October 26th, 2005

Nuclear bunker busters busted; meanwhile, Iran thumps its chest

Remember those nuclear bumper busters from the Kerry-Bush debates of ’04? They reminded me a bit of Quemoy and Matsu in the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960: a big fuss made at the time, but then virtually forgotten.

Well, it’s a mystery as to exactly why, but development of these nuclear bunker busters has been scrapped, at least for now:

The move to remove the funding comes at the request of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which has been the driving force behind the bunker buster. It is unclear why the chief proponent of the funding withdrew its request.

The folks in Utah, where the testing would probably have taken place, are very happy–which is understandable. NIMBY takes on a whole new meaning when it’s the testing of nuclear weapons in one’s backyard.

I’m wondering about the decision, though, in light of this other news of the day–the announcement by Iran’s President that Israel should be “wiped off the map” (via Roger Simon). Wasn’t it to combat Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, which seems to involve underground storage, that such nuclear bunker busters were being developed? I can only hope that the reversal on the program represents a decision by scientists and strategists that conventional weaponry would work just as well with fewer dangers, rather than a decision that the program doesn’t have the political clout to be funded. I would certainly prefer conventional weapons to nuclear ones myself, if the former can be effective.

There are a few other interesting details in the article about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement. Notice, for example, those who have spoken against it. One of them is Ebrahim Yazdi, a former Iranian foreign minister who said that Ahmadinejad’s remarks hurt Iran:

“Such comments provoke the international community against us. It’s not to Iran’s interests at all. It’s harmful to Iran to make such a statement,” he said.

So, if I get this straight, it’s another case of “nothing wrong with the remarks themselves but shhhh!, quiet about it! Let’s keep it in the family; no need to get the international community onto us.”

Lovely.

As for that international community, there are were other, and better, responses, some from surprising quarters:

In Madrid, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos summoned Iran’s ambassador to protest Ahmadinejad’s comments. Moratinos said he rejected the remarks in the strongest possible terms.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Baptiste Mattei also condemned the remarks “with the utmost firmness.”

Of course, words are cheap. But they’re better than nothing. Would that they were followed with meaningful actions.

22 Responses to “Nuclear bunker busters busted; meanwhile, Iran thumps its chest”

  1. Ymarsakar Says:

    How we get them to believe it….?

    I don’t believe it myself. America doesn’t care if biological weapons are used on our troops, so long as we don’t take casualties.

    I don’t believe America has the will to base their actions on principle, and neither do our enemies. It is no misunderstanding.

    As long as there are few to no casualties, there will be no use of nukes. And the discontinuation of the bunker busters is simply people trying to not have weapons that can be used without radiation problems.

    Weakness, and not percieved weakness at that.

    What it means is that they will attack us, and then when we take enough casualties, then we will make them disappear.

    If any result of miscommunication occurs, that is it.

    They aren’t going to believe it, cause they know it is a bluff and so do we.

    That is the problem.

    It may indeed be true you could do the same with conventional weapons, fuel-air explosives. But America don’t use that either. They simply “rationalize” that nukes aren’t that important with conventional weapons, weapons that they aren’t willing to put on the table.

  2. Ymarsakar Says:

    It is a sign of weakness, that America abhors the use of nuclear weapons. In our enemy’s heart of hearts, they pride themselves on their ruthlessness, on their ability to use nukes when and where they will it.

    I don’t like signs of weakness, because they are a prelude to the time when you have to put your cards on the table.

    America cannot afford to bluff any longer.

  3. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Toward the end of the Cold War, the USSR made it clear that they did not see a bright line between smart weapons and nukes.
    If five thousand smart conventional warheads started plunking themselves into Sov missile silos, putting them out of business, the Sovs were not going to say, “Oh. These aren’t nukes. We can’t do much in return.”
    Nukes or not is a matter for civilians. Losing valuable capabilities is what concerns planners. How they are lost is less important.
    We could take out a nuclear facility with a conventional bunker buster and still spread radiation around.
    We could have an agent sneak in and put a thermite grenade on the cooling pump during the slow hours of the night shift and let the thing eat itself up. Radiation might be spread around–see Chernobyl–and the result is the same to the mad mullahs.
    IMO, the reason we didn’t see a lot of action about Gulf War Syndrome (besides that it’s a syndrome which affected guys who were long out of the military and was a statistical issue) is that the US had always said, use a chem/bio on us, get a nuke back.
    If we allowed that SH had used chemical weapons, our deterrent just went poof, since we didn’t do what we’d claimed we’d do, which is give him a nuke.
    Between that possibility–and who knows what certain nutcases think about it?–and our left, the perceived chance of us actually doing it could be pretty slim. Which means, of course, that the actual chances go up.
    In his “The Causes of War”, Blainey says that wars are started by failures in communication, if only that one side fails to understand the other side will murder them if the first side starts something. The Falklands War could be an example.
    We may have the doctrine of pre-emptive nukes, but it doesn’t help unless our wacko opponents actually believe it.
    How we get them to believe it….?

  4. Pastorius Says:

    Neo and Richard,

    I acknowledge it seems like, perhaps, we have no other option. I hope it didn’t sound like I was attacking you.

    By the way, I don’t have a link, but if you want, I will provide you with one; did you know that it is the stated policy of the United States that we will use preemptive nuclear strikes against Islamofascism, if we deem them necessary.

    Not many people know that. I suspect that, if the debate became public, it would get pretty hairy on the left.

    The fact that the left-wingers in our Congress haven’t brought that debate public tells you that they know that the threat against us is substantial enough that such a policy is rational.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    Pastorious–I, too, did a fair amount of research on the nuclear bunker busters back during the 2004 debates, when Kerry raised the issue. I read enough material to know that there was a great deal of disagreement as to how many casualties they would cause, and whether they were more effective than conventional bunker busters at doing what they were supposed to do, which is to take out underground nuclear facilities. I was in favor of continuing to research them, rather than taking them off the table in a very public way, as Kerry was announcing he would do, for the following reasons:

    1) the science was such that it sounded as though it were possible that, with work, they could be made safer. If in fact they could be made safe enough to cause few above-ground casualties and effective enough to take out the facility, I’d be in favor of using them. Without such technical improvements, you get into gray areas where they kill more people and are less effective, and at a certain point they become far more controversial. But I was for doing more research on them–otherwise, how could you ever make them less lethal and more effective?

    2) I was totally against a public announcement that we had abandoned them, because I believe they had a certain deterrent factor. You have to remember that I grew up in the MAD days when the US and USSR had the capability of destroying each other quite handily, and that fact seemed to act as a deterrent (I realize it was different then, since both countries were “rational actors” and Iran is not, IMHO).

    So when I read this announcement of “no funding,” I was puzzled. I hadn’t thought of the possibility of it being some sort of pscyhops feint.

    As far as I’m concerned, nuclear bunker busters present one of those “lesser of two evils–or maybe three or four or five evils?” dilemmas. We are facing a situation of “choices among crazinesses,” I’m afraid. If Iran is determined to destroy Israel and is bold enough to even talk about it openly as it develops a nuclear arsenal, what other options do we have?

  6. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Pastorius, I didn’t say anything about being pro-or anti-Israel. I could just as easily have said London or New York, except the mullahs seem not to have the delivery systems for those targets yet.

    Nuclear bunker busters are not casualty-free. They would probably kill considerably fewer than a city-buster, which was my point.

    The Arab regimes already think they have the permission and responsibility to do anything to us they can manage. If the Crusades fire them up, it’s hard to think of anything we can do to unfire them up.
    We could change regimes, as we might be able to manage in Iran and Syria.
    Pre-emptive nukes? Chancy, of course, but there is a point to it.
    As Saddaam taught his Arab buddies, don’t try to run a scam on America. They don’t do nuance and they might believe you.
    Pre-emptive nukes might bring about the closest thing I can think of to peace flowing like a river. That is, even the barest thought of messing with the US acts like a big glass of Mexican tap water, only faster.

  7. Pastorius Says:

    Richard Aubrey, you might want to check my blog to see just how pro-Israel I am.

    The reason I ended the post with, oh, what a world, is because I am very cognizant of the fact that we don’t have a lot in the way of choices in this matter.

    Iran’s nuclear facilities need to be destroyed. No question about it.

    I have read about nuclear bunker busters, and they are not safe. They spew radiation, and their blast is only partially below ground. Because Iran’s nuclear facilities are strategically placed in heavily-populated areas, many people would die.

    I have thought on this subject for a long time, and I have written about it often, over the past year and a half.

    It seems to me that nuclear bunker busters may be the only viable option. However, I have to wonder if conventional bunker busters may also be viable. I’m not sure.

    The reason I wrote what I wrote to Neo is because her opinion is unconventional. How many people do you know who believe that the United States ought to have a policy of preemptive nuclear strikes?

    I’m not saying I am absolutely against the idea, but I am reluctant, ambivalent, frightened, resigned, etc.

    It’s not an easy one to call, nor will it be easy to deal with the consequences, should we decide that that is what we have to do.

  8. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Pastorius. You got a better idea?

    Perhaps facilitating the coming revolution might help.
    Iran lost so many in the war with Iraq that they subsidized large families, as the Soviets did after The Great Patriotic War. It worked, but half the population is young people and young adults.
    They’re mostly pretty brassed off.

    But, Pastorius, if there seemed to be only two choices, which would you pick? Bunker-busting nuclear facilities, which would have low casualty probabilities, or allowing the mad mullahs to do an air burst over Tel Aviv?
    I know. You’d make up a third choice.

  9. Pastorius Says:

    Wow Neo, You would be in favor of using nuclear bunker busters to take out Iran’s underground nuclear facilities? In other words, you would be in favor of preemptive nuclear warfare.

    You’ve really come a long way from your liberal days.

    I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. If we use nukes on Iran, doesn’t that give other Islamic countries the right, and even the perceived responsibilty to use nukes on us?

    Oh, what a world. What a world.

  10. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    Very interesting!

    In re the speculations: “do we have nuclear bunker busters or don’t we?” — let me add that the Iranians are no doubt speculating about it, too. And, given that nobody has spoken about them lately, perhaps the purpose of this press release is precisely to call attention to them… in a low-key manner.

    It’s worth thinking about what such a press release suggests. If they were asking for more money, no doubt Iran would conclude that the program had a long way to go. In the opposite case, Iran may think as some here do, that the capability already exists.

    One way or another, you can be sure that we have people eyeing Iran carefully, to see how they scramble in response to this announcement.

    We are fated to live in interesting times, aren’t we?

    respectfully,
    Daniel in Brookline

  11. Baron Bodissey Says:

    Speaking of proofreaders —

    Many years ago I found a help-wanted ad in the Washington Post: “POOFREADERS WANTED”.

    Very badly, it would seem…

  12. Holmes Says:

    Conservatives are very happy today :)
    We apparently still have a seat at the table after all.

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    crosstalk: I was actually referring to an article I thought I’d linked to the words “has been scrapped.” It was from a Utah paper and had that perspective–that the local people were relieved. Rightly or wrongly, I was saying I can understand that the NIMBY concerns would be great when the issue is nuclear testing. Whether at this point in time there is actually any danger from such testing is something of which I have no specific knowledge, but I can understand why people would be freaked.

    However, when I checked just a minute ago, it turns out the link had gotten messed up in the publishing. This has been happening every now and then when I use Firefox; I don’t know why, but it’s annoying. So the link went nowhere and I can see how you wouldn’t know what I was referring to. I fixed it now.

    Ron: As for the “bumpers” error–good catch! Maybe you can get a job as Ms. Miers’s proofreader :-)!
    In fact, however, I think you hit on why I made that error–I was indeed thinking of “rubber baby buggy bumpers,” and was wondering whether I’d be able to work in a joke about that. I decided not to–and yet, it seems that I did, without realizing it. Hmmm, the mind is an interesting thing.

    I think I’ll leave the error in place.

  14. Yaakov Kirschen Says:

    The repeated threats lead folks to ignore them as just words and slogans. Like Mein Kampf.

  15. Ron Says:

    Neo: Is that spelling of “bumper” busters in the first line deliberate?

    Reminds me of rubber baby buggy bumpers!

  16. crosstalk Says:

    A small correction, and a comment. Any testing of a nuclear weapon would probably be done at the 1350 sq. mi. Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, where the majority of U.S. tests were conducted. Since the tests are conducted underground in prepared and instrumented sites (basically, a laboratory situation, believe it or not) they would not be noticed by the population of the nearest (still distant) towns.

    There are valid reasons to debate the development, maintenance, and testing of nuclear weapons. What is not valid (and I’m not accusing neo-neocon or any commenter of doing so) is to hype an imagined public health effects from underground nuclear testing. There basically are none. (Trivia question: two nuclear tests were conducted East of the Mississippi River; in what state were they conducted? Hint.)

  17. Goesh Says:

    If I’m not mistaken, China is on the Security Council and has large, pending energy contracts with Iran. There goes the neighborhood! It always boils down to a few being willing to take action. It appears that England, France and the US are on the same page. We have logistical assets in Iraq and Afghanistan, right and left flanks, and carriers. It is time to act and remove their potential for nuclear arms. Any nation that advocates the extermination of another nation or group of people has already declared war. Iran must be set back militarily 50 years. Do we really want the imams of Iran to have nukes?

  18. roman Says:

    According to Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_bunker_buster
    The US Air Force has had a program in place since 2003 called RNEP.
    Note that the piece ends with the words “none have been deployed”.
    Curious word, deployed.
    Deployment usually means “to position weapons or whatever”.
    Could the weapon system already exist? Very intriguing indeed.
    The press release does tend to convey an end to the program. However, when did the Defence Department start sharing all its information with the general public?
    There may be a covert program ongoing and due to national security concerns it may be “need to know only”.

  19. John Sobieski Says:

    Oooh, maybe the Security Council should send a really, really harsh letter to Iran. It’s the best the West can do.

  20. Goesh Says:

    Meaningful action, like taking out their nukes while we can, and we may as well take out their air bases too and naval assets while we are at it.

  21. Sigmund, Carl and Alfred Says:

    Words do matter- and sometimes, they are followed by ‘meaningful’ actions.

    It is not uncommon in some parts of the world, that religious sevices serve to inspire frenzied mobs, looking to commit acts of violence.

    There are thousands of Pakistani Christians that can attest to that fact.

    Middle East religious proclamtions are legendary. An example can be found here:
    http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=subjects&Area=antisemitism&ID=SP90805

  22. Anonymous Says:

    “NIMBY takes on a whole new meaning when it’s the testing of nuclear weapons in one’s backyard.”

    Indeed, maintaining nuclear test facilities is bound to be problematic. Just when a manager thinks he’s (or she’s) got a solid, preventive maintenance program all laid out and ready to implement, boom. On the other hand employee indifference would typically not be a problem, for example indifference as to when tests are being scheduled. So some problems would be mitigated while other problems would very much be enhanced. A matter of perspective. And distance.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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