Ukraine & former Soviet Nuclear Weapons
One blindingly obvious consequence of Putin’s war is the damage done to global arms control (try convincing Washington/NATO to reduce their defence efforts after what we've just witnessed). There’s also a more technical aspect, albeit with a very politicised element. It concerns steps in the 1990s to convince Ukraine to surrender the nuclear weapons option. This article nicely summarises key points.
Russian Nuclear Forces
Hot off the press: here's an up-date on Russian nuclear forces, from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Israeli Nuclear Weapons
Here's a link to the latest reputable assessment of Israeli nuclear weapon capabilities. From Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
The US State Department has just published its study on the PRC's maritime claims in the South China Sea. No surprises. Concise points. Some good maps.
The US Air Force has just released operational information on its 2014-21 missions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. It includes the number of missiles fired and bombs dropped.
2021 had the lowest number in many years, at 1,370, averaging 26 per week.
Compare that to 2016 (the last year of the Obama administration): 32,080, averaging 600+ per week.
US Military Spending
Two weeks ago, President Joe Biden signed off on the new US defence budget (‘National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2022’). It comes in at US$768 billion, or over AU$1 trillion (AU$ 1,060,000,000,000).
US$25 billion of this was imposed by Congressional haggling. This is over and above what Biden and the Pentagon asked for (and isn't far short of the Australian defence budget).
By my calculation, the US defence budget is now roughly twice the combined total for Russia and China, with the left-over change being larger than the combined total for the UK, France, and Israel.
Here's a 19 page summary of the bill, plus the full version (3,268 pages): https://www.lawfareblog.com/national-defense...
Chinese Nuclear Forces
The latest publicly available and sensible estimate of Chinese nuclear force levels, from Hans Kristensen & Matt Korda, a generally reliable double act. In the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
There are many aspects to the latest Australian defence stuff-up, a.k.a. the cancelled French submarine contract and its replacement with the AUKUS agreement. (This agreement promises Australian-UK-USA collaboration on building nuclear powered submarines for the RAN.) Here are some early thoughts:
1. The poor project management of the French deal, including lack of Australian ministerial & departmental control over costs/capability/delivery, was predictable. Indeed, it was predicted.
2. $2.4 billion of ‘sunk costs’, i.e. already spent (+ cancellation fee) has produced zero defence capability.
3. Because Australia’s existing submarines are aging, and the threat environment is said to be significantly and quickly deteriorating, there will likely be a strategic capability gap before Australia can build the promised AUKUS boats. Governments had earlier said this gap would be an unacceptable risk to national security. There’s no detail on how this gap will be closed, although there’s speculation that in the medium term Canberra might lease US or UK subs. But everything seems very vague, with substantive decisions pushed well into the future, presumably to be made (or not) by future governments.
4. Given the sometimes shambolic record of Australian military procurement, I wouldn’t be surprised if the proposed deal never gets translated into hardware.
5. We pissed-off a significant ally partly because of extraordinarily inept diplomacy. (Has anyone heard from the foreign minister yet? Where is she?)
6. The strategic rationale for the switch in policy is that when the contract was signed in 2016, Canberra could not have predicted the changed strategic circumstances (primarily the rise of China). This is wrong. In fact, it’s laughable. It exposes very poor policy making.
7. As far as I know, no one is being held accountable.
8. Looking further into the future, the deal puts the nuclear non-proliferation regime under more pressure. Although nuclear weapons are not part of the package, and although so far there’s no breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, there’s no evidence serious consideration has been given to the wisdom of spreading militarised nuclear technology further around the Asia-Pacific. In my view, nuclear proliferation is the world’s most worrying man-made problem.
9. A look at the map would show Indonesia has more of a strategic rationale for defending against China. What would Canberra think if Djakarta adopted Australia’s logic to go down the same path to nuclear powered submarines?
10. It’s been said the deal will upset or annoy Beijing. However, while there’s no point in gratuitously provoking the PRC, nor should it be granted a veto over Australian defence policy. Moreover, in terms of throwing fuel on to a regional arms race, for the last decade or more Beijing has been the leading culprit, and it is perhaps the main reason Australia has decided to move its military power up a gear.
11. Assuming the arrangement reaches fruition, it will presumably lead to revised strategic concepts for both defence of Australia and power projection, as well as other knock-on effects in defence policy, including implications for the surface fleet, army and air force. It’s unclear just what the final picture will look like here. (An issue that will no doubt be complicated by technological changes and third-party behaviour.)
What Chain of Command?
A fascinating article summarising the latest expose on the Trump administration & its relationship with the military high command, including some questionable issues relating to the nuclear chain of command.
From Korea to Kabul, and beyond
My latest essay, from Inside Story. It has some thoughts on America's failure in Afghanistan, and how it fits in the broad sweep of US national security policy. There's much more that could have been said, but it was a tight word limit.