In his first inaugural address, President Obama made this pledge: "With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming plant." In his second address, the president again returned to climate change -- but dropped the nuclear threat. He didn't mention it once.
Perhaps it is not fair to read too much into this. But there's been a strange silence about nuclear arms control lately. It has largely been ignored in the public discussion of priorities for the president's second term.
No doubt, there will be plenty of arcane details discussed at confirmation hearings for Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretaries of state and defense, respectively. But what about the president? Does he still believe in his vision of "a world without nuclear weapons," described in the Prague speech of April, 2009?
Last year, election campaigns in the United States and Russia meant a lost year for nuclear arms control. Now, the campaigns are over, but the prospects are still cloudy, at best.
The weapons haven't gone away just because we stopped talking about them. The United States and Russia still have the largest nuclear arsenals in the world. While there are serious concerns about Iran and North Korea, about India and Pakistan, among others, keep in mind the huge differences in scale. The arsenals of the United States and Russia are about 16,200 warheads, while the other countries in the world are estimated to have about 1,100 nuclear weapons combined.
The president's first-term New Start treaty with Russia established very important verification procedures, but it provides for only modest reductions in the two nation's stockpiles, down to 1,550 warheads on each side, after seven years. It was a stepping stone, but ought not to be Obama's last step.
A lot of thought has gone into the next moves, both inside the administration and outside. Scholars and non-government strategy groups have spent months coming up with detailed, useful reports about how to rein in the nuclear danger. This informal staff work is valuable, and ready.
For a roadmap of the possibilities, see "The Opportunity: Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Arms," by Steven Pifer and Michael E. O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. The book is a sober, fact-filled assessment of the choices that Obama now faces. "Why pursue nuclear arms control when the cold war is more than twenty years in the past?" they ask. "Arms control is not and should not be considered an end in itself. It is a tool that, properly applied, can strengthen and enhance the security of the United States and America's allies." They offer seven arguments for additional nuclear arms control. Among them: to put under legally-binding, verifiable treaty agreements all those nuclear warheads which are currently outside the treaty system, both in the United States and Russia.
Another solid piece of work on this theme is the report "Trimming Nuclear Excess: Options for Further Reductions of U.S. and Russian Nuclear Forces," by Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, published last month. Kristensen says, "There are indications that, although U.S. and Russian reductions are continuing, both countries are becoming more cautious about reducing further… both countries are now investing huge sums of money in new nuclear weapon systems that are designed to operate toward the end of the century. Unless new unilateral reductions take place or significant arms control agreements are reached, large nuclear forces could be retained far into the future."
Yet another significant source of thinking about a new agenda is contained in Global Zero's U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission report of last May. The commission was chaired by retired Gen. James Cartwright, included Hagel, and the study was directed by Bruce Blair. The report provides a series of illustrative steps in which the United States could reduce its nuclear arsenal to a maximum of 900 total nuclear weapons, while increasing the warning and decision time. The report also envisions bringing in all the nuclear weapons powers for the first time for multilateral negotiations to limit nuclear arms.
But with all this intellectual firepower, why has the debate seemed to grow silent?
Vladimir Putin is one reason. Since returning to the Russian presidency last year, he has championed new laws intended to push back against pro-democracy protestors in the streets, and in some cases, against American influence on Russian society and politics. Most damaging of all, Putin rammed through the Russian legislature a bill that forced the abrogation of a bilateral agreement, which had just come into force a few weeks earlier, on adoption of Russian children by American parents. This was Putin's angry retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, legislation approved by the United States Congress and signed by the president that imposed visa and other restrictions on Russians believed to be involved in serious human rights abuses. The adoption bill seems to mark a nadir in recent relations between the two countries. Mistrust is again on the rise--corrosive mistrust.
One can only imagine the chorus of protests that Obama would face with another arms control treaty. It does not take a cynic to envision a Republican senator asking the question: If the Russians could so abruptly abrogate an agreement on adopting children which they negotiated carefully over a year's time, how can they be trusted to stick to an agreement on nuclear weapons? It is a very tough question to answer.
My own response to that is that nations don't have friends, they have interests. A treaty is a contract, and contracts are made to protect interests. It is in the interest of both the United States and Russia to avoid a nuclear catastrophe--an accidental launch, a loose nuke, a terrorist attack. Both countries possess thousands of nuclear weapons that are still not covered by any treaty, not subject to verification nor, in some cases, is the quantity even known to each other. These excess weapons are a legacy of the Cold War and really serve no useful military purpose today. Getting these warheads sorted out and locked down is in our national interest. Doing so should not be seen as a favor to Putin.
However, arms control does not exist in isolation from other issues roiling the relationship. It is hard to negotiate with Moscow or sell to Congress an agreement on something so consequential and difficult if there is an abundance of mistrust. Obama and Putin may need to reset the reset with Russia before they can do anything more on nuclear arms control.
I think Obama personally wants to do more, but much depends on Putin and how he sees Russia's interests when it comes to strategic weapons. In Moscow, there are some who think that despite the steady retirement of aging weapons from the Cold War years, Russia can modernize its arsenal, and doesn't really need another arms control agreement with the United States. For Putin, the question really boils down to whether he wants to spend heavily on that modernization, and whether he can sustain that resource drain, given other demands. The Russians are talking about building a massive new liquid-fueled, multiple-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile. Do they really need it? Putin's actions since returning to office suggest he is heading toward a Fortress Russia, a more isolated, go-it-alone approach.
But these things tend to oscillate, and could swing in the other direction yet again.
Although Obama didn't mention nuclear danger in his speech, he has a very full inbox on his desk of possible initiatives and decisions.
The president's Nuclear Posture Review of 2010 must be implemented. For more than a year, staffs have been working on memos about how to execute the decisions from that document and what guidance the president ought to give the Pentagon. His decisions could set a path for future reductions in nuclear arsenals--potentially deep cuts, if he choose to go that way. But so far there has been only silence from the White House about this.
The president has called for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but he did not submit it to the Senate in his first term. Many of the technical objections raised in 1999 when the Senate failed to ratify the treaty have been overcome in the stockpile stewardship program. Is the president ready to spend some political capital and wage a fight for the treaty?
Missile defense remains a thorny obstacle to arms control negotiations with Russia. The president could apply some creative thinking here to overcoming Moscow's concerns, which are largely focused on later stages of the U.S. missile defense plan, five to seven years from now. The near-term problem is that no negotiations on reducing offensive weapons will get to first base until there's some common understanding on missile defense. If the U.S. missile defense program is not a threat to Russia's strategic deterrent, how do we make that case in a persuasive way that permits arms control talks on offensive weapons to move ahead?
As I have argued earlier in FP, the president ought to consider a bilateral agreement with Russia to take nuclear-armed missiles off launch-ready alert.
And it is worth keeping in mind that two large categories of nuclear weapons are still uncovered by treaty-- the smaller or tactical nuclear warheads in Russia, and the strategic warheads kept in reserve since the end of the Cold WAr by the United States. No one knows precise numbers, but there are several thousand of these weapons that should be counted, verified and brought under treaty. That's a worthy goal for a second term.
Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
Two years ago, I wrote about the thousands of tactical or battlefield nuclear warheads left over from the Cold War.
Today, I can confidently report: they are still out there, uncounted and unseen. There has been almost no progress toward bringing these weapons into the open, or under an arms control treaty.
Both the United States and Russia have made dramatic reductions since the visionary, unilateral initiatives of Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in the autumn of 1991, in which they pulled back voluntarily and without a treaty as the great confrontation of the Cold War ebbed. But the story didn't end there.
Today, the United States, which once had 7,300 tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, retains about 200 B-61 gravity bombs in five NATO nations. (And there are about 300 non-deployed bombs in the United States, as well as 260 cruise missile warheads which are being phased out.) Russia now has some 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons of various kinds assigned to delivery vehicles, with more awaiting dismantlement. The estimates of Russian stockpiles have been highly uncertain in the two decades since the Soviet collapse.
The fate of these weapons will be in the spotlight again at the NATO summit in Chicago May 20-21, which is expected to approve a new Deterrence and Defense Posture Review. Don't look for a dramatic shift from the status-quo; the allies want to hold onto the nuclear weapons, for now, as a political symbol of the American nuclear umbrella, and perhaps as a chip to be traded in future negotiations. And Russia, too, sees these warheads as a useful bulwark against NATO's edge in conventional or non-nuclear forces (a complete turnabout from the Cold War when it was the West that saw nuclear battlefield weapons as a way to stop a Soviet conventional invasion.)
Tactical nuclear weapons have no significant military utility in these times. A target could be just as easily put in the crosshairs of a highly-precise strategic weapon.
If NATO policy is stuck, then at least the summit should consider a very good suggestion from Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, who has just completed a comprehensive look at tactical nuclear weapons, a report [pdf] chock-a-block with data and valuable insights. Kristensen, who is co-author with Robert S. Norris of the authoritative "Nuclear Notebook" column in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, suggests we create some transparency as a first step to break the tactical nuclear weapons impasse.
"Russia, the United States and NATO do not disclose how many non-strategic nuclear weapons they have or where they are deployed" he writes. "As a result, uncertainty and rumors fuel a debate full of half-truths, exaggerations and worst-case assumptions."
Kristensen points out that keeping the details of tactical nuclear weapons secret is in contrast to the approach taken with operational, long-range strategic weapons, which are accounted for in the New Start treaty data. Also, in 2010, the Obama administration disclosed the size and history of the total nuclear weapons stockpile. Why not do the same with the tactical warheads? In 2011, a group of NATO nations proposed just that: exchanging data between the United States, NATO and Russia on numbers, locations, operational status, command arrangements and warhead storage security. But so far it has not been done.
"The stalemate in non-strategic nuclear weapons cries out for political leadership and bold initiatives. It is important that Russia and the United States take steps to drastically increase transparency. This can be done on a unilateral basis and should include overall numbers, locations, and delivery systems. It should also include verification measures to confirm data that is provided. Increasing transparency is essential because uncertainty creates mistrust, rumors, and worst-case planning.
"Most of what is assumed about Russian non-strategic nuclear capabilities still comes from literature published during the Cold War and in the first years after the demise of the Soviet Union. Since then, the U.S. intelligence community has largely stopped publishing estimates about Russian nuclear capabilities, and Russia has not offered any insight.
To that end, it is important that possible agreements on increased transparency of non-strategic nuclear weapons not be confined to confidential exchanges of information between governments but also benefit the international community."
Operation Upshot-Knothole, May 25, 1953, via Wikimedia Commons
We live in an age of breathtaking advances in the life sciences. Achievements in sequencing, or plotting the genetic blueprint of an organism, have been astounding, and may lead to great benefits in public health and medicine. But biological research can be dual-use: that which improves the lot of mankind can also be flipped around to create disease.
Mother nature does this through mutation. But how serious is the threat that a person would deliberately create a dangerous agent, and harm others with it? Do terrorists, or nations, harbor the intention, and can they summon the capability?
While some diseases occur easily in nature and are highly contagious, others require sophisticated work before they can be used as a weapon, and are probably too difficult for today's terrorist groups, although not for nation-states. The Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan tried to make a biological weapon but failed. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union clandestinely build a massive biological weapons research and production complex. In 2001, five letters carrying anthrax spores were put in the U.S. mail, at least 22 people were sickened and five died. According to the FBI, it was the act of a lone insider in a U.S. military biological defense laboratory. (For a look at bioweapons over the last century, see this article by Milton Leitenberg, senior research scholar at the Center for International Security Studies, University of Maryland.)
Two recent events have rekindled long-standing questions about how far we should go to prevent the deliberate creation and spread of biological agents for use in war and terrorism. There aren't easy answers.
The first event is the just-completed review conference in Geneva for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Signed in 1972 and put into force in 1975, the treaty bans the development, production, acquisition, retention, stockpiling and transfer of infectious disease agents and natural poisons (toxins) for hostile purposes, and the weapons or other delivery systems for them. Unfortunately, the agreement has never had a serious verification mechanism. The treaty failed to stop the Soviet Union, South Africa and Iraq from attempting to build illicit biological weapons programs.
Every five years, a treaty review conference is held in Geneva. On Dec. 7, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first U.S. Secretary of State to address a review conference. She declared that the risk of a bioweapons attack is "both a serious national security challenge and a foreign policy priority" for the United States. "A crude, but effective, terrorist weapon can be made by using a small sample of any number of widely available pathogens, inexpensive equipment, and college-level chemistry and biology," she declared.
But at the same time, the United States has abandoned efforts to put legally-binding verification measures into the treaty. The argument is that scientific research has advanced so swiftly that traditional arms control measures are obsolete. In 2001, the Bush administration scuttled a negotiation over the previous six and a half years aimed at creating a protocol for improved verification and transparency. President Obama has not changed this position. Clinton told the review conference "it is not possible, in our opinion, to create a verification regime that will achieve" the goal of bolstering confidence that all nations are complying with the treaty. Instead, she called for some "other steps" such as revising the annual reporting system in which countries are supposed to be transparent about potentially dangerous biological activities.
Judging by some preliminary reports from those who attended, the review conference made little or no progress in strengthening the treaty. Five countries -- Pakistan, Russia, India, Iran and China -- largely blocked any major progress. As a result, the conference outcome was to once again kick the can down the road to future meetings.
Consider this: a three-person staff, known as the "Implementation Support Unit," is assigned to work on treaty issues in between the review conferences. A proposal to expand the staff to five people failed to gain support in Geneva. In contrast, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which oversees the 1993 chemical weapons treaty, has a staff of about 500 people. That pact contains tough verification provisions.
How dysfunctional is the biological weapons treaty? There is a reporting system, created in 1987. Each year, nations are supposed to submit a report known as a Confidence Building Measure detailing research, disease outbreaks, legislation and past activities, among other things. In the last year, fewer than 40 percent of signatories to the treaty even bothered to submit the forms. If nations can't lift a finger to do the paperwork, how much effort are they going to put into watching out for abuses?
At the review conference, there was renewed discussion about focusing on the rapid changes in life sciences. Sounds good. But there seems to be little willpower, either in the United States or elsewhere, to do anything about the fact that the biological weapons convention is a toothless tiger.
The second recent event was caused by a laboratory experiment. Researchers led by Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam modified the H5N1 virus, better known as avian influenza or bird flu. Up until now, the virus has been quite lethal in humans, with a fatality rate of about 60 percent in confirmed cases, but it has not been very transmissible among people. The researchers under Fouchier introduced a number of mutations into the virus that could make it highly transmissible through the air, and they demonstrated this in ferrets, which are considered a good stand-in model for humans in testing influenza strains. The experiment was carried out in a special, high-security laboratory, but it raised a terrifying prospect -- if the modified strain got out, or was created somehow by a person with malevolent intent, it could lead to a devastating pandemic. In announcing his results, Fouchier said he wanted to help prevent just such a deadly crisis: “We now know which mutations to watch for in the case of an outbreak and we can then stop the outbreak before it is too late. Furthermore, the finding will help in the timely development of vaccinations and medication.”
The research raised the question of whether the results should be published. (Another study along similar lines was also performed by scientists at the University of Wisconsin and University of Tokyo.) After a review by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, the U.S. government took the unprecedented step of recommending that two prominent journals, Science and Nature, withhold key details of the research, so that it would not fall into the wrong hands.
Understandably, this is a thorny problem. Scientists chafe at restrictions which could stifle discovery and innovation, potentially hurting society more than helping it. The results of the Fouchier research could be valuable to those combatting influenza, a virus that mutates rapidly and can pose a real threat to populations. Some experts suggested that it be distributed on a need-to-know basis. The secrecy is worrisome, but it might also be prudent in this case. Paul Keim, chairman of the science advisory board, told ScienceInsider, "I can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one." He added, "I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this."
Similar worries were touched upon last year by a U.S. presidential commission studying developments in synthetic biology, which involves using engineering techniques to create new biological parts or devices, or re-designing existing ones. More regulation is not necessary at this time, the panel said, but synthetic biology should be watched closely. Separately, efforts are being made in the United States to improve the monitoring of biological research by scientists, companies and government. Yet much of it remains voluntary. What happens if a real rogue actor comes along and breezes right past the voluntary roadblocks?
At the same time, it is impossible to put this remarkable and fast-moving science under lock and key. These are not nuclear warheads. Biological research can be carried out in small laboratories the size of a garage and agents carried in a test tube that fits in a shirt pocket. We need to encourage the science, without forsaking security. It will require new thinking. We're not there yet.
AFP/Getty Images/Kenzo Tribouillard
What lies ahead for Russia, now that Vladimir Putin has decided to return as president? For answers, go no further than Dmitri Trenin and his new book, Post-Imperium, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Trenin looks over the cliff 20 years ago -- at the precarious, unknown abyss after the Soviet collapse -- and discovers why Russia did not become the nightmare scenario that many predicted. He helps explain the mindset, circumstances, and outlook of Russia over the last two decades, providing an excellent vantage point to see where Russia is going.
The information superhighway is getting crowded, and there are bandits around.
For a revealing look at the immense river of digital data that the world has generated in recent years, see the April 1 issue of Science magazine. Two researchers have attempted to estimate the global capacity to store, communicate and compute information. They found that, between 1986 and 2007, general-purpose computing capacity grew at an annual rate of 58 percent, telecommunications at 28 percent, and stored information at 23 percent. There’s also a pie chart showing that 80 percent of communications in 1986 were fixed analog — those wonderful old land-line phones!—while in 2007 global communications were 97 percent digital. The research article is complex, but chock-full of other measurements about the data onslaught.
Great benefits and some new hazards have come from this digital revolution. The upside is the immense upswing in communication, creativity, discovery and productivity. We take more photographs, read more news, search for more info, listen to more music and watch more videos with less effort than ever before in human history. Scientists can probe genomes and distant planets with tools never before available to mankind.
The hazard is that, on some days, the information superhighway looks like the road from Benghazi to Tripoli. The Stuxnet worm showed just now nasty things can become. In its annual internet security threat report, Symantec says that Stuxnet and another attack mechanism, Hydraq, were last year’s standout malware. Hydraq was attempting to steal intellectual property from major corporations; Stuxnet was apparently designed to disrupt Iran’s nuclear enrichment process. According to Symantec, both will, unfortunately, be useful in teaching programmers how to do it again. Overall, Symantec says it recorded over 3 billion malware attacks last year.
Nations are starting to wake up to this new battlefield, too. There’s an interesting series of essays in the Spring edition of Strategic Studies Quarterly, which is published out of the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, on the implications of cyber conflict. In one piece [pdf], Christopher Bronk imagines the use of cyberwar by China in the year 2020. This is a clever and fascinating exercise in futurology. In another article [pdf], Chris C. Demchak and Peter Dombrowski argue that the global cyber battlefields are already being fortified. While we like to think of the internet as a borderless space, they report otherwise:
Today we are seeing the beginnings of the border-making process across the world’s nations. From the Chinese intent to create their own controlled internal Internet, to increasingly controlled access to the Internet in less-democratic states, to the rise of Internet filters and rules in Western democracies, states are establishing the bounds of their sovereign control in the virtual world in the name of security and economic sustainability…
The consensus among states changed after Stuxnet. If such malicious software can take down whole energy systems at once, states have no choice but to respond if they are to protect their own governmental and military operations and uphold their responsibility to protect citizens and corporations. The Stuxnet method and its success thus changed the notion of vulnerability across increasingly internetted societies and critical infrastructures. The days of cyber spying through software backdoors or betrayals by trusted insiders, vandalism, or even theft had suddenly evolved into the demonstrated ability to deliver a potentially killing blow without being anywhere near the target. Forcing nuclear centrifuges to oscillate out of control from an unknown and remote location suggests that future innovations might be able to destroy or disrupt other critical infrastructures upon which modern societies depend.
In earlier decades, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as conventional arms, have been subject to arms control treaties that attempted to limit the creation of the weapons and their use. The treaties weren’t perfect: some were violated, some were weak and lacked enforcement. A good question that needs to be debated today is whether it is possible or desirable to create arms control agreements to limit cyber conflict. As I pointed out in a recent article in FP, cyber conflict exists in a shadowy, unaccountable world, not easily limited by treaties.
Elisabeth Fischer, writing for army-technology.com, has asked a series of experts on whether the time has come for rules of cyber warfare like those that govern conventional warfare. She found a lot of conflicting views.
In January, Karl Frederick Rauscher and Andrey Korotkov led a Russian-American study by the East-West Institute on whether the Geneva and Hague Conventions could be adapted to cyber space. The study pointed out that so-called critical infrastructure — things that are necessary for the basic welfare of civilian populations — are often quite difficult to separate from other facilities when it comes to cyberspace. An attack on a power grid or computer network could take down both hospitals as well as military targets. Can these be separated in a cyber conflict? Questions like that are still unanswered.
Another plunge into the legal issues around cyberwar is offered in Strategic Studies Quarterly by Prof. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., of Duke University. He argues [pdf] that the tenets of the law of armed conflict are “sufficient” to address most of the important issues of cyber war. The problem is not so much law, he says, as the inherent uncertainty of war and targeting.
The fog of war exists in cyberspace too.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
When the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was first signed in the 1970s, it was hailed as a step forward in disarmament. There was no effective enforcement mechanism, but at least the major powers had agreed to outlaw germ warfare. In the years since, it has became clear that the lack of enforcement left gaping holes. The agreement failed to prevent the Soviet Union, aparthied-era South Africa and Saddam Hussein's Iraq from pursuing secret biological weapons programs. Jonathan B. Tucker, the author of Scourge and War of Nerves, and professor at Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany, says the treaty “lost a good deal of credibility."
Tucker has written a thorough and illuminating piece for Arms Control Today about the next review conference of the treaty, due this December. He points out that suspicions persist about noncompliance. The State Department's 2010 report to Congress noted that China and Russia have been less than full in disclosing past biological warfare programs, and suggesting that offensive programs may exist in Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria. Also, the treaty has only 163 member states, compared to 189 for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and 188 for the Chemical Weapons Convention. Tucker also says that fewer than half of the members participate in the annual confidence-building declarations. These forms were supposed to help boost transparency, since there is still no mandatory inspections or effective verification. But the confidence-building forms haven't even been revised since they were first instituted in 1991.
In the late 1990s, there was an effort to stiffen the treaty with a more forceful, legally-binding inspection procedure. This fell apart in 2001 when the Bush administration rejected it and the talks collapsed. The Obama administration has also shied away from the legal approach, and instead offered a "strategy" document on biological threats. Tucker criticizes the measures as "conceptually flawed or too weak to make much of a difference."
But Tucker says there is a chance to improve the treaty and make a difference at the review conference. He urges the United States to take good advantage of it, and offers a useful list of ideas. The treaty entered into force 35 years ago, and looks dog-eared. Not only has it been repeatedly violated with impunity, but the rapid pace of change in biotechnology is making it seem less and less relevant. Can it be saved?
Getty Images/Dimas Ardian
In a world without nuclear weapons, wouldn’t the rogue be king? And if there were international controls in such a world, would it be hard to detect the bad guys building a bomb?
One way to find out: be the bad guy yourself. The Henry L. Stimson Center has just put together an online simulation that allows the user to play rogue state decision-maker in the year 2040, navigating the pathways to building a bomb without getting caught. It’s called Cheater’s Risk.
Every day, we’re swamped by the news about nuclear nonproliferation. But this simulation is refreshingly clear on the major topics. You decide which country you want to play, the pathways, and roll the dice on the chances of getting caught at such things as obtaining the fissile material or assembling a weapon. Along the way there are short explanatory videos.
The underlying argument of Cheater’s Risk is that, in the event of disarmament, cheating on a treaty “is not a piece of cake,” in the words of Barry M. Blechman, co-founder of Stimson, who introduced the simulation on Thursday at Stimson’s offices in Washington. For a deeper look, there’s Elements of a Nuclear Disarmament Treaty, edited by Blechman and Alexander K. Bollfrass, on which Cheater’s Risk is based.
This is a project which seems to say: disarmament is possible with the right precautions and procedures. Some may argue with the larger goal, but in the simulation, the facts are presented clearly with sources and additional information a click away.
I took Cheater’s Risk for a spin, and selected the Russian Federation as my candidate for going rogue. In the end, I managed to assemble one to five nuclear weapons without getting caught. I had to weigh the risks at each stage of going faster or slower, of taking the uranium or plutonium route to a bomb, and other factors. At each stage, my choice was then tested on a grid that resembles the old game Minesweeper. You decide which square to click on. The grid is populated with success or failure squares corresponding to the risk of detection of your given choice.
The world is far more complex than Cheater’s Risk. There are no unpleasant coups or small wars in this game. The simulation focuses attention on the big choices. Can you, nuclear renegade, outfox the rest of the world?
David E. Hoffman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a contributing editor to Foreign Policy.