Month: April 2014

An interesting idea: Floating Nuclear Power Plants?

The difficulty of building nuclear power plants is well-known: the concerns about their safety, however well or ill founded they may be, have  led to their gradual decline across the world.  Just yesterday, Taiwanese protestors attacked the construction of a new nuclear plant.  They argued that Taiwan is far too vulnerable to tsunamis and earthquakes to make nuclear power safe, and that the small size of the island means that a disaster would be truly catastrophic.

But what if nuclear power plants could be taken out to sea?  They would in fact be safer from tsunamis out in the ocean, as a tsunami occurs when a large amount of water disturbed by some event hits land.  They could keep cool with a limitless supply of ocean water, and could send electricity to the land with electric cables.

That is what the Economist has been reporting recently, and it’s an interesting thought.

On Asia, and “Salami Tactics”: The Illusion of the benefits of Nukes.

Today in the National Interest, Professor Harvey M. Sapolsky penned an argument arguing for what he deemed “tailored proliferation”, where he argued that in order to counter Chinese interest in East Asia, the United States should encourage Australia, Japan, and South Korea to obtain nuclear weapons.  Calling nuclear weapons “the great equalizer” and arguing that nuclear weapons helped to prevent the Cold War from turning hot, Sapolsky claims that democratic institutions, civilian control of the military, and a lack of lobbing missiles at one another shows that the countries of East Asia would make reliable stewards of nuclear weapons.  This policy would benefit the United States, Sapolsky argues, because the presence of nukes would mean that the United States would be able to draw down its substantial conventional forces in the region and thus save a great deal of money.

Sapolsky is not the only one I have seen these days who has been discussing not just the harms of non-proliferation, but the BENEFITS of active proliferation.  In the aftermath of the Russian seizure of Crimea as well as their continued antagonism of Eastern Ukraine, there has been a great deal of hand-wringing, especially from the Ukranians themselves, about how Ukraine traded  nuclear weapons in exchange for a guarantee of its sovereignty, and how this apparently broken agreement has shown that Ukraine should have kept the nuclear weapons after all.  In Iran, apologists for the mullahs and those who fight against American hegemony to show that they are “well-informed” have in fact argued that an Iranian nuclear program would guarantee peace in the Middle East – because since the US could no longer invade Iran, this would encourage the disparate peoples of the Middle East to get along…somehow.

But reality is different.  Nuclear weapons are not an end-all be-all.  They are not a guarantor of world peace.  They are a destabilizing factor, and every country, every group, every person who gets their access to nuclear weapons is just one more factor that has to be watched in order to ensure that no one goes mad.  And frankly for Dr. Sapolsky’s argument, nuclear weapons would not ensure stability in the Middle East, as the British comedy series Yes Minister observed nearly thirty years ago:

For those who would prefer not to waste their time watching YouTube videos, a simple observation about Sapolsky’s argument: what will nukes do about the Senkakus?  What will it solve?  The idea of Japan and China actually fighting a conventional war over the rocks, even after the dispute began in earnest nearly two years ago, is just as absurd in East Asia as it is here in the United States.  And if a conventional war is ridiculous enough, then what about nukes?  Will Japan launch nukes over a Chinese intrusion on the Senkakus?  Will the Philippines launch nukes over the South China Sea?  The answer is clearly, whichever way this is answered, a losing proposition for the smaller states.  If Japan does not launch nukes, it appears to be impotent.  If it does launch nukes over an intrusion on a couple rocks, the shock at such an overreaction would mean that Japan would be massively diplomatically isolated at best, and at worst would repeat the experiences of 1944-45 again.

Nukes are only useful if one has a very strong reason to believe that its core territories are under a realistic threat of invasion, and sometimes not even then ( Ukraine is an example: as Tom Nichols noted, the reality was that no one in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, whether Russia or the United States, had the slightest interest in seeing a then highly-unstable Ukraine with nuclear weapons).  Outside of that direct threat, they are useless at best, and a tool for nationalistic flag-waving which threatens to massively destabilize a crisis at worst.  The states of East Asia and Oceania do not need nukes.  They need conventional forces to handle smaller threats from China that are far more realistic to occur than a scenario straight out of Red Dawn.  And there is no one who can handle that better than the United States, especially since even an amateur on the East Asia should know how nervous China will get over a Japanese conventional build-up, or North Korea over a South Korean military expansion.

John Schindler with a brilliant essay.

It’s a bit off topic from what I normally write, but I just wanted to link this essay written by John Schindler, professor of National Security Affairs at Naval War College.  It is a brilliant piece of work, which acknowledges that even in the aftermath of the Iraqi War, that Americans on both sides of the spectrum have great difficulty understanding – that not everyone wants to be like us, and it isn’t because of a lack of “education” or “understanding”.  It does not make Russia uncivilized or barbaric – they are their own state, with different values, and that is all there is to it.  There is no reason to run around promoting cultural norms which are America’s and America’s alone.  Power, on the other hand, is a very different thing, which is something which Putin understands very well.

Brookings Lecture: Banri Kaieda and Perspectives on Japanese politics.

Today at the Brookings Institution, the president of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Banri Kaieda gave a brief lecture on Japanese politics and the DPJ’s perspective on the US-Japan alliance.  The Democratic Party of Japan is the main opposition in Japan as opposed to the more conservative Liberal Democratic Party(LDP), though I would strongly note that “liberal” and “conservative” do not always mean the same thing in foreign countries that they do in the United States.  For example, Kaieda expressed his strong support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, and it was in fact the DPJ who initiated the first steps to see Japan join back when they were in power from 2009-2012.

Here is a transcript of the speech which was passed out afterwards.

Afterwards, Mr. Kaieda answered a brief Q&A session.  A couple things that I noted to be of particular interest during this session.


Shale Oil success: Commerical production begins in Japan.

It should be noted that this is nowhere as big as the shale oil discoveries in Britain or Poland.  While David Cameron has declared that Britain’s shale oil could power the country for fifty years, the energy company Japex has estimated that it will be able to extract only around 100 million barrels of shale in Akita prefecture where the Ayukawa field is located- to put this in perspective, Japan imports around 4.5 million barrels per day. Still, Japan’s dependence on oil and LNG, both of which have continued to increase over the past half-decade especially due to the decline in nuclear power, means that it certainly does not hurt.  It is Japan’s continued search for oil which has put it in conflict with China – for that is what so much of the controversy over the Senkaku islands is really about, namely the possibility of undersea mineral and oil reserves.

That said, it should be noted on the nuclear front that while Japan may have closed down most ( though not all, as I discussed earlier) of its nuclear plants, it apparently has no problems exporting its nuclear plants to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.  I could disparage Japan for hypocrisy, especially since Turkey is a region which has suffered devastating earthquakes over the years, but a promotion away from carbon-based energy is never a bad thing.

“You are illegitimate!”: The constant cries of astroturfing and how it hurts our democracy.

I realize this is off-topic from my normal thoughts, but I do believe it should be discussed.

With the recent McCutcheon decision, and the outcry of concern about the rich buying every election in the country, I’ve noticed a particular claim about grassroots organizations, the Tea Party in particular, that I think should be addressed. There are many on the Left who argue that Tea Party beliefs are not just wrong, but that the Tea Party as a whole is an artificial “astroturfed” creation which does not in fact represent the beliefs of a significant group of Americans. Paul Krugman, Nancy Pelosi, and others conjure up boogeyman like the Koch brothers or FreedomWorks to show that the Tea Party is somehow illegitimate.