Monday, May 16, 2011

American Physical Society and Nuclear Arms Control

American Physical Society April 2011 meeting (Saturday, April 30, 2011 - Tuesday, May 3, 2011) Hyatt Regency Hotel, Garden Grove, CA

This meeting was mostly about cosmology, astrophysics, and particle physics; however, there were two short sessions devoted to matters of nuclear arms control.

The first of these sessions was entitled "Nuclear Weapons" and was chaired by Patricia M. Lewis of the Monterrey Institute of International Studies. The first speaker,  Rebecca Johnson of the Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy; was not actually present but addressed the attendees through Skype. RJ is a staunch advocate for nuclear disarmament, and presented some well thought out positions in support of her cause. The next speaker was Jay Davis, the first director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA, formerly the National Security Agency), and a knowledgeable apologist for the NW industry. JD seems to advocate for the notion that, as the number of nukes in the US arsenal is reduced, the amount of work required to ensure deterrence increases. He further suggests that, if the number of nukes in the US nuclear arsenal were to approach zero, then the work required to ensure deterrence would approach infinity. (Zeno's paradox). During the question and answer period I asked JD if he could say why it might not be possible to "stigmatize" NWs in the same way that chemical and biological weapons had been stigmatized (as had been pointed out by RJ, during her talk), thus short-circuiting the tortuous build-down process that he implied might require an infinite amount of effort to complete. He answered that chemical and biological weapons had never been of much strategic significance, in contrast to NWs.

The 2nd session was entitled "The Status of Arms Control". The 1st speaker was S. Drell of SLAC who spoke about "What happens to deterrence as nuclear weapons decrease toward zero." He made several points which I recorded as: 1) It was understood at the height of the Cold War that nukes could not be defended against (Star Wars schemes did not work or were unreliable, he said), so that Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) became the only viable policy. 2) Rejecting MAD, the task of US nuclear weapons policy is presently to prevent nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. 3) Between 1940 and 1990, the number of nuclear weapons capable states had increased at the rate of one every 5 years. 4) Since 1986, US policy became increasingly one of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. 5) He wonders, however, if nuclear deterrence can be effective without nuclear weapons. In answer to my question about the importance of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), he said that he believed it to be very important, and if the US failed to ratify this treaty, then the rest of the world would not trust us. At no time during his talk did he address the apparently self-serving quality of current US efforts to "rid the world of nuclear weapons".

The next talk was by Marvin Adams of Texas A&M (formerly of LLNL, LANL and the JASONs) entitled "Confidence in nuclear weapons as numbers decrease and time since testing increases". MA is a buffed looking, carefully spoken, and studiedly reasonable guy. He waxed on, in a seemingly well-informed way, about the travails faced by the poor nuclear weapons labs as they struggle to perform their critical mission (whatever that is) in the face of the threat posed by reductions in the numbers of nukes in the US nuclear arsenal.

The last talk in this session was by Edward Levine a staff member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations entitled "Securing support from a skeptical Senate for further strategic arms controls". EL is a well-spoken Democratic Senate staffer who talked about the difficulty of getting reluctant Republican senators to agree to any controls on US nuclear weapons. During the question and answer period I asked him why he thought that the 3 present weapons Labs directors had publicly supported the Obama Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, while 6-8 former weapons Labs directors had condemned it. He said that he believed that this was because the 3 present directors were all members of the new generation of Lab weapons physicists who were comfortable with Stockpile Stewardship whereas the former directors were members of the older generation, unfamiliar with SS. I said that I thought it more likely that the present directors, working as they did for an executive branch agency, felt themselves to be personally vulnerable and were circumspect in the expression of their opinions. He responded that he thought that this was a cynical point-of-view.

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