Human Factors in Verifying Warhead Dismantlement

Arms control agreements that envision the verified dismantlement of nuclear weapons require the availability of suitable technology to perform the verification. But they also depend on the good faith of the participants and a shared sense of confidence in the integrity of the verification process.

An exercise in demonstrated warhead dismantlement showed that such confidence could be easily disrupted. The exercise, sponsored by the United States and the United Kingdom in 2010 and 2011, was described in a recent paper by Los Alamos scientists. See Review of the U.S.-U.K. Warhead Monitored Dismantlement Exercise by Danielle Kristin Hauck and Iain Russell, Los Alamos National Laboratory, August 4, 2016.

Participants played the roles of the host nation, whose weapons were to be dismantled, and of the monitoring nation, whose representatives were there to verify dismantlement. Confusion and friction soon developed because “the host and monitoring parties had different expectations,” the authors reported.

“The monitoring party did not expect to justify its reasons for performing certain authentication tasks or to justify its rationale for recommending whether a piece of equipment should or should not be used in the monitoring regime. However, the host party expected to have an equal stake in authentication activities, in part because improperly handled authentication activities could result in wrongful non-verification of the treaty.”

“Attempts by the host team to be involved in the authentication activities, and requests for justifications of monitoring party decisions felt intrusive and controlling. Monitoring party rebuffs to the host team reduced the host’s confidence in the sincerity of the monitoring party for cooperative monitoring.”

What emerged is that verified dismantlement of nuclear weapons is not simply a technical problem, though it is also that.

Seeking Verifiable Destruction of Nuclear Warheads

A longstanding conundrum surrounding efforts to negotiate reductions in nuclear arsenals is how to verify the physical destruction of nuclear warheads to the satisfaction of an opposing party without disclosing classified weapons design information. Now some potential new solutions to this challenge are emerging.

Based on tests that were conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1960s in a program known as Cloudgap, U.S. officials determined at that time that secure and verifiable weapon dismantlement through visual inspection, radiation detection or material assay was a difficult and possibly insurmountable problem.

“If the United States were to demonstrate the destruction of nuclear weapons in existing AEC facilities following the concept which was tested, many items of classified weapon design information would be revealed even at the lowest level of intrusion,” according to a 1969 report on Demonstrated Destruction of Nuclear Weapons.

But in a newly published paper, researchers said they had devised a method that should, in principle, resolve the conundrum.

“We present a mechanism in the form of an interactive proof system that can validate the structure and composition of an object, such as a nuclear warhead, to arbitrary precision without revealing either its structure or composition. We introduce a tomographic method that simultaneously resolves both the geometric and isotopic makeup of an object. We also introduce a method of protecting information using a provably secure cryptographic hash that does not rely on electronics or software. These techniques, when combined with a suitable protocol, constitute an interactive proof system that could reject hoax items and clear authentic warheads with excellent sensitivity in reasonably short measurement times,” the authors wrote.

See Physical cryptographic verification of nuclear warheads by R. Scott Kemp, et al,Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online July 18.

More simply put, it’s “the first unspoofable warhead verification system for disarmament treaties — and it keeps weapon secrets too!” tweeted Kemp.

See also reporting in Science Magazine, New Scientist, and Phys.org.

In another recent attempt to address the same problem, “we show the viability of a fundamentally new approach to nuclear warhead verification that incorporates a zero-knowledge protocol, which is designed in such a way that sensitive information is never measured and so does not need to be hidden. We interrogate submitted items with energetic neutrons, making, in effect, differential measurements of both neutron transmission and emission. Calculations for scenarios in which material is diverted from a test object show that a high degree of discrimination can be achieved while revealing zero information.”

See A zero-knowledge protocol for nuclear warhead verification by Alexander Glaser, et al, Nature, 26 June 2014.

But the technology of nuclear disarmament and the politics of it are two different things.

For its part, the U.S. Department of Defense appears to see little prospect for significant negotiated nuclear reductions. In fact, at least for planning purposes, the Pentagon foresees an increasingly nuclear-armed world in decades to come.

A new DoD study of the Joint Operational Environment in the year 2035 avers that:

“The foundation for U.S. survival in a world of nuclear states is the credible capability to hold other nuclear great powers at risk, which will be complicated by the emergence of more capable, survivable, and numerous competitor nuclear forces. Therefore, the future Joint Force must be prepared to conduct National Strategic Deterrence. This includes leveraging layered missile defenses to complicate adversary nuclear planning; fielding U.S. nuclear forces capable of threatening the leadership, military forces, and industrial and economic assets of potential adversaries; and demonstrating the readiness of these forces through exercises and other flexible deterrent operations.”

See The Joint Operating Environment (JOE) 2035: The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 14 July 2016.

Mind the Empathy Gap

Here is some news from recent research in neuroscience that, I think, is relevant for FAS’s mission to prevent global catastrophes. Psychologists Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jonathan Haidt of New York University, have argued that feelings of awe can motivate people to work cooperatively to improve the collective good.1)D. Keltner, and J. Haidt, “Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion,” Cognition and Emotion, 17 (2003), 297-314.Awe can be induced through transcendent activities such as celebrations, dance, musical festivals, and religious gatherings. Prof. Keltner and Prof. Paul Piff of the University of California, Irvine, recently wrote in an opinion article for the New York Times that “awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.”2)Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, “Why Do We Experience Awe?” New York Times, May 22, 2015. They report that a forthcoming peer reviewed article of theirs in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “provides strong empirical evidence for this claim.”

Their research team did surveys and experiments to determine whether participants who said they experienced awe in their lives regularly would be more inclined to help others. For example, one study at UC, Berkeley, was conducted near a spectacular grove of beautiful, tall Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees. The researchers had participants either look at the trees or stare at the wall of the nearby science building for one minute. Then, the researchers arranged for “a minor accident” to occur in which someone walking by would drop a handful of pens. “Participants who had spent the minute looking up at the tall trees—not long, but long enough, we found, to be filled with awe—picked up more pens to help the other person.”

Piff and Keltner conclude their opinion piece by surmising that society is awe-deprived because people “have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others.” My take away is that this observation has ramifications for whether people will band together to tackle the really tough problems confronting humanity including: countering and adapting to climate change, alleviating global poverty, and preventing the use of nuclear weapons. I find it interesting that Professors Piff and Keltner have mentioned shifting individuals’ interest to the group to which those people belong.

What about bringing together “in groups” with “out groups”? Can awe help or harm? Here’s where, I believe, the geopolitical and neuroscience news is mixed. First, let’s look at the bad news and then finish on a positive message of recent psychological research showing interventions that might alleviate the animosity between groups who are in conflict.

While awe can be inspiring, a negative connotation toward out groups is implicit in the phrase “shock and awe” in the context of massive demonstration of military force to try to influence the opponent to not resist the dominant group. Many readers will recall attempted use of this concept in the U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq in March and April 2003. U.S. and allied forces moved rapidly with a demonstration of impressive military might in order to demoralize Iraqi forces and thus result in a quick surrender. While Baghdad’s political power center crumbled quickly, many Iraqi troops dispersed and formed the nuclei of the insurgency that then opposed the occupation for many years to come.3)Richard Sanders, “The myth of ‘shock and awe’: Why the Iraqi invasion was a disaster,” Telegraph, UK, March 19, 2013. Thus, in effect, the frightening awe of the invasion induced numerous Iraqis to band together to resist U.S. forces rather than universally shower American troops with garlands.

Nuclear weapons are also meant to shock and awe an opponent. But the opponent does not have to be cowed into submission. To deter this coercive power, the leader of a nation under nuclear threat can either decide to acquire nuclear weapons or form an alliance with a friendly nation that already has these weapons. Other nations that do not feel directly threatened by another nation’s nuclear weapons can ignore these threats and tend to other priorities. This describes the world we live in today. Most of the world’s nations in Central Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia are in nuclear-weapon-free-zones and have opted out of nuclear confrontations. But in many countries in Europe, North America, East Asia, South Asia, and increasingly the Middle East, nuclear weapons have influenced decision makers to get their own weapons and increase reliance on them (for example, China, North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia), acquire a latent capability to make these weapons (for example, Iran), or request and receive protection from nuclear-armed allies (for example, non-nuclear countries of NATO, Japan and South Korea).

Is this part of the world destined to always figuratively sit on a powder keg with a short fuse? Perhaps if people in these countries can close the empathy gap, they might reduce the risk of nuclear war and eventually find cooperative security measures that do not require nuclear weapons. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is a natural human capacity especially when dealing with people who share many common bonds.

If we can truly understand someone we now perceive to be an enemy, would we be less likely to want to do harm to that person or other members of his or her group? Empathic understanding between groups is not a guarantee of conflict prevention, but it does appear to offer a promising method for conflict reduction. However, as psychological research has shown, failures of empathy often occur between groups that are socially or culturally different. People in one group can also feel pleasure in the suffering of those in the different group, especially if that other group is dominant. The German word schadenfreude captures this delight in others’ suffering. Competitive groups especially exhibit schadenfreude; for example, Boston Red Sox fans experience glee when the usually dominant New York Yankees lose to a weaker opponent.4)Mina Cikara, Emile G. Bruneau, and Rebecca R. Saxe, “Us and Them: Intergroup Failures of Empathy,” Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(3) 149-153, 2011.

Are there interventions that can disrupt this negative behavior and feelings? Cognitive scientists Mina Cikara, Emile Bruneau and Rebecca Saxe point out that “historical asymmetries of status and power between groups” is a key variable.5)Ibid, p. 151. If the same intervention method such as asking participants to take the perspective of the other into account is used for both groups, different effects are observed. For example, the dominant group tends to respond most positively to perspective taking in which members of that group would listen attentively to the perspective or views of the other group. A positive response means that people’s attitude toward the other group becomes favorable. In contrast, the non-dominant group’s members often experience a deepening of negative attitudes toward the dominant group if they engage in perspective taking. Rather, members of the non-dominant group show a favorable change in attitude when they perform perspective giving toward the dominant group. Importantly, they have to know that members of the dominant group are being attentive and really listening to the non-dominant group’s perspective. In other words, the group with less or no political power needs to be heard for positive change to occur. While these results seem to be common sense, Bruneau and Saxe point out that almost always perspective taking is used in interventions intended to bring asymmetric groups together and often this conflict resolution method fails. Their research underscores the importance of perspective giving, especially for non-dominant groups.6)Emile G. Bruneau and Rebecca Saxe, “The power of being heard: The benefits of ‘perspective-giving’ in the context of intergroup conflict,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48 (2012), 855-866.

This research shows promising results that could have implications for bridging the divide between Americans and Iranians on the different views on nuclear power, for example, or the gap between Americans and Chinese on the implications of the U.S. pivot toward East Asia and the Chinese rise in economic, military, and political power. I conclude this president’s message with encouragement to cognitive scientists in the United States and other nations to apply these and other research techniques to the grand social challenges such as how to get people across the globe to work together to mitigate the effects of climate change and to achieve nuclear disarmament through cooperative security.

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. D. Keltner, and J. Haidt, “Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion,” Cognition and Emotion, 17 (2003), 297-314.
2. Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, “Why Do We Experience Awe?” New York Times, May 22, 2015.
3. Richard Sanders, “The myth of ‘shock and awe’: Why the Iraqi invasion was a disaster,” Telegraph, UK, March 19, 2013.
4. Mina Cikara, Emile G. Bruneau, and Rebecca R. Saxe, “Us and Them: Intergroup Failures of Empathy,” Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(3) 149-153, 2011.
5. Ibid, p. 151.
6. Emile G. Bruneau and Rebecca Saxe, “The power of being heard: The benefits of ‘perspective-giving’ in the context of intergroup conflict,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48 (2012), 855-866.

New Releases from the National Declassification Center

The National Declassification Center at the National Archives yesterday announced the availability of 240 sets of records that have recently undergone declassification processing.

Many of the record collections are listed in such banal or generic terms that it is hard to imagine they would attract any interest at all. (“Bureau of Naval Personnel Activity File, Personnel Accounting Ledger Records, 1952-1967”?)

But there are also a few items that will make at least some researchers’ hearts beat a little faster, such as three boxes of declassified “Cloud Gap Field Test Reports, 1962-69.”

Cloud Gap was an ambitious government project in the 1960s to establish the technical basis for new arms control measures. Previously disclosed Cloud Gap Field Test Reports on the verifiable dismantlement of nuclear weapons are posted here.

In Closing

Last week, I was walking through Ueno Park as part of my annual cherry blossom pilgrimage. Among the trees and temples, I came across “The Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” I was deeply moved to read the story of Tatsuo Yamamoto, who went to Hiroshima in search of his uncle following the bombing and instead found a flame burning in the ruins of his uncle’s house. Yamamoto-san retrieved the flame and brought it back to his hometown of Hoshino-mura as a memorial. Over the years, the flame was preserved by the town and became a symbol of the desire to abolish nuclear weapons. In time, the flame was merged with another lit by the friction of broken roofing tiles of Nagasaki. That flame was then carried to the Third Special Session of the UN General Assembly for Disarmament. The next year, the “Association for the Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Lit at Ueno Toshogu” erected “The Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Memorial” to permanently enshrine the flame in Ueno Park.

Over the last year, I have been privileged to meet victims of the Hiroshima bombing and work with academics helping to preserve the stories of fallout victims from the Pacific Proving Grounds nuclear tests. Unfortunately, many victims are now reaching the end of their lives. So too are their contemporaries who lived through the great World Wars. In the short-term, decisions on international security will be inherited by the subsequent generation, who experienced firsthand the very real threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction during the Cold War. However, in the not too distant future, my generation will take over the reigns of power without the benefit of those collective memories. So, it is critical that memorials like the one in Ueno Park are maintained. They provide the best mechanism through which to inspire future generations to learn more about the risks associated with nuclear war.

As my time at the Federation of American Scientists draws to an end, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge three people in my life who have served as my inspiration.

The first was my grandfather. A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, he never shied away from talking about war. As a former B-52 bombardier, he often talked about the firebombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He loved to debate on the merits of those attacks. From his perspective, they were justified by the fact that they saved hundreds of thousands of American lives and prevented a future nuclear war with the Soviet Union. When challenged, he liked to point out to his grandchildren that there was a very good chance that he himself would have been killed in the battle for the Japanese mainland – thereby eliminating his children’s and grandchildren’s prospect for life. Yet, he often struggled with the moral basis of those attacks. So, we often debated the merits of nuclear war driving down the road in his pickup truck. In retrospect, one of the most important gifts that my grandfather ever gave me was his memory of war. Without it, I would not have appreciated its true nature from my textbooks on strategic studies. Nor would I have been prepared to deal with my own experiences as part of the War on Terrorism.

The second was my father. A businessman of great character, one of his favorite sayings was, “They can take everything away from you except your education.” He lived by this mantra and ensured that his children were provided a level of education that far exceeded our economic status. This included coursework in ethics from an early age. Unfortunately, such training is largely absent in middle and high school education in the United States today. Being forced to confront the classical debates on morality as an adolescent radically shaped my worldview. It also ensured that my views on international politics, including on war, were grounded in ethical positions. Whereas my grandfather had stressed the practical need to always win wars, my education suggested that how one wins is equally important. Yet, when I went off to university, I found that my undergraduate education in International Relations failed to build on this point. Ethics and morality were largely absent from the subject as presented by my professors. Had it not been for the early education provided by my father, I would have graduated from university with a very narrow understanding of international politics grounded solely in international and domestic law. And, in my case, that would have meant that I would have gone to work at the Pentagon with a worldview that failed to account for ethics, morality, and philosophy in the conduct of war.

The third was my professor at SAIS. Professor David M. Lampton was one of the greatest teachers that I have ever come across in higher education. His lectures inspired his students to care deeply about East Asian regional security. By forcing us to confront contemporary issues like the North Korean Ballistic Missile Tests, he prepared us to make immediate policy relevant contributions to the international security discourse. Perhaps even more importantly, he always took a personal interest in our success. Unlike many other professors in foreign policy graduate programs, he was a teacher first and a policy expert second. Long after graduation, he would still support his students’ career ambitions and remained in touch with many. In my case, Professor Lampton inspired me to pursue my own PhD. He motivated me to get involved in foreign policy exchanges on East Asian security. And, he always provided a sounding board for new ideas. In short, he exemplified excellence in teaching through his actions and intentions. For this, I am very grateful.

Unfortunately, not everyone has such inspirations in their life. They may not have had a chance to meet a victim of a nuclear bombing or someone who has participated in a nuclear war. They might not have been provided an education that exposed them to ethics or prepared them to be a subject matter expert on international security. For these reasons, we must do more to preserve the memories of those who have survived nuclear attacks. We must also strengthen our education programs to teach future generations about the full risks associated with nuclear war. If we fail to do so, we cannot hope that future generations will appreciate the consequences of nuclear war to the same visceral extent as their predecessors. And, as a consequence, we cannot expect them to make the best policy decisions with respect to international peace and security.

Of course, it is my hope that this world will never experience another nuclear attack. But, I must admit that I find that to be wishful thinking. As we saw in Syria, the temptation to use whatever capabilities are at your disposal to win a conflict means the ever-present possibility of a nuclear confrontation. That is why I believe our only hope is global disarmament. I say this as a realist not as an idealist. And, I believe this goal is achievable. Yet, as Dwight D. Eisenhower famously cautioned in his 1955 Geneva Speech, “The quest for peace is the statesman’s most exacting duty. Security of the nation entrusted to his care is his greatest responsibility. Practical progress to lasting peace is his fondest hope. Yet in pursuit of his hope he must not betray the trust placed in him as guardian of the people’s security. A sound peace — with security, justice, well-being, and freedom for the people of the world — can be achieved, but only by patiently and thoughtfully following a hard and sure and tested road.” I do not believe that we will ever rid the world of war. But, we can eliminate the possibility that any one actor can unilaterally bring an end to our planet’s existence. If we are to achieve this goal, we must remain patient, vigilant, and committed to the objective of disarmament. And, we must always employ use of force while respecting ethical and social needs.

Michael Edward Walsh is the President of the Emerging Science and Technology Policy Centre. He is also the President of Plan G Consulting. Since 2012, he has served as an Adjunct Fellow for Emerging Technologies and High-end Threats at the Federation of American Scientists. He can be followed on Twitter at @aseanreporting.

Pacific Young Leaders on Disarmament Policy Papers

Last year, the Pacific Islands Society launched a new program entitled the Pacific Young Leaders on Disarmament. The program was designed to provide young leaders from the Pacific Islands Region with an opportunity to have their voice heard on contemporary disarmament topics.

In partnership with the Federation of American Scientists,  Emerging Science and Technology Policy Centre, Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies (CANZPS) at Georgetown University, and Pacific Society at SOAS,the 2013 program welcomed young leaders from American Samoa and Papua New Guinea last spring.

Since then, the participants have been exploring the complex world of diplomacy and disarmament under the careful mentorship of senior diplomats from a number of diplomatic missions in Geneva. Additional mentorship was also provided by academics, think tank fellows, and outside experts .

Today, we are pleased to conclude the program with the publication of their “Statements to the Conference on Disarmament.” These statements reflect the personal views of the participants on how the Conference on Disarmament can better advance the global discourse on disarmament and thereby promote the interests of the Pacific Islands Region.

These statements are the latest in a series of writing assignments conducted as part of the program. This includes previous opinion pieces for the FAS Blog that challenged the young leaders to consider both sides of the debate on the future of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament.

In the next few weeks, these statements will be printed, bound, and delivered to diplomatic missions in Geneva and to various members of Congress in the United States. A copy will also be provided to the SOAS Library for archival purposes.

Following the success of the inaugural class of Pacific Young Leaders on Disarmament, the Pacific Islands Society will announce a call for 2014-2015 Pacific Young Leaders on Disarmament in September of this year.

In addition to the Pacific Young Leaders on Disarmament Program, the Pacific Islands Society will be launching two new programmes this spring, namely the Pacific Young Leaders on Trade and Investment and the Pacific Young Leaders on Public Diplomacy. Applications for participants in the 2014-2015 inaugural class will open 1st May 2014.

About the Scholars: 

Charity Anna Porotesano recently graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. In 2012, The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation recognized her exceptional leadership potential when she was made a Truman Scholar. Porotesano has since returned to her home of American Samoa to work in education and serve as a youth representative on the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. Charity’s statement is available here (PDF).

Keiko Ono is a recent graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Development Studies. Of Papua New Guinean-Japanese decent, Ono has a strong interest in gender, development and diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region. She also cares passionately about access to higher education having served as the elected Co-President the future of SOAS 2012-2013, where she played a central role in the management and oversight role in over 190 student-led activities. Keiko’s statement is available here (PDF).

 

Inquiries about any the 2013-14 PYL-D Program – Contact: [email protected]

Opportunities to Support the 2014-15 PYL-D Program – Contact: [email protected]