September-October 2003

"The fire would extinguish all life and destroy almost everything else."

Lynn Eden, Whole World On Fire, page 26

In this Issue


A Fire Bug Returns

Shades of the 1960s! Nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War and very long after the issue of mass fires during a nuclear attack was a subject of controversy, a new book has appeared as if part of a time warp. Whole World on Fire is written by Lynn Eden, Associate Director for Research and Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Institute for International Studies, Stanford University. The Institute for International Studies stubbed its toe when it let this turkey get published by Cornell University Press.

The book has one saving grace. The experimental work done by the Office of Civil Defense in the 1960s, much by ASDA members, is described in some detail although the author uses none of the results in reaching her conclusions. Rather, she clings to the views of her guru, Ted Postel of MIT, who is one of the anti-defenders well known for choosing some level of thermal energy as creating ignitions of some materials, using this radius for a circle around a postulated nuclear detonation, and declaring all within gone. That approach has generated uniformly negative criticism and this book will, too.

Two such critical commentaries are contained in this Newsletter. The first, by your editor and Executive Secretary, points out some of the obvious problems with the Postel approach, based on facts generated by research within his overview during the 1960s and 1970s. The second critique is more technical and is by Stan Martin, president of the Carl Miller Chapter of ASDA and a leader for 50 years in mass fire research. The subject deserves such emphasis.

North Korean Dance Steps

Six-nation talks on steps to curb North Koreaís nuclear weapons program are now scheduled for some time in July. Meanwhile, some possibly significant preliminary talks have occurred. Vice President Dick Cheney made an Asian tour during March and April. After talking to leaders in Japan and South Korea, Cheney met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in mid-April where he is reported by AP to have urged the Chinese leader to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. China is North Koreaís last remaining ally and the leading supplier of food and energy for its ailing economy.

A senior US official told reporters that Cheney gave Chinese leaders inform-ation obtained from Pakistanís top nuclear scientist suggesting that North Korea had at least three nuclear "devices" and was capable of both plutonium and enriched uranium weapons. "Time is not on our side," Cheney is reported to have told Hu.

China has said that it wants a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Washington is insisting on a "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling" of all of North Koreaís nuclear facilities. What China wants to avoid at all costs is a situation in which South Korea and Japan "go nuclear."

A week after Cheney left Beijing, North Koreaís Kim Jong Il paid a "secret" visit. Kim apparently traveled to China by train. Early on April 19, a convoy of armored cars with deeply tinted glass moved his delegation from the train station to a government guest house where visiting leaders are usually quartered. The Chinese government declined publicly to confirm Kimís visit. But US officials say Beijing has told Washington of the visit.

AP reported that Chinese leaders were urging Kim Jong Il to ease off his hard-line stance toward the United States. Kim argued that North Korea needs a "nuclear deterrent" against a possible US attack. A day after talks with President Hu Jintao, Kim was said to have met with former President Jiang Zemin, who remains head of the Communist Party commission that runs Chinaís military. During his meeting with Jiang, "Kim was believed to have expressed a strong doubt that North Korea would ever get security guarantees from the United States even if it gives up its nuclear programs."

Jiang is said to have told Kim that the possibility of the US invading North Korea was slim to none. Following the meetings, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said that China remains confident a new round of talks can be held before July. "The six-party talks provide a defined mechanism for solving the nuclear question," Kong said. "This mechanism is necessary." Which is to say "Letís get on with it."

On April 22, one or two trains carrying oil, or maybe ammunition, or something exploded in the railroad station at Ryongchon, North Korea, near the Chinese border, a few hours after the train carrying Kim Jong Il passed through on his return, killing and injuring thousands or perhaps hundreds, and prompting aid from around the world. The event timing was a pure coincidence, it appears.

In North Koreaís first confirmation of Kimís trip to Beijing, the official news agency said Kim Jong Il had promised to show patience and flexibility in upcoming negotiations. The news agency said Kim and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to try to resolve the dispute peacefully through six-party talks expected to convene in July.

And On the Defense

Meanwhile, work on the US missile defense system has slipped behind the cover of security classification. However, it seems likely the defense against North Koreaís purported stock-pile of nuclear missiles is ahead of its fall IOC.