ the technology. In lieu of working together to fix a shared problem, we would be introducing a new source of conflict.

Not to trivialize the matter, but in my opinion, remedying climate change need not become this complicated. Although it is a complex issue, we have a fairly good understanding of what we’ve been doing wrong and what can be done to make it right – or, at least, better. Barrett et al. believe that “contemplation of geoengineering does little to diminish the need to address the root causes of climate change”, and that, if anything, it should strengthen our resolve to make less technologically-involved changes. Perhaps our insistence on finding “easier” ways to fix the problem of climate change is indicative of our inability to do the hard, day-to-day work of cutting energy consumption and reducing emissions. Usually we resort to Plan B when Plan A has failed us, but, in this case, it’s not clear that we’ve given Plan A its fair shot.

Do you think Plan A (adaptation) is simply a lost cause? Even though geoengineering does not present a feasible long-term solution, are the possible short-term benefits (specifically, in the stop-gap scenario) enough to continuing exploring the option? Finally, given what we know about today’s political climate, is either option politically feasible on an international level? — Tomi

Climate Change and National Security

In a report to the US Congress, the Department of Defense identifies climate change “as a present security threat, not strictly a long-term threat.” Climate change poses a very real threat to national and global security in its capacity to cause “natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.” Citing an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, DoD and its Geographic Combatant Commands state, “climate change will have the greatest impact on areas and environments already prone to instability.” I find this to be a critical report that hopefully will force US policy makers to recognize the immediate threat that climate change poses to US national security. DoD makes responding to climate change a top priority and therefore makes climate change a much more urgent issue.

DoD and its GCCs have certainly done a fair amount of research on the potential impact climate change will have on their own Areas of Responsibility, but how useful and effective do you think the steps DoD says it is taking to address climate change are? What must the rest of the US government and the international community do to respond to climate change?

Climate change is clearly an international problem. What plans can you find in this report that include international cooperation? Is there potential here for countries to free ride efforts made by the US and other countries with large security apparatuses, the same sort of free riding seen as a result of faulty international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol? DoD mentions situations where the US can and should to respond to climate change, but there is the possibility that these countries could come to rely too much on US support and so DoD could become overextended. — Mitch

Biological and Chemical Weapons – “A higher form of killing”

The use of biological weapons began after World War I as science and technology developed and military-minded scientists sought to find more efficient means of warfare. Jeanne Guillemin explains that biological and chemical weapons were seen as “a higher form of killing,” a more moral means of warfare.

“To their early advocates, chemical weapons and then bacteriological weapons, as they were called, were viewed as modern applications of advanced scientific knowledge that would cause mass casualties more efficiently than conventional arms, without tearing the enemy limb from limb or exposing the attacker to great harm,” Guillemin writes.

“In the history of both chemical and biological weapons, their vaunted modernity was used by advocates to appropriate moral considerations. During World War I, the German government and press argued that chemical weapons were advantageous because they did not destroy buildings or bridges and were a humane alternative to high explosives because they avoided battlefield blood and gore,” she continues.

A few questions to consider:

  1. What do you think of this view of biological and chemical weapons? Are they “a higher form of killing”?
  2. If you were a military planner, would you ever consider the use of biological and chemical weapons to be appropriate? Necessary?
  3. How should we approach biological and chemical weapons moving forward? Is there any situation where their use is justified? And, what can be done to militarily protect against the possibility of a biological or chemical attack?