What you are about to learn is a secret -- a secret that the United States and four other nations, the makers of hydrogen weapons, have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect.
The secret is in the coupling mechanism that enables an ordinary fission bomb -- the kind that destroyed Hiroshima -- to trigger the far deadlier energy of hydrogen fusion.
The physical pressure and heat generated by x- and gamma radiation, moving outward from the trigger at the speed of light, bounces against the weapon's inner wall and is reflected with enormous force into the sides of a carrot-shaped "pencil" which contains the fusion fuel.
"That, within the limits of [the previous] sentence, is the essence of a concept that initially eluded the physicists of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China," wrote Howard Morland for The Progressive in 1979, "that they discovered independently and kept tenaciously to themselves, and that may not yet have occurred to the weapon makers of a dozen other nations bent on building the hydrogen bomb."
You can get the entire issue of the magazine, in PDF form, here. What nefarious methods did Morland employ to get this top secret info? I guess you'd call it journalism. Most of what he learned about how to make a hydrogen bomb he gained from published science papers. To fill in the gaps, he asked physicists. Turns out that, as closely guarded government secrets go, the H-bomb wasn't one. You can't really take a chunk out of physics and keep it secret -- the information is all there, all it takes is putting it together and solving mechanical problems.
All of which makes a United Nations report out this weekend a little perplexing.
[New York Times:]
Senior staff members of the United Nations nuclear agency have concluded in a confidential analysis that Iran has acquired “sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable” atom bomb.
The report by experts in the International Atomic Energy Agency stresses in its introduction that its conclusions are tentative and subject to further confirmation of the evidence, which it says came from intelligence agencies and its own investigations.
But the report’s conclusions, described by senior European officials, go well beyond the public positions taken by several governments, including the United States.
Asked on CNN's State of the Union if he agreed with the UN's report, National Security Adviser James Jones said, "No, we stand by the reports that we've put out." Those reports contradict the UN's, although indirectly, by reporting that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapon development in 2003. At that point, pretty much everyone agreed that Iran was years -- perhaps decades -- away from a weapon.
Which raises the question; what does "all the data" actually mean? According to the NYT, the UN report -- titled Possible Military Dimensions of Iran's Nuclear Program -- "draws a picture of a complex program, run by Iran's Ministry of Defense, 'aimed at the development of a nuclear payload to be delivered using the Shahab 3 missile system,' Iran’s medium-range missile, which can strike the Middle East and parts of Europe. The program, according to the report, apparently began in early 2002."
At least one top official at the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) disagrees with the report, with the paper reporting that "he has raised doubts about its completeness and reliability."
Last month, the agency issued an unusual statement cautioning it “has no concrete proof” that Iran ever sought to make nuclear arms, much less to perfect a warhead. On Saturday in India, Dr. ElBaradei was quoted as saying that “a major question” about the authenticity of the evidence kept his agency from “making any judgment at all” on whether Iran had ever sought to design a nuclear warhead.
So, if "all the data" means the physics, then yeah, Iran has that. But so does a kid looking to win a ribbon at the fifth grade science fair. But if it means the actual engineering involved, then probably not -- unless the whole thing came to some Iranian engineer in a dream.
But this preliminary report, controversial even within the agency that released it, has given Republicans a new tool to try to get everyone to wet their pants over the possibility of Iran blowing up the world.
Two senior Republican senators say the United States, and not Israel, should attack Iran if military action becomes "necessary."
They also say a simple strike at the country's nuclear capability wouldn't be enough -- the US would have to launch an "all-or-nothing" war against Iran with the aim of crippling the country's military capabilities.
"I think an Israeli attack on Iran is a nightmare for the world, because it will rally the Arab world around Iran and they're not aligned now. It's too much pressure to put on Israel," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told FOX News' Chris Wallace.
"If the sanctions fail, and Iran's going down the road to get a nuclear weapon, any Sunni Arab state that could, would want a nuclear weapon," Graham said. "Israel will be more imperiled. The world will change dramatically for the worst. Military action should be the last resort anyone looks at, and I would rather our allies and us take military action if it's necessary."
We all remember the last time a Republican said war was the "last resort," don't we? That didn't turn out very well. The other Republican senator "reluctantly" considering all-out war is Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
"The problem with military action also is that you're probably not going to be able to stop the production of uranium by just a simple airstrike," he said on the same program. "Lindsey's right. It's an all or nothing deal. And is it worth that at this point in time, when we know they have the capability? We can slow them down, but a full-out military strike is what it would take."
So, is typical Republican belligerence the answer here? Let's compare results. The Bush administration also had Iran to deal with, so let's allow middle east expert Juan Cole to make the Bush v. Obama comparison.
"For 8 years, Bush-Cheney practiced what I call 'belligerent Ostrichism' toward Iran," Cole explains. "They refused to talk to Tehran. They wanted to ratchet up sanctions on it. Bush sent 2 aircraft carriers to the Gulf to menace Iran. Bush's spokesmen professed themselves afraid of Iran's unarmed little speedboats in the Gulf. Aside from issuing threats to attack and destroy Iran the way they did Iraq, Bush-Cheney had nothing else to say on the matter. During the 8 years, Iran went from being able to enrich to .2% to being able to enrich to 3.8%, and increased its stock of centrifuges significantly. Bush-Cheney gesticulated and grimaced and fainted away at the horror of it all, but they accomplished diddly-squat.
"Barack Obama pwned Bush-Cheney in one day, and got more concessions from Iran in 7 1/2 hours than the former administration got in 8 years of saber-rattling."
And those concessions aren't insignificant. Iran will send uranium overseas to be enriched for energy -- not military -- use and will accept international inspectors to its nuclear research facilities. Under the Bush administration, the headlines would've been "Crisis in Iran." Under Obama, it's "Inspectors to Visit New Iran Nuclear Site at Qom Oct 25."
When we developed the first atomic weapon in WWII, we knew we'd let the genii out of the bottle. Once it they were demonstrated and proved possible, non-American nuclear weapons became an inevitability. But I suppose we thought it was worth it. Whether or not it actually was is an open question, but it doesn't seem likely that no one would ever have developed them if we hadn't done it first. After all, we didn't make them possible, the universe did that.
What is clear is that diplomacy is working and that the Republican impulse toward violence and intimidation has not. I think we should probably go with what's working.
Get updates via Twitter