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

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/RamapoFaultSystem.png 

Living on the Fault Line

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 (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).

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 nycem.org.)

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 Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.

The Antichrist and Black Sunday

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Inside the ambush known as Black Sunday

ABC News

On April 4, 2004, the 2-5 battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division was just taking over responsibility for Sadr City, a large Baghdad slum with a population of 2 million. A platoon of 18 soldiers and their interpreter was returning to its base from the most routine of missions, providing security for sewage trucks, when it suddenly came under fire.

Within minutes, a gunner, Sgt. Eddie Chen, was fatally injured. Others were wounded and two of the platoon’s four Humvees were disabled. Lt. Shane Aguero, the platoon leader, directed the team down an alleyway, where the soldiers took cover in a house.

Back at the battalion’s base, Camp War Eagle, located just outside Sadr City, the new commander, Lt. Col. Gary Volesky, was taking over command as radio reports came in from the platoon detailing the increasing intensity of the fight. Then reports arrived of enemy fighters seizing the local police stations in the neighborhood. Volesky and rescue teams from the battalion’s Charlie and Alpha Company raced into the city, facing an onslaught of gun fire, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and pipe bombs.

By the end of the night, eight soldiers would be dead and more than 60 wounded — the largest casualty count in one day for the First Cavalry Division since Vietnam.

Here’s more about the ambush that would be known as Black Sunday:

Who was the enemy?

PHOTO: Armed Iraqi Muslim Shiites, member of Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr Army of Mehdi militia jubilate near a burning US Army Humvee during clashes in Baghdads al-Sadr City district, April 4, 2004.Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images
Armed Iraqi Muslim Shiites, member of Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr Army of Mehdi militia jubilate near a burning US Army Humvee during clashes in Baghdad’s al-Sadr City district, April 4, 2004.more +

More than a year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, American forces still faced violence across the country, but Sadr City had been relatively calm. In the previous six months, only one U.S. soldier had been killed. The population, predominantly Shia, had suffered under the Sunni leadership of Saddam Hussein, and the incoming 2-5 battalion was anticipating a reconstruction and peace keeping mission.

But a young militant Shia cleric, Moqtada al Sadr, had other plans. The son of a powerful and popular Shia leader who was assassinated during Hussein’s rule, he fiercely opposed the American occupation. Drawing on the continuing instability, rampant unemployment and poverty still plaguing Shia communities, al Sadr was stirring up resentment across the country.

In the days ahead of April 4, his followers had been protesting in the thousands in Baghdad and other areas. The final straw came when the U.S.-led coalition shut down a popular newspaper and arrested a close ally. As the 2-5 Cav took over control, al Sadr unleashed his militia – the thousands-strong Mahdi Army – not just in Sadr City, but across Baghdad and in other cities.

How was the platoon rescued?

Back at the house in the alley, with an Iraqi family still inside, soldiers from the platoon took up positions on the roof. Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Swope stayed down in the alley in one of the remaining Humvees. As enemy fighters continuously assaulted the platoon, Swope was on the Humvee’s radio for the entire fight, the only point of contact with rescue teams struggling to get to them.

Up on the roof, the soldiers were frantically trying to signal their location, using smoke grenades, electronic signaling equipment, even ripping off the sleeves of their uniforms to start a fire.

Out on the streets of Sadr City, the multiple rescue teams attempting to reach the pinned down platoon came under fierce attack and incurred heavy casualties.

“It was multiple rounds constantly,” Capt. Troy Denomy, the commander of Charlie Company, recalled. “I remember looking at the street, you’d see the rounds that were missing, you could see the impact on the street, and it kind of looked like rain when it hits puddles.”

Charlie Company passed by the alleyway, but with the antennas shot off the lead Bradley fighting vehicles, the Bradleys were unable to hear the radio calls to stop.

Eventually, a tank company came up the adjoining road. Watching the tanks rolling by, SFC Swope frantically called into the radio for them to stop. The platoon leader, Lt. Aguero, in a last-ditch effort, ran down the alley waving his flashlight in the dark. The tank company commander saw the light, and stopped, bringing the power and might needed to push back the enemy fighters and get the platoon out.

What was the toll?

In addition to Sgt. Eddie Chen, the gunner with the pinned-down platoon, seven other soldiers were killed that evening: Spc. Robert Arsiaga, Spc. Ahmed Cason, Spc. Israel Garza, Spc. Stephen Hiller, Cpl. Forest Jostes, Sgt. Michael Mitchell and Spc. Casey Sheehan. Most of them were in their 20s. More than 60 others were wounded.

Why did it matter?

The fight to rescue the team in the alley was just the beginning. Within hours, many of the soldiers involved were back battling on the streets of Sadr City to retake the police stations that had been seized. They would go on to fight this new insurgency for 80 straight days, and then after a brief respite, would endure another 60.

Who are the heroes?

As Volesky put it, “Uncommon valor was common that day.” Sgt. 1st Class Swope would be awarded a Silver Star for staying in the Humvee in the alley and remaining on the radio for the entire battle. Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger was also awarded the third-highest medal for valor because of his actions that night. As part of a rescue mission, he and more than a dozen other soldiers were in the rear of an open-bed LMTV truck. Exposed to the enemy like the proverbial fish in a barrel, Miltenberger was credited with saving the lives of three soldiers while treating many other wounded.

PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol the deserted streets of the sprawling Shia slum of Sadr City at sunset after a day of tense clashes across the country with supporters of controversial Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, April 4, 2004, in Sadr City, Iraq. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images
U.S. troops patrol the deserted streets of the sprawling Shia slum of Sadr City at sunset after a day of tense clashes across the country with supporters of controversial Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, April 4, 2004, in Sadr City, Iraq. more +

For soldiers of the 2-5 battalion, it was moment that would define the days to follow.

“I don’t think the bonds that they’ve made here with their fellow soldiers will ever break,” Volesky said. “I understand now what it means when you go to a veterans’ ceremony and you see the old veterans get together and hug and cry and you never really understood it. I understand it now.”

Without these leaders, the U.S. could face a diminished role on the world stage, unable to keep up with the increasingly aggressive foreign policies of rising countries like China, she argues.

“There is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution — and to the global leadership that depends on us. There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed,” Stephenson, who has headed the AFSA since 2015, writes in a new essay in the group’s monthly publication.

AFSA rarely makes forays into political issues, making Stephenson’s letter that much more surprising.

There has been a sharp impact on the next generation as well, AFSA reports. A department-wide hiring freeze prevents new employees from coming onboard and limits current employees’ ability to take on new roles, unless granted special permission. After 366 new foreign service officers were admitted in 2016, only about 100 will join in 2018, according to AFSA.

What’s worse, they say, is that interest in joining the foreign service is plummeting now because of these policies. More than 17,000 people applied to take the foreign service test last year, but fewer than half that number have taken it so far this year.

The implications of that trend could be felt long term, with a new crop of talented diplomats missing and unable to take the helm in a couple of decades, Stephenson argues.

“The talent being shown the door now is not only our top talent but also talent that cannot be replicated overnight,” she writes.

While the union and many outside the government as well are raising alarms about the situation, the president has made clear that he does not see the need to fill many of the roles or build talent.

“The one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be,” he said in a Fox News interview last week.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said he is revamping the State Department to be more efficient and sustainable — calling the project “the most important thing I want to do during the time I have.”

That “redesign” began with an employee survey and hundreds of employee interviews, led by an outside consulting firm, to hone the department’s focus and mission, Tillerson’s team has said. Until it is complete, he has implemented that hiring freeze and left several top roles vacant or filled by staff in an acting capacity.

In this June 5, 2017, file photo, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis participate in talks at Government House in Sydney.AP
In this June 5, 2017, file photo, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis participate in talks at Government House in Sydney.more +

Tillerson has said he has the “utmost respect for the foreign service officer corps here, and they’re vital … and critical to the country’s ability to carry out its foreign policy,” telling the New York Times magazine he doesn’t understand the backlash to the redesign. “I’m mystified by it. I’m perplexed by it.”

But to foreign policy hands, he is depleting the nation’s diplomats, which will diminish America’s role on the world stage — or lead to a heavier reliance on the Pentagon at a time when the military is already stretched thin by two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, as well as other hotspots around the world.

“The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events,” Stephenson writes. “Were the U.S. military to face such a decapitation of its leadership ranks, I would expect a public outcry.”

Military leaders have often called for robust funding of the State Department. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is often quoted from his 2013 Congressional testimony, when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Tillerson and Mattis have worked closely in the Trump administration, with Mattis pointing out at every turn that Tillerson and diplomacy are at the helm on their North Korea strategy.

It’s not just the loss of personnel or lack of hiring. There have been complaints about mismanaging talent as well.

Politico reported Monday that the State Department has assigned “several hundred” employees to process public information requests, often known as FOIAs, because of a backlog that has built up over more than a decade.

While the State Department would not confirm that number, an official told ABC News, “The current processing system just wasn’t working,” citing over 13,000 requests outstanding since 2006.

“The Secretary is taking an approach of calling on many capable hands to step in, as part of a surge, to clear the backlog,” the official added. “This is about accountability and efficiently getting these outstanding FOIA requests down.”

Despite the criticism, the personnel moves seem to have satisfied Tillerson’s boss.

“It’s called cost-saving. There’s nothing wrong with cost-saving. Rex is in there working hard. He’s doing his best,” Trump told Fox News last week.

If Trump does seem to have any concern about staffing at the State Department, it’s that there are not enough of “his” people in the agency to implement in the “America First” vision he promised — agreeing with conservative commentator Laura Ingraham on this point in that Fox News interview.

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2008 file photo, then-US ambassador to Tanzania Mark Green is seen at the US embassy in Tanzania. Green is a rare bird in Washington these days: A nominee of President Donald Trump enjoying broad bipartisan support. But there’sThe Associated Press
FILE – In this Aug. 7, 2008 file photo, then-US ambassador to Tanzania Mark Green is seen at the US embassy in Tanzania. Green is a rare bird in Washington these days: A nominee of President Donald Trump enjoying broad bipartisan support. But there’smore +

So far, the Trump administration has only seven high-level political appointees confirmed by the Senate and working in the department — outside of Tillerson but including USAID Administrator Mark Green and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. An additional eight nominees are working their way through the confirmation process now, with the Senate either awaiting their paperwork or the nominees awaiting a Senate hearing or vote.

But in the absence of Trump nominees, there are 30 senior roles filled by career diplomats in acting capacities. Although there is someone doing the work, they do not enjoy the full legal authority of their role or the image of speaking on the administration’s behalf to the world.

There are 39 other senior roles that are vacant, but Tillerson has said he plans to eliminate 18 of those and fold their responsibilities into other jobs. The Trump administration has named a nominee for one of the 39 roles — the chief of protocol — who is awaiting confirmation.

Nearly three dozen ambassadorships remain vacant as well, with the embassies’ No. 2, called the charge d’affaires, leading those U.S. missions.

India Expands Its Nuclear Reach

 

NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday successfully flight-tested its indigenous

Nirbhay (the fearless) land-attack cruise missile, which can deliver nuclear warheads to a strike range of 1,000-km, after a string of failures since March 2013.

The development is significant because the armed forces have long been demanding nuclear land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs), with ranges over 1,000-km and versatile enough to be fired from land, air and sea.

Often brandished as India’s answer to the famed American Tomahawk missiles, as also an effective counter to Pakistan’s Babur LACM, the Nirbhay had been in the making for a decade without much success till now.

The sub-sonic missile, designed to carry a 300-kg nuclear warhead, had failed during its first test in March 2013. Though the second test in October 2014 was a partial success, the third and fourth tests in October 2015 and December 2016 also flopped, leading to talk that the project may have to be scrapped.

But the fifth test on Tuesday, at 11.20 am from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur off Odisha coast, was dubbed a “complete success” by DRDO. “The flight test achieved all mission objectives completely from lift-off till the final splash. The missile majestically cruised for 50 minutes, achieving the range of 647-km,” said an official.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on her part, expressed “optimism”, saying the successful trial would take India into “the select league of nations that possesses this complex technology of sub-sonic cruise missile capability”.

A series of successful tests of this ground-launched version of Nirbhay will pave the way for its induction into the armed forces, though its sea-based variant capable of being fired from nuclear-powered submarines will be the real game-changer.

Ballistic missiles like the Agni follow a parabolic trajectory, leaving and re-entering the earth’s atmosphere before hitting their targets. Cruise missiles like Nirbhay, in turn, are designed to fly at low-altitudes, almost hugging the terrain, to evade enemy radars and missile defence systems.

“Nirbhay has the capability to loiter and cruise at Mach 0.7 at altitudes as low as 100-metre,” said the official. After an initial blast off with a solid-propellant booster rocket engine to gain speed and altitude, Nirbhay deploys its smallish wings and tail fins in the second-stage to thereafter fly like an unmanned aircraft. It’s designed to be highly maneuverable with “loitering capabilities” to first identify and then hit the intended target with precision.

The supersonic BrahMos missiles, produced jointly with Russia, have already been inducted into the armed forces. But the BrahMos, which flies almost three times the speed of sound at Mach 2.8, is meant to carry only conventional warheads and currently has a strike range of only 290-km.

At least three tests of the extended range (450-km) BrahMos have been conducted after India joined the 34-nation

Missile Technology Control Regime

(MTCR) in June 2016. India, of course, has come a long way in developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles like the Agni series, which have strike ranges from 700-km to over 5,000-km.

South Korea Becomes a Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)


South Korea is negotiating with the United States to buy nuclear-powered submarines to guard against threats from Pyongyang, local reports said on Tuesday, as President Donald Trump said Seoul would buy “billions of dollars” of US weapons.

Nuclear-powered submarines can stay submerged for months, giving them a far greater range than their diesel-powered counterparts, and are also crucial to any seaborne nuclear deterrent.

Such a purchase would redraw the balance of power in northeast Asia and could trigger a regional arms race.

Japan, another US ally, does not have nuclear-powered submarines and is barred from having a military under its post-World War II pacifist constitution.

And while China’s increasingly powerful navy does include them in its fleet, Beijing would undoubtedly be infuriated by any such acquisition by Seoul.

After a summit in South Korea with his counterpart Moon Jae-In, Trump on Tuesday said Seoul would be buying a large amount of US weapons “whether it’s planes, whether it’s missiles, no matter what it is”.

“South Korea will be ordering billions of dollars of that equipment, which for them makes a lot of sense and for us it means jobs, reducing our trade deficit with South Korea,” he said.

While Moon did not give specific details of the purchases, he described them as essential for national defence.

Multiple South Korean media outlets said the two leaders ordered officials to begin the purchase talks “immediately”, citing a senior official who gave an anonymous briefing.

“The strategic assets under discussion include a nuclear-powered submarine and a sophisticated surveillance asset,” the reports quoted a senior official of Moon’s office as saying.

“We will have close consultations with the US about these two in the future,” the official was quoted as saying.

Seoul heavily relies on its security guarantor Washington, which has 28,500 troops stationed in the South, for national defence to protect itself against potential attacks by the nuclear-armed North Korea.

But growing atomic and missile threats by the North in recent years prompted calls in the South to have more sophisticated weapons of its own, with some even demanding that Seoul develop its own nuclear weapon.

The country is currently barred from developing atomic weapons under the deal with the US, which in turn offers Seoul “nuclear umbrella” against potential attacks by the North.

Pyongyang staged a sixth atomic test in September and has test-launched multiple missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, sparking global alarm over its military ambition.

Trump also said the US had agreed to remove a 500-kilogramme warhead weight limit on Seoul’s ballistic missiles.

The allies had agreed in principle to do so in September following the North’s latest nuclear test, by far its most powerful to date.

Moon, noting “ever-growing threats” from the North’s missiles and nuclear weapons, said on Tuesday that the two allies had reached a “final agreement” to remove the restriction.

“We also reaffirmed our stance to put maximum pressure and sanctions on the North until it… comes forward for genuine negotiations,” he told reporters.