The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Living on the Fault Line

A major earthquake isn’t likely here, but if it comes, watch out.

Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo

This chart shows the location of the Ramapo Fault System, the longest and one of the oldest systems of cracks in the earth’s crust in the Northeast. It also shows the location of all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in New Jersey during the last 50 years. The circle in blue indicates the largest known Jersey quake.

The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.

After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.

Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.

During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.

“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”

Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.

Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.

After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.

But no area on the East Coast is as densely populated or as heavily built-up as parts of New Jersey and its neighbors. For this reason, scientists refer to the Greater New York City-Philadelphia area, which includes New Jersey’s biggest cities, as one of “low earthquake hazard but high vulnerability.” Put simply, the Big One isn’t likely here—but if it comes, especially in certain locations, watch out.

Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.

Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.

The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.

For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.

Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”

The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.

The Ramapo Fault sits on the North American Plate, which extends past the East Coast to the middle of the Atlantic, where it meets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in constant flux. The consequences of this intraplate setting are huge: First, as Gates points out, “The predictability of bigger earthquakes on…[such] settings is exceedingly poor, because they don’t occur very often.” Second, the intraplate setting makes it more difficult to link our earthquakes to a major cause or fault, as monitors in California can often do.

This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”

Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”

But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.

Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.

All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.

For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.

Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.

To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.

In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.

As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)

In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.

The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (

Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.

Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.

This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.

“Any vulnerable structure on these weak soils would have a higher failure hazard,” Stanford says. And the scary truth is that many structures in New Jersey’s largest cities, not to mention New York City, would be vulnerable, since they’re older and built before anyone gave much thought to earthquake-related engineering and construction codes.

For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at

All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.

Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”


Planning for the Big One

For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.

In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.

Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”

Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.

This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”

A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.

“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”

Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in M

The Iranian Korean Connection

Kim is not alone: The country fuelling North Korea’s nuclear dream

By: Debra Killalea

Iran may have been secretly helping North Korea rapidly advance its nuclear weapons program, it has emerged.

The UK Foreign Office is investigating whether the secretive state has received help in developing this technology.

UK media site The Telegraph reported the British Government is looking at whether “current and former nuclear states” have been assisting Pyongyang in its nuclear ambitions. Iran is at the top of the suspects list.

North Korea claimed it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb ready to be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on September 3.

This has led many to speculate North Korea has had help from at least one other country.A Whitehall source told The Telegraph there is no way North Korean scientists could have got to this point by themselves.

“North Korean scientists are people of some ability, but clearly they’re not doing it entirely in a vacuum,” a government minister said.

International Security expert and Intelligence Studies and director of ANU’s Southeast Asia Institute Professor John Blaxland told it was possible Iran has been helping Pyongyang.

There have been stories circulating of Iranian technical support over a number of years and while this story is not easy to corroborate, it is certainly plausible,” he said.

Nuclear disarmament campaigner John Hallam said there were a few countries, including Iran, which could be among those helping North Korea.

“There has been collaboration over missile technology, but not to my knowledge over weapons design, for decades,” he said.

“Much of Iran’s missile technology has been, or once was, North Korean.”

Mr Hallam said he believed the collaboration between North Korea and Pakistan deserved more attention.

“Iran wouldn’t have much to offer the DPRK in terms of weapons design, but Pakistan would have had a great deal to offer, at least in terms of miniaturised uranium warheads, which form the mainstay of Pakistan’s nuclear forces,” he said.

Mr Hallam also said if Iran really wanted to obtain nuclear weapons it would have managed to do so 15-20 years ago.

“So Iran would certainly have nothing to offer the DPRK in terms of hydrogen bomb technology,” he said.

“They might have had something to offer in terms of enrichment over the years and they might have been helpful in jointly developing missile technology.”

Mr Hallam said it was also possible that Russia could be helping the DPRK.

“They certainly have arguably the world’s best or second best nuclear weapons and missile technology, and they may have been somewhat helpful, but I really doubt that Russia will have slipped them a third generation thermonuclear warhead design,” he said.

“Of course they may have somehow obtained such a design, but they could have done so from any country that had such designs – including the US itself.”

In an interview with last week, Australian National University researcher and North Korean expert Leonid Petrov said it was clear North Korea’s scientists were getting help from somewhere.

Dr Petrov said other countries likely to have assisted include Pakistan, Russia and even Ukraine.

News that Iran may be fuelling North Korea’s nuclear ambitions comes as Israel’s minister for intelligence and strategic affairs Yisrael Katz warned Terhan’s own nuclear ambitions must be stopped.

Mr Katz said failed attempts to negotiate with Pyongyang should serve as a lesson in dealing with Iran.

“Iran is the new North Korea,” he said.

“We need to act now so we won’t be sorry tomorrow about what we didn’t do yesterday.”

Supplying the Iranian Nuclear Horn

CIA director suggests North Korea may be working another angle with its nuclear ambitions
David Choi Sep. 11, 2017, 8:59 PM

CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Monday said it was “fair to say” that North Korea, which has a history of sharing its nuclear capabilities, could be approached by potential customers, such as Iran, to sell secrets about its missile programs.

The North Koreans have a long history of being proliferators and sharing their knowledge, their technology, their capacities around the world,” Pompeo said in a Fox News interview on Monday.

“As North Korea continues to improve its ability to do longer-range missiles and to put nuclear weapons on those missiles, it is very unlikely, if they get that capability, that they wouldn’t share it with lots of folks, and Iran would certainly be someone who would be willing to pay them for it,” Pompeo said.

Though the US believes it has solid information on North Korea’s capabilities, the reclusive nation’s ultimate intent in ramping up its weapons program remains an “incredibly difficult intelligence problem,” Pompeo added.

“We think we have an understanding,” Pompeo said. “We think Kim Jong Un wants these weapons for protecting his regime and then, ultimately, the reunification of the peninsula. But there’s still a lot that the intelligence community needs to learn.”

In August, The Washington Post reported that North Korea unexpectedly broke through a major hurdle in its nuclear-missile program after it was able to marry a miniaturized nuclear warhead with a missile. The report led to an increasingly bellicose verbal exchange between President Donald Trump and North Korea, with the hermit kingdom threatening the US territory of Guam.

On September 3, North Korea continued to rattle its global neighbors, conducting its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. Following the test, the UN Security Council unanimously increased sanctions on North Korea – albeit a watered-down version to appease China and Russia – by imposing a cap on crude-oil imports and banning exports of textiles, according to Reuters.

“Look, I worry first and foremost about the threat from North Korea, in the sense that we have a place that is now in the cusp of having the capacity we’d hope they’d never have,” Pompeo continued, “with a leader who makes decisions, at the very least, in a very, very tight circle, in which we have limited access.”

Making Way for the Iranian Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8)

Why does North Korea keep launching ICBMs?

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un sets a template for other rogue states

(CNN)Among the many strides North Korea has made in its development of nuclear weapons it can add another disquieting distinction: the precedent it’s set for other rogue states who covet nuclear weapons.

“If North Korea continues to progress in developing nuclear weapons we are giving hope
to countries that might have this ambition,” Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization said in a recent interview with CNN.
“This should be seen as the last wake up call to stop this endeavor by North Korea, so that no other country can pretend, or try to do explosive testing towards the build up of a nuclear weapon,” Zerbo said.
Nevertheless, as the isolated state and its adversaries tread ever closer to a military denouement, there is now a reality — whether it is recognized officially or not — that North Korea has attained nuclear status and whatever deterrence the US, South Korea and the rest of the international community might concoct to prevent those weapons from finding flight, the message to nuclear aspirants is clear.
“If you make a lot of steady, quiet progress, and you have very strong incentives to get nuclear weapons and you just keep your head down and barrel ahead and withstand whatever sanctions come your way, eventually you can get to the other side,” said Devin Hagerty, professor of political science and the founding director of the global studies program at the University of Maryland.
“But I also think that for every nuclear aspirant there is a unique set of incentives and disincentives to work from,” he told CNN.

The lessons of Libya and Iraq

The uniqueness of North Korea’s predicament is a significant reason why other states might not be able to follow suit, said David Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Security Studies at the Walsh School for Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
“What other country is in North Korea’s position, and what other country would have the conditions that would allow it to have weapons and not end up like Libya or Iraq or somebody else?” Maxwell asked. “There’s very few countries that have that, that can make conventional military threats that allowed North Korea to develop nuclear weapons without a significant response.”
Conventional military threats, he said, included the regular risk of a border dispute with Seoul, something Maxwell contends “caused strategic paralysis on the part of South Korea, the US and the international community — no one wanted to risk going to war, so we weren’t willing to take action to prevent the development of nuclear weapons.”
The unique circumstances surrounding North Korea’s stubborn pursuit of nuclear weapons stands in stark contrast to the fate of other would-be developers like Syria and Iraq, countries that found their embryonic facilities quickly obliterated in Israeli air strikes.
Saudi Arabia, vying for dominance in the Middle East against nuclear-obsessed Iran, has also long had an eye for adding a nuclear element to its burgeoning weapons stores.
“Saudi Arabia’s case,” said Hagerty, “won’t be driven by what happens with North Korea. They’re going to base their decisions on national interests and their position in the Middle East, and that Israel has a policy to take out nascent nuclear weapons programs of nearby countries.”
At the White House at least, the temptation for any country to make such an attempt is dangled before them every time North Korea conducts a military test, something national security adviser H.R. McMaster recognizes.
“Their provocations seem likely to increase — not decrease — over time. The North Koreans have also proliferated just about every capability they’ve ever produced, including chemical weapons and a nuclear reactor,” McMaster said in a recent interview with the New Yorker. “Then there’s the matter of what other countries do — in the region and beyond — when they see that a rogue regime developed nukes and got away with it.”
North Korea’s new standing as a nuclear power is one the White House can no longer deny, says Maxwell.
“I think that’s part of the problem,” he told CNN. “The international community has painted itself into a corner since 1994 (when a deal between the Clinton administration and Pyongyang was signed, but which later fell apart). We’ve said the North can’t have nuclear weapons, we’ve used this rhetoric and we’ve had no means to prevent it, and this goes back to the assumption that North Korea wasn’t going to last so we wouldn’t have anything to worry about.”
Indeed, when Kim Jong Il died from a heart attack in December 2011, the confusion over who would succeed him threw into question efforts to engage North Korea in negotiations.
There was concern that Kim Jong Un, the inexperienced successor, would face challenges to his leadership upon assuming the reins. In the years that followed, he led a purge of senior officials that included most notably, Jang Song Thaek, an uncle by marriage. Analysts at the time oscillated between declaring that Kim was struggling to maintain control of the party, to insisting he had consolidated power and had become a force to be reckoned with.
In March 2012 at a nuclear security summit in Seoul then-US President Barack Obama pressed China and Russia to do more to curb Pyongyang, which was launching a satellite that purportedly breached international regulations. North Korea announced the move even as food aid was slated to arrive to feed desperately hungry North Koreans. “We need to have a serious conversation with the North Koreans where they understand that we’re going to do things differently in the future,” said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes at the time.
In a speech in Seoul to university students during that visit, Obama warned Pyongyang that if the regime didn’t shift from its quest for nuclear weapons there would be “more broken dreams, more isolation, ever more distance between the people of North Korea and the dignity and the opportunity that they deserve.”
“Your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek,” he said. “They have undermined it.”
North Korea’s calculation of what the regime could expect from the international community changed when it realized Obama was “essentially unwilling to engage with them in a big way,” said Mike Chinoy, a former CNN correspondent and current senior fellow at the US-China Institute at the University of Southern California. Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons were its guarantee that the regime would survive any existential threats.
“The fact that they have succeeded raises the question about whether you can have an effective non proliferation regime, and I do think there’s a message to other countries that if you acquire a nuclear capability the Americans will be hard-pressed to stop it,” said Chinoy.
“If the Americans now sabotage the Iran agreement for example, the message is going to be again to countries or elsewhere, that even if you do try to do a deal, and even if the deal is win-win, even that they throw away,” Chinoy remarked.
US President Donald Trump must tell Congress next month if he believes Iran is meeting its obligations under the nuclear accord. Under the deal Tehran has committed to scaling back its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said she wouldn’t be surprised if Trump declared that Iran wasn’t complying because the deal was “very flawed, very limited.”
North Korea will be watching to see how the administration treats the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement Trump has called “the worst deal ever.” To Pyongyang it would be a sign of American intentions towards nuclear states that don’t enjoy positive relations with Washington. Rescinding a deal with one hostile country could even more adversely impact the White House’s negotiations with another that is even more antagonistic towards the West.
“The lesson,” says Chinoy, “for any future negotiation with North Korea is you can’t count on the Americans to live up to anything, so screw it, get as many nukes as you can, and say: ‘We dare you to attack us because we can nuke Los Angeles,’ and that’s where we’re going.”