Don’t Forget About the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

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Don’t forget about earthquakes, feds tell city

Although New York’s modern skyscrapers are less likely to be damaged in an earthquake than shorter structures, a new study suggests the East Coast is more vulnerable than previously thought. The new findings will help alter building codes.

By Mark Fahey

July 18, 2014 10:03 a.m.

The U.S. Geological Survey had good and bad news for New Yorkers on Thursday. In releasing its latest set of seismic maps the agency said earthquakes are a slightly lower hazard for New York City’s skyscrapers than previously thought, but on the other hand noted that the East Coast may be able to produce larger, more dangerous earthquakes than previous assessments have indicated.

The 2014 maps were created with input from hundreds of experts from across the country and are based on much stronger data than the 2008 maps, said Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project. The bottom line for the nation’s largest city is that the area is at a slightly lower risk for the types of slow-shaking earthquakes that are especially damaging to tall spires of which New York has more than most places, but the city is still at high risk due to its population density and aging structures, said Mr. Petersen.

“Many of the overall patterns are the same in this map as in previous maps,” said Mr. Petersen. “There are large uncertainties in seismic hazards in the eastern United States. [New York City] has a lot of exposure and some vulnerability, but people forget about earthquakes because you don’t see damage from ground shaking happening very often.”

Just because they’re infrequent doesn’t mean that large and potentially disastrous earthquakes can’t occur in the area. The new maps put the largest expected magnitude at 8, significantly higher than the 2008 peak of 7.7 on a logarithmic scale. The scientific understanding of East Coast earthquakes has expanded in recent years thanks to a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Virginia in 2011 that was felt by tens of millions of people across the eastern U.S. New data compiled by the nuclear power industry has also helped experts understand quakes.

“The update shows New York at an intermediate level,” said Arthur Lerner-Lam, deputy director of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “You have to combine that with the exposure of buildings and people and the fragility of buildings and people. In terms of safety and economics, New York has a substantial risk.”

Oddly enough, it’s not the modern tall towers that are most at risk. Those buildings become like inverted pendulums in the high frequency shakes that are more common on the East Coast than in the West. But the city’s old eight- and 10-story masonry structures could suffer in a large quake, said Mr. Lerner-Lam. Engineers use maps like those released on Thursday to evaluate the minimum structural requirements at building sites, he said. The risk of an earthquake has to be determined over the building’s life span, not year-to-year.

“If a structure is going to exist for 100 years, frankly, it’s more than likely it’s going to see an earthquake over that time,” said Mr. Lerner-Lam. “You have to design for that event.”

The new USGS maps will feed into the city’s building-code review process, said a spokesman for the New York City Department of Buildings. Design provisions based on the maps are incorporated into a standard by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which is then adopted by the International Building Code and local jurisdictions like New York City. New York’s current provisions are based on the 2010 standards, but a new edition based on the just-released 2014 maps is due around 2016, he said.

“The standards for seismic safety in building codes are directly based upon USGS assessments of potential ground shaking from earthquakes, and have been for years,” said Jim Harris, a member and former chair of the Provisions Update Committee of the Building Seismic Safety Council, in a statement.

The seismic hazard model also feeds into risk assessment and insurance policies, according to Nilesh Shome, senior director of Risk Management Solutions, the largest insurance modeler in the industry. The new maps will help the insurance industry as a whole price earthquake insurance and manage catastrophic risk, said Mr. Shome. The industry collects more than $2.5 billion in premiums for earthquake insurance each year and underwrites more than $10 trillion in building risk, he said.

“People forget about history, that earthquakes have occurred in these regions in the past, and that they will occur in the future,” said Mr. Petersen. “They don’t occur very often, but the consequences and the costs can be high.”

Starwars is a Nuclear Fallacy

 

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U.S. Missile Defense: Not as Effective As We Think

Sometime after midnight on the night of January 21, 1991, I was awoken by the sound of an air raid siren. At the time, I was sleeping in an apartment in Eskhan Village, an abandoned suburban housing area outside Riyadh that served as a barracks facility for thousands of American service members deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Storm. Following protocol, I quickly donned my chemical protective ensemble, inclusive of gas mask; not following protocol, I headed up to the flat roof of the two-story building to see what was happening.

As it turned out, we were under attack. Iraq had launched four of its extended-range SCUD missile derivatives toward Riyadh. The flight paths of two of these missiles were visible to the naked eye, where residual fuel burned from the nozzle of the rocket. As part of a team of SCUD missile analysts assigned to the intelligence section of Central Command headquarters, I was fascinated by this first-hand opportunity to see the SCUD in action. The irony of being on the receiving end of the very missiles I was working to destroy barely registered before I was stunned by the sound of Patriot anti-missile batteries, staged in close proximity to the housing area, firing multiple salvos of interceptors at the incoming SCUDs. Each of the interceptors homed in on their target, their S-shaped trajectories reflecting the in-flight corrections provided by the Patriot’s target acquisition radar as it tracked the flight path of the SCUDs. With dramatic effect, the Patriot interceptors exploded along the flight path of the SCUDs, which continued on their ballistic arc before impacting somewhere on the horizon with a bright yellow-green explosion.

This wasn’t the first launch of SCUD missiles by Iraq against Saudi Arabia during the war. In the days prior, there had been several missile attacks targeting the sprawling military complex at Dhahran, all of which authorities claimed had been successfully intercepted by Patriot missiles. I had counted more than a dozen Patriot interceptor launches in the vicinity of Eskhan Village on the night of January 21, 1991; more than 35 interceptors in total had been fired in the Riyadh area that night. Reports that crossed my desk the next morning indicated that all four SCUDs targeting Riyadh had been successfully intercepted and destroyed by the Patriots, a finding which puzzled me—the Patriot intercepts I had witnessed against the two SCUDs I was able to visually track seemed to be exploding behind the SCUDs, and none appeared to stop the SCUDs from detonating on the ground. Later, as part of a team of missile specialists assembled to evaluate the SCUD missile debris from the January 21 attack, I could find no evidence of any shrapnel having impacted the body of the SCUD missile.

After the war, while serving with the United Nations Special Commission charged with disarming Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (inclusive of its SCUD missiles), I read an article in International Security by MIT Professor Theodore Postol titled “Lessons of the Gulf War Patriot Experience.” Postol questioned the Patriot’s 96 percent success rate claimed by the Army during the Gulf War. Later, while working with Israeli intelligence on the Iraqi SCUD problem, I was able to speak with members of the Israeli Defense Force who were able to confirm Professor Postol’s findings: The Patriot missile defense system successfully intercepted less that 10 percent of the SCUDs fired at Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab States during the Gulf War, and only 2 percent of those fired at Israel.

The failure of the Patriot missile defense system to perform during the Gulf War has been largely ignored. The reasons for this are many and varied. There was an extensive and intensive effort undertaken by the Raytheon Company (the manufacturer of the Patriot missile), the Army, and the Department of Defense to challenge Postol’s findings, thereby muddying the waters. The fact that Iraq’s SCUDs were inaccurate and did not carry WMD likewise skewed public opinion—a dud warhead landing somewhere in the desert or ocean did not generate the kind of excitement of a chemical warhead landing in a densely populated area. In the quarter of a century that has passed since the Gulf War, the performance of the Patriot has improved, as has missile defense in general. (Witness the success of Israel’s “Iron Dome” system.) But the fact remains that, at the time of the Gulf War, the Patriot was a largely untested system which failed to perform as needed. Had Iraq had better missiles, or if they had been tipped with chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads, this failure could have been catastrophic.

My experience with the Patriot missile during the Gulf War has colored my assessment of the deployment of America’s new front-line missile defense weapon, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) to South Korea. The THAAD is intended to defend against the threat posed by North Korean short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Like the Patriot missile of 1991, the THAAD has only been tested under carefully scripted peacetime conditions, with launch crews having the advantage of long flight times (easy to track) and medium speed closure rates (easy to kill) involving single missile launches. The THAAD has not been tested under realistic wartime conditions, involving large salvos of missiles possessing high-closure rates of speed. In war, it is the unexpected that trips you up. During Desert Storm, the structural failure of Iraq’s extended-range SCUDs caused the warhead to separate from the main body of the missile, creating multiple targets the Patriot radar was unable to discriminate against. This, combined with the higher-than-anticipated closure speeds of the longer-range missiles, contributed to the poor performance of the Patriot system.

North Korea has demonstrated the ability to conduct simultaneous launches of up to four ballistic missiles. Given their proximity to South Korea, these weapons would be tracked for a far shorter time with closure speeds greater than the missile targets the THAAD has been tested against to date. Moreover, the North Koreans have demonstrated a high-loft launch profile, which would have the missile closing in on its target at a far steeper angle, and at much higher speeds, than the conventional ballistic trajectories the THAAD has trained against. The THAAD interceptors are tied to the high-tech AN/TPY-2 target acquisition radar, which can cover a 120-degree frontage. North Korea’s newly proven submarine-launched ballistic missile capability provides Pyongyang with a capability to maneuver behind the surveillance arc of the THAAD’s radar. Such an attack presumes that neither the South Korean or U.S. naval forces would detect and destroy a North Korean submarine attempting such an attack, or that the U.S. Navy’s Aegis missile defense system would fail to intercept a launched missile. The point here isn’t the likelihood of North Korean success, but the reality that the THAAD is not omnipotent.

Perhaps the greatest threat facing the THAAD, or any defensive system currently deployed in the vicinity of South Korea, is that North Korea could employ a ballistic missile tipped with a nuclear warhead for the purpose of generating a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would knock out the THAAD’s radar and electronics—along with most, if not all, of South Korea’s and America’s electrical systems stationed in the region. The likelihood of such a scenario seems slim, given the consequences North Korea would endure in the aftermath of any use of nuclear weapons. However, the fact remains that the one attack the THAAD is specifically deployed to prevent—that of a nuclear-tipped North Korean missile—is the one attack that could be its undoing.

Missile defense has always been more theoretical than practical. The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) systems of the Cold War were never used, and eventually mothballed. The Patriot failed miserably during the Gulf War, only to succeed a decade later during the 2003 invasion of Iraq by using a much-improved interceptor against a far less capable foe. The much-vaunted Israeli “Iron Dome” missile defense system performed well against the homemade rockets of Hamas, but has yet to be tested against the much more capable arsenal possessed by Hezbollah—or, for that matter, Iran. The THAAD system is a 30-year-old technology untested in combat, under-tested in peacetime, and is our only line of defense against a North Korean ballistic missile threat that has taken the world by surprise in terms of its scope, breadth, and capability.

During the Gulf War, the Patriot’s poor performance did not have any strategic consequences—28 Americans tragically lost their lives when a SCUD hit their barracks, and a few Israelis died of heart attacks. The absence of a tangible result wasn’t from a lack of effort on the part of Iraq—Israeli’s Dimona nuclear reactor was targeted multiple times, and had any missile caused significant Israeli casualties, Israel would have entered the conflict, placing the delicate coalition President George W. Bush had built at risk, and perhaps changing the outcome of the war. There is little reason to believe that North Korea’s missiles lack accuracy, that their targeting will lack purpose, or their warheads will be benign. Whether or not THAAD is up to the task of protecting the South Korean peninsula (or, for that matter, Guam, Japan, and Alaska) from any North Korean ballistic missile attack is still yet to be seen. However, if history is any indication, the likelihood is that the THAAD will significantly underperform—a possible outcome American military and civilian planners should take into consideration when plotting their next moves against Pyongyang.

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD. He is the author of Deal of the Century: How Iran Blocked the West’s Road to War (Clarity Press, 2017).

Why Pakistan and not India is a Nuclear Horn

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Sanjana Gogna is Research Intern at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

September 11, 2017

For long, the international literature on the nuclear dynamics in South Asia has disregarded the role of China. Indian scholars have consistently highlighted this lacuna in the past. Many experts continue to ignore the Chinese factor in their analyses and advance clichéd assessments and raise alarmist concerns about the nuclear situation in the region.

Lately, there has been a renewed debate in Western academic circles about India’s growing predilection for an offensive nuclear posture. This supposed shift in India’s position is often interpreted as a response to Pakistan’s acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons or even to India’s inability to deter Pakistan from employing cross-border terrorism. Whatever may be the reason that is attributed, analysts alleging such a shift in India’s nuclear posture warn about the consequent heightening of nuclear risks and recommend that India demonstrate responsible nuclear behaviour.

Frank O’Donnell’s recent article, ‘Reconsidering Minimum Deterrence in South Asia: India’s Responses to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons’ published in Contemporary Security Policy (2017), falls in this category. It strivesi to place in perspective the Indian responses generated by the introduction of the Nasr missile by Pakistan. O’Donnell delineates two ‘official’ (military and the civilian policy-makers), along with three streams of ‘strategic elite’ responses’.
O’Donnell begins by analysing Pakistan’s launch of the ‘Nasr’ and its concept of the full-spectrum deterrence. However, he seems to give credence to Pakistan’s argument that it developed tactical nuclear weapons and conceived of the concept of full spectrum deterrence in response to India’s ‘new pro-active’ military approach in the form of the so-called ‘Cold Start’ doctrine. Needless to assert that there is nothing called a Cold Start doctrine or a new ‘pro-active’ conventional war fighting approach. Each country has the right to retaliate when a war is waged against it, including a proxy war. This is certainly not a ‘new stage of regional nuclear competition’, as O’Donnell puts it.

O’Donnell has meticulously summarised the assessments of the three streams of non-governmental ‘strategic elite’ responses to the challenges and security risks Pakistan poses for India through its tactical nuclear weapons as well engagement in cross border terrorism. The three streams have been ‘labelled according to the degree of their emphasis on the minimum or maximalist logic in their policy recommendation’. The first two streams — ‘minimum deterrence with deepened conventional provocative strike planning’ and ‘minimum deterrence with new arms control commitments, make a strong case for continuing the minimum deterrence posture but differ in their approaches.

While the first stream places emphasis on improving nuclear readiness, those in the second stream argue for new arms control measures for nuclear de-escalation. The third stream of responses (‘adopting maximalist nuclear logic’) urges for an expanded role for nuclear weapons in Indian defence planning but without abandoning the posture of ‘credible minimum deterrence’.

O’Donnell has also skilfully examined various policy options for India to deter an escalation instigated by Pakistan such as ensuring an ‘assured’ rather than ‘massive’ retaliation while retaining the minimum deterrence concept, advancement of new arms control initiatives, and a reformulation of the minimum deterrence concept to include ‘conventional and un-conventional approaches’.

O’Donnell is right in drawing the conclusion that no one is questioning the Indian nuclear doctrine of credible minimum deterrence. However, his fear that India may have begun a policy shift, which is based on National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval’s omission of the term ‘minimum’ in remarks at an event in October 2014, is rather farfetched. In most likelihood, the omission may have been unintentional.

O’Donnell is also right in arguing that a more holistic view of the concept of minimum deterrence is required that categorically specifies India’s approach in conventional and sub-conventional domains. Pakistan has been projecting its nuclear weapons as those required for war fighting. It has not learnt lessons from the United States which has shifted its nuclear war-fighting doctrine to a deterrence doctrine in 2010. The ‘sole purpose’ doctrine that defines the US posture now indicates that the sole purpose of American nuclear weapons is merely to deter, not to initiate, a nuclear war. In fact, this nuclear war fighting posture of Pakistan pronounced through the Nasr is basically meant to provide a shield for its terror activities if India were at any point to try and take a corrective military measure.

His assessment of India’s commitment to the principles of restraint and responsibility in its defence practices remains inadequate. He also seems to postulate his assessment of India’s shift towards a proactive and offensive nuclear posture on rather obscure premises and mistaken assumptions. O’Donnell’s use of the phrase — ‘development of offensive conventional concepts’ for India’s conventional preparedness, is rather inappropriate and misleading.

So far, there is no official indication that India intends to keep its nuclear forces at a ‘higher readiness level’. Even the overwhelming view within the strategic community does not appear to favour this kind of readiness. India is a responsible nuclear weapons country. However, a responsible country cannot be irresponsible towards its citizens. It has to protect them. It has to stand up to nuclear blackmail. This requires appropriate preparedness. And this is what India, rather its strategic community, is discussing. O’Donnell acknowledges this reality when he writes that vis-à-vis Nasr, ‘… greater clarity and public assurance is needed from Indian nuclear policy makers …’

India’s nuclear strategy builds on the principle of restraint, and despite being a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), its policies have been greatly consistent with the key provisions of NPT that apply to nuclear-weapon states. India’s declared nuclear doctrine of 2003, which stands by principles such as credible minimum deterrence, No-First-Use (NFU), non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states, remains a fundamental document till date. The Indian government has not shown any indication that it is attempting to deviate from these declared norms. India’s record when it comes to observable and measurable benchmarks of responsible nuclear behaviour is a largely positive one.

Pakistan, on the other hand, continues to expand the size of its nuclear arsenal, including with the Nasr platform. This expansion will take place notwithstanding India’s policy or posture. Pakistan’s aggressive military strategy combined with an expanding nuclear weapons arsenal should be a matter of deep concern for the whole world, not merely for India. Pakistan has refused to adopt the NFU policy, and takes undue advantage of its nuclear shield to support and sponsor terrorist attacks in India without any fear of retaliation.
Frank O’Donnell has also ignored the deep-rooted Sino-Pak nuclear axis that operates within the region. China has extensively assisted Pakistan in building nuclear delivery capabilities, often violating the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Pakistan’s medium range ballistic missiles Shaheen I and II also closely correspond to China’s ‘M’ series of ballistic missiles.

The Nasr platform, as O’Donnell has rightly mentioned, is still in ‘very early stages of deployment’. The Indian government has not issued any official response to its launch. When former Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) Shyam Saran addressed the issue of Nasr and India’s massive retaliation threat in a speech in 2013, he was only holding a consultative position. To ascertain the seriousness of the Nasr challenge based on certain views prevailing within Indian non-official circles and think tanks would be a serious mistake. Frank O’Donnel also argues that Nasr threatens India’s ability to deter Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. While Pakistan’s aggressive strategies raise serious concerns for India, and the rest of the world, its Nasr programme certainly is not a threat to India’s security and survival.

The suggestions that come from different quarters, including in the article of Frank O’Donnell, that India should replace the policy of massive retaliation with that of assured retaliation or flexible response, may fail to send the fitting signal to Pakistani aggressive posturing and terror acts and undermine the logic of credible minimum deterrence.

Frank O’Donnell’s proposal that India can take initiatives ‘unilaterally’ to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, like it did by signing the Hague Code of Conduct, may be inconceivable. India has done its best to launch a global campaign for reducing the salience of nuclear weapons, but nuclear weapons countries do not appear very enthusiastic about it. O’Donnell’s alternative option for an India-Pakistan agreement for reducing the salience of nuclear weapons could be a non-starter considering Pakistan’s policies of first use.

The ‘proactive conventional concept’ that O’Donnell claims to have been adopted by India has no substantive basis. India’s security needs differ in a great deal from Pakistan’s, as India has to deal with a greater security challenge from China. Pakistan has a reactionary history of nuclear and missile development and it continues to challenge India’s security through proxy wars and state-sponsored terrorism. The nuclear escalation risk cannot be contained by the revision of India’s minimum deterrence policy —as Frank O’Donnell recommends, but with a change in Pakistan’s behaviour. Regional stability is possible only if Pakistan starts to practice restraint, act responsibly, and include the principle of NFU in its nuclear doctrine.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

Yes We Are In The Endtimes

The Apocalypse Beat: Life in an era of hurricanes, wildfires and nuclear threats

Howard KurtzBy Howard Kurtz Published September 11, 2017

I’m sure I’m not the only person to make this observation, but it feels like we’re living through calamities of biblical proportions.

Lately I feel like I’m on the apocalypse beat, careening between coverage of monster hurricanes and the threat of nuclear war.

Perhaps it’s just the curse of the news gods, but we have ricocheted between the catastrophic Texas flooding unleashed by Harvey, the blustery threats and hydrogen bomb test of Kim Jong-un, and the devastating fury of Irma hitting Florida yesterday.

And that has made me ruminate a bit about the nature of leadership.

President Trump, who draws so much criticism, has performed reasonably well during this period. He’s taken the most flak for his tough words against Kim after each new bomb or missile test. This can be unnerving, but the approach of the last two decades—diplomacy and sanctions—hasn’t worked either. Whether we have edged closer to a nuclear confrontation is hard to discern, but every administration has to maintain a credible military threat against the rogue regime.

The twin hurricanes remind us that there are limits to government in the face of mother nature’s fury. But so far you have to credit both federal and state officials with a herculean effort. Countless people were rescued from the Houston floods, and Rick Scott was on TV so often urging South Florida to evacuate that it seemed the governor had his own show. I still can’t get my mind around the mind-boggling task of evacuating nearly 7 million people, almost as many as live in New York City.

After the media cast Hurricane Harvey as a major test for Trump, most never got around to reporting that he did pretty well. He quickly visited Texas as FEMA did a stellar job of coordinating rescue and relief efforts. There was some carping about Trump not showing enough empathy, but even that faded after the president’s second visit, when he met with victims in Houston after avoiding the city at the height of the flooding. And with Democratic help, Trump has pushed a $15-billion relief package through Congress, which amounts a down payment on what’s needed.

It’s obviously too soon to say how the government will perform after Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida.

But one thing that has been inspiring in Texas is how many ordinary people got into boats to rescue folks trapped in their homes, and how many community organizations and churches pitched in to help. Volunteers rose to match the moment of crisis. And journalists who ventured into dangerous conditions in Florida and Texas deserve credit as well.

It still feels like we’re trapped in the grip of relentless danger: Ever more destructive hurricanes, ever more deadly wildfires in California and Oregon, and a particularly devastating earthquake in Mexico. But the silver lining is that it has fostered a sense of community too often lacking in these polarized times.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of “MediaBuzz” (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.