Thursday, May 19, 2022

Theodore A. Postol: Nuclear Weapons, Missile Technology, and U.S. Diplomacy — Manifold #12

Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is widely known as an expert on nuclear weapons and missile technology. 

Educated in physics and nuclear engineering at MIT, he was a researcher at Argonne National Lab, worked at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and was scientific advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations. 

After leaving the Pentagon, Postol helped to build a program at Stanford University to train mid-career scientists to study weapons technology in relation to defense and arms control policy. 

He has received numerous awards, including the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society for "incisive technical analysis of national security issues that [have] been vital for informing the public policy debate", the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for "uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses", and the Richard L. Garwin Award "that recognizes an individual who, through exceptional achievement in science and technology, has made an outstanding contribution toward the benefit of mankind." 

Steve and Ted discuss: 

0:00 Introduction 
2:02 Early life in Brooklyn, education at MIT, work at the Pentagon 
20:27 Reagan’s “Star Wars” defense plan 
28:26 U.S. influence on Russia and China’s second-strike capabilities 
54:41 Missile defense: vs nuclear weapons, scuds, anti-ship missiles (aircraft carriers), hypersonics 
1:11:42 Nuclear escalation and the status of mutually assured destruction 
1:32:24 Analysis of claims the Syrian government used chemical agents against their own people 
1:44:45 Media skepticism 


Theodore Postol at MIT 

A Flawed and Dangerous US Missile Defense Plan, G. Lewis and T. Postol, Arms Control Today 

Review Cites Flaws in US Antimissile Program, NY Times May 17 2010 

Improving US Ballistic Missile Defense Policy, G. Lewis and F. von Hippel, Arms Control Today, May 2018 

Whose Sarin? by Seymour Hersh (2013) 

Here is an excerpt from the transcript: 
Ted Postol: ... So, you've got to listen to Putin's voice dispassionately. And when you listen to him, he makes it clear numerous times, numerous times that he doesn't think American missile defense is a worth anything, but he also is worried about an American president who might believe otherwise, and who might take steps against Russia, that would then lead to an action-reaction cycle that would get us, get us all killed. 
In other words, he's not just worried about the system, whether it can work, he's worried about American political leadership and what they think, or if they think, or if they know. And that was, you know, I was very receptive to understanding that because that's exactly what I went through, you know, 30 years earlier when I was at the Pentagon, looking at this dog of a missile defense. 
And so, the Chinese look at this, they know the Americans are lying to them all the time. I could give you a good story about South Korea and the way we lied to the South Koreans and lied to the Chinese. 
I was really furious with that. That was under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And my view is... 
Steve: THAAD? 
Ted Postol: THAAD, right. THAAD in South Korea
And my view is if you're lying to an ally and you're lying, you know, I have very good friends. I'm very, very proud to say I have some very good friends who are high-level diplomats, and I've asked every one of them, would you lie in a negotiation? And every one of them has said, no. In other words, your credibility depends on your honesty. You might not say something that, you know, could be relevant to a negotiation relevant to your adversary's thinking, but you would never lie because your credibility will, you'll never be believed again. That's their view of this. 
And here we were under Hillary Clinton lying to an ally and lying to the Chinese, who I knew through my personal contacts, understood that we were lying to them. I know from personal contacts with the Chinese.  
So, how do you expect people to treat you when they know you're a liar? To me, it's just simple human relations. And, and I now understand that because I have friends who are both diplomats and soldiers, and I know, if you have to lie to make a point there's something wrong and you're, you're jeopardizing your credibility with other professionals if, if you do that. 
So, we should not be surprised that the Chinese are increasing their forces. 
And when Putin marched out this horrifying Poseidon underwater torpedo, could potentially carry a hundred megaton warhead. It's nuclear-powered. It can travel at some very high speed, 50, 60 knots or more, and then it can go quiet, sneak into a Harbor, know coastal Harbor and detonate underwater, and destroy out to 30 or 40 kilometers, a complete area, urban area. And he has this weapon. He made it obvious that he had it. He showed plans for it. 
Ted Postol: Well, what he was doing is he was saying to an American president who knows nothing. All right, assuming that the president knows nothing, that your missile defenses will not do anything about this weapon. That's what he did it for. He was an insurance policy toward bad decision-making by American political leadership. That's why he built that weapon. That's why he ordered that weapon built. 
So not because, I mean, he may be a monster. That's another issue, but it's not because he was a monster, it's because he made a strategic calculation that that kind of weapon would cause any person, even if they were totally without knowledge and thought of how missile defense could work, to understand that you will not escape retribution if you attack Russia. That's why that weapon was built.

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