The Sixth Seal Will be in New York (Rev 6:12)

Earthquakes Can Happen in More Places Than You Think

By Simon Worrall

PUBLISHED AUGUST 26, 2017

Half a million earthquakes occur worldwide each year, according to an estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Most are too small to rattle your teacup. But some, like the 2011 quake off the coast of Japan or last year’s disaster in Italy, can level high-rise buildings, knock out power, water and communications, and leave a lifelong legacy of trauma for those unlucky enough to be caught in them.

In the U.S., the focus is on California’s San Andreas fault, which geologists suggest has a nearly one-in-five chance of causing a major earthquake in the next three decades. But it’s not just the faults we know about that should concern us, says Kathryn Miles, author of Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake. As she explained when National Geographic caught up with her at her home in Portland, Maine, there’s a much larger number of faults we don’t know about—and fracking is only adding to the risks.

When it comes to earthquakes, there is really only one question everyone wants to know: When will the big one hit California?

That’s the question seismologists wish they could answer, too! One of the most shocking and surprising things for me is just how little is actually known about this natural phenomenon. The geophysicists, seismologists, and emergency managers that I spoke with are the first to say, “We just don’t know!”

What we can say is that it is relatively certain that a major earthquake will happen in California in our lifetime. We don’t know where or when. An earthquake happening east of San Diego out in the desert is going to have hugely different effects than that same earthquake happening in, say, Los Angeles. They’re both possible, both likely, but we just don’t know.

One of the things that’s important to understand about San Andreas is that it’s a fault zone. As laypeople we tend to think about it as this single crack that runs through California and if it cracks enough it’s going to dump the state into the ocean. But that’s not what’s happening here. San Andreas is a huge fault zone, which goes through very different types of geological features. As a result, very different types of earthquakes can happen in different places.

There are other places around the country that are also well overdue for an earthquake. New York City has historically had a moderate earthquake approximately every 100 years. If that is to be trusted, any moment now there will be another one, which will be devastating for that city.

As Charles Richter, inventor of the Richter Scale, famously said, “Only fools, liars and charlatans predict earthquakes.” Why are earthquakes so hard to predict? After all, we have sent rockets into space and plumbed the depths of the ocean.

You’re right: We know far more about distant galaxies than we do about the inner workings of our planet. The problem is that seismologists can’t study an earthquake because they don’t know when or where it’s going to happen. It could happen six miles underground or six miles under the ocean, in which case they can’t even witness it. They can go back and do forensic, post-mortem work. But we still don’t know where most faults lie. We only know where a fault is after an earthquake has occurred. If you look at the last 100 years of major earthquakes in the U.S., they’ve all happened on faults we didn’t even know existed.

Earthquakes 101

Earthquakes are unpredictable and can strike with enough force to bring buildings down. Find out what causes earthquakes, why they’re so deadly, and what’s being done to help buildings sustain their hits.

Fracking is a relatively new industry. Many people believe that it can cause what are known as induced earthquakes. What’s the scientific consensus?

The scientific consensus is that a practice known as wastewater injection undeniably causes earthquakes when the geological features are conducive. In the fracking process, water and lubricants are injected into the earth to split open the rock, so oil and natural gas can be retrieved. As this happens, wastewater is also retrieved and brought back to the surface.

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Different states deal with this in different ways. Some states, like Pennsylvania, favor letting the wastewater settle in aboveground pools, which can cause run-off contamination of drinking supplies. Other states, like Oklahoma, have chosen to re-inject the water into the ground. And what we’re seeing in Oklahoma is that this injection is enough to shift the pressure inside the earth’s core, so that daily earthquakes are happening in communities like Stillwater. As our technology improves, and both our ability and need to extract more resources from the earth increases, our risk of causing earthquakes will also rise exponentially.

After Fukushima, the idea of storing nuclear waste underground cannot be guaranteed to be safe. Yet President Trump has recently green-lighted new funds for the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. Is that wise?

The issue with Fukushima was not about underground nuclear storage but it is relevant. The Tohoku earthquake, off the coast of Japan, was a massive, 9.0 earthquake—so big that it shifted the axis of the earth and moved the entire island of Japan some eight centimeters! It also created a series of tsunamis, which swamped the Fukushima nuclear power plant to a degree the designers did not believe was possible.

Here in the U.S., we have nuclear plants that are also potentially vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis, above all on the East Coast, like Pilgrim Nuclear, south of Boston, or Indian Point, north of New York City. Both of these have been deemed by the USGS to have an unacceptable level of seismic risk. [Both are scheduled to close in the next few years.]

Yucca Mountain is meant to address our need to store the huge amounts of nuclear waste that have been accumulating for more than 40 years. Problem number one is getting it out of these plants. We are going to have to somehow truck or train these spent fuel rods from, say, Boston, to a place like Yucca Mountain, in Nevada. On the way it will have to go through multiple earthquake zones, including New Madrid, which is widely considered to be one of the country’s most dangerous earthquake zones.

Yucca Mountain itself has had seismic activity. Ultimately, there’s no great place to put nuclear waste—and there’s no guarantee that where we do put it is going to be safe.

The psychological and emotional effects of an earthquake are especially harrowing. Why is that?

This is a fascinating and newly emerging subfield within psychology, which looks at the effects of natural disasters on both our individual and collective psyches. Whenever you experience significant trauma, you’re going to see a huge increase in PTSD, anxiety, depression, suicide, and even violent behaviors.

What seems to make earthquakes particularly pernicious is the surprise factor. A tornado will usually give people a few minutes, if not longer, to prepare; same thing with hurricanes. But that doesn’t happen with an earthquake. There is nothing but profound surprise. And the idea that the bedrock we walk and sleep upon can somehow become liquid and mobile seems to be really difficult for us to get our heads around.

Psychologists think that there are two things happening. One is a PTSD-type loop where our brain replays the trauma again and again, manifesting itself in dreams or panic attacks during the day. But there also appears to be a physiological effect as well as a psychological one. If your readers have ever been at sea for some time and then get off the ship and try to walk on dry land, they know they will look like drunkards. [Laughs] The reason for this is that the inner ear has habituated itself to the motion of the ship. We think the inner ear does something similar in the case of earthquakes, in an attempt to make sense of this strange, jarring movement.

After the Abruzzo quake in Italy, seven seismologists were actually tried and sentenced to six years in jail for failing to predict the disaster. Wouldn’t a similar threat help improve the prediction skills of American seismologists?

[Laughs] The scientific community was uniform in denouncing that action by the Italian government because, right now, earthquakes are impossible to predict. But the question of culpability is an important one. To what degree do we want to hold anyone responsible? Do we want to hold the local meteorologist responsible if he gets the weather forecast wrong? [Laughs]

What scientists say—and I don’t think this is a dodge on their parts—is, “Predicting earthquakes is the Holy Grail; it’s not going to happen in our lifetime. It may never happen.” What we can do is work on early warning systems, where we can at least give people 30 or 90 seconds to make a few quick decisive moves that could well save your life. We have failed to do that. But Mexico has had one in place for years!

There is some evidence that animals can predict earthquakes. Is there any truth to these theories?

All we know right now is anecdotal information because this is so hard to test for. We don’t know where the next earthquake is going to be so we can’t necessarily set up cameras and observe the animals there. So we have to rely on these anecdotal reports, say, of reptiles coming out of the ground prior to a quake. The one thing that was recorded here in the U.S. recently was that in the seconds before an earthquake in Oklahoma huge flocks of birds took flight. Was that coincidence? Related? We can’t draw that correlation yet.

One of the fascinating new approaches to prediction is the MyQuake app. Tell us how it works—and why it could be an especially good solution for Third World countries.

The USGS desperately wants to have it funded. The reluctance appears to be from Congress. A consortium of universities, in conjunction with the USGS, has been working on some fascinating tools. One is a dense network of seismographs that feed into a mainframe computer, which can take all the information and within nanoseconds understand that an earthquake is starting.

MyQuake is an app where you can get up to date information on what’s happening around the world. What’s fascinating is that our phones can also serve as seismographs. The same technology that knows which way your phone is facing, and whether it should show us an image in portrait or landscape, registers other kinds of movement. Scientists at UC Berkeley are looking to see if they can crowd source that information so that in places where we don’t have a lot of seismographs or measuring instruments, like New York City or Chicago or developing countries like Nepal, we can use smart phones both to record quakes and to send out early warning notices to people.

You traveled all over the U.S. for your research. Did you return home feeling safer?

I do not feel safer in the sense that I had no idea just how much risk regions of this country face on a daily basis when it comes to seismic hazards. We tend to think of this as a West Coast problem but it’s not! It’s a New York, Memphis, Seattle, or Phoenix problem. Nearly every major urban center in this country is at risk of a measurable earthquake.

What I do feel safer about is knowing what I can do as an individual. I hope that is a major take-home message for people who read the book. There are so many things we should be doing as individuals, family members, or communities to minimize this risk: simple things from having a go-bag and an emergency plan amongst the family to larger things like building codes.

We know that a major earthquake is going to happen. It’s probably going to knock out our communications lines. Phones aren’t going to work, Wi-Fi is going to go down, first responders are not going to be able to get to people for quite some time. So it is beholden on all of us to make sure we can survive until help can get to us.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

The New Nuclear Race (Revelation 15)

In modernizing nuclear arsenal, world powers stoke new arms race

The next year, while warning that Washington would retain the ability to retaliate against a nuclear strike, he promised that America would develop no new types of atomic weapons.

Within 16 months of his inauguration, the United States and Russia negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, meant to build trust and cut the risk of nuclear war.

It limited each side to what the treaty counts as 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads.

By the time Obama left office in January 2017, the risk of Armageddon hadn’t receded.

Instead, Washington was well along in a modernization program that is making nearly all of its nuclear weapons more accurate and deadly. And Russia was doing the same:

Its weapons badly degraded from neglect after the Cold War, Moscow had begun its own modernization years earlier under President Vladimir Putin.

It built new, more powerful ICBMs, and developed a series of tactical nuclear weapons.

The United States under Obama transformed its main hydrogen bomb into a guided smart weapon, made its submarine-launched nuclear missiles five times more accurate, and gave its land-based long-range missiles so many added features that the Air Force in 2012 described them as “basically new.”

To deliver these more lethal weapons, military contractors are building fleets of new heavy bombers and submarines.

President Donald Trump has worked hard to undo much of Obama’s legacy, but he has embraced the modernization program enthusiastically.

Trump has ordered the Defense Department to complete a review of the US nuclear arsenal by the end of this year.

Reuters reported in February that in a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump denounced the New START treaty and rejected Putin’s suggestion that talks begin about extending it once it expires in 2021.

Some former senior US government officials, legislators and arms-control specialists – many of whom once backed a strong nuclear arsenal – are now warning that the modernization push poses grave dangers.

They argue that the upgrades contradict the rationales for New START – to ratchet down the level of mistrust and reduce risk of intentional or accidental nuclear war.

The latest improvements, they say, make the US and Russian arsenals both more destructive and more tempting to deploy.

“The idea that we could somehow fine tune a nuclear conflict is really dangerous thinking,” says Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based think tank.

One leader of this group, William Perry, who served as defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, said recently in a Q&A on YouTube that “the danger of a nuclear catastrophe today is greater than it was during the Cold War.”

Perry told Reuters that both the United States and Russia have upgraded their arsenals in ways that make the use of nuclear weapons likelier.

The US upgrade, he said, has occurred almost exclusively behind closed doors.

“It is happening without any basic public discussion,” he said. “We’re just doing it.”

The cause of arms control got a publicity boost in October when the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a Geneva organization, won the Nobel Peace Prize for its role in getting the United Nations General Assembly in July to adopt a nuclear prohibition treaty.

The United States, Russia and other nuclear powers boycotted the treaty negotiations.

The US modernization program has many supporters in addition to Trump, however. There is little or no pressure in Congress to scale it back.

Backers argue that for the most part the United States is merely tweaking old weapons, not developing new ones. Some say that beefed up weapons are a more effective deterrent, reducing the chance of war.

Cherry Murray served until January as a top official at the Energy Department, which runs the US warhead inventory. She said the reduction in nuclear weapon stockpiles under New START makes it imperative that Washington improve its arsenal.

The Fear of a Nuclear Trump

 

South Korean and U.S. marine fighter jets fly over the Korean Peninsula during a training on Aug. 31, 2017 in Gangwon-do, South Korea.

 

President Trump’s unorthodox approach to foreign policy is causing rising anxiety among lawmakers and experts who worry about his singular authority to launch nuclear weapons.

While the first use of nuclear weapons is generally prohibited under international law, the speed of executing a strike means it would be difficult to stop the president if he decided to launch a unilateral attack, says Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer and co-founder of Global Zero, a group that advocates eliminating nuclear weapons.

“The president has absolute authority, unilateral power to order the use of nuclear weapons,” he tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “The legal question falls by the wayside if the president has carte blanche authority to order the use of nuclear weapons and all the means at his disposal to ensure that his decision is quickly implemented.”

Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said that he would challenge an order from Trump if it were illegal.

“I provide advice to the president,” Hyten said. “He’ll tell me what to do, and if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m gonna say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ Guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works.”

But the president’s sole launch authority has ignited a debate about whether there should be more checks and balances on the president’s actions. As tensions between the U.S. and North Korea escalate, a group of senators raised concerns about Trump’s temperament to handle this responsibility at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week.

“We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests,” said Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy.

Blair says that in order to launch a weapons strike, the president must alert his military aide who holds a suitcase, the so-called nuclear football, which contains attack options. Once the president orders the strike using a special code, the Pentagon immediately transmits the order to launch weapons.

Strategic Command also receives the order, but Blair explains, “If they felt that it was a really bad call or illegal, and they wanted to try to override it, they could try to transmit a termination order, but it would be too late.”

Blair also says the legality of using nuclear weapons is unclear, which means the decision really is up to the president.

“The first use of nuclear weapons is almost invariably going to be illegal because they’re not necessary and because they will cause collateral damage against civilian populations and in other ways violate the law of war,” Blair says. “But that’s not really the way that it’s viewed from the inside.”

In a 1996 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice concluded that the threat or use of nuclear weapons generally violates international law governing armed conflict and humanitarian law, declaring that “states must never make civilians the object of attack.”

But according to the Arms Control Association, a legal gap allows for the possible lawful use of such weapons.

The court stated in its opinion “that it cannot reach a definitive conclusion as to the legality or illegality of the use of nuclear weapons by a State in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which its very survival would be at stake.”

Though only Congress has the power to declare war, retired Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, former commander of Strategic Command, testified last week that “only the president of the United States can order the employment of U.S. nuclear weapons.” Massachusetts Republican Sen. Ed Markey has proposed legislation that would require congressional approval for any first use of nuclear weapons.

When pressed further by senators, Kehler said he didn’t know what would happen if Trump ignored the military’s order to stand down on a nuclear strike deemed illegal. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed this would amount to a constitutional crisis.

Blair agrees there are not enough people in the chain of command to slow down the authorization process.

The nuclear codes are “the length of a tweet,” he says. “It would take them one or two minutes to format and transmit that directly down the chain of command to the executing commanders of the underground launch centers, the submarines and the bombers.”

Preparing Babylon the Great’s Nukes

Trump’s Pentagon Wants to Make Nuclear Weapons More ‘Usable’

That sounds like a good idea.

By Michael T. Klare

Today 11:56 am

Mock missiles are displayed at the Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo / Ahn Young-joon)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.

Maybe you thought America’s nuclear arsenal, with its thousands of city-busting, potentially civilization-destroying thermonuclear warheads, was plenty big enough to deter any imaginable adversary from attacking the United States with nukes of their own. Well, it turns out you were wrong.

The Pentagon has been fretting that the arsenal is insufficiently intimidating. After all—so the argument goes—it’s filled with old (possibly unreliable) weapons of such catastrophically destructive power that maybe, just maybe, even President Trump might be reluctant to use them if an enemy employed smaller, less catastrophic nukes on some future battlefield. Accordingly, US war planners and weapons manufacturers have set out to make that arsenal more “usable” in order to give the president additional nuclear “options” on any future battlefield. (If you’re not already feeling a little tingle of anxiety at this point, you should be.) While it’s claimed that this will make such assaults less likely, it’s all too easy to imagine how such new armaments and launch plans could actually increase the risk of an early resort to nuclear weaponry in a moment of conflict, followed by calamitous escalation.

That President Trump would be all-in on making the American nuclear arsenal more usable should come as no surprise, given his obvious infatuation with displays of overwhelming military strength. (He was thrilled when, last April, one of his generals ordered, for the first time, the most powerful nonnuclear weapon the United States possesses dropped in Afghanistan.) Under existing nuclear doctrine, as imagined by the Obama administration back in 2010, this country was to use nuclear weapons only “in extreme circumstances” to defend the vital interests of the country or of its allies. Prohibited was the possibility of using them as a political instrument to bludgeon weaker countries into line. However, for Donald Trump, a man who has already threatened to unleash on North Korea “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” such an approach is proving far too restrictive. He and his advisers, it seems, want nukes that can be employed at any potential level of great-power conflict or brandished as the apocalyptic equivalent of a giant club to intimidate lesser rivals.

Making the US arsenal more usable requires two kinds of changes in nuclear policy: altering existing doctrine to eliminate conceptional restraints on how such weapons may be deployed in wartime and authorizing the development and production of new generations of nuclear munitions capable, among other things, of tactical battlefield strikes. All of this is expected to be incorporated into the administration’s first nuclear posture review (NPR), to be released by the end of this year or early in 2018.

Its exact contents won’t be known until then—and even then, the American public will only gain access to the most limited version of a largely classified document. Still, some of the NPR’s features are already obvious from comments made by the president and his top generals. And one thing is clear: restraints on the use of such weaponry in the face of a possible weapon of mass destruction of any sort, no matter its level of destructiveness, will be eliminated and the planet’s most powerful nuclear arsenal will be made ever more so.

Altering the Nuclear Mindset

The strategic guidance provided by the administration’s new NPR is likely to have far-reaching consequences. As John Wolfsthal, former National Security Council director for arms control and nonproliferation, put it in a recent issue of Arms Control Today, the document will affect “how the United States, its president, and its nuclear capabilities are seen by allies and adversaries alike. More importantly, the review establishes a guide for decisions that underpin the management, maintenance, and modernization of the nuclear arsenal and influences how Congress views and funds the nuclear forces.”

With this in mind, consider the guidance provided by that Obama-era nuclear posture review. Released at a moment when the White House was eager to restore America’s global prestige in the wake of George W. Bush’s widely condemned invasion of Iraq and just six months after the president had won the Nobel Prize for his stated determination to abolish such weaponry, it made nonproliferation the top priority. In the process, it downplayed the utility of nuclear weapons under just about any circumstances on just about any imaginable battlefield. Its principal objective, it claimed, was to reduce “the role of US nuclear weapons in US national security.”

As the document pointed out, it had once been American policy to contemplate using nuclear weapons against Soviet tank formations, for example, in a major European conflict (a situation in which the USSR was believed to possess an advantage in conventional, non-nuclear forces). By 2010, of course, those days were long gone, as was the Soviet Union. Washington, as the NPR noted, now possessed an overwhelming advantage in conventional weaponry as well. “Accordingly,” it concluded, “the United States will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.”

A nuclear strategy aimed exclusively at deterring a first strike against this country or its allies hardly requires a mammoth stockpile of weaponry. As a result, such an approach opened the way for potential further reductions in the arsenal’s size and led in 2010 to the signing of the New Start treaty with the Russians, mandating a sharp reduction in nuclear warheads and delivery systems for both countries. Each side was to be limited to 1,550 warheads and some combination of 700 delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers.

Such an approach, however, never sat well with some in the military establishment and conservative think tanks. Critics of that sort have often pointed to supposed shifts in Russian military doctrine that suggest a greater inclination to employ nuclear weapons in a major war with NATO, if it began to go badly for their side. Such “strategic deterrence” (a phrase which has a different meaning for the Russians than for Western strategists) could result in the use of low-yield “tactical” nuclear munitions against enemy strongpoints, if Russia’s forces in Europe appeared on the verge of defeat. To what degree this doctrine actually governs Russian military thinking no one actually knows. It is nevertheless cited regularly by those in the West who believe that Obama’s nuclear strategy is now dangerously outmoded and invites Moscow to increase its reliance on nuclear weaponry.

Such complaints were typically aired in “Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration,” a December 2016 report by the Defense Science Board (DSB), a Pentagon-funded advisory group that reports to the secretary of defense. “The DSB remains unconvinced,” it concluded, “that downplaying the nation’s nuclear deterrent would lead other nations to do the same.” It then pointed to the supposed Russian strategy of threatening to use low-yield tactical nuclear strikes to deter a NATO onslaught. While many Western analysts have questioned the authenticity of such claims, the DSB insisted that the United States must develop similar weaponry and be on record as prepared to use them. As that report put it, Washington needs “a more flexible nuclear enterprise that could produce, if needed, a rapid, tailored nuclear option for limited use should existing non-nuclear or nuclear options prove insufficient.”

This sort of thinking now appears to be animating the Trump administration’s approach to nuclear weapons and is reflected in the president’s periodic tweets on the subject. Last December 22, for example, he tweeted, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” Although he didn’t elaborate—it was Twitter, after all—his approach clearly reflected both the DSB position and what his advisers were undoubtedly telling him.

Soon after, as the newly installed commander in chief, Trump signed a presidential memorandum instructing the secretary of defense to undertake a nuclear-posture review ensuring “that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies.”

Of course, we don’t yet know the details of the coming Trumpian NPR. It will, however, certainly throw the Obama approach to the sharks and promote a far more robust role for nuclear weapons, as well as the construction of that more “flexible” arsenal, capable of providing the president with multiple attack options, including low-yield strikes.

Enhancing the Arsenal

The Trumpian NPR will certainly promote new nuclear-weapons systems that are billed as providing future chief executives with a greater “range” of strike options. In particular, the administration is thought to favor the acquisition of “low-yield tactical nuclear munitions” and yet more delivery systems to go with them, including air- and ground-launched cruise missiles. The argument will predictably be made that munitions of this sort are needed to match Russian advances in the field.

Under consideration, according to those with inside knowledge, is the development of the sort of tactical munitions that could, say, wipe out a major port or military installation, rather than a whole city, Hiroshima-style. As one anonymous government official put it to Politico, “This capability is very warranted.” Another added, “The [NPR] has to credibly ask the military what they need to deter enemies” and whether current weapons are “going to be useful in all the scenarios we see.”

Keep in mind that, under the Obama administration (for all its talk of nuclear abolition), planning and initial design work for a multi-decade, trillion-dollar-plus “modernization” of America’s nuclear arsenal had already been agreed upon. So, in terms of actual weaponry, Donald Trump’s version of the nuclear era was already well underway before he entered the Oval Office. And of course, the United States already possesses several types of nuclear weapons, including the B61 “gravity bomb” and the W80 missile warhead that can be modified—the term of trade is “dialed down”—to produce a blast as low as a few kilotons (less powerful, that is, than the bombs that in August 1945 destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki). That, however, is proving anything but enough for the proponents of “tailored” nuclear munitions.

A typical delivery system for such future nukes likely to receive expedited approval is the long-range standoff weapon (LRSO), an advanced, stealthy air-launched cruise missile intended to be carried by B-2 bombers, their older cousins the B-52s, or the future B-21. As currently envisioned, the LRSO will be capable of carrying either a nuclear or a conventional warhead. In August, the Air Force awarded both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin $900 million for initial design work on prototypes of that delivery system, with one of them likely to be chosen for full-scale development, an undertaking expected to cost many billions of dollars.

Critics of the proposed missile, including former secretary of defense William Perry, argue that the United States already possesses more than enough nuclear firepower to deter enemy attacks without it. In addition, as he points out, if the LRSO were to be launched with a conventional warhead in the early stages of a conflict, an adversary might assume it was under nuclear attack and retaliate accordingly, igniting an escalatory spiral leading to all-out thermonuclear war. Proponents, however, swear that “older” cruise missiles must be replaced in order to give the president more flexibility with such weaponry, a rationale Trump and his advisers are sure to embrace.

A Nuclear-Ready World

The release of the next nuclear-posture review will undoubtedly ignite a debate over whether the country with a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy several Earth-sized planets actually needs new nukes, which could, among other dangers, spark a future global arms race. In November, the Congressional Budget Office released a report indicating that the likely cost of replacing all three legs of the US nuclear triad (intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and strategic bombers) over a 30-year period will reach a minimum of $1.2 trillion, not including inflation or the usual cost overruns, which are likely to push that figure to $1.7 trillion or beyond.

Raising questions about the need for all these new weapons and their phenomenal costs couldn’t be more important. After all, one thing is guaranteed: any decision to procure such weaponry will, in the long term, mean budget cuts elsewhere, whether in health, education, infrastructure, or fighting the opioid epidemic.

And yet questions of cost and utility are the lesser parts of the new nuclear conundrum. At its heart is the very idea of “usability.” When President Obama insisted that nuclear weapons had no battlefield use, he was speaking not just to this country but to all nations. “To put an end to Cold War thinking,” he declared in Prague in April 2009, “we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”

If, however, the Trump White House embraces a doctrine that closes the distance between nuclear weapons and ordinary ones, transforming them into more usable instruments of coercion and war, it will also make the likelihood of escalation to all-out thermonuclear extermination more imaginable for the first time in decades. There is little question, for instance, that such a stance would encourage other nuclear-armed nations, including Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, to plan for the early use of such weaponry in future conflicts. It might even encourage countries that don’t now have such weaponry to consider producing them.

The world imagined by President Obama in which nukes would be a true weapon of last resort was certainly a more reassuring one. His vision represented a radical break from Cold War thinking in which the possibility of a thermonuclear holocaust between the planet’s two superpowers seemed like an ever-present possibility and millions of people responded by engaging in antinuclear protest movements.

Without the daily threat of Armageddon, concern over nukes largely evaporated and those protests came to an end. Unfortunately, the weaponry and the companies that built them didn’t. Now, as the seemingly threat-free zone of a post-nuclear era is drawing to a close, the possible use of nuclear weapons—barely conceivable even in the Cold War era—is about to be normalized. Or at least that will be the case if, once again, the citizens of this planet don’t take to the streets to protest a future in which cities could lie in smoldering ruins while millions of people die from hunger and radiation sickness.

Iran Moves into Syria and Iraq (Daniel 8:4)

 

Iranian leaders on Tuesday declared the end of the territorial hold of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made the announcement in a live address on state TV, Reuters reported.

Qasem Soleimami, the notorious and secretive leader of the country’s elite Quds Force, sent a message to the country’s highest religious figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also stating that ISIS’s caliphate in Iraq and Syria was finished, according to the Guards official news site Sepah.

The Islamic Republic, a predominantly Shiite nation, has been aiding the government in Baghdad and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria against ISIS and in aid of Assad’s six year battle to hold onto power amid a protracted civil war with moderate rebels and Salafists.

It has offered an advisory role to both countries and has provided battlefield assistance in the form of Shiite militiamen from countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the support of its Lebanese proxy group Hezbollah.

But it has not remained immune from the effects of ISIS domestically. In June, ISIS claimed responsibility for twin Tehran attacks on the Iranian parliament and a shrine dedicated to the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The attacks, carried out by gunmen and suicide bombers, killed 18 people.

Iran retaliated with missile strikes on ISIS-held territory in eastern Syria from a base in western Iran, the first such action against the group to be launched from inside the country.

ISIS no longer fully controls a major town or city after years of U.S.-led coalition and Russian airstrikes. Moscow and Tehran have allowed Syrian regime forces to oust the radical Islamist group from its last strongholds in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. The group retains a presence in the eastern Syrian town of Abu Kamal, the central Syrian desert and in the borderlands of western Iraq.

Iran is fighting to maintain and even expand a Shiite crescent of influence across the Middle East, from Beirut to Baghdad, in its rivalry with regional Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia. It is supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthi rebels in Yemen against a Saudi-backed government and the Syrian government.

Its expansion of influence in the Middle East threatens key U.S. ally Israel, which Tehran considers to be its arch-enemy. Its leaders regularly threaten Israel with destruction.

President Donald Trump has railed against Iranian “misbehavior” in the Middle East and has pledged to roll back a landmark nuclear agreement signed with world powers in 2015 that he says is the worst signed in history. He says it returns billions to Iran in frozen assets that it can use to fund its activities in the Middle East.

The Threat of Nuclear War (Revelation 15)

Policy Wonk: Our nuclear weapons polices are dangerous

Orlando Delogu

The United States’ nuclear weapons policies are more likely to lead to the use of nuclear arms than to prevent the use of these incredibly destructive weapons.

We are the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons in a war setting. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki civilian death toll exceeded 150,000; a greater number were severely injured. The physical destruction extended for miles around the blast epicenter.

Today’s adjustable-strength nuclear weapons are more advanced and accurate than those used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; they can be dialed down to a similar power level, but on average U.S. warheads are between five and 20 times more powerful than the two bombs dropped in World War II.

We are not alone in possessing this weaponry. Besides the U.S., eight other nations – Russia, China, North Korea, England, France, Israel, India, and Pakistan – have nuclear weapons, often as sophisticated as our own, and sufficient in number to pose a regional or global threat.

Another half-dozen nations have the technological and economic ability to develop this weaponry if they choose to do so: Japan, Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada, Iran.

Disarmament and Non-proliferation strategies, much in vogue from the 1970s through the early years of this century, seem to have run their course.

After some scaling down, globally there are still an estimated 10,000 nuclear devices; but today there is more talk among the major powers – certainly by President Donald Trump – of modernizing nuclear weapons systems, rather than further reducing their numbers.

Most nations, for economic or political reasons, have chosen not to have nuclear weapons; they are content to shelter under the nuclear umbrella of one of the global powers.

We hardly have the moral authority, much less the economic power or the geo-political clout, to press nations with nuclear ambitions to not undertake or to abandon their armament programs. The era when we could simply tell other nations what to do is gone.

That said, our fixation on two nations (North Korea and Iran) is inexplicable and unhelpful. Successive presidents have threatened to use our nuclear weapons to prevent these two nations from developing or maintaining any nuclear weapons capability. Trump’s recent rhetoric has upped the ante.

The destructive consequences of this course of conduct are incalculable; given the size and location of Seoul and Tehran, millions of civilian Korean and Iranian lives would be lost in minutes – not to mention the U.S. and allied troops in these regions.

We are certainly not pressing Russia, China, or Pakistan to give up their nuclear weapons; each of these nations has rogue elements capable of launching nuclear destruction, and these nations have a far greater capacity to reach mainland U.S. cities and/or American and allied interests around the world than North Korea or Iran.

We are even less concerned with the safety and use of nuclear weapons in nations we deem friendly, like England, France, Israel, and India. We’re certainly not hectoring these nations to abandon or scale back their nuclear weaponry.

In short, our nuclear weapons policies are dangerously inconsistent. Our rhetoric is too bellicose and often childish, and our propensity for staging war games on the front doorstep of nuclear nations – who also have bellicose tendencies – runs the risk of a nuclear confrontation by accident.

There are several corrective policy changes that we can and should make:

• Stop threatening and worrying about nations that would develop a nuclear weapons program; it is politically impossible to alter or interdict these decisions.

• Make clear that any nation that develops and uses nuclear weapons in a “first-strike” capacity will almost certainly face immediate nuclear retaliation.

• Breath new life into disarmament (scaling down the number and destructive power of nuclear weapons) and non-proliferation strategies.

• Join with other nuclear nations to prevent nuclear technologies and weapons from falling into the hands of non-state militant organizations, e.g., ISIS, the Taliban, etc.

• Legislatively (constitutionally, if necessary) make it impossible for the president to order the use of nuclear weapons; some level of consensus among the nation’s leaders must be required before a step of this magnitude is taken.

• Change the tone, the rhetoric, of nuclear weapons discussion.

Global leaders must reflect the seriousness, the human consequences, of unleashing these weapons.