Blogging For Arms Control

Are you a wonk? Or perhaps you know one? Someone who is "excessively studious" or "knows all the details" about something?

Policy wonks come in all varieties, and those who follow arms control and weapons proliferation comprise their own unique tribe. Armscontrolwonk.com is the blog for this subculture. It's the brainchild of Jeffrey Lewis, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Maryland and confessed "obsessive about ferreting out the minute, overlooked details of an issue."

In a world of blogging rich in the hunt for an inside scoop or little known fact, it was only a matter of time before a blog emerged to chronicle developments in arms control. Lewis and his occasional collaborator, Paul Kerr, revel in shining a bright light onto the issues that dominate this gravely serious world with irreverence and a wry sense of humor.

A recent post on China's nuclear warhead design featured back-of-the-envelope calculations about the size and shape of the missile's nose cone based on photos taken by Lewis and documents unearthed by David Albright and Corey Hinderstein through their pursuit of the A.Q. Khan proliferation network. Lewis' conclusion, that the Chinese missile in question likely carried a much smaller warhead than previously believed, ended self-deprecatingly: "I am obviously neither a nuclear weapons designer nor a professional photo interpreter. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn in Xining, where I picked up the photo of the warhead. OK, it wasn't a Holiday Inn. What I would have given for a Holiday Inn …"

Lewis and Kerr, a research analyst at the Arms Control Association (both are quick to disassociate their employers from the views expressed in the blog) started the blog in 2004 when arms controllers were debating who was right all along on whether weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq. Arguing that a close reading of the data pointed to the unlikelihood of finding many actual weapons, Lewis found blogging the best way to communicate a contrarian view to the dozen or so friends and colleagues he thought would care to read it. On word of mouth (no links yet from the Drudge Report), readership has since grown steadily to approximately 3,000 hits per day.

The blog claims other investigative successes, including a report by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center about growing U.S. national security vulnerabilities in outer space, which contained assertions that Lewis traced to a mistranslation of a Chinese academic. The blog has also taken on gaps in U.S. knowledge about North Korea's nuclear capabilities and suggested that Iran has encountered technical difficulties as it proceeds to develop a full uranium enrichment capability.

Armscontrolwonk.com assumes a basic level of knowledge on the part of its readers, a self-selected mix of academics, policy makers, think-tank experts and the informed public.

Said Lewis: "I do this to fill a space between the issues covered by the mainstream media and scholarly publications, and to amuse myself."

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