P.O. Box 190, Mount Holly, Virginia 2252
Volume 39, Number 3, Jerry Strope, Editor

Herman Kahn once said:I’m against sloppy, emotional thinking. I’m against fashion-able thinking. I am against the whole cliché of the moment.” Those of us who were lucky enough to know Herman in ASDA in the 60’s and 70’s—he died of a heart attack in 1983—found him to be the most exciting thinker of our acquaintance. Within a few years of his death, the Cold War was over and no one turned the pages of On Thermonuclear War any more. Occasionally I would go back to Thinking about the Unthinkable, but I really looked forward to some clever fellow packaging Herman’s best efforts in a convenient form. Back in 2005 I thought I’d found it when I saw an ad for The Worlds of Herman Kahn published by the Harvard University Press. After all, university presses are supposed to publish scholarly manuscripts, aren’t they? Not this time. The lady author had been brainwashed by the movie, Dr. Strangelove, believed no one could be a serious student of nuclear war, avoided presenting any Kahnian arguments and presented Herman as a stand-up comic, a complete caricature of the real Herman.

At last I have found exactly what I was looking for: The Essential Herman Kahn by Paul Aligica and Kenneth Weinstein. These noble fellows from Herman’s Hudson Institute have done a magnificent editing job of selecting Herman at his best and organizing it in a useful way, not just the nuclear war stuff but the breakthrough ideas and methodology of globalization, cultural change and futurology. And the picture on the cover of the paperback edition is worth the $26.95 the entire book cost me at It destroys all caricatures.

Why did Obama kill Bush’s missile defense installations in eastern Europe? In mid-September, the president announced that he was abandoning the Bush administration plans for missile defense facilities in the former Warsaw Pact nations of Poland and the Czech Republic, facilities designed to interfere with Iranian missile attacks on Europe and the US. The Russians loathed the idea of a US operational system based on its former turf and had told Obama the plan stood in the way of improved relations. Everyone assumed this was the reason for canceling the plan but Obama said he was doing it as a realistic adjustment to Iran’s actual missile capabilities. He offered a sea-based and land-based missile defense system aimed at protecting Europe from Iran’s short and medium-range missiles, insisting Iran would not have intercontinental missiles until 2020.

The official explanation was not taken very seriously by the chattering classes. Placating the Russians was too obvious  and there was little detail about the substitute system, which would presumably involve the Aegis cruisers that had been modified for missile defense purposes. Critics had a field day. Rich Lowry in National Review Online said the truth is our gutless president has caved to Russian bullying without getting anything tangible in return. Jamie Fly in The Weekly Standard said perhaps Obama thinks that if we appease Putin’s thugs, Russia might support the West’s efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “More likely, Iran, Russia, and a watching world will see this for what it is: a colossal sign of US weakness.” All this hue and cry could be a bit premature. Russia very well may not improve relations by joining in the pressure on Iran but the missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic haven’t yet been built. Nothing has been torn down. All Obama has to do in the face of Russian intransigence is to make it known that the intrusive facilities are back in the plans.

Talking to Iran about talking to Iran When this quarter began in July, protests were continuing in Tehran over Iranian elections in June, which had been rigged to re-elect President Ahmadinejad. The protests persisted into August, generating pronouncements that the regime had lost all credibility, even though Ahmadinejad had his administration certified by the mullahs. The Obama administration ignored these developments and continued to propose to talk to the embattled regime without preconditions. The Iranians initially ignored Obama’s proposal and then laid down the precondition that the Iranian nuclear program not be discussed. Much of this jousting took place during the August recess. September was to be occupied by the convening of the United Nations assembly followed by a meeting of the G-20 nations on the global economy, so seven-nation talks with Iran were scheduled for October 1 in Geneva.

Talking about the talks with Iran was a quiet activity until September 25. That Friday, barely a week after Obama had cancelled the Bush missile defense facilities, he denounced the Ahmadinejad regime for hiding a hitherto undisclosed underground nuclear facility. According to the Associated Press, Obama joined the leaders of Britain and France in accusing the Islamic republic of clandestinely building an underground plant to make nuclear fuel that could be used to build an atomic bomb.

“Iran’s action raised grave doubts” about its promise to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes only, Obama told a news conference at the conclusion of a G-20 summit. Obama said a telling moment would come next week when Iran meets with US and other major nations to discuss the nuclear issue. “Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on October 1, they are going to have to come clean and they are going to have to make a choice” between international isolation and giving up any aspirations to becoming a nuclear power. If they refuse to give ground, they will stay on “a path that is going to lead to confrontation.”

Iran previously had acknowledged having only the one uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, which is monitored by the UN’s IAEA. The secret plant is said to be on a military base controlled by the Revolutionary Guards. At a news conference in New York, Ahmadinejad said the plant wouldn’t be operational fpr 18 months and would be inspected by the IAEA. The US has known of the facility’s existence for several years and press reports are mixed on who outed it, Obama or the Iranians.

In Moscow, Sergei Karaganov, Kremlin-connected head of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, said,”Russia, even though it doesn’t believe in economic sanctions, will go for a new round of sanctions that will stop short of economic warfare.”

No more Nukes? President Obama took the opportunity of chairing the UN Security Council to obtain unanimous approval of a resolution committing all nations to work for a nuclear weapons-free world. The resolution calls for stepped-up efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote disarmament, and “reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.” It calls for better security for nuclear-weapons materials and underscores the Security Council’s intention to take action if such material or nuclear weapons are obtained by terrorists.

 “The historic resolution we just adopted enshrines our shared commitment to a goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama said after the vote. “And it brings Security Council agreement on a broad framework for action to reduce nuclear dangers as we work toward that goal.” The council endorsed a global effort to “lock down all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years,” and Obama announced that the US will host an April summit to advance compliance and assist all nations in achieving the goal.

The resolution does not mention any country by name, but it reaffirms previous Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions on Iran and North Korea for their nuclear activities.

How to not talk to North Korea - In the Pacific, July began with North Korea cele-brating our Independence Day by firing off four short-range missiles, something the Security Council had told them not to do. A few days later, we learned it is likely Kim Jung Il has pancreatic cancer, which has a poor five-year survival rate. And on July 16, the Security Council issued a list of five North Korean companies and five individuals associated with those companies to be sanctioned for their role in aiding the NK nuclear and missile activities. “We are pleased with the new international sanctions agreed to today in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and recent missile activity,” said Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN. “These new designations. . . will serve to constrain North Korea from engaging in transactions or activities that could fund its WMD or proliferation activities.” The move instructed member nations to freeze any assets held in their banks by the individuals and firms on the list. They were also prohibited from conducting business with the North Korean companies or allowing entry by the designated individuals. The new list is an addendum to a round of sanctions the Security Council approved in June in response to Pyongyang’s May nuclear test, the second failure.

The US had hoped to name 15 companies to the list, but China, which has been reluctant to punish the North, negotiated the number down to five. The firms now on the list include Namchongang Trading Corp. which is believed to have helped build a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria that was bombed by Israel in 2007. The people now on the list include Ri Je Son, director of the General Bureau of Atomic Energy. “The individuals are closely involved and responsible for these programs; they are very senior,” said Japanese UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu. “We have full confidence this will make a major impact.” 

As the August recess began, Pyongyang made an offer to talk. It said that while it would not return to six-party denuclearization talks, it would consider joining a “specific and reserved form of dialogue.” This phrase is interpreted by the US State Department to mean bilateral talks with the US, which the North has sought for years. The statement is the first indication in months that North Korea is willing to negotiate over its nuclear ambitions. However, a top State official said that the proposal “fails to meet” Washington’s criteria for talks with North Korea and that any conversations must take place within a multilateral framework. “We have a (six-party) framework, and the North Koreans need to recommit to denuclearization through that framework and implement their obligations,” said the official, reiterating the US position (the Bush framework.) As State Department spokesman Ian Kelly expressed it, “Washington is open to a bilateral discussion but only in the context of the six-party talks.”

The multinational talks stalled last December and the North formally withdrew from them in April following international criticism of a North Korean rocket launch widely believed to be a long-range missile test. Pyongyang has since tested its second nuclear device and numerous missile tests.