October 18, 2013

Australian policies - extended nuclear deterrence

Explosion cloud from the Operation Hurricane atomic bomb test, October 3, 1952. Operation Hurricane was the first British nuclear test  (a plutonium implosion device) on 3 October 1952. This was detonated in the lagoon between the Montebello Islands, Western Australia.

Richard Tanter, Senior Research Associate at the Nautilus Institute, University of Melbourne, wrote an excellent article of May 27, 20133 which comments on an article by Tanya Ogilvie-White. Excellent because of its coverage rather than its conclusions. This article was originally published in the Australian Security Policy Institute (ASPI) Blog, The Strategist.

"No progress on extended nuclear deterrence in 2013 White Paper"

"Tanya Ogilvie-White’s reading of the 2013 Defence White Paper suggests significant changes in the role nuclear weapons play in Australian strategic policy, which give grounds for optimism. Yet all might not be as it seems.

She notes that the 2009 White Paper stated that ‘the best defence against WMD proliferation will continue to be found in security assurances, including US extended deterrence’, suggesting that US nuclear protection was intended to cover chemical and biological weapons threats, as well as nuclear ones. By contrast, she writes, the 2013 statement:
…specifically limits Australian reliance on US nuclear weapons to circumstances in which Australia is threatened with a nuclear attack: ‘we rely on the nuclear forces of the United States to deter nuclear attack on Australia.
Unfortunately, the 2009 White Paper said virtually the same thing, almost word for word. There wasn’t a change of policy, just the delinquent sloppiness and incoherence of the 2009 White Paper.

Another apparent shift she cites lies in the fact that this year’s White Paper omitted the 2009 White Paper justification for reliance on US extended nuclear deterrence on the basis that it “removed the need for Australia to consider more significant and expensive defence options.” This phrasing was a reminder that Australia had in the past actively pursued the nuclear weapons option, and could do so again.

This veiled threat of Australian nuclear breakout was made quite overt in February 2009 in a government submission by Ambassador Dennis Richardson to the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Policy of the United States:
Confidence that a nuclear attack on US allies would be met with a response-in-kind has assured very close US allies, like Australia, that they do not need to develop their own nuclear weapons, thus contributing to counter-proliferation efforts.
Ogilvie-White is right to note this year’s omission but that doesn’t amount to an abandonment of the government’s position. There’s no sign that the government has thoughts of withdrawing the Richardson statement and the omission from the 2013 White Paper can’t be taken as such. Allied nuclear prophylaxis is a perverse incentive for extended nuclear deterrence, and reminds us of ongoing fringe discussions of revisiting the nuclear option in Australia in recent years as well as advocates of nuclear breakout in Japan and South Korea.

Ogilvie-White suggests that the “precision” of the extended nuclear deterrence outline in the 2013 White Paper derives from the absence of the 2009 view that
“the viability of extended nuclear deterrence was dependent upon ‘stable’ nuclear deterrence remaining a feature of the international system.”
In fact, however, the 2013 White Paper says almost exactly that. Discussing the ‘Joint facilities’, it states that Pine Gap ‘underpins global strategic stability by providing ballistic missile early warning information to Australia and the United States’.

White Papers since 1987 have addressed the link between the hosting of the joint facilities and global nuclear balance. There has not been any change.

Lastly, Ogilvie-White is encouraged by the last words of the 2013 paragraph dedicated to extended nuclear deterrence, with Australia “strongly supporting ongoing efforts towards global nuclear disarmament”.

Once again, there’s little evidence, in the White Paper or elsewhere, to suggest that there’s any real change in Australian policy on nuclear weapons. The clearest example in the life of the Rudd-Gillard government was its pusillanimous response to the recommendations of the Australian-sponsored International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.

A more recent—and in many ways more dismaying—example in March of this year was the way that Australia’s representatives at the Norwegian government-sponsored International Conference on Human Impact of Nuclear Weapons, at which 127 governments were represented, sat on their hands. ICAN Australia Campaign Director Tim Wright said
…the silence from the three Australian representatives (including the Director General, Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office) at the world’s first international forum on the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons was notable. Australia made no statement or contribution to what is arguably the most significant advance in global governmental discussion of nuclear weapons for many years.
This might be contrasted with the vigorous and insightful support given by the New Zealand government.

While the evidence to hand means that I can’t agree with Ogilvie-White’s analysis, she does set out what should be ‘taken for granted’ expectations of our government, and provides a useful set of signposts. It might then be possible to go further and acknowledge the extraordinary combination of absurdity, obscenity and strategic foolishness involved in the claims by Australian governments over more than two decades to defend Australia with US nuclear weapons—a matter of ‘just in case‘.

Absurd because no plausible nuclear threat to Australia has ever been officially identified (other than that derived from hosting Pine Gap and North West Cape). Obscene because government rhetoric identifies nuclear weapons—anybody’s—as weapons of mass destruction, and yet proposes that nuclear genocide be used on our behalf. Strategically foolish, because despite decades of Australian pleading, the line ‘the continuing viability of extended nuclear deterrence under the Alliance’ averred by the 2013 White Paper is literally incredible: the United States has never made any public statement providing the assurance of nuclear protection successive governments proclaim to exist."

Richard Tanter is Senior Research Associate at the Nautilus Institute, University of Melbourne. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

October 17, 2013

US Debt Problems Have Only Just Begun

Last minute US political compromises have averted a US debt crisis this month, but the US and world are not yet out of the woods.

The US Debt virus concerns the squandering of America’s reputation as the main haven for prime investments, including many Australian investments. The sub-prime Global Financial Crisis (GFC) from 2008 was unintentional while this onrushing Debt Crisis is an intentional act by the kind of Americans the world is learning to hate.

Self-absorbed tea party right-wingers within Republican ranks, with little knowledge or care about genuine international responsibility, are looking out for No.1. The tea party movement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_movement is a loose group of generally right-wing extremists who believe in guns, small Government, less many for the poor, lower taxes for the rich and isolationism – except for aggressive ventures abroad to make countries like Iraq and Afghanistan safe for western values, American-style http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_movement#Foreign_policy .

This Debt Crisis could impact Australia’s economy in ugly and disturbing ways such as rapidly increasing or lowering the value of our dollar – which could upset Australian exports – or hurting Australians in ways like the GFC. The US is suffering from a hung US Congress in terms of having a Republican majority in the US House of Representative. The House has been rejecting routine measures to raise the US debt ceiling with the specific aim of blocking Obama’s humanitarian health care programs. In Australia such political tactics would bring on a double dissolution election.

Even if compromise is reached on Friday (Australian time) or later this month the US Debt issue could recur every month until the US November 2014 mid-term elections http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid-term_election when all members of the US House of Representatives are up for re-election as are a third of US Senators. If the Republicans gain more seats in November 2014 the situation might be worse with Republican majorities in the House and Senate. This would leave Democrat President Obama bowing to a Republican agenda from November 2014 to November 2016.
The US Debt is actually mild by international standards in terms of US debt as a percentage of US GDP. On December 31, 2012 figures the latest figures US debt was 106% http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debt_Countries The US fared better than some other major countries - with German debt at 142% of German GDP, France 182% and the UK 406%. Australia at 95% had a similar debt percentage to the US. Australia actually had a slightly higher debt per capita than the US.

The Obama Administration was legitimately voted in by the electorate in 2012. US debt levels have increased under US Democrat and Republican Administrations for many years. Obama having to inherit the largely Republican caused GFC and George W. Bush’s two wars has continued to render Obama a lame-duck President. Extremist tea party elements in Congress are intentionally sticking the knife into Obama and his Democrat Party. Their ultimate aim is to so discredit the Democrat centrists to improve the odds of a right-wing Republican President succeeding Obama in 2016.

The US for most of its history has been running more or less efficiently on a reasonable Democrat-Republican divide. It’s the politically fundamentalist tea party faction that is destabilising the US Government, US economy and unfortunately the world economy, including Australia. Many Americans are apologetic about this situation but that won’t stop another GFC. If American leaders want to be respected they have to prove it. American arrogance should not be excused just because America is the current top dog.

October 16, 2013

Aussie Cartoons 2012 - 2013 at Old Parliament House

The following cartoons are courtesy of Behind the Lines: The Year’s Best Political Cartoons 2012 Political Cartooning Competition. The Competition cartoons are-were displayed at the Museum of Australian Democracy (aka Old Parliament House) Canberra, Australia, late 2013 - see http://behindthelines.moadoph.gov.au/2013 . May help to be an Aussie to get the punch lines.



October 14, 2013

Remembering John Howard, Australian PM 1996-2007

From Brisbane (Australia's) newspaper The Courier Mail
John Winston Howard is still kicking, a highly successful Prime Minister (1996-2007) of Australia but "unfashionable" with the café latte chatterati - like all successful Liberal-National Prime Ministers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Howard .

October 12, 2013

Vietnam's Evolving Nuclear Program

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang shakes hands with Russian President Putin. Russia will build Vietnam's first two nuclear energy reactors. Vietnam currently has a small research reactor at Dalat. 

Map of Vietnam showing location of  two reactors to be built by a Russian company at Phuoc Dinh (marked in red) and two reactors to be built by a Japanese company at Vinh Hai (also in red). The Vietnamese master plan, issued in 2011 also envisages later reactors (marked in black) at Ha Tinh/Ky Xuan, Duc Thang, Duc Chanh, Hoai My, Xuan Phoung and Binh Tien.


Pete's Comment

The Obama Administration negotiated a nuclear cooperation agreement with Vietnam on October 10, 2013, subject to lengthy US Congressional ratification, of course. In the negotiations the US appears to have accepted an ambiguous Vietnamese undertaking not to reprocess spent fuel for Plutonium or enrich Uranium in future.

In its approach to nuclear commerce the US is at pains to weigh up non-proliferation ideals with commercial pressures. The US needs to be competitive with other nuclear supplier countries in giving customer countries (like Vietnam) what they want. The US has a lot of competition as Vietnam has already signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, China, South Korea, Japan and Canada. Vietnam is clearly signing many agreements to increase competition among suppliers, particularly for the supply of credit finance to Vietnam.

Vietnam's nuclear cooperation agreement with the US most probably does not prevent Vietnam obtaining reprocessing and enrichment technology from non-US suppliers. Vietnam is non-aligned, that is it is not an ally beholden to the US.


NTI's Global Security Newswire reports October 10, 2013 http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-vietnam-announce-new-atomic-trade-deal/ :

"Vietnam Agrees to Not Enrich, Reprocess Material in Nuclear Deal with U.S."

"Vietnam and the United States on Thursday inked an atomic trade deal that U.S. officials said included an agreement by Hanoi not to reprocess spent nuclear fuel or enrich uranium -- technological processes that have applications in the development of warheads, Agence France-Presse reported.

Hanoi has promised "not to acquire sensitive nuclear technologies, equipment, and processing," a high-ranking Obama administration official informed journalists.

The pact was anticipated, and Global Security Newswire on Wednesday reported it was likely to be initialed before week's end.

The bilateral accord was signed on the margins of the East Asia summit in Brunei by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.

Nonproliferation specialists want the Obama administration to extract promises from nations with which it enters into new nuclear-cooperation agreements to not enrich or reprocess atomic material on their own soil -- the so-called "gold standard" -- in order to limit the global spread of the technical capabilities needed to produce warhead-grade material.

"This agreement will create numerous opportunities for our businesses," Kerry said to his Vietnamese counterpart in Brunei, according to a Reuters report. "Obviously our nuclear cooperation is quite significant."

In addition to allowing Vietnam to import sophisticated U.S. nuclear-power technology, the trade deal "will also strengthen the Obama administration's long-standing policy of limiting the spread [of] enrichment and reprocessing capabilities around the world," an unidentified U.S. official said.

[Contradicting the US statement that Vietnam has no reprocessing or enrichment intentions] Unidentified U.S. officials were reported by the Wall Street Journal as saying that Vietnam would retain the right down the road to enhance its nuclear power abilities, either through recycling [reprocessing?] used reactor material or by enriching uranium."


NTI Background - Vietnam's Nuclear Program

"Vietnam is poised to be the first Southeast Asian country with nuclear power, although a number of capacity-related obstacles may delay this.[6] On 21 July 2011, the [Vietnamese] Prime Minister approved the National Master Plan for Powered Development for 2011-2020 with the Vision to 2030.[7] The Plan calls for ten reactors to be built, with the first completed by 2020.

Russia's Atomstroyexport will build Vietnam's first nuclear power plant at Phuoc Dinh (Ninh Thuan 1), consisting of two 1000MWe reactors. Russia has agreed to provide the majority of financing for the project—up to $9 billion according to a November 2011 agreement—and will provide additional assistance such as training and fuel services, including construction of a Nuclear Science and Technology Center and spent fuel take-back for the reactors.

Japan has agreed to construct a second nuclear power plant at Vinh Hai (Ninh Thuan 2), composed of two 1000MWe reactors, and to provide additional training and assistance.[8]

Vietnam already maintains a research reactor at the Dalat Nuclear Research Center, which has operated since 1963.[9] The Dalat reactor is a TRIGA-Mark II built by the US in 1960, with a capacity of 250 kW.

In preparation for the construction of its nuclear power plants, Vietnam has expressed a willingness to improve its domestic capacity and cooperate with the IAEA. ...in 2010 Hanoi established the Vietnam Atomic Energy Agency (VAEA) to oversee research, development, and project management...

Despite US Congressional pressure to uniformly apply the "gold standard" to new 123 agreements [Section 123 (concerning nuclear cooperation) of the United States Atomic Energy Act of 1954] the Obama Administration has stated that it intends to negotiate the terms of all agreements on a case-by-case basis.[18] Although a Vietnamese official stated that "Vietnam does not plan to enrich uranium, which is a very sensitive issue," Hanoi appears reluctant to agree to the inclusion of a no-enrichment and reprocessing pledge in the 123 agreement.[19] Like many non-nuclear weapon states, Vietnam believes that the NPT affords it the right to all capabilities associated with the peaceful nuclear fuel cycle, and is therefore likely on principle to refuse to sign an agreement holding it to a different standard than most other treaty members.

From preliminary surveys, Vietnam has uranium ore in the northern and central parts of the country estimated in the amount of 210,000 tons of U3O8.[20] The Vietnamese government signed an MOU with NWT Uranium Corporation of Canada to conduct exploration and assessment of these areas.[21] Vietnam concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan in October 2011 that includes the exploration and mining of uranium resources. An agreement with India includes a uranium ore processing technology study.[22]

As of 2008, Jane's reports that Vietnam currently deploys Russian-supplied Scud, Styx, Switchblade, and Stooge missiles, and North Korean-supplied Scud C variants.[48]


[6] Norimitsu Onishi, "Vietnam's Nuclear Dreams Blossom Despite Doubts," The New York Times, 1 March 2012, www.nytimes.com.
[7] "Quy hoạch phát triển điện lực quốc gia giai đoạn 2011 – 2020 có xét đến năm 2030 [National Master Plan for Electricity Development, period 2011-2020 with Vision to 2030]," 21 July 2011, via: http://vietlaw.gov.vn.
[8] Le Doan Phac, "Vietnam's Nuclear Power Development Plan: Challenges and Preparation Work for the First Nuclear Power Projects," presentation at INPRO Dialogue Forum on Nuclear Energy Innovations, Vienna, 10-14 October 2011, www.iaea.org;
[9] "Dalat Research Reactor," IAEA Research Reactor Database, http://nucleus.iaea.org/RRDB.
[18] Elaine M. Grossman, "Administration Letter Promises ‘Case-by-Case' Approach to Nuclear Trade Deals," Global Security Newswire, 23 January 2012, www.nti.org.
[19] Foster Klug, "US-Vietnam Nuke Deal Will Likely Allow Enrichment," The Huffington Post, 7 August 2010, www.huffingtonpost.com; Jay Solomon, "U.S., Hanoi in Nuclear Talks," The Wall Street Journal, 3 August 2010, http://online.wsj.com.
[20] "Vietnam Country Profile," International Atomic Energy Agency, http://www-pub.iaea.org.
[21] "NWT Uranium Corp. Signs Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute," Reuters, 7 September 2010, www.reuters.com.
[22] Toko Sekiguchi, "Japan, Vietnam to Move Forward on Nuclear Deal," The Wall Street Journal, 31 October 2011, http://online.wsj.com; "Nuclear Power in Vietnam," World Nuclear Association, January 2012, http://www.world-nuclear.org.
[48] Duncan Lennox, ed., "Country Inventories – In Service," Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems, Issue Forty-eight, January 2008, p. 25.

October 10, 2013

Iran using surplus Uranium as a negotiating tool.

Ali [Ardashir] Larijani


Associated Press via FoxNews, October 9, 2013 reports:


"Iran nuclear program: Islamic Republic has surplus uranium, official says"

"Iran has more enriched uranium than it needs and plans to use that as a bargaining chip at nuclear talks in Geneva next week, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Wednesday [October 8, 2013].

In an Associated Press interview, Larijani said the surplus uranium would be discussed with Western powers in the context of whether it will halt its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, which has been a key concession sought in the negotiations.

"Through the process of negotiations, yes, things can be said and they can discuss this matter," he said, on the sidelines of a meeting of the world organization of parliaments.

The 20-percent-enriched uranium is much closer to warhead-grade material than the level needed for energy-producing nuclear reactors, but Larijani says it needs the higher enrichment solely for energy, research and isotopes for medical treatments, not for nuclear weapons.

He said Iran produced the enriched uranium itself because the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency would not provide it.

"But we have some surplus, you know, the amount that we don't need. But over that we can have some discussions," he said.

Iran plans to negotiate over its nuclear program next week with the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama disclosed in an AP interview last Friday that U.S. intelligence agencies believe Iran continues to be a year or more away from building a nuclear weapon, in contrast to Israel's assessment that Tehran is much closer.

Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also have become the first U.S. and Iranian leaders to have direct contact in more than 30 years, which Larijani acknowledged has upset some hard-liners in Iran.

"They are a little bit pessimistic about it, suspicious. So, they have their own sway, and they put pressure, but we do support Mr. Rouhani. And God willing, he will have the parliament's support (in the nuclear talks)," Larijani said.

Larijani, formerly Iran's former top nuclear negotiator [2005-2007], said he believes there will be no progress next week unless the U.S. offers to curtail some of the West's crippling economic sanctions against Tehran.

He said "it is too soon to pass any judgment" on whether U.S.-Iranian diplomatic ties might be restored. Switzerland now represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran.

The countries broke ties after the 1979 Islamic Revolution when mobs stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. A total of 52 hostages were held for 444 days."