…must eventually come to an end. I have enjoyed writing for ArmsContolWonk.com very much and it has been one of the more satisfying professional experiences I have had. Unfortunately, at least for me, this post will be my last. I am moving on in my career and no longer can afford the time etc. involved in writing these posts. Jeffrey took a risk on letting me write a “techno-wonk” component for his outstanding blog and I will always be grateful to him for doing so. While I’m at it, I want to say that Jeffrey was a pioneer in exploiting the potential of the web for informing the public with reasoned debate and I hope he gets the recognition that he deserves. ACW has been a leader this in effort and I am proud to have been a part of it even briefly.
The spiffy new blog format Jeffrey has initiated for the blog easily allows me to see that this is the 142nd posting I have done for ACW. A high fraction of these have been about missiles and missile proliferation. In them, I have focused on what I call the “How” of proliferation rather than the “why” that has been discussed so much previously. While I do think missiles and space are cool (who doesn’t?), I have always considered them to simply be a more visible way of understanding how developing countries acquire the advanced manufacturing capabilities needed for almost any WMD technology. There are two reasons for this. First, you can almost always distinguish success from failure with rockets, and especially satellite launches. Second, missiles and space launch vehicles represent a national achievement that most countries are more willing to release information about than other technologies. Consider Iran’s release of videos of the production of Shahab engines. (It is true that Iran has released images of the components for the centrifuges but I think, on the whole, there has been more released for their satellite program.) There are, of course, a number of reasons for this; reasons that I would have liked to talk about in future blogs. Perhaps others on ACW will find this topic interesting and post on it. I hope somebody continues to analyze.
Another future topic I would have liked to write about is motivated by the many recent examples of leaking. As one friend of mine recently wrote: “Information wants to be free.” I have a serious problem with that if the implication is that we can stop trying to contain proliferation sensitive information. (If it is a statement about entropy and proliferation, it is simply a statement of fact. You simply cannot have information shared among 850,000 holders of Top Secret clearances and expect something not to get out.) One issue I wanted to work through on these pages was the relation between proliferation secrets and how successful proliferators are. I have discussed many times just how ineffective “reverse engineering” the production line for making WMD is. Proliferators need more than blueprints for effective proliferation, they need someone to teach them the shop-floor skills to take a “product’s” blueprint and create the process for its construction. This is why the secret formula for VX really did not help Iraq when it tried to produce militarily useful quantities of the stuff.
But why make it easier for them? It was just this balancing of assistance and difficulty that I wanted to explore. I am sure others will take up this challenge on these pages. The answer is just too important.
If what I consider my most important work here was understanding the “how” of proliferation, I had the most fun writing some of the more off-beat posts. My favorite post—the one I had the most fun writing—was “Shocking Good Fun,” where I analyzed the atmospheric phenomena associated with a rocket going supersonic. I also really enjoyed thinking about antipodal seismic signals of nuclear blasts. That is another regret: that I have to leave before completely mining the wealth of ideas in “Caging the Dragon,” the excellent DOE report on containing nuclear explosions underground.
Of course, discussing past posts would be meaningless without talking about the contributions from you, wonk-readers. I consider myself a generalist with a special interest in rockets (see above for why I think that is). There are many real experts in the technologies I have written about and they have been kind enough to contribute their ideas and knowledge to these pages. I have learned a lot from these experts and I am sure the general reader has a pretty good idea who they are. (Several use pseudonyms.)
Of course, any time you discuss several specific countries on the internet, you get some very strong reactions. Reactions that have a tendency to get very unpleasant, very quickly. As I carried out my duties to moderate these discussions—after all, the vast majority of our readers really do not want to read comments filled with unthinking hate—I would often see a comment that was sure to draw and escalation from the “other side.” Sometimes, such comments would have a valid point to make or contain at least some interesting points of view and I would wonder why the writer needed to include the barbs in them that were sure to inflame people with different loyalties. In all cases, it might have had an immediate emotional release for the writer, but it always reduced the intellectual impact of the comment.
I came to expect that type of comment from some of the nationalities that we discuss in these pages, but I was very surprised to get it in full force on the very few occasions I might have hinted that I am not a fan of NASA’s manned space flight program. (Not to mention the one time I talked about something all too many people want to think of as a UFO!)
Finally, I’d like to hear from you, wonk-readers, about which are your favorite posts that I have contributed and why. And, perhaps more importantly, which were your least favorite posts that I have written. Here too I’d like to know why. I should say that I know I have made mistakes in these posts; mistakes I have tried to acknowledge. But the point of my posts was never to lay out my “wisdom” before you, but to explore new ideas and do so in a time frame much faster than permitted by refereed journals. That has inevitably led me to make mistakes (one howler—it was so bad, I deleted it before many readers had a chance to see it—involved me forgetting that the vacuum between the rotor and a centrifuge’s outer casing acted as a thermal barrier and greatly reduced the power requirement for a clandestine enrichment facility) so please be kind, gentle reader!