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Scanning Cargo Containers is More Important than Scanning Emails

The United States has built huge internet surveillance infrastructures, but failed to implement its own 9/11 law about maritime cargo security.

The risks of an attack at a US port or the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction (or their components) in shipping containers are big. Compared to the importance of scanning more cargo containers, the benefits of scanning emails appear quite small. What is needed is a serious debate about the right priorities for counter-terrorism and cost/benefit analysis of current policies.

While US and other Western governments claim that internet surveillance has prevented several terrorist attacks, it could also be argued that internet surveillance catches only some of the stupid terrorists, who can only pull off relatively minor attacks. (But not all of them, e.g. not the Boston bombers.)

Smart terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who have the brains and resources to kill tens of thousands of people, do not communicate over the internet. (Or they use very serious encryption, which the NSA computers won’t break in time.) They might plan sophisticated operations for American, French, Dutch or German harbors.

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Scary Scenario, but Good for TV: Privatization of Nuclear Proliferation

Not just countries, but big companies or even a very rich individual could get a nuclear weapon in the next few years. NATO's Michael Rühle writes in IP Journal about the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb:

To profit, he created a network of commercial relationships - which ultimately included over a thousand companies - as well as his own production facilities in Malaysia, South Africa and Turkey. This privatization of nuclear proliferation has allowed several countries to approach the threshold of nuclear status, a development that has significantly altered the international security landscape. It is now clear that nuclear proliferation can also take place outside of the international state system - the very system on which the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is built. This development is bound to ensure unpleasant surprises in the future. Whether Khan's proliferation network has been completely dismantled is not entirely clear. What is clear, however, is that the commercialization of nuclear proliferation continues.

Scary eh? Yes, the Non-Proliferation Treaty is so 20th century. We probably need a Bond movie or new TV show by the creators of 24/Homeland to raise some awareness and reform intelligence services. Many European countries still don't have intelligence services with operational divisions.

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US Nukes in Europe

The removal of US nukes from German soil is an official German government goal. Westerwelle is also keen on changing NATO's nuclear policy. Both goals met resistance from our allies, but the government made decisions that support such a development anyway.

Brookings on the future of the US nuclear weapons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey:

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Iran will not be able to build a nuclear weapon before 2015

Secretary Clinton said on Monday that Iran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon has been delayed by sanctions.

The timing of this statement is a bit awkward and insensitive considering the plane crash in Iran the day before, which resulted in the death of at least 77 people. After all, "Aircraft accidents are not uncommon in Iran, where international sanctions have prevented the country from buying new aircraft parts from the West" (FP).

Anyway, this is good news from Israel via the NY Times:

Israel's departing intelligence chief said he believes Iran will not be able to build a nuclear weapon before 2015 at the earliest, Israeli news media reported Friday, in a revised and surprisingly upbeat assessment of Tehran's nuclear capabilities. (...)

Israeli predictions for Iran's ability to make a nuclear bomb, which Israel considers an existential threat, have gradually lengthened in recent years.

In the early 2000s, Israeli intelligence branches spoke of Iran's making a bomb before the end of the decade. As recently as 2009, Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, said he thought Iran could do it by 2011. Last month, Moshe Yaalon, Israel's minister of strategic affairs, said he believed Iran was at least three years away from a nuclear bomb.

About a year ago, Mr. Dagan told a parliamentary committee that Iran would not have the ability to fire a nuclear missile until 2014, Yediot Aharonot reported. He is said to have based his latest estimate on an assumption that no further preventive actions are taken.

Obama and Missile Defense

A week after declaring his intentions to position Iskander tactical missiles in Kaliningrad region in response to US missile defense plans for Europe, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev lays out his terms (Reuters):
But we are ready to abandon this decision to deploy the missiles in Kaliningrad if the new American administration, after analyzing the real usefulness of a system to respond to 'rogue states', decides to abandon its anti-missile system.

We are ready to negotiate a 'zero option'. We are ready to reflect on a system of global security with the United States, the countries of the European Union and the Russian Federation.
Obama can expect pull in the other direction by the US Missile Defense Agency, whose outgoing Director Lt. Gen. Trey Obering argues missile defense technology may be farther along than the President-Elect believes (
Our testing has shown not only can we hit a bullet with a bullet, we can hit a spot on the bullet with a bullet. The technology has caught up.  What we have discovered is, a lot of those folks that have not been in this administration seem to be dated in terms of the program. They are kind of calibrated back in the 2000 timeframe.
Jeff Lindemyer links to two articles that offer a view of what Obama’s stance on missile defense was during the campaign at Nukes of Hazard.

See also from Atlantic Review:
* Is Russia a Superpower?  Cold War II?
* United States and Poland Agree on Missile Defense Deal
* Georgia Conflict Gives Boost to European Missile Defense Talks

United States and Poland Agree on Missile Defense Deal

From the New York Times:
The United States and Poland reached a long-stalled deal on Thursday to place an American missile defense base on Polish territory, in the strongest reaction so far to Russia’s military operation in Georgia.

Russia reacted angrily, saying that the move would worsen relations with the United States that have already been strained severely in the week since Russian troops entered separatist enclaves in Georgia, a close American ally.
I wonder how far Russia-West relations will spiral?  We may continue to see a tit-for-tat exchange that has real consequences on the institutions and defense postures that govern these delicate relations.  From EU Observer:
The US missile deal had an instant impact on already fragile Polish-Russian relations, with Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, cancelling a scheduled trip to Warsaw in September as soon as media reported the initialling ceremony would take place.

"It is this kind of agreement, not the differences between the US and Russia over South Ossetia, which could lead to a real rise in the tension in Russian-American relations," the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, told Interfax.

The US-Russia deal "cannot go unpunished" Russian general, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said. "Poland, by deploying [the missiles] is exposing itself to a strike - 100 percent."
See also from Atlantic Review:
* Georgia Conflict Gives Boost to European Missile Defense Talks
Euro-Missile Talks Are Back, Leaving "New Europe" Behind

US Nukes not Secure in Europe

"Most European military sites equipped with US nuclear weapons fail to meet Pentagon security requirements, according to a US Air Force study." reports Reuters:

Hans Kristensen, director of the [Federation of American Scientists'] Nuclear Information Project, said the security problems occurred at installations operated by the national militaries of Germany, Belgium, Holland and Italy, all NATO members. About 200 to 350 nuclear weapons are believed to be stored at the sites.

"What's really going on here is that the United States has changed its standards (since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States), but NATO has not followed and it's at the national bases we're seeing this problem," Kristensen said on Monday.

"In a way, it's the United States knocking on NATO's door and saying: 'C'mon, guys, you need to upgrade, too.'"

Though, rather than calling for such security upgrades of military sites, many German politicians call for the removal of US nuclear weapons from German soil. Our reader Zyme writes this guest post:

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The Last American Veteran of World War I and the Costs of War

The Boston Globe

World War I veterans still have no national memorial. There has been no Hollywood blockbuster in recent years to bring their story to life. But they still have Frank Buckles. More than 90 years after he fudged his age to join the Army, Corporal Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, came to the Pentagon yesterday to represent the more than two million "doughboys" who braved the trench warfare and gas attacks of the "The Great War." (...)
Now, Buckles is the last flesh-and-blood reminder of the 116,000 Americans who gave their lives to save Europe at the start of the 20th century.

Wikipedia tries to document the surviving veterans from all World War I combatant nations.

The surviving veterans remind us that the era of wars between the world's major powers is not ancient history. I wonder what these veterans think when they hear how today's politicians talk about the risks of terrorism. Do they think that this is just scare-mongering to win votes and that we shall consider ourselves to be lucky to live in such peaceful times? That Al Qaeda is just a nuissance compared to the Wehrmacht or the Red Army?

The human and financial costs of WWI were huge. America's current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are also expensive: $3.5 billion per week, according to William Hartung. German Joys quotes some comparisons from his article: The "whole international community spends less than $400 million per year on the International Atomic Energy Agency, the primary institution for monitoring and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; that's less than one day's worth of war costs." And the US government's yearly budget for combating global warming is as big as two weeks of expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and combating global warming are at least as important as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Julianne Smith and Alexander Lennon of the Center for Strategic and International Studies contend that climate change will further disrupt the stability of already volatile regions, which has the potential of producing multitudes of discontented individuals prone to radicalization...