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

Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo

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.

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.

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.”

The Sunni and Shia Horns

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been battling each other for regional hegemony for years.

Hostilities have increased since the Saudis, backed by the United States, baulked at the 2015 nuclear deal which saw Iran give up nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief and ramped up efforts to curb the Islamic Republic’s influence in the region.

Now, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is suspected of being held against his will in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Hariri appeared on television on Sunday night for the first time since his abrupt resignation on November 4.

Hariri rejected what he called rumours of his detention in Saudi Arabia and promised a return to Lebanon “very soon” in order to affirm his decision to give up the premiership.


Where does Egypt stand on Lebanon spat?

“Here in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I am free,” Hariri said on Future TV, a station affiliated with his political party.

But many, including Hariri’s own staff and allies in his unity government, fear that Saudi leadership is mandating the prime minister’s actions.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of Lebanon’s Shia movement and Iran ally, Hezbollah, said the resignation was “forced”.

Hariri’s abrupt resignation, coupled with reports that he is being held against his will, have led many to question whether Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is opening a new front against Iranian influence in Lebanon.

Imad Salamey, associate professor of political science and international affairs at the Lebanese American University, told Al Jazeera it is likely that Saudi Arabia will open a new front in Lebanon as it shifts its view of its relationship with the Sunni community in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia has close ties to Lebanese businessmen and politicians, including the Hariri family.

“Saudis haven’t used these connections against Hezbollah in Lebanon, though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may no longer see this arrangement as beneficial,” Salamey said.

Bin Salman is “consolidating power”, Salamey said, referencing the arrests of Saudi businessmen and royals, which the kingdom refers to as an “anti-corruption” campaign.

“I think this is why we see [Hariri’s resignation] at the same time as the arrests in Saudi Arabia”, Salamey said.

This power consolidation extends beyond Saudi borders, Salamey explained. Recently, the Saudis have used their military to project power, especially in its proxy conflicts with Iran in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Two-and-a-half year old Hala al-Nufi, who suffers from a metabolic disorder which is worsening due to the siege and food shortages in the eastern Ghouta, is held by her uncle in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria [Bassam Khabieh/Reuters]


Considering the Saudis’ extended involvement and apparent losses in these conflicts – seen as attempts to curb Iranian influence – the decision to engage Iran in Lebanon may not be wise, according to Joshua Landis, head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and expert on Syria.

Landis believes the contest for military supremacy is already over.

“The Iranians have won the war for military strength in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. There can be little doubt about this,” he told Al Jazeera.

The Syrian civil war began in March 2011, after the tumult of the Arab Spring protests that unseated autocratic leaders throughout the region and attempted to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Al-Assad cracked down on protesters calling for democracy in 2011, leading to the creation of armed groups and the eruption of violence.The conflict has killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced millions more.

The Saudis have long wanted al-Assad, an Iran-backed leader from a minority religion who rules over a majority Sunni state, to be removed from power. By mid-2015, Assad was close to losing power.

Then, Russia joined the war in September 2015. Along with Hezbollah and Iranian forces, the Russian intervention gave al-Assad a lifeline.

He has increased his control of the war-torn country’s territory from roughly a third in 2015 to a majority stake.

Saudi-backed rebel groups have been routed by pro-Assad forces. The chaotic situation and political vacuum in Syria helped the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS and Daesh). ISILtook control of parts of Syria but has recently suffered major losses, including its de facto capital, Raqqa.

The 9-month fight to defeat the ISIL in Mosul ended in a crescendo of devastation: bombardment that damaged or destroyed a third of its historic Old City in just three weeks [Felipe Dana/AP Photo]


ISIL faces a similar story in Iraq. The group once controlled large swaths of northern Iraq, a country that has been occupied by the US since the 2003 invasion which saw former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein overthrown, tried and executed.

Now, ISIL is on the verge of losing all its territory there. Similar to Syria, Iraqi forces supported by Iran-backed militias and US-backed Kurds, have been largely responsible for defeating the group.

Iranian influence was previously kept out of Iraq by President Hussein, who fought an eight-year war with the Islamic Republic.

Now, some of the most powerful Shia men in Iraq, including PM Haider al-Abadi, are friendly with Iran.

Al-Abadi recently defended the role of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization fighters, who have been instrumental in defeating ISIL, in a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Iraq is one of the few nations allied with both the US and Iran. Tillerson has been attempting to weaken Iranian influence on Iraq.

“Popular Mobilization fighters should be encouraged because they will be the hope of country and the region,” al-Abadi said in a statement in October.

The Iraq-Saudi Arabia border is approximately 900km long. The Saudis share a frontier with a pro-Iran government in Iraq, neighboured by a pro-Iran government in Syria.

Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq, two nations close to the kingdom, has “spooked Saudi Arabia”, Landis said, leading to a more aggressive policy from Crown Prince bin Salman.

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow filled with water containers after collecting drinking water from a charity tap, amid a cholera outbreak, in Sanaa, Yemen [Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters]


The proxy conflict in which Saudi Arabia has taken the most aggressive stance is Yemen.

Found at the southern end of the Arabian peninsula, Yemen shares a roughly 1,800km border with the Saudi kingdom.

Houthi Rebels, a religious group affiliated with the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, along with forces loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of large parts of the country in 2014.

Since then, a Saudi-led coalition has engaged in an aerial bombing campaign and blockade. The war has killed more than 10,000 people and left over seven million in danger of starvation.

But the Houthis, who have the support of Iran, have maintained control of much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.

The Houthis took credit for a ballistic missile fired at the Saudi capital of Riyadh on November 5, telling Al Jazeera the “capital cities of countries that continually shell us, targeting innocent civilians, will not be spared from our missiles”.

The Saudis claimed the missile was supplied by Iran, saying it constituted a declaration of war.


“No one save [Salman] believes that Saudi Arabia has an endgame” for a conflict with Hezbollah, Landis said.

Lebanon’s government is based on sectarian appointments. The president must be Maronite Christian, the speaker of the parliament a Shia and the prime minister a Sunni.

Landis said “strong-arming” Hariri could divide Lebanon’s Sunni community. Similarly, the Christian community is “much weaker” than before Syria’s Civil War.

With both groups weakened, Shia Hezbollah is able “to impose itself on Lebanon with greater ease”, Landis concluded.

Trita Parsi, president and founder of the National Iranian American Council, a US-based nonprofit that advocates for Iranian-Americans, told Al Jazeera that while sectarian lines have been drawn, the current crisis is more about power than religion.

Parsi pointed to the Saudi-led blockade against Qatar, a Sunni state, and the aforementioned weakening of Lebanese Sunnis through its treatment of Hariri.

“How does Saudi Arabia advance Sunnis by humiliating the Sunnis of Lebanon?” Parsi said.

Iran Eliminates War, for NOW

Iran eliminates possibility of war with the US

Shahir Shahid Saless, Special to Gulf News


Many analysts, including this author, continue to view a military confrontation between the United States and Iran under President Donald Trump as a real possibility. However, recent statements of Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and some policies adopted at the highest level within Iran, indicate that Tehran has decided to avoid creating conditions that could trigger a war between the two states.

Central to the argument of those who warned about the possibility of a US-Iran war was that the US would likely re-impose crippling sanctions on Iran. This prediction was based on the uninterrupted expansion of Iran’s ballistic missile programme. In retaliation, the story goes, Iran would accelerate its ballistic missile programme. Eventually, the Americans’ patience would wane and war would become inevitable.

On October 18, reacting to Trump’s announcement of his confrontational strategy toward Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei said, and “A military confrontation will not occur (between Iran and the US). However, some problems could happen that are no less important than war. We have to be careful.”

Following Khamenei’s remarks, a critical question arises: Why did Khamenei say with such certainty that war will not happen, and what are the other problems that he referred to?

Some may assert that Khamenei’s view regarding the unlikelihood of a US-Iran war is an overestimation of Iran’s military capabilities. To them, he is convinced that the US would not enter into a war with Iran due to its high cost. Iran’s military commanders have presented such an argument. However, a recent and unexpected position Iran adopted may convince outside observers that Iran’s strategy is to distance itself from acts that may provoke a war.

On October 31, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, announced that, according to a decision made by Iran’s leader, the range of Iran’s missiles will be limited to what it is now, 2,000km. Jafari added that “there exists the capability of increasing the range. For now, this is enough.”

A senior member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security Commission, Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, said on November 6 that the missile-range decision was made in 2011. However, a lengthy report published in 2013 by the semi-official Mehr News Agency, which has ties to the conservatives, contradicts Falahat-Pisheh’s remarks. That report, titled “All Iran’s missiles: from supersonics to intercontinental,” clearly demonstrated that some Iran’s ballistic missiles had a range greater than 2,000km. One such missile, named Ashura, has a range of 2,500km and is highlighted as “the crown of Iran’s missile industry.”

It is clear that Iran, by announcing its decision to limit the range of its missiles to 2,000km, has decided to put to rest one of the most contentious points with the US.

By adopting this policy, Iran seeks to achieve another goal. Because the European Union (EU) has also consistently objected to the expansion of Iran’s missile programme, an unstoppable programme could both unite Europe with the US in adopting an aggressive stance and collectively bring back sanctions that existed prior to the nuclear agreement. Iran’s policy, then, could divide the EU from the US on a quarrelsome point.

In his recent statements, Falahat-Pisheh has discussed the two goals that have been targeted by the announcement of limiting the range of the missiles. He stated, “Limiting the area of conflict with the enemy (the US) must be included in our agenda. … [Meanwhile], by limiting the area of conflict with the US, we can make the Europeans believe that Iran’s cooperative approach is not solely focused on economic areas. They can also expect military cooperation from Iran.”

But what are Khamenei’s other concerns that are no less important than war?

Two concerns are revealed by reading between the lines. The 2009 upheavals following the disputed presidential elections, which led to the victory of Iran’s eccentric president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rang alarm bells for Iran’s deep state. After eight years, the movement – labelled “sedition” by the conservatives – and its leaders, are constantly under heavy attack by the enormous state-owned radio and TV networks and other conservative media (no private TV or radio network exists in Iran). This is clear evidence that the deep state still lives under the shadow of fear of the re-emergence of that massive uprising.

The IRGC commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, once remarked, “The 2009 sedition was a bigger threat to the Islamic Revolution than the imposed war [by Iraq].” To understand the significance of this comparison, consider that the eight year Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988) was one of the bloodiest and longest wars of the 20th century. Moreover, it began by a surprise Iraqi invasion following Iran’s revolution while the management of Iran was still in chaos, and Iran’s regular army was in a state of disarray.

On another occasion, Jafari has said that Iran’s leader “is concerned about internal problems and internal opposition” within the Islamic Republic. He maintained that foreign threats provided Iran with an opportunity. “External enemies such as the US and the Baath Party of Iraq, which attacked Iran as a US proxy, were not a threat against the Islamic Revolution. Rather, that was a golden opportunity for the export of the revolution to the whole world”.

The issue is of greater concern when considering the US Secretary of State’s comments in June before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Before that committee, he said that US policy toward Iran is driven by relying on “elements inside of Iran” to bring about “peaceful transition of that government.” He added, “Those elements are there, certainly as we know.”

The other issue that Khamenei is deeply concerned about is the “infiltration” of the enemy and its creeping influence in the post-nuclear-deal era. This vision, which is shared by the conservative deep state, correctly believes that Americans and the moderate current within Iran tend to put the hostilities aside to restore relations between the two states. In such an eventuality, the radical current will be pushed to the margins. Iran’s centrist president, Hassan Rouhani, has repeatedly made clear his willingness to negotiate with the Americans and move in the direction of détente with the US.

Ayatollah Khamenei has said, “Who is prone to be influenced [by the enemy]? Primarily our elite, those who are effective [in the country’s direction], and decision-makers. They are prone to be influenced. These are the people that [the enemy] tries to influence.”

It was for this reason that soon after the conclusion of negotiations on the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers, a major part of which was bilateral talks between Iran and the US, Khamenei banned any further talks with the US on any other issue of conflict between the two countries.

“We are in a critical situation now, as the enemies are trying to change the mentality of our officials and our people. … Through negotiations Americans seek to influence Iran … but there are naive people in Iran who don’t understand this,” he remarked.

Shahir ShahidSaless is a political analyst and freelance journalist writing primarily about Iranian domestic and foreign affairs. He is also the co-author of Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace.

Foretelling the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

A new book foretells America’s next devastating earthquake.

Ben Goldfarb Nov. 13, 2017 From the print edition

In 2015, Kathryn Schulz, a writer at The New Yorker, published “The Really Big One,” a meticulous evocation of the massive oceanic earthquake that will someday drown the Pacific Northwest beneath a cataclysmic tsunami. I lived in Seattle then, and the quake was all anyone talked about: at coffee shops, in elevators, on buses. Many articles, even books, had been written about the coming 9.0, but Schulz’s Pulitzer-winning story was the first to grab the slumbering Northwest by the shoulders and shake it awake. Until, that is, the news cycle shifted, people got on with their lives, and earthquakes receded again in society’s consciousness.

Earthquakes, writes another Kathryn — Kathryn Miles — in her new book, Quakeland, are our most confounding natural disaster. We can watch hurricanes spinning in the Atlantic weeks before they land; we detect the rumbling of volcanoes months pre-eruption. Earthquakes, though, often provide no warning at all. Our grasp of what triggers them is tenuous; we are flying blind when it comes to predicting them. Hence the complacency: Why stress the incomprehensible? “How could we know so little about our planet and the risks it poses to all of us?” Miles asks.

Steam erupts from Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the geological features created by the supervolcano that lies below Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Quakeland is Miles’ sprawling, pain-staking attempt to answer that question. The author travels the country, from quake-overdue New York City to Yellowstone National Park, whose slumbering caldera, if we’re lucky, will hold off on annihilating us for a few more millennia. She is primarily concerned with how various sectors — schools, hospitals, oil tank farms — are preparing, or failing to prepare, for Big Ones in their own backyards. No facility goes untoured: Miles descends into an Idaho silver mine, wanders the bowels of the Hoover Dam, and visits the Berkeley seismology lab where researchers are designing quake warning systems for your phone. It’s an epic piece of reporting — as comprehensive as it is discomfiting.
You can’t write a book about quakes, of course, without dwelling on California. The San Andreas Fault plays a starring role in Quakeland: Miles wanders West Hollywood with an engineer who exposes alarming construction vulnerabilities. (Wood, counter-intuitively, is more resilient than stone or concrete, which “tends to explode.”)

But it’s the obscure hot spots — the intraplate faults, far from the junctions of colliding tectonic masses — that seem scariest, precisely because we’re so ill-prepared for their rupture. Salt Lake City overlays the Wasatch Fault Zone, where a 7.0 would be catastrophic: The region could expect 2,000 deaths, 9,000 injuries and 200,000 rendered homeless. Miles is ruthlessly pragmatic about the attendant logistical nightmares: “How would (building) inspectors get into a city whose highways and runways had crumbled? … How would the city get its dead and injured out?”

We’re not just unready for disaster — we’re exacerbating the risk. Miles is especially concerned about induced seismicity, earthquakes caused by human industry, particularly the injection of fracking wastewater into the ground. The phenomenon’s epicenter is Oklahoma, which went from one of the least seismically active states to the most after a drilling boom. Agencies, beholden to industry, denied the connection until the evidence became irrefutable; other states still skirt the problem. The debate uncannily resembles the conflict over climate change: Fossil fuel interests exploit uncertainty about the magnitude of the problem to justify inaction — never mind the overwhelming scientific consensus about the threat’s reality.

Occasionally, Miles’ reporting is so thorough it’s exhausting: I have no doubt that a Southeastern quake would cause headaches for FedEx’s Memphis headquarters, but I’m not sure I needed a chapter to belabor the point. In leaving no seismic stone unturned, though, Quakeland discovers alarming Achilles’ heels in our infrastructure and emergency systems. That at least 30 faults underpin Nevada’s Yucca Mountain does not make me feel more comfortable about someday storing nuclear waste there.

Fortunately, Miles unearths success stories as well as potential apocalypses. Most Northwesterners may have again forgotten that they live in a future flood zone, but disaster managers haven’t. Near Quakeland’s end, Miles visits a school in Westport, Washington, that constructed a $2 million rooftop tsunami shelter. No grim detail had been overlooked: “Surrounding the platform is a six-foot-high parapet … mostly to protect the kids from witnessing the devastation.”

Quake preparedness, Miles makes clear, is partly a matter of personal responsibility: Stock your emergency kit with food, water and warm clothes today. Mostly, though, it’s a public policy problem. We must invest in modernizing bridges and developing early warning systems; retrofit our schools and hospitals; advocate for regulations to reduce induced seismicity. Gearing up for inevitable earthquakes won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap — but we can’t bear the cost of doing nothing.

Trumpian Nuclear Threat

No one can stop Trump from launching nuclear weapons

By Robert Burns The Associated Press

November 13, 2017 – 1:22 pm

Here’s a question rarely raised before Donald Trump ran for the White House: If the president ordered a pre-emptive nuclear strike, could anyone stop him?

The answer is no.

Not the Congress. Not his secretary of defense. And by design, not the military officers who would be duty-bound to execute the order.

As Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer and expert on nuclear command and control, has put it, “The protocol for ordering the use of nuclear weapons endows every president with civilization-ending power.” Trump, he wrote in a Washington Post column last summer, “has unchecked authority to order a preventive nuclear strike against any nation he wants with a single verbal direction to the Pentagon war room.”

Or, as then-Vice President Dick Cheney explained in December 2008, the president “could launch a kind of devastating attack the world’s never seen. He doesn’t have to check with anybody. He doesn’t have to call the Congress. He doesn’t have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in.”

And the world has changed even more in the decade since, with North Korea posing a bigger and more immediate nuclear threat than had seemed possible. The nature of the U.S. political world has changed, too, and Trump’s opponents – even within his own party – question whether he has too much power over nuclear weapons.

These realities will converge Tuesday in a Senate hearing room where the Foreign Relations Committee – headed by one of Trump’s strongest Republican critics, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee – will hear testimony from a former commander of the Pentagon’s nuclear war fighting command and other witnesses. The topic: “Authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.”

Corker, who has engaged in an escalating war of words with Trump since announcing in September he wouldn’t run for re-election, said numerous lawmakers have raised questions about legislative and presidential war-making authorities and the use of America’s nuclear arsenal.

“This discussion is long overdue,” Corker said in announcing the hearing.

Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology who has researched and written extensively about presidential nuclear authority, said he is hopeful the discussion “might shed some more light on aspects of the procedures for presidential use of nuclear weapons that I think really needs to be known and talked about.”

He said the U.S. system has evolved through tradition and precedent more than by laws.

“The technology of the bomb itself does not compel this sort of arrangement,” he wrote in an email exchange. “This is a product of circumstances. I think the circumstances under which the system was created, and the world we now live in, are sufficiently different that we could, and perhaps should, contemplate revision of the system.”

Some aspects of presidential nuclear war-making powers are secret and therefore not well understood by the public. The system is built for fast decision-making, not debate. That’s because speed is seen as essential in a crisis with a nuclear peer like Russia. Unlike North Korea, Russia has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the United States in a matter of minutes.

Russia’s long-range missiles could reach the U.S. in about 30 minutes. Submarine-launched missiles fired from nearer U.S. shores might arrive in half that time. Given that some of the U.S. response time would be taken up by administrative steps, the president would have less than 10 minutes to absorb the information, review his options and make his decision, according to a December 2016 report by nuclear arms specialist Amy Woolf of the Congressional Research Service.

A president who decided to launch a nuclear attack — either in retaliation for a nuclear strike or in anticipation of one — would first hold an emergency conference with the defense secretary, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and other advisers. The commander of U.S. Strategic Command, now Air Force Gen. John Hyten, would brief the president on strike options, and the president would make his decision.

The president would communicate his decision and transmit his authorization through a device called the nuclear football, a suitcase carried by a military aide. It’s equipped with communication tools and a book with prepared war plans.

If the president decided to order a strike, he would identify himself to military officials at the Pentagon with codes unique to him. These codes are recorded on a card known as the biscuit that is carried by the president at all times. He would then transmit the launch order to the Pentagon and Strategic Command.

Blair, the former missile launch officer, said there is no way to reverse the president’s order. And there would be no recalling missiles once launched.

Although fielded and assigned for use by the military, the nuclear bomb is inherently a political weapon, given its almost unimaginable destructive capacity. That explains why the system for controlling the use of U.S. nuclear weapons has been designed to concentrate decision-making power in the ultimate political office: the presidency.