Hostage North Korean Nukes?

The report keeps coming up that North Korea will be asked to (or will consider) giving up some of its nuclear weapons as a goodwill gesture. The source of these reports is not clear.

It’s not going to happen.

North Korea sees its nuclear weapons as its lifeline, a way to deter the United States from attempting to change its regime. More personally, Kim Jong Un sees them as his way to stay in power. That’s strong motivation. The statements from North Korea for the past week indicate that only with an ironclad assurance of regime continuance will North Korea even consider giving up its nuclear arsenal. That ironclad assurance will not come in a summit on June 12. Kim will not be easy to convince. Read more

Saturday Night Techno-Smut Interesting Read: “Are We Ready for Robot Sex?” [NSFW, Obviously]

Everyone who’s witnessed (or been) a toddler with a security toy, or a middle-aged man with his dream vehicle (bike, car, boat) already knows: When there are people-shaped robots, people will anthromophocize / individualize them. And when there are people involved, of course sometimes there will be sex, but also there will romanticization. From NYMag:

Henry is six feet tall, with six-pack abs and the customer’s choice of penis. He’s just a prototype at the moment — you can’t buy him — but the two female models Realbotix developed alongside Henry will ship this summer. So far, there have been 50 preorders at $12,000 apiece. Henry, Harmony, and Solana have sturdy silicone bodies, and once they’re synced up to a corresponding app, they can give compliments, recite poetry, tell jokes, and seduce.

Or at least, this is the general idea. The easy fantasy of what a sex robot might be — indistinguishable from an actual human, except hotter and prepared to fulfill any desire — is far from the current reality. Henry, if we’re being cruel, is essentially a high-quality dildo attached to a fancy mannequin with a Bluetooth speaker in his head. But the gulf between what we imagine and what’s possible makes sex robots the perfect vehicle for pondering our sexual and technological future. We might not wake up with sex robots in our beds tomorrow, but right now they’re an irresistible thought experiment. Since making my date with Henry, he’s become my favorite dinner-party topic…
Read more

What Might We Learn From North Korea’s Test Site?


Kim Jong Un announced that he would close North Korea’s nuclear test site. The Trump administration has greeted this announcement as part of its success in dealing with North Korea.

But North Korea may be doing less than Trump thinks.

The nuclear test site consists of a number of tunnels for underground nuclear explosions and support facilities for that testing. KCNA, the North Korean news agency, has released a list of activities to close the site.

First, explosives will be used to collapse the tunnels, KCNA said. Then, entries to the site will be blocked and all observation facilities, research institutes and guard structures will be removed. Guards and researchers will be withdrawn, and the area surrounding the test site will be closed.

Journalists from China, Russia, South Korea, the United States and the United Kingdom will be invited “in the interests of transparency” to view the site and a dismantlement ceremony scheduled for late May.

Nothing has been said about inviting specialists from the International Atomic Energy Agency or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, who might be able to evaluate how the test site has been used and to what extent it is being deactivated. Read more

The Opposition To The Iran Deal Is Intellectually and Morally Bankrupt

Reuel Marc Gerecht has an article titled “The Iran Deal Is Strategically and Morally Absurd” at the Atlantic website. It is a good example of the repetitive and tendentious tripe that the opponents consistently offer up.

I am not fond of the bloggy format of dissecting a piece of writing sentence by sentence by sentence, although Gerecht’s piece could easily provoke such a response. Each sentence presents a misrepresenation or other ugliness that it seems wrong to allow to pass. But I’d like to make my response more succinct.

Since the title begins with “The Iran Deal,” one might expect that that would be the subject of the article. But few words are expended on the substance of the deal compared to, for example vituperation against Barack Obama. The personalization of Gerecht’s argument is typical of criticism by opponents on Twitter and elsewhere. Read more

The North Korean Nuclear Test Site

South Korea reports that Kim Jong Un has offered to close North Korea’s nuclear test site at Punggye-Ri in May. He says he will invite US and South Korean experts to examine the site before its demolition to see that it is still usable.

There have been very definite statements from experts outside North Korea that the site may or may not be usable. We don’t have access to the site, so we must surmise the situation from overhead photos, seismic traces, and experience at other test sites.

The yield of the most recent test was very large, perhaps 250 kilotons. It’s hard to estimate the yields of North Korean nuclear tests because we don’t know enough about the geology of the test site. It was followed by three seismic events of 4.6, 3.5, and 2.9 magnitude, which were not tests.

An underground nuclear test forms  a cavity; the larger the yield, the larger the cavity. As the cavity cools, the ceiling collapses and forms a chimney filled with loose rock. A crater may form at the surface (diagram) and video.

The aftershocks could be the cavity collapsing in stages, or they could be the cavity and tunnels collapsing. Or it could be things happening in the rest of the mountain, as the jolt of the blast destabilizes things. It could be that the blast also fractured rock throughout the mountain. Landslides can be seen around the mountain, and its surface contours have been altered.

None of this is extraordinary for nuclear test sites. To say that it represents the mountain’s collapse is an exaggeration, as is the phrase “Tired Mountain Syndrome.”

A few articles have indulged in scare talk about radioactive material escaping from future tests. That would be a mostly local concern, if indeed the mountain is so fractured. There would be no point to another test where the chimney has formed, and North Korea has additional tunnels in other places in the mountain.

It’s likely that the North Koreans would find such an escape undesirable for other reasons. They have been extremely careful to contain their tests; escape of material would allow other countries insight into the design of their nuclear weapons.

US intelligence officials have said that the test site remains operational.

Closing the site would probably involve dynamiting the tunnel entrances. The tunnels could be opened in the future. North Korea destroyed the cooling tower for their plutonium reactor in 2008, in a similarly symbolic gesture. They built it back later.

Even if the test site were damaged, that is likely a small part of Kim’s calculation in offering a pause in testing, and even a closing of the test site. The larger factor is that he feels that he now has a deterrent against American and South Korean attack.


Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.


Making Sense Of That Nuclear Agreement With Saudi Arabia


The United States is trying to develop a nuclear cooperation agreement (123 agreement) with Saudi Arabia. The stories (another) focus on whether such an agreement would limit Saudi Arabia’s access to uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, two technologies that can produce materials for nuclear weapons.

Let’s look at two other factors. 1) Although Saudi Arabia has had big ambitions for nuclear power, starting from sixteen reactors and now down to two, it is not clear that they can afford those reactors and have no administrative support for them. 2) Westinghouse, the company being pushed by the United States, is in no position to build those reactors. Read more

Stephen Walt Agrees With Me

On the Nuclear Posture Review. He goes on about more aspects of it than I did yesterday, but his conclusions in that area are very similar to mine.

Moreover, I find the elaborate scenarios that nuclear strategists dream up to justify new weapons to be both militarily and politically unrealistic. They tend to assume that complex military operations will go off without a hitch the very first time they are attempted (and in the crucible of a nuclear crisis), and they further assume that political leaders in the real world would be willing to order the slaughter of millions for something less than existential stakes. My main concern has been that some gullible politician would actually believe that one of these elaborate scenarios would actually work and might therefore be tempted to try it. Just as bad: An adversary might think the United States thought it could win such a war and might decide it had no choice but to try to hit it first.

I also find the obsession with matching capabilities at every rung of some hypothetical “escalation ladder” to be slightly absurd. Is it realistic to think that U.S. leaders defending vital interests against a possible Russian threat would be stymied because they didn’t have a capability that exactly mirrored whatever Russia had or was threatening to do? Would a top advisor really say to the president: “Oh dear, sir, Russia just threatened to attack with a nuclear weapon with a yield of 7.2 kilotons. We have lots of 5-kiloton bombs and lots of 11-kiloton bombs all ready to go, but if we use the little one, they’ll think we’re wimps, and if we use the big one, then the onus of escalation will be on us. I guess they’ve got us over the whing-whang, sir, and we’ll just have to do whatever Putin says. If only we had built more 7.2 kiloton bombs than they did!

His second question and answer are good.

Question 2: Why doesn’t the United States have more faith in nuclear deterrence?

Answer: Because threat-inflators are more numerous than threat-deflators.

It’s easier in today’s Washington, DC, to say “We don’t know that Russia/China/North Korea isn’t beefing up their arsenal so as to get an advantage on us” than it is to work out what the situation most likely is in a real world with real constraints. So you’ll see again and again that North Korea could have 60-80 nuclear weapons ready to go. That derives from a statement of estimated fissile material, divided by the amount that might be needed for a bomb, both very uncertain numbers. It ignores the time and facilities it takes to build the weapons. I did a more realistic estimate a while back.

There’s also a macho edge that we have to have more/better than anyone else, exacerbated by Trump’s insecure masculinity. Chest-pounding is IN.

Walt’s article is longer than mine, but very worth reading.


Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.