Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The DPRK device and what Kim wants us to believe

I note that the size of Kim Jong Un's displays is dropping.

This is a bit of a lull in the situation, so it may be a good time to think about what Kim Jong Un wants the world to believe he has.

From the photos, it is clear that

1) The size of the package appears to be around 30-35 inches. 

2) From an analysis of the wiring and the peculiar choice of Archimedian solid used we can surmise ~ 168 detonators. 

3) There is a triangular bracket on the top of the package. This could be a place to anchor the package to the support frame. 

One could draw the following conclusions from the image.

The smaller size suggests they are using something more advanced and light weight by way of explosive lenses. It is likely that they have chosen a vibration insensitive explosive like the PAX and TATB variants in vogue for the last three decades. 

The number of lens elements is larger than other designs, given the trade-off between spherical nature of the compression wave and electronic simplicity - one naturally wonders why they are willing to take such risks. One possibility is that they are fissile material limited  and are desperate to boost conversion efficiency. Another possibility are desperate to get the compression right. 

Getting the compression right is the biggest problem in this line of work. All the other stuff about equations of state and high purity metals  is all good and fine, but the real pain in the rear is making sure that you get isotropic compression. When something fizzles, the first suspect is a RT or RM instability or a rarefaction that caused mixing or decompression you didn't want to have happen. So everyone spends a great deal of time trying to nail down how the shockwave bifurcated. I really don't know what if any meaningful progress has been made on getting to actionable information on this.  People write all manner of papers on these topics, and I find them to be all interesting but I don't know what if anything is truly predictive (Hint Hint... Good Job NNSA!!).

The asymmetry of the mounting bracket is quite intriguing, It may also be a portal to place a neutron generator or a boosting gas assembly.  

There is a discussion on Arms Control Wonk about how the design is likely a levitated core design. It is difficult to conclude that from the photos Kim has released so far. Given the history of collaboration between Pakistani and DPRK nuclear weapons  efforts, it is likely that the drawings of a levitated pit design that surfaced some years ago in a Pakistani context were shared with DPRK.

That latter part is a very big statement to make. I don't know that there is any solid proof of that.

Again - proving ownership of the design paperwork does not translate into an actual demonstration at yield of a physics package. 

This is the point at which I am going to speak openly to Kim Jong Un. 

Dear Kim Jong Un, 

I don't think you will get the international recognition you seek by this kind of behavior. If you continue down this path, you will put everything your ancestors have worked for and the lives of millions of Koreans at risk and nothing will come out of it for you.

You can never fill your father or grand father's shoes in the exact same way as history cannot be made to repeat itself.  If you play these games of brinkmanship - the only thing that will happen is an accident and your own people will hold you to account for that.  

After all the trouble you have been going to show your countrymen how exactly you are directing the efforts of experts in the field and how much smarter you are then them, you will not be able to deflect the blame for that failure. There is no Uncle No. 3 that can be fed to the dogs if something goes wrong. 

A more rational approach is to follow a Raul Castro model and seek reconciliation. There is much more to be gained by signing the NPT and re-entering the community of nations as an equal partner in peace. 

Best Regards

Friday, March 18, 2016

Regime change draws closer in DPRK

Kim Jong Un - the Great is desperate to stamp out all opposition to his primacy in DPRK. The only problem is that there are dozens of people who are much better qualified for the Supreme Leader job.

With an eye on bolstering his image, he authorized a rapid march on nuclear explosive design and testing. Unfortunately - every test he conducted - the world didn't believe. As the world continually questioned his claims, he became more insecure with each test.

That of course prompted him to test some more and show off some more. After all, if the world questioned his claims about the tests - they could start questioning his claims about everything. He had no choice but to test.Which naturally in turn made people think he was more desperate. And the cycle continued.

This may seem like an endless loop.

It is not.

With each passing second, the DPRK leadership's faith in Kim Jong Un is being tested. Like the Sunni Baathist underlings of Saddam - the DPRK leadership is facing a hard choice. They must either stick with Kim Jong Un to the bitter end and end up butchered in that war that is coming, or they must switch sides and risk being slaughtered by Kim Jong Un if the UN suddenly develops cold feet.

With every test, the world simply shakes its head. No one actually believes that Kim Jong Un has what it really takes to make good on his threats. And so Kim has to think of something even more outrageous to show off.

A critical point of internally driven regime change is steadily being approached.

The most likely trajectory now is a Chinese backed coup in Pyongyang.

It is not in China's interest to see DPRK become a big enough problem to invite a UN military intervention. China knows that the DPRK Army  will dissolve with the same speed as the Iraqi army did in 2004.

When my grandchildren ask me - "When did World War III begin...?" - My answer will probably be, "It began with a tryant named Kim Jong Un"

Friday, March 11, 2016

Outsourcing from US firms to India will likely continue even if the American demand drops

There is a view among some people that outsourcing from the US to India will remain viable only as long as there is sufficient demand in the US economy. If you follow this chain of logic, you might easily conclude that a recession in the US economy will lower the cost of labor and bring reduce the outsourcing to India.

Unfortunately it doesn't work like that.

There are three basic benefits to outsourcing to India.

1) You get better quality labor at a lower cost - The Indian education system produces sufficient quantities of highly skilled labor at a price that is much lower than its US counterpart. US workers tend to have a sense of entitlement that Indian workers currently lack. There is simply too much competition for a job in India, and so when you land one - you tend to do whatever is necessary to hold on to it. This makes the Indian labor more compliant than its US counterpart. In the US babyboomers still in the workforce aren't keen to acquire new skills and millennials don't want to hang around at a job for more than 5 years. This makes it very difficult for any corporation to develop and maintain a niche skill set.

2) If you have a non-US subsidiary you can use it to dodge corporate taxation in the US - there are loopholes in US tax law that all firms exploit. If you have a subsidiary outside the US, you can shuffle costs between subsidiaries (through inventory, "transfer pricing" and patent ownership) that make it possible to say that the US subsidiary has minimal profit. Once you do something like that you can effectively dodge taxation in the US. There is a similar loophole in India, if you exploit both the US and the Indian loophole you can rake in an addition 5-7% on your investment.

3)  Offshore banking offers investment flexibility - When you operate a non-US subsidiary, you typically have to build up financial channels that allow you to move money around. This channels tend to be ideally placed to invest your money on a global scale than a mom-and-pop investment fund on Main Street. With additional flexibility comes risk (obviously) but the reward can be quite significant too.

All these benefits make for fat corporate bottom lines which in turn make US firms attractive (and productive) places for US mutual funds. In essence this outsourcing way of doing business ends up feeding the IRAs (and "Entitlement" funds) that support the bulk of the US population.  A side benefit is that the high profits ensure that US firms can hold massive political clout inside the US parliamentary system.

This is analogous to oil - Yes the US pays a ton of money to Saudis for their oil, but there isn't shit to do in Saudi Arabia and most of the money comes right back into the US as investments in the stock market. That is why one of the biggest and most respected players in the US stock market is a Saudi prince. This is why sensible US politicians always have strong relationships with the royal family in KSA.

It has been predicted for quite a while now that the US economy will not be able to support outsourcing, but I feel like the opposite is true.

Even if the US economy goes into an even worse recession, US firms will simply have to do better - i.e. improve productivity. The only demonstrated way of doing that right now (on any meaningful timescale) is to outsource.

I am certain that as the US economy continues to be recessive, the US public will become very anti-outsourcing, but as long as the bulk of the population (i.e. Cohort I and II babyboomers) continue to want their retirement funds to keep paying out - there will be no shift in the outsourcing pattern.

Perhaps the most compact way of thinking about it is - just as the US can't do without Saudi oil - it can't do without outsourcing either.

Sure politicians can talk big, but it is just all talk. If they try to change anything it will rebound in politically unacceptable ways.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Will we see a breakdown of deterrence in the Korean Peninsula?

That is a very interesting question, I am not sure I know the answer, but here are a few things to consider.

Kim Jong Un, like his forefathers is unlikely to want to commit suicide. He may have grown up under an overbearing father who denied him any form of affection that would have ensured a well acclimated socially well rounded child, but I don't think Kim Jong Un is infected with any form of suicidal mania that would make him want to completely destroy himself and his entire family legacy.

Rhetorical escalations in the region are quite common (sadly), Long before any member of the Kim family was talking about nuking things, Gen. MacArthur was making open ended statements on the issue. To be fair, Gen. MacArthur was sacked for making those statements, but he kind of opened the door to this type of irresponsible talk.

The general South Korean population does not look favorably upon the idea of unification. Concerns there remain high that the South Korean NSC is becoming far too powerful and influencing democracy in unacceptable ways. A consequence of this kind of concern is that public pressure inside South Korea to stay away from escalations is high.

The US obviously has no intention of seeing deterrence fail. Neither does China or Russia.

So the only pathway open to a breakdown is an accidental one.

Any weapons system is prone to error. When you jack up the readiness level associated with it, you expose yourself to the catastrophic consequences of that error.

Some more specifics:

1) If you want to increase readiness on a ballistic missile, you have to fuel it up. Once you fuel it up, you have a massive explosive sitting there waiting to go off. Just sitting on the launchpad you have a 1kT conventional bomb that can go off for reasons that have nothing to do with enemy action. If that goes off for any reason at all - your deterrent is history.

2) If you increase the readiness on a nuclear weapon, you have to assemble it and have a warhead sitting right on/right next to a missile/delivery platform. A fully assembled nuke can go off accidentally, there is always a finite probability that all the safety latches fail, A fully assembled nuke can also be stolen by adversarial political forces. It is even odds on which is more catastrophic as in the event that the nuke is stolen, all assumptions of rationality go out the window.

When either of the situations described above occur - you are faced with a highly embarrassing situation - you have to tell your population that you screwed up and failed to maintain the deterrent - either your deterrent was faulty or your security was crap and the enemy disabled the deterrent before it got off the ground.

This increases use-or-lose pressures on you and whether you want to or not - you have to launch a nuclear weapon in order to restore your credibility.

That is the kind of "runaway" process that I feel will lead to a breakdown of deterrence in the Korean peninsula.

It is all fine to posture and send message with military muscle flexing - but something should be done to reduce the likelihood of accidents.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Revival of Militancy In Kashmir

In late 2012, I wrote up a piece on the issue of the revival of armed militancy in Kashmir. The piece was never published as it overlapped too closely with the view from the MHA and since that had been released from elsewhere - I saw no sense in "haan mey haan milana".

There was a portion of my old piece that was not covered by the MHA viewpoint. I am releasing this now as I feel it may be germane and the political climate is at a point where this discussion can be hand openly.

Mohammed Ashraf has written a very good piece on the issue of the militancy revival in Kashmir. I agree with his basic viewpoint - with a few critical differences. Sri. Ashraf is absolutely correct that in the intervening years India has failed to accommodate a significant number of Kashmiri grievances in the framework of democratic debate. While the rest of the Indian economy has surged and is quite robust, the Kashmiri economy is still recovering from the civil war years and it is very fragile. This has led to significant anger in young Kashmiris and that is welling up as support for militant behavior.

Unlike their older counterparts in the HM and JKLF, these "new" wave people have not felt the full brunt of the state machinery. The "new wave" were kids during the CASO years so they never had to stand for 72 hours at a stretch as a surrendered militant divulged their identities to the police.  The kids were also spared the months of pleading it took to get an arrested relative released from custody. As kids they never saw the inside of Akbar Fort and Papa II. The horrors that were visited upon the HM and JKLF cadre was somehow kept out of their sights.

As these kids come of age, they are learning about the war years and quite naturally their reaction is disgust and anger. This needs to be accommodated - the children are not to blame for that past. I  laud all efforts made by the JNU crowd to engage these young people in constructive political dialogue.

A great number of things have been done in Kashmir during the COIN operations that no Indian in their right mind would be proud of. It is best to come clean on these issues and apologise to unintended victims. Acknowledging their suffering is the right thing to do - even if it gets some chaddies in a knot!

A generation of Indians (Kashmiris and others) have died in a meaningless civil war and there is no sense in inviting the same alienation that led to this war in the first place.

That being said (this is where I diverge from Sri. Ashraf) - one of the underlying drivers of the *armed* militancy is weapons caches from the Jihad period. When Pakistan Jihadis came to Kashmir in 1992, a support system came into place to host them.

(now we get into elements of the unpublished piece I wrote that are not covered by the MHA viewpoint).

A part of this support system was a set of covert munition and cash dumps positioned in the Pir Panjal and in the valley. These dumps were in the control of hardened UGWs (underground workers) of various militant organizations. One set of such dumps was located and destroyed during the Indian Army's Operation Sarp Vinash in the Hil kaka area in the Pir Panjal.  The exact positions of the remaining dumps are known to the Pakistan Army ISI people running the show in Rawalpindi. Until those dumps are located and destroyed, the likelihood that they will emerge as the center of a new *armed* militancy is very high.