Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Blogger's block

I've had a very busy ten days, with the normal workload supplemented by the requirement to turn in an essay for my international security course. Normally, I feel that I can write as if turning on a tap and seeing the water flow, but I've had an intensely difficult and frustrating time in writing these. It's as if I've been trying to carve a shape out a very hard rock which took me ages to even visualise and longer to craft and polish.

My original plan was to do something on water issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but I fell in love with the idea of learning more about controlling WMD. When I was child, I used to have nightmares every so often about living through a nuclear war and its aftermath, which I imagined as death sentence on me and my family. This led to something of a fascination with the topic, so I read some books on it. Coming back to the topic as an adult to study deterrence, cold war history, the international non-proliferation regime and the state of US policy in this area was fascinating.

I argued that the NPT framework, managed by the IAEA had largely failed to prevent any state ruthless or determined enough to get the bomb, even in the face of outside pressure.

My perusal of the literature put out by the disarmers such as Dan Plesch and Joseph Rotblat convinced me that they were inhabiting the same dream-world as they were when pushing the democracies to disarm in the face of the Soviet threat in the eighties.

Last year, I read Thomas Schelling's brilliant book, The Strategy of Conflict. In an appendix, which alone is worth the price of the book, he proposes that nuclear weapons use remains taboo largely because of the uncertainty over how to create a different global consensus about the just use of nuclear weapons. This remains as true today as it was when he wrote it, not long before the Cuban missile crisis.

The veteran strategist Fred Ikle , speaking recently at the CSIS, urged analysts to try to think the unthinkable, and imagine the risks and security strategies necessary in a world following the first post-Nagasaki nuclear use.

I wrote, before discovering this paper, that proliferation brings with it the risk of chains of alliances spanning the globe (or "extended deterrence" in the jargon), poorly understood on all sides that could lead to runaway escalation of conflict among the world's nuclear powers similar to the mobilisation towards disaster in Europe during the summer of 1914 - the nukes of August, if you will.

Given the lack of consensus among the P5 security council members, the holes in the international law and the ponderous pace at which treaties are negotiated and enacted, I've come to think, having pored over their policy documents, that the approach championed by Ambassador-designate John Bolton is sound and sensible. He proposes on coalitions of willing states to police nuclear proliferation, rather than waiting for the UN and International Atomic Energy Agency (which until recently, even had Iran sitting on its governing council, judging its own non-compliance) provides the best solution.

The implicit American role, exercised in Iraq, of guarantor of the UN/IAEA international disarmament machinery also plays a very necessary role. Richard Butler in particular was scathing on Kofi Annan and his team, who tried to manage the relationship between the weapons inspectors and Iraq as a problem of communication and not law-breaking. I theorised that this was an inevitable outcome of bureaucratic politics models, which would predict that the UN can be expected to seek publicity and acclaim as an independent diplomatic actor for "peace" in its own right and champion the diplomatic process it controls over the independent inspectors or military action by the US and UK.

These are just a few thoughts from a quick survey of the field.