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Brace Yourselves for the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

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Brace Yourselves, New Yorkers, You’re Due for a Major Quake

A couple of hundred thousand years ago, an M 7.2 earthquake shook what is now New Hampshire. Just a few thousand years ago, an M 7.5 quake ruptured just off the coast of Massachusetts. And then there’s New York.

Since the first western settlers arrived there, the state has witnessed 200 quakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater, making it the third most seismically active state east of the Mississippi (Tennessee and South Carolina are ranked numbers one and two, respectively). About once a century, New York has also experienced an M 5.0 quake capable of doing real damage.

The most recent one near New York City occurred in August of 1884. Centered off Long Island’s Rockaway Beach, it was felt over 70,000 square miles. It also opened enormous crevices near the Brooklyn reservoir and knocked down chimneys and cracked walls in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Police on the Brooklyn Bridge said it swayed “as if struck by a hurricane” and worried the bridge’s towers would collapse. Meanwhile, residents throughout New York and New Jersey reported sounds that varied from explosions to loud rumblings, sometimes to comic effect. At the funeral of Lewis Ingler, a small group of mourners were watching as the priest began to pray. The quake cracked an enormous mirror behind the casket and knocked off a display of flowers that had been resting on top of it. When it began to shake the casket’s silver handles, the mourners decided the unholy return of Lewis Ingler was more than they could take and began flinging themselves out windows and doors.

Not all stories were so light. Two people died during the quake, both allegedly of fright. Out at sea, the captain of the brig Alice felt a heavy lurch that threw him and his crew, followed by a shaking that lasted nearly a minute. He was certain he had hit a wreck and was taking on water.

A day after the quake, the editors of The New York Times sought to allay readers’ fear. The quake, they said, was an unexpected fluke never to be repeated and not worth anyone’s attention: “History and the researches of scientific men indicate that great seismic disturbances occur only within geographical limits that are now well defined,” they wrote in an editorial. “The northeastern portion of the United States . . . is not within those limits.” The editors then went on to scoff at the histrionics displayed by New York residents when confronted by the quake: “They do not stop to reason or to recall the fact that earthquakes here are harmless phenomena. They only know that the solid earth, to whose immovability they have always turned with confidence when everything else seemed transitory, uncertain, and deceptive, is trembling and in motion, and the tremor ceases long before their disturbed minds become tranquil.”
That’s the kind of thing that drives Columbia’s Heather Savage nuts.

New York, she says, is positively vivisected by faults. Most of them fall into two groups—those running northeast and those running northwest. Combined they create a brittle grid underlying much of Manhattan.

Across town, Charles Merguerian has been studying these faults the old‐fashioned way: by getting down and dirty underground. He’s spent the past forty years sloshing through some of the city’s muckiest places: basements and foundations, sewers and tunnels, sometimes as deep as 750 feet belowground. His tools down there consist primarily of a pair of muck boots, a bright blue hard hat, and a pickax. In public presentations, he claims he is also ably abetted by an assistant hamster named Hammie, who maintains his own website, which includes, among other things, photos of the rodent taking down Godzilla.

That’s just one example why, if you were going to cast a sitcom starring two geophysicists, you’d want Savage and Merguerian to play the leading roles. Merguerian is as eccentric and flamboyant as Savage is earnest and understated. In his press materials, the former promises to arrive at lectures “fully clothed.” Photos of his “lab” depict a dingy porta‐john in an abandoned subway tunnel. He actively maintains an archive of vintage Chinese fireworks labels at least as extensive as his list of publications, and his professional website includes a discography of blues tunes particularly suitable for earthquakes. He calls female science writers “sweetheart” and somehow manages to do so in a way that kind of makes them like it (although they remain nevertheless somewhat embarrassed to admit it).

It’s Merguerian’s boots‐on‐the‐ground approach that has provided much of the information we need to understand just what’s going on underneath Gotham. By his count, Merguerian has walked the entire island of Manhattan: every street, every alley. He’s been in most of the tunnels there, too. His favorite one by far is the newest water tunnel in western Queens. Over the course of 150 days, Merguerian mapped all five miles of it. And that mapping has done much to inform what we know about seismicity in New York.

Most importantly, he says, it provided the first definitive proof of just how many faults really lie below the surface there. And as the city continues to excavate its subterranean limits, Merguerian is committed to following closely behind. It’s a messy business.

Down below the city, Merguerian encounters muck of every flavor and variety. He power‐washes what he can and relies upon a diver’s halogen flashlight and a digital camera with a very, very good flash to make up the difference. And through this process, Merguerian has found thousands of faults, some of which were big enough to alter the course of the Bronx River after the last ice age.
His is a tricky kind of detective work. The center of a fault is primarily pulverized rock. For these New York faults, that gouge was the very first thing to be swept away by passing glaciers. To do his work, then, he’s primarily looking for what geologists call “offsets”—places where the types of rock don’t line up with one another. That kind of irregularity shows signs of movement over time—clear evidence of a fault.

Merguerian has found a lot of them underneath New York City.

These faults, he says, do a lot to explain the geological history of Manhattan and the surrounding area. They were created millions of years ago, when what is now the East Coast was the site of a violent subduction zone not unlike those present now in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire.

Each time that occurred, the land currently known as the Mid‐Atlantic underwent an accordion effect as it was violently folded into itself again and again. The process created immense mountains that have eroded over time and been further scoured by glaciers. What remains is a hodgepodge of geological conditions ranging from solid bedrock to glacial till to brittle rock still bearing the cracks of the collision. And, says Merguerian, any one of them could cause an earthquake.

You don’t have to follow him belowground to find these fractures. Even with all the development in our most built‐up metropolis, evidence of these faults can be found everywhere—from 42nd Street to Greenwich Village. But if you want the starkest example of all, hop the 1 train at Times Square and head uptown to Harlem. Not far from where the Columbia University bus collects people for the trip to the Lamont‐Doherty Earth Observatory, the subway tracks seem to pop out of the ground onto a trestle bridge before dropping back down to earth. That, however, is just an illusion. What actually happens there is that the ground drops out below the train at the site of one of New York’s largest faults. It’s known by geologists in the region as the Manhattanville or 125th Street Fault, and it runs all the way across the top of Central Park and, eventually, underneath Long Island City. Geologists have known about the fault since 1939, when the city undertook a massive subway mapping project, but it wasn’t until recently that they confirmed its potential for a significant quake.

In our lifetimes, a series of small earthquakes have been recorded on the Manhattanville Fault including, most recently, one on October 27, 2001. Its epicenter was located around 55th and 8th—directly beneath the original Original Soupman restaurant, owned by restaurateur Ali Yeganeh, the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. That fact delighted sitcom fans across the country, though few Manhattanites were in any mood to appreciate it.

The October 2001 quake itself was small—about M 2.6—but the effect on residents there was significant. Just six weeks prior, the city had been rocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers. The team at Lamont‐Doherty has maintained a seismic network in the region since the ’70s. They registered the collapse of the first tower at M 2.1. Half an hour later, the second tower crumbled with even more force and registered M 2.3. In a city still shocked by that catastrophe, the early‐morning October quake—several times greater than the collapse of either tower—jolted millions of residents awake with both reminders of the tragedy and fear of yet another attack. 9‐1‐1 calls overwhelmed dispatchers and first responders with reports of shaking buildings and questions about safety in the city. For seismologists, though, that little quake was less about foreign threats to our soil and more about the possibility of larger tremors to come.

Remember: The Big Apple has experienced an M 5.0 quake about every hundred years. The last one was that 1884 event. And that, says Merguerian, means the city is overdue. Just how overdue?

“Gee whiz!” He laughs when I pose this question. “That’s the holy grail of seismicity, isn’t it?”

He says all we can do to answer that question is “take the pulse of what’s gone on in recorded history.” To really have an answer, we’d need to have about ten times as much data as we do today. But from what he’s seen, the faults below New York are very much alive.

“These guys are loaded,” he tells me.

He says he is also concerned about new studies of a previously unknown fault zone known as the Ramapo that runs not far from the city. Savage shares his concerns. They both think it’s capable of an M 6.0 quake or even higher—maybe even a 7.0. If and when, though, is really anybody’s guess.

“We literally have no idea what’s happening in our backyard,” says Savage.

What we do know is that these quakes have the potential to do more damage than similar ones out West, mostly because they are occurring on far harder rock capable of propagating waves much farther. And because these quakes occur in places with higher population densities, these eastern events can affect a lot more people. Take the 2011 Virginia quake: Although it was only a moderate one, more Americans felt it than any other one in our nation’s history.

That’s the thing about the East Coast: Its earthquake hazard may be lower than that of the West Coast, but the total effect of any given quake is much higher. Disaster specialists talk about this in terms of risk, and they make sense of it with an equation that multiplies the potential hazard of an event by the cost of damage and the number of people harmed. When you take all of those factors into account, the earthquake risk in New York is much greater than, say, that in Alaska or Hawaii or even a lot of the area around the San Andreas Fault.

Merguerian has been sounding the alarm about earthquake risk in the city since the ’90s. He admits he hasn’t gotten much of a response. He says that when he first proposed the idea of seismic risk in New York City, his fellow scientists “booed and threw vegetables” at him. He volunteered his services to the city’s Office of Emergency Management but says his original offer also fell on deaf ears.

“So I backed away gently and went back to academia.”

Today, he says, the city isn’t much more responsive, but he’s getting a much better response from his peers.

He’s glad for that, he says, but it’s not enough. If anything, the events of 9/11, along with the devastation caused in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, should tell us just how bad it could be there.

He and Savage agree that what makes the risk most troubling is just how little we know about it. When it comes right down to it, intraplate faults are the least understood. Some scientists think they might be caused by mantle flow deep below the earth’s crust. Others think they might be related to gravitational energy. Still others think quakes occurring there might be caused by the force of the Atlantic ridge as it pushes outward. Then again, it could be because the land is springing back after being compressed thousands of years ago by glaciers (a phenomenon geologists refer to as seismic rebound).

“We just have no consciousness towards earthquakes in the eastern United States,” says Merguerian. “And that’s a big mistake.”

Adapted from Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake by Kathryn Miles, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Kathryn Miles.

Consequences of the German Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Nuclear bomb in Germany would kill hundreds of thousands, Greenpeace warns | Euronews

By  Alice Tidey

In this April 22, 1952 file photo a gigantic pillar of smoke with the familiar mushroom top climbs above Yucca Flat, Nev. during nuclear test detonation.   –   Copyright  AP Photo

A nuclear bomb detonating in Germany would instantly kill hundreds of thousands of people, Greenpeace has said, calling on the US to withdraw the small arsenal of atomic weapons it currently has in the country.

The environmental non-profit released a study it had commissioned simulating the impact of a nuclear weapon exploding in Germany on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

“Mass killings such as the one caused by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima must never happen again,” Greenpeace Germany’s spokesman for nuclear disarmament Christoph von Lieven said in a statement.

“The Federal Government must ensure that US atomic bombs are withdrawn from Buchel with the US soldiers,” he added.

Washington announced last week that it would start withdrawing nearly 12,000 of the 36,000 US troops currently stationed in Germany over the coming weeks.

A threat to Germany’s security

Greenpeace’s NUKEMAP study calculated the impact of various strengths of nuclear bombs in several locations: Berlin, the seat of the country’s political power; Frankfurt, the country’s financial centre; and Buchel, a municipality in south-west Germany where several US atomic bombs are stored at an airbase.

The strength of an atomic bomb is measured in kilotons (kt) and megatons (mt) which means that a nuclear weapon with a detonation energy of one kiloton generates the same amount of energy as 1,000 tons (1 Kt) of TNT.

The first-ever nuclear bomb, used on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, was codenamed “Little Boy” and had a strength of 12.5 kt. The one dropped over Nagasaki three days later, codenamed “Fat Man”, had a value of 22 kt.

NUKEMAP found that a 20 kt bomb exploding in Berlin would instantly kill 145,000 people, with an additional 120,000 dying from the radioactive fallout and a further 50,000 passing away from cancer.

A 550 kt bomb — commonly found in Russia’s nuclear arsenal — dropped over Frankfurt would instantly kill half a million people, while 300,000 more would die from radioactive fallout and 160,000 would succumb to cancer at a later date.

In Buchel, the impact of a 170 kt explosion was assessed as multiple weapons of this strength are stored at the airbase. NUKEMAP estimated that 130,000 people would immediately lose their lives, 107,000 would be killed by radioactive fallout and 80,000 from cancer.

Von Lieven argued that “the bombs in Buchel threaten the security of people in Germany and Eastern Europe.”

“Germany must no longer be a potential aggressor and a possible target for a nuclear attack,” he went on.

In another Greenpeace study conducted by pollster Kantar and released last month, 83 per cent of the 1,008 German respondents said they favoured the US withdrawing the bombs kept in Buchel.

Nine countries, 13,800 warheads

Between 90,000 and 160,000 people are believed to have died int he first few months following the Hiroshima bombing, according to the Centre for Nuclear Studies at Columbia University. Another 60,000 to 80,000 are thought to have died in Nagasaki.

Most figures are best estimates as the devastation unleashed by the explosions and uncertainty over the actual population before the bombings make it difficult to have an accurate estimate.

The world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons was estimated at 13,865 at the beginning of 2019 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Only nice countries have atomic warheads. These are China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, the US. Washington and Moscow each have more than 6,000 nuclear warheads.

The Plagues and Famine of the Fourth Seal (Revelation 6)

Photo: Reuters

Locusts continue to plague nations on 3 continents

July 31, 2020 — News Tags: Coronavirus, COVID-19, Desert locusts, East Africa, Iran, Iran Nuclear Dispute, Iran-U.S., Israel News, Israel Now, Latin America, locust swarms, Middle East, UN Food & Agriculture Organization, US Sanctions on Iran

Nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America are relentlessly combatting the worst infestation of desert locusts in decades.

Israeli authorities remain vigilant against the threat posed by the pests, while confident that the nation’s advanced technology and preparedness would successfully eradicate any swarms soon after their detection.

In a brief overview starting in Latin America: grains powerhouse Argentina is getting hit by a second swarm of locusts arriving from neighboring Paraguay, Argentina’s Senasa agricultural health inspection agency said earlier this week – putting farmers on notice about possible crop damage. The new swarm is concentrated in the province of Formosa in north-east Argentina, on the Paraguay border. The area is not part of Argentina’s main Pampas grains belt, but it could hurt crops if the low temperatures of the Southern Hemisphere winter do not keep the swarm from spreading too far southward. “The swarm detected in Formosa advanced in a southern direction,” Hector Medina, a coordinator at Senasa, told Reuters, adding that “The wind allowed it to move quickly and is expected to approach Rio Bermejo, so the alert is extended to Chaco province.”

Brazil declared a phytosanitary state of emergency in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina due to the risk of an outbreak of the Schistocerca cancellata plague caused by the cloud of locusts flying through Argentina, made up of thousands of the species that arrived in the country from May 11 from Paraguay, traveling at a daily speed of up to 150 kilometers per day.

Turning to East Africa, and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has just publicly thanked the government of Canada for a substantial contribution toward helping to battle infestations of crop- and pasture-devouring desert locusts in the region, as well as for having been among the first nations to respond with donations that now amount $1.5 million. Earlier this month, the European Union injected an additional $17 million. Other funding for the effort to contain desert locust and diminish the upsurge’s food security impacts has also been received from the Governments of Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, the African Development Bank, the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Union, the Louis Dreyfus Foundation, the Mastercard Foundation, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Bank Group.

The FAO noted that so far, “nearly half a trillion locusts are estimated to have been killed in the Horn of Africa and Yemen in control operations since January and one million tons of crops – enough to feed nearly 7 million people – have been spared from devastation.”

But “despite the success of control operations spanning 500 000 ha (hectares), heavy rains during this spring season created ideal conditions for reproduction and the potential destruction caused by the new-generation swarms which could still provoke a humanitarian crisis as new swarms strike Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen,” said the FAO, adding that “Survey and control operations are in progress in all countries.

Locusts move in swarms of up to 50 million, can travel 90 miles a day, and lay as many as 1,000 eggs per square meter of land. The locust outbreak in East Africa “is the worst to strike Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years – for Kenya, in 70 years.

The most recent FAO Desert Locust Watch report determined that spring-bred swarms are shifting north to the summer breeding areas. Even though there has been a notable decline in immature swarms in northwest Kenya due to control operations and migration to Ethiopia, there are still some swarms present in parts of Samburu and in Turkana near the Uganda border. Immature swarms in Ethiopia are mainly present in the Somali region and also, to a lesser degree, in parts of Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions. In Somalia, immature swarms are present on the northern plateau where some of them have started to become mature. Survey and control operations are in progress in the three countries. In Sudan, low numbers of solitarious mature adults are present between Eritrea and North Kordofan while mainly immature adults are present further north in the Nile Valley. Small-scale breeding will start shortly in areas of recent rainfall. So far, there are no reports of swarms arriving from NW Kenya, and intensive surveys are in progress.

The situation remains calm in West Africa. Solitarious adults are present in the summer breeding areas in southern Mauritania, central and northern Niger, and in western and eastern Chad where egg-laying will occur shortly in areas of recent rainfall. While the threat of a swarm invasion continues to decline, it is necessary to maintain strict vigilance, preparedness, and thorough monitoring.

In the Arabian Peninsula, local infestations of solitarious adults are present in the southwest in Saudi Arabia, near Najran. Yemen continues to be of particular cause of concern because of the continuation of good rains and breeding in interior areas where hopper bands and swarms are forming. Survey and control operations are in progress in some areas. The locusts have compounded an already dire hunger situation after five years of war that has also been impacted by coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, floods and significant underfunding of this year’s aid response. U.N. warnings in late 2018 of impending famine prompted an aid ramp-up after which the World Food Program fed up to 13 million a month. Resurgent violence in recent weeks between warring parties, despite U.N. peace efforts, is also killing and injuring civilians. In Oman, control operations are in progress against hopper groups and bands that formed on the southern coast near Salalah while solitarious adults are present in adjacent areas of the interior.

Summer breeding is underway along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border. In India, numerous adult groups and swarms are laying eggs over a wide area of Rajasthan between Jodhpur and Churu while hatching and band formation from earlier laying have occurred further south from Phalodi to Gujarat.

Pakistan is especially prone to locust attacks because it is situated on the migratory route of locusts coming from the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Oman. Hopper groups and bands are present in the Nagarparkar area of Pakistan in Tharparkar of southeast Sindh. Adult groups are scattered throughout Cholistan and other parts of Tharparkar that will lay eggs shortly.

Last year, Pakistan suffered its worst attack of locusts since 1993, for which the country was largely unprepared. Officials from the Ministry of Food Security and Research say swarms coming from the Horn of Africa could be 400 times more than those that came last year.

Pakistani authorities warned that immediate steps needed to be taken to thwart huge swarms of desert locusts expected to reach Pakistan later this month from the Horn of Africa.

“The situation today is that, within the next few days or weeks, these swarms from the Horn of Africa, especially from Somalia, may arrive in South West Asia. South West Asia means Iran, Pakistan, India,” Federal Minister For National Food Security And Research, Fakhr Imam told a meeting of the National Locust Control Centre (NLCC) last  Friday (July 24).

According to statements from NLCC, 1051 joint teams of Pakistan army, Agriculture Ministry and Food Department have conducted surveys in over 43,9312.21 square kilometers of the affected areas of the country and carried out fumigation operations in 10,720.49 kilometers of land. Around 8000 military personnel, and 9 aircraft, are taking part in the locust control operations.

Meanwhile, in Iran, the Mehr News Agency headquartered in Tehran and owned by the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization (IIDO), reported that the Islamic Republic’s Embassy’s representative in Pakistan, Somayeh Karimdoost, criticized “problems in bilateral cooperation to cope with the challenge of desert locust attacks, the called for strengthening regional cooperation to deal with desert locust.”

She went on to say that the “swarms have already devastated crops and it is feared that they can cause greater damage,” but that “interference is creating hurdles in the implementation of the bilateral mechanism.”

Karimdoost called on the FAO and the World Food Organization of the United Nations to play a more effective role in assisting countries affected by desert locusts and facilitate cooperation between them. She maintained that “Iran has made every effort to control locust attacks and help its neighbors to prevent the damage caused by this problem,” before going on to level veiled criticism at the United States’ sanctions program against her nation, saying that a continuation of “such coercive behavior” would have “a negative impact on the region especially the neighboring states of Iran” in dealing with the locust challenge.

Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Sayyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini previously stated that Washington’s punitive campaign against Tehran, aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions, “significantly reduced the resources allocated to dealing with desert locusts.”

Overall, the most recent FAO update has assessed a decline in Iran’s locust numbers. According to the organization’s GIEWS Country Brief: Iran (Islamic Republic of) 20-July-2020 FOOD SNAPSHOT: there has been a slightly above‑average cereal harvest forecast in 2020, but that further increases in food inflation following currency devaluation are likely over a detrimental effect on household incomes due to COVID‑19 containment measures, combined with economic slowdown and rapid currency devaluation.

Pertaining to the desert locust, the report noted that even though the pest is common in Iran, “breeding conditions in 2020 were particularly favourable due to abundant rains in the country. Seven provinces (Sistan and Baluchistan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, Fars, Khuzestan, Kerman and South Khorasan) in the southern part of the country, stretching from eastern Islamic Republic of Iran on the border with Pakistan to the southwestern border with Iraq, were affected. As of June 2020, seasonal infestations were declining due to control operations and migration to Indo‑Pakistan summer breeding areas. More than 400 000 hectares were treated since January 2020, with almost one‑third of the treatment carried out in May 2020.”

Economic analysis revealed that “In 2019/20 (April‑March), the overall economy contracted by 7%. Growing 3%, agriculture was the only expanding sector and it contributed to about 8 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

Among other findings, “The food and beverages price inflation index in Khordad 1399 (corresponding to 22 May‑21 June 2020) was recorded at 14.9% on a yearly basis, driven by the devaluation of its currency, up from 10.7% in Farvardin 1399 (22 March‑21 April 2020), but below 74.1% in mid‑2019.

The general inflation registered 22.5% in Khordad 1399, up from the 19.8% in April 2020, but below 50.4% in July 2019” – with the GIEWS Country Brief on Iran concluding that “The sanctions severely limit the export earnings.”

The coronavirus pandemic deepened Iran’s fiscal deficit and balance of payments, prompting the government in May to slash four zeros and replace the national currency with the Toman at an equivalency to ﷼ 10,000 Iranian Rial (IRR). “The Central Bank of Iran maintains a dual tier exchange rate system. The fixed rate of IRR 42,000 per US dollar is used to finance the imports of essential goods, such as food and medicine, although reports indicate that in the current fiscal year (starting from 20 March 2020), the practice was discontinued for rice. For other transactions, the current official exchange is IRR 22,2763 per US dollar. As of 13 July 2020, USD 1 was trading for IRR 234,000 on the free market exchange, up from IRR 171,000 on 21 June 2020,” reads the report.

Precautionary measures to prevent spread of COVID-19 in March (although somewhat eased in April) were found to have had “a detrimental effect on the incomes, particularly of casual labourers” when “combined with the economic slowdown and the rapid currency devaluation.” In addition to required physical distancing, quarantine for returnees, bans on gatherings, educational activities, social and religious events; several economic steps were also taken.

COVID‑19 relief and recovery measures declared by presidential decree in March amounted to more than 10% of Iran’s GDP. A moratorium on tax payments for a period of three months (7% of the GDP) was implemented, in addition to the establishment of credit facilities for affected businesses (4.4%) in terms of loans with a 12% rate and a repayment period of two years; additional funding of the health sector (2%) and cash transfers to vulnerable households (0.3%). Three million Iranians in the lower income bracket were qualified to receive payments between IRR 2 million to IRR 6 million in four stages, depending on the size of the household. Other measures included increased support to the unemployment insurance fund (0.3%) and new low interest rate loans to vulnerable families.

In early March 2020, the Central Bank also allocated funds (equivalent to 0.06% of the GDP) to import medicine, while also coordinating an agreement with commercial banks to postpone loan repayments that had been due in February for another three months, and granting temporary penalty waivers for clients with non‑performing loans. The Central Bank also expanded the infrastructure for contactless payment via QR codes and digital wallets to limit exposure to the coronavirus through the circulation of banknotes.

The Rising Saudi Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Saudi Arabia has built yellowcake uranium processing plant: WSJ

Remote desert plant was built with China’s aid, paper quotes Western officials as saying, raising proliferation worries.

The yellowcake uranium enrichment plant was built near the remote Saudi Arabian city of Al Ula, according to Western officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal newspaper [File: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters]

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with help from China, has built a facility for the extraction of uranium yellowcake, a potential precursor to fuel for a nuclear reactor, in a remote desert location near the small city of Al Ula, the Wall Street Journal newspaper reported citing Western officials with knowledge of the site.

The facility, which has not been publicly acknowledged, has raised concern among United States and allied officials that the kingdom’s nascent nuclear programme is moving ahead, and Riyadh is keeping open an option to develop nuclear weapons, according to the report.

Disclosure of the yellowcake processing facility is likely to elevate concern in the US Congress about Saudi nuclear ambitions and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s 2018 pledge that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

The Saudi Energy Ministry “categorically” denied to the Wall Street Journal the country has built a uranium ore milling facility, but acknowledged contracting with Chinese entities for uranium exploration within Saudi Arabia.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, did not respond to a request by the Wall Street Journal for comment. Iran has denied it is interested in developing nuclear weapons. Iranian officials did not respond to a request for comment, the paper reported.

Yellowcake is processed from naturally occurring uranium ore and can be further enriched to create fuel for nuclear power plants and, at very high levels of enrichment, nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia’s has signed agreements with China National Nuclear Corp and China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp following a 2012 pact between Riyadh and Beijing to cooperate on the peaceful development of nuclear energy.

The Saudis have raised concerns about a potential nuclear arms race in the Gulf region by pressing ahead with construction of a research reactor and inviting companies to bid on building two civilian nuclear power reactors without agreeing to oversight and inspection by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency.

A US congressional committee issued a report in May 2019 warning the administration of President Donald Trump was allowing US companies to offer Saudi Arabia nuclear technologies without first obtaining non-proliferation guarantees the know-how would not be used to eventually produce a weapon.

In February 2019, government whistle-blowers had alerted the US House of Representatives that the Trump administration was bypassing Congress to greenlight future sales of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, without non-proliferation safeguards, thus potentially laying the ground for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Saudi production of yellowcake would be cause for alarm in the US arms control community.

The suspected acquisition of yellowcake was among the concerns raised by the US with Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 US invasion that was pre-texted on Saddam Hussein’s alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

At the time, President George W Bush accused Iraq of trying to buy yellowcake from Niger even though CIA intelligence indicated no such transaction ever took place. The discrepancy triggered a US scandal during the Bush presidency.

China Helps Build the Saudi Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

China reportedly helped Saudi Arabia build secret nuclear site

By Steven NelsonAugust 5, 2020 | 11:51am

News

General view of the city al-Ula, Saudi Arabia. Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters

Chinese companies recently helped Saudi Arabia construct a secret uranium extraction facility, according to a report.

The absolute monarchy, and a US ally, stealthily constructed the “yellowcake” processing plant in northwestern Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing Western officials.

Saudi Arabia has the world’s second-largest oil reserves but openly plans to pursue nuclear energy. The shadowy pursuit of uranium, however, raised concern about possible nuclear weapons ambitions.

“Where is the transparency? If you claim your program is peaceful, why not show what you have?” Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the paper.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, said in 2018 that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

The use of Chinese assistance comes as the Trump administration seeks to isolate and punish China for eliminating Hong Kong autonomy and concealing data on COVID-19 before it emerged as a global pandemic.

President Trump has defended bin Salman and has said the alliance serves US interests.

Last year, Trump defied members of both political parties to veto legislation that would withdraw the US from the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen’s civil war.

The China National Nuclear Corp. and the China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp. are believed to have worked on the Saudi nuclear project.

“My guess is that one of the reasons to go to the Chinese is that it doesn’t come with the same controls that coordination with the United States does,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

The Saudi Energy Ministry told the Journal it “categorically denies” claims it build the extraction facility.

Researchers are delirious about nuclear weapons control (Revelation 16)

Researchers: help free the world of nuclear weapons

Seventy-five years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a new treaty offers renewed hope for a nuclear-free world.

04 August 2020

EDITORIAL

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow (pictured, centre, receiving the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) has written to world leaders this week urging them to step up disarmament efforts.Credit: Lise Aserud/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The start of August marks an inauspicious anniversary for science, that of the first — and, so far, only — use of nuclear weapons in war.

Seventy-five years have passed since the bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on 6 and 9 August 1945, which killed in the region of 200,000 people. The risk of nuclear conflict remains, and nuclear weapons exist in alarmingly large quantities. At present, the world’s nuclear arsenal — 90% of which is in the United States and Russia — includes an estimated 1,335 tonnes of highly enriched uranium and 13,410 warheads.

The generation of scientists that created nuclear weapons carried with them a heavy burden of responsibility.Some would go on to become committed disarmament campaigners. Others helped to shape a series of important conferences and agreements, starting with the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), whose aims include preventing non-nuclear-armed countries from developing or acquiring weapons technology.

But 50 years of nuclear diplomacy has made one thing clear: the nuclear nations are not ready to give up their weapons just yet. Progress has been made in reducing stockpiles, but these countries are simultaneously investing in updating their arsenals to last well into this century.

So what could persuade the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea to begin fully dismantling their stocks, and to agree never again to develop nuclear weapons?

One idea, which has been in gestation for some years, could be about to have its break-out moment. A new agreement, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), is expected to become international law next year — and scientists have a chance to play a part in helping it to succeed.

Nuclear weapons: arms-control efforts need China

An urgent task will be to establish a new global network of researchers with knowledge on different aspects of nuclear science and technology. The treaty has yet to establish a formal scientific advisory mechanism. Some research groups, notably the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University in New Jersey, have been advising the treaty’s founders on various facets of nuclear science, such as how to accurately verify that stockpiles have been permanently dismantled1. But a more-permanent arrangement, whereby researchers from different countries can offer — and respond to requests for — advice will be needed. Because relations between Russia and the United States have worsened, the many formal and informal networks of nuclear scientists that once existed between these countries are now “practically non-existent”, says former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz, co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a think tank based in Washington DC. A new global network will be essential to ensuring the safety of nuclear arsenals, because a lack of communication increases the chance of accidents and misunderstandings, heightening the risk of nuclear weapons being used.

Breakneck progress

The TPNW was agreed in 2017 by 122 non-nuclear countries, mostly in the global south, but also including two European Union member states. The strategy in creating this treaty was conceived a decade earlier by researchers and campaigners at the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy in London; the Australian affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War; the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, based in Geneva, Switzerland, and New York City; and Japan’s Hibakusha, the survivors of the 1945 nuclear attacks.

Together, they built a larger coalition called the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and worked with scientists, United Nations diplomats and humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross2. Some 40 countries have already incorporated the treaty into their national laws, and processes are under way for this to happen in more national parliaments.

Once 50 countries have signed it into law, the TPNW will have the status of an international law. At that point, it will become difficult for individuals (including scientists), as well as companies (including banks), from the treaty’s member countries to play any part in the development and deployment of nuclear-weapons technologies, says Rebecca Johnson at the Acronym Institute, who is one of the architects of the new treaty. But scientists who work on disarmament technologies will not be affected — they are much needed.

The treaty came about for a number of reasons. To begin with, the non-nuclear nations realized that they had to find a way to influence nuclear policy from beyond the shadow of the nuclear states. There seemed to be little justice in countries with nuclear weapons being the ones to decide the rules for the majority who wish for a nuclear-free world.

How a small nuclear war would transform the entire planet

Representatives of the bigger nuclear powers have often argued that they have earnt the right to be the world’s nuclear guardians, because they are stable countries with the most advanced nuclear science and technology — both essential ingredients in ensuring that stockpiles are safe and secure. But, in recent years, the argument that these countries can be trusted to look after the security interests of the rest of the world has become less credible.

Non-nuclear countries have grown increasingly alarmed as, in 2018, the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, and, in 2019, the United States and Russia suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

And so, in addition to working with the existing nuclear agreements — in which the nuclear states have a veto — non-nuclear countries negotiated the new treaty through the United Nations General Assembly, under which every country has one vote.

At the same time, the non-nuclear states were able to boost their cause by drawing on some of the latest findings from researchers studying a potential ‘nuclear winter’ — the severe global cooling predicted to follow a nuclear war. Recent research has shown that a relatively small nuclear war between India and Pakistan could cause crops to fail in dozens of countries, devastating food supplies for more than one billion people3. Other research reveals that a nuclear winter would drastically alter ocean chemistry and cause serious harm to reefs and other marine ecosystems4.

Crucially, the treaty’s designers deliberately organized the preparatory process so that female researchers and diplomats were present in significant numbers — which is not usually the case in existing nuclear agreements. As a result of this commitment to knowledge, equality and diplomacy, ICAN was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

A new centre of gravity

The big question is to what extent the TPNW will make a difference to the actions of nuclear states. None has signed, but they will all be affected, in part because the treaty prohibits companies and individuals from signatory countries from assisting in weapons development. And because the TPNW is an intergovernmental agreement, nuclear-weapons countries will need to send delegates to its meetings, whether or not they agree with it.

The TPNW is a historic achievement with a lot riding on its young shoulders. It will still take decades to achieve a weapons-free world, but every journey needs to begin somewhere. Altering the balance of decision-making so that it is shared more equally between the nuclear states and the international community is that necessary first step.

Nature 584, 7 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-02274-9

References

1.Philippe, S., Goldston, R. J., Glaser, A. & d’Errico, F. Nature Commun. 7, 12890 (2016).

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2.Johnson, R. in Nuclear Disarmament: A Critical Assessment (eds Nikolas, B., Steen, V. & Njølstad, O.) 75–93 (Routledge, 2019).

3.Jägermeyr, J. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 117, 7071–7081 (2020).

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4.Lovenduski, N. S. et al. Geophys. Res. Lett. 47, 3 (2020).

Israel Launches Counteroffensive Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Israel Launches Counteroffensive Against Hezbollah, Hamas

Jack BeyrerAugust 4, 2020 1:40 PM

National Security

Israel waged counterstrikes on Tuesday in southern Syria and the Gaza Strip following aggression from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syrian military forces, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Israel Defense Forces deployed a contingent of helicopters, fighter jets, and drones against Syrian military installations purposed for observation, intelligence gathering, and communication. This attack came a day following a thwarted Hezbollah attack in a contested area in the Golan Heights, in which four terrorists were killed by IDF responders.

Former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said Hezbollah planned the attack as revenge for previous skirmishes. “It seems [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah tried his luck from the Syrian front,” Yadlin wrote on Twitter.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah has a storied relationship with Syria and the Assad regime, along with a documented history of cooperation during the Syrian Civil War. Both Syria and Hezbollah harbor resentment towards Israel and have had few qualms about the use of violence.

“Hezbollah needs to know that it’s playing with fire,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week. “Any attack against us will be answered with great force.”

Meanwhile, Israel acted with dispatch on its southern border against terror group Hamas on Monday. IDF forces bombed Hamas sites on the Gaza Strip hours after a rocket was launched towards southern Israel.

Tit-for-tat operations in Gaza are nothing new. Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system intercepted more than 470 shells last year from Gaza-based terrorist rockets—an 85 percent success rate, according to the IDF. On Monday, American defense firm Raytheon announced its partnership with Israeli contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to build a similar missile defense system in the United States.

With such strong defenses, Israel hopes to nudge Gaza towards a less militaristic posture.

“[Hamas] must stop manufacturing rockets and use pipes to build proper water and sewage infrastructure for their children,” said Brigadier General Eliezer Toledano. “They must stop sowing launchers and harvest rockets and sow wheat and harvest grain.”

Authorities Expecting The Sixth Seal? (Revelation 6:12)

New York Times

By SAM ROBERTS

JULY 17, 2014

Here is another reason to buy a mega-million-dollar apartment in a Manhattan high-rise: Earthquake forecast maps for New York City that a federal agency issued on Thursday indicate “a slightly lower hazard for tall buildings than previously thought.”

The agency, the United States Geodetic Survey, tempered its latest quake prediction with a big caveat.

Federal seismologists based their projections of a lower hazard for tall buildings — “but still a hazard nonetheless,” they cautioned — on a lower likelihood of slow shaking from an earthquake occurring near the city, the type of shaking that typically causes more damage to taller structures.

“The tall buildings in Manhattan are not where you should be focusing,” said John Armbruster, a seismologist with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. “They resonate with long period waves. They are designed and engineered to ride out an earthquake. Where you should really be worried in New York City is the common brownstone and apartment building and buildings that are poorly maintained.”

Mr. Armbruster was not involved in the federal forecast, but was an author of an earlier study that suggested that “a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed.”

He noted that barely a day goes by without a New York City building’s being declared unsafe, without an earthquake. “If you had 30, 40, 50 at one time, responders would be overloaded,” he said.

The city does have an earthquake building code that went into effect in 1996, and that applies primarily to new construction.

A well-maintained building would probably survive a magnitude 5 earthquake fairly well, he said. The last magnitude 5 earthquake in the city struck in 1884. Another is not necessarily inevitable; faults are more random and move more slowly than they do in, say, California. But he said the latest federal estimate was probably raised because of the magnitude of the Virginia quake.

Mr. Armbruster said the Geodetic Survey forecast would not affect his daily lifestyle. “I live in a wood-frame building with a brick chimney and I’m not alarmed sitting up at night worried about it,” he said. “But society’s leaders need to take some responsibility.”

How Babylon the Great Created the Nuclear Horns (Daniel)

Zarif Blames Rise in Extremism on Big Powers’ Miscalculations

Iran’s foreign minister says miscalculations and major mistakes made by the world’s big powers over the past decades are the main cause of the surge in extremism in the West Asia region.

Mohammad Javad Zarif made the remarks in a speech delivered at the Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran on Monday, the second part of a five-part course in international relations entitled, “World in Transition,” which is being offered by Iran’s top diplomat.

Extremism was a result of miscalculations and occupation [of regional countries by world powers]. The main problem, which evolved into the existing sad conditions is the problem of ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘miscalculation’, which caused both regional powers and superpowers to make mistakes,” Iran’s foreign minister said.

“Miscalculations made by big powers, or in other words superpowers, with regard to the world’s modern order have resulted in consequences, which are by far more disastrous than the mistakes made by other countries,” Zarif emphasized.

He described the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq as one of the big powers’ miscalculations, saying that there were many ambiguities surrounding the attack at its onset.

“But something was conspicuous. It was clear from the very beginning that this [US] war [against Iraq] would lead to the spread of extremism in the world.”

In early 2003, the United States, backed by the UK, invaded Iraq under the pretext that the regime of the country’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein, possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). No such weapons, however, were ever found in Iraq.

The invasion plunged Iraq into chaos and led to the rise of terrorist groups, including the Daesh Takfiri group, across the region.

The US and a coalition of its allies further launched a military campaign against purported ISIL targets in Iraq in 2014, but their operations in many instances have led to civilian deaths.

Elsewhere in his speech, Zarif touched on the US withdrawal from several international treaties, and said such a policy is just similar to those bigoted and obstinate ideas that contravene the world’s realities on the ground.

Some players in the international scene, like the United States, have struggled to take control of the situation by resorting to old-dated rules and reliance on their military superiority, but their approach led to a “disaster,” the top Iranian diplomat added.

The US under President Donald Trump has pulled out from several international treaties in defiance of global outcry.

Trump, a hawkish critic of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), unilaterally withdrew Washington from the agreement in May 2018, and unleashed the “toughest ever” sanctions against the Islamic Republic in defiance of global criticism.

The Trump administration also pulled the United States out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia last year. The 1992 treaty allows member countries to conduct short-notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the other countries to collect data on their military forces and activities.

Trump has also pulled his country out of the UN cultural organization UNESCO and the Paris climate accord.

Source: Iranian Agencies

More Chaos Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Lebanon: Deadly Beirut explosion injures thousands

At least 25 people were killed and around 2,500 others injured when a powerful explosion rocked Beirut’s port. Buildings were destroyed and windows shattered, with dozens of Red Cross teams racing to the scene.

A massive explosion at a port in the Lebanese capital Beirut killed at least 25 people and injured around 2,500 others on Tuesday, according to Lebanon’s health minister. 

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion.

Windows were shattered and buildings were destroyed in the widespread damage, while smoke was seen billowing across the city. Damage appears to have spread for several kilometers.

The Red Cross said there were at least 2,200 injuries from the explosion, while several eyewitnesses reported that some of the wounded may be buried under rubble.

Beirut’s governor told local TV: “I have never in my life seen a disaster this big.”

‘A fireball’

“My apartment is completely destroyed,” Joachim Paul of the Heinrich Böll Foundation told DW. “I was in a shopping mall when the explosion happened, and I was under the impression that a bomb had gone off in the mall.”

An eyewitness told Reuters news agency, “I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut.”

“People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street.”

Many people were seen lying injured on the ground and hospitals put out immediate calls for blood donations, the Associated Press reported. One hospital reported over 500 patients had arrived, bringing them to capacity.

The explosion in Beirut caused widespread damage

Warehouses stored ‘highly explosive materials’

Local TV stations reported that the blast took place at an area where fireworks were sold, while Lebanon’s state news agency NNA quoted security sources as saying that the warehouses may have housed explosives.

Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim confirmed that there were warehouses in the area that stored “highly explosive materials,” without elaborating on whether this referred to weapons or fireworks. Ibrahim said the materials had been “confiscated years ago.”

The Lebanese Red Cross said “hundreds” were injured and tweeted that over 30 teams were responding to the incident. 

Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared that Wednesday will be a national day of mourning for the victims of the explosion, according to local media, while President Michel Aoun called an emergency meeting with the National Defense Council.

International community responds

The White House announced that the United States was monitoring the explosion very closely and was ready to “offer all possible assistance.” France and Iran also both announced they would help Lebanon in any way necessary.

After the blast, Israel said it had nothing to do with the explosion. Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told Israeli TV that he believed the explosion was most likely caused by a fire, urging “caution around speculation.”

Tensions have been high between the two neighboring countries after Israel said it thwarted an infiltration attempt by Hezbollah gunmen. 

Lebanon is also currently in the grip of a major economic crisis, with many people taking to the streets in recent months to protest the financial situation.

Black smoke billows over destroyed buildings in Lebanon

ed/stb (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

This story has been updated to reflect the latest developments. 

The Hegemony of the Chinese Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8)

Ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads go on display at a parade in Beijing. Credit: Kyodo News/Getty

Nuclear weapons: arms-control efforts need China

As tensions mount and treaties totter, fresh thinking is needed — on deterrence, emerging technologies and key players in east Asia.

04 August 2020

Nobumasa Akiyama

It is 75 years since the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945, killing around 200,000 people. Since then, humanity has had to coexist with the massive destructive power of nuclear weapons.

Although such weapons have not been used in wars since, they define the international order. Nuclear deterrence and pacts to restrict arms between the United States and Russia have assured decades of precarious peace. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ adoption of the first-ever Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017 buoyed hopes of a world free of these catastrophic arms.

Now the skies are darkening. In 2019, the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and Russia collapsed, ushering in a new arms race for weapons with a range of 500–5,500 kilometres. China’s rise as a superpower is bolstered by a rapidly modernizing arsenal. India and Pakistan are engaging in the worst border scuffles for decades. Iran is re-stoking its nuclear programme, after the United States unravelled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action restricting it. North Korea continues to expand its arsenal.

This environment had made the old rules of strategic stability obsolete even before the COVID-19 pandemic fuelled nationalism and tensions. New ways of thinking about nuclear security and arms control are needed urgently, and for more than two players.

First, researchers and security experts need to find deterrence strategies that are acceptable to three nations. China should join arms-control talks with the United States and Russia, even if these are open-ended. Second, international security discussions need to encompass emerging technologies and conventional weapons, as well as nuclear ones. Third, non-nuclear states, including Japan — my nation — need to be at the table.

How a small nuclear war would transform the entire planet

In the 75 years since the nuclear cataclysm at the end of the Second World War, scientists have been central to deterrence, detection and verification, capitalizing on global collaborations to build trust, technology and treaties. Researchers’ skills and commitment are needed now more than ever.

Nuclear-arms control is at a crucial juncture. On a positive note, world leaders are increasingly vocal about abolishing these abhorrent weapons. Sadly, current geopolitics means that situation is a long way off.

Former US president Barack Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons on a visit to Prague in 2009, and became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima, in 2016. UN secretary-general António Guterres argued that their abolition is crucial “to save humanity” in his 2018 disarmament agenda1. When Pope Francis visited Nagasaki and Hiroshima in November 2019, he criticized the concept of nuclear deterrence as offering a “false sense of security” sustained by “fear and mistrust”. Peace should be assured instead, he said, through “the arduous yet constant effort to build mutual trust”.

Similar sentiments among non-nuclear states delivered the TPNW. It was adopted by 122 of the 193 members of the UN, and will enter into force once 50 states ratify it. But, as of this month, only 40 have done so. Signatories agree not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

Eradication is unlikely, however. Notable absentees from the treaty include all nuclear-armed countries. They did not vote for the TPNW; they jointly expressed their unwillingness to join. Nor did ‘nuclear umbrella states’ in Europe and Asia, such as the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Japan and South Korea, whose security from nuclear attack relies on the United States.

A global regime of arms control is still crucial to manage nuclear risks.

Fracturing framework

The United States and Russia together possess 90% of the world’s 14,000 nuclear weapons. Their holdings have been shaped through four bilateral treaties at three levels: strategic nuclear arms, missile defence and sub-strategic nuclear and conventional arms. Negotiations began in 1969 under the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT).

The SALT I agreement, signed in 1972, restricted systems that were capable of directly delivering nuclear weapons to either country. That agreement was replaced by the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1), which capped the numbers of nuclear warheads as well as delivery systems that each nation could hold. President Obama and then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed a replacement ‘New START’ treaty in April 2010.

Atomic bombs through wars hot and cold

The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, signed in 1972, limited competition concerning these offensive weapons that had shaped confrontation between the two countries in a framework of mutual assured destruction.

In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to eliminate ground-launched, medium-range missiles under the INF treaty, and signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which set ceilings on key conventional forces in Europe. Russia announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 2015.

Each nation agreed to abide by these rules because they recognized the existential risks: either could wipe out the other. The rules were formalized and verified. Predictability and transparency increase trust. Scientific teams from both countries conducted on-site inspections of warheads and exchanged data. The number of nuclear weapons held in each country has now fallen to around 6,000, or one-fifth of their peak during the cold war.

But tensions are rising again between the United States and Russia. The United States backed out of the ABM treaty in 2002. And in February 2019, it announced it would withdraw from the INF treaty, citing Russia’s testing of prohibited missiles. After Russia made counter accusations, both sides abandoned the treaty in August 2019.

Enter China

Negotiations have also stalled over a replacement for New START, which expires in February 2021. If the treaty is not renewed or extended, the nuclear arms race will go unchecked. The United States wants to bring in China and expand the scope of weapons covered. Russia wants to stick to the original remit.

China’s rise has transformed the geopolitical landscape. The United States cited that country’s unrestricted build-up of nuclear forces as one reason for its withdrawal from the INF treaty. China has around 320 nuclear warheads, and more than 250 missile launchers capable of carrying them2. The majority of its nuclear arsenal is in land-based, medium-range missiles.

For example, the Chinese ballistic missile Dongfeng 26 can travel 4,000 km, roughly the distance from eastern China to Guam, a US territory in Micronesia in the western Pacific Ocean. Dongfeng 21 can reach a target 2,000 km away, enough to hit US aircraft carriers deployed around the South China Sea if launched from central western China. Dongfeng 17 is a manoeuvrable missile that can deliver both nuclear and conventional warheads at a similar range. It could function as boosters for a hypersonic glide vehicle flying at low altitude, which radars would have little time to detect3.

A view of Hiroshima in Japan, about two years after it was hit by a US nuclear bomb.Credit: AFP/Getty

These types of missile are the very assets that the United States and Russia could not possess under the INF treaty. For China, they are key to being able to compete with the United States in the western Pacific Ocean. It is because of these that the United States, keen to protect its superiority in the region, wishes to bring China into the arms-control fold.

So, in June this year, the United States invited China to attend its discussions with Russia in Vienna about what will replace New START. China declined. Not keen for the United States to dampen its nuclear ambitions, it would rather wait and see what happens in November’s US presidential election.

But there are good reasons for China to engage. Not least, it could influence the agenda — to raise issues that concern it, such as the missile defence systems of the United States and its allies, which include Japan.

Three challenges

Finding a trilateral arms-control strategy will be difficult for three reasons4.

First is a problem of game theory. It makes more sense for three players in a non-cooperative dilemma game to defect rather than cooperate5. Conventionally, rational players would rather engage in an arms race than agree not to. That view changes when they look ahead. Players place more emphasis on the value they will gain in future — they would rather be guaranteed a smaller payback than risk gaining nothing or losing. Cooperation then becomes possible. That’s why the United States and Russia agreed to act in the past. The game repeats endlessly, and the devastating power of nuclear weapons makes the cost of defection high — a nuclear-first strike from the other.

In a three-way game, the outcome might be different. It is harder to find a stable equilibrium in the first place. And it’s better for two to form a coalition against the other, even in the long run. Thus, every player fears others teaming up against them. When trust is missing, players prefer to stay in competition rather than reach agreement.

We ignore the past at our peril

The key to trilateral arms control is to ensure that the isolated party benefits from signing up. It’s unclear whether the confidence-building and verification measures associated with existing arms-control treaties are sufficient to do that, and whether the level of transparency that could be required is acceptable for all three.

Second, power balances, strategic goals and arsenals that were evolving fast are now profoundly in flux. The economic power shifts brought about by technology alliances and globalization have been accelerated and amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. At potentially one of the most profound inflection points for centuries, it is hard to define a stable state of relations among countries that have different (and unpredictable) goals and assets.

From a global perspective (even as the pandemic continues), the United States is still a political and economic heavyweight, as well as a military one. It has been pursuing cooperation with allies in the Indo-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. Russia’s power is declining: its core interests are in Europe and central Asia, and it is seeking to keep its superpower status, even if only nominally. China’s global status is rising: it has been extending its influence worldwide by economic and diplomatic means, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, and its military focus has enabled it to gain dominance in the western Pacific.

These three rival powers, with their varying future trajectories, face a major challenge in finding a sustainable way to accommodate all of their strategic interests.

Third, boundaries are blurring between different types of weapon. Emerging technologies such as hypersonic gliders, precision-guided strike systems, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) make conventional weapons as effective strategically as nuclear ones (go.nature.com/2x46wda). Cyberattacks could cheat nuclear command-and-control systems and confuse decision-making, leading to risky situations. Satellite-imaging technologies enhanced using AI make it easier to identify and target strategic assets such as missile-launch sites and commands.

All of these factors complicate deterrence calculations. Discussion on regulating them has not produced any tangible results, and it will remain difficult.

Steps forward

The United States, China and Russia should immediately begin talks that explore how stable strategic relationships can be built. That would reassure other countries and pave the way for more substantive security agreements. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia need to extend New START to avoid a gap in arms control.

From blackboards to bombs

The three powers should discuss ways to identify and reduce the risks associated with nuclear weapons, as well as how to implement transparency measures. Then they should take the following steps. First, agree the definition and scope of the weapons systems covered by an arms-control treaty. Second, reach a mutual understanding regarding the definition of a strategic equilibrium that serves the security of each country. This will involve balancing qualitative values with a quantitative formula. Third, formulate mechanisms for verification and confidence-building that prevent defection without compromising sensitive security information.

Researchers and specialists in security need to explore new models of deterrence and arms control. Win-win-wins need to be found for a three-player game. And a formula is needed to convert the balance of strategic interests into measurable levels of force, given different goals and military assets. Deterrence strategies that cover nuclear, conventional and cyber capabilities also need to be designed.

Non-nuclear states must participate in arms-control discussions. East Asia could be one focal point for testing new strategies, for three reasons. First, it is caught in the middle of a competition between the United States and China. Second, four nuclear powers, including North Korea and Russia, are involved in the region’s instability. And third, non-nuclear allies of the United States — Japan and South Korea — are major strategic and scientific players in the high-tech environment that today shapes the power of states.

This places my country in a difficult but important position. Japan should take the lead in envisaging new forms of arms control, because it would be a way for the nation to commit to its promise: that what happened to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must never happen again.

Nature 584, 40-42 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-02282-9

References

1.United Nations. Securing Our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament (UN, 2018).

2.Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. SIPRI Yearbook 2020 354–362 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2020); available at https://go.nature.com/3f60pjy

3.Panda, A. The Diplomat (28 December 2017).

4.Krepinevich, A. F. Jr Foreign Affairs (January/February 2019).

5.Dawes, R. M. in Human Judgment and Decision Processes (eds Kaplan, M. F. & Schwartz, S.) 87–107 (Academic, 1975).