Babylon the Great Modernizes Her Nukes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama rode into office in 2009 with promises to work toward a nuclear-free world. His vow helped win him the Nobel Peace Prize that year.

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 programme 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 programme enthusiastically. Trump has ordered the Defence Department to complete a review of the U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

„REALLY DANGEROUS THINKING“

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 U.S. and Russian arsenals both more destructive and more tempting to deploy. The United States, for instance, has a “dial down” bomb that can be adjusted to act like a tactical weapon, and others are planned.

“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 defence 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 U.S. 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 U.S. modernization programme 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 U.S. warhead inventory. She said the reduction in nuclear weapon stockpiles under New START makes it imperative that Washington improve its arsenal.

During the Cold War, Murray said in an interview, the United States had so many missiles that if one didn’t work, the military could simply discard it. With the new limit of 1,550 warheads, every one counts, she said.

“When you get down to that number we better make sure they work,” she said. “And we better make sure our adversaries believe they work.”

An Obama spokesman said the former president would not comment for this story. The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Asked about Trump’s view on the modernization programme, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said the president’s goal is to create a nuclear force that is “modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies.”

A BUDGET BUSTER?

The U.S. modernization effort is not coming cheap. This year the Congressional Budget Office estimated the programme will cost at least $1.25 trillion over 30 years. The amount could grow significantly, as the Pentagon has a history of major cost overruns on large acquisition projects.

As defence secretary under Obama, Leon Panetta backed modernization. Now he questions the price tag.

“We are in a new chapter of the Cold War with Putin,” he told Reuters in an interview, blaming the struggle’s resumption on the Russian president. Panetta says he doubts the United States will be able to fund the modernization programme. “We have defence, entitlements and taxes to deal with at the same time there are record deficits,” he said.

New START is leading to significant reductions in the two rival arsenals, a process that began with the disintegration of the USSR. But reduced numbers do not necessarily mean reduced danger.

In 1990, the year before the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States had more than 12,000 warheads and the Soviets just over 11,000, an August 2017 Congressional Research Service report says. Soon the two countries made precipitous cuts. The 1991 START treaty limited each to somewhat more than 6,000 warheads. By 2009 the number was down to about 2,200 deployed warheads.

Tom Collina, policy director of the Ploughshares Fund, an arms control group, says that both Moscow and Washington are on track to meet the 1,550 limit by the treaty’s 2018 deadline. The treaty, however, allows for fudging.

At Russia’s insistence, each bomber is counted as a single warhead, no matter how many nuclear bombs it carries or has ready for use. As a result, the real limit for each side is about 2,000. Collina says the United States currently has 1,740 deployed warheads, and Russia is believed to have a similar number. Each side also has thousands of warheads in storage and retired bombs and missiles awaiting dismantlement.

The declining inventories mask the technological improvements the two sides are making. There is a new arms race, based this time not on number of weapons but on increasing lethality, says William Potter, director of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

“We are in a situation in which technological advances are outstripping arms control,” Potter says.

One example of an old weapon transformed into a more dangerous new one is America’s main hydrogen bomb. The Air Force has deployed the B61 bomb on heavy bombers since the mid-1960s. Until recently, the B61 was an old-fashioned gravity bomb, dropped by a plane and free-falling to its target.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE BOMB EVER

Now, the Air Force has transformed it into a controllable smart bomb. The new model has adjustable tail fins and a guidance system which lets bomber crews direct it to its target. Recent models of the bomb had already incorporated a unique “dial-down capacity”: The Air Force can adjust the explosion. The bomb can be set to use against enemy troops, with a 0.3 kiloton detonation, a tiny fraction of the Hiroshima bomb, or it can level cities with a 340-kiloton blast with 23 times the force of Hiroshima’s. Similar controls are planned for new cruise missiles.

The new B61 is the most expensive bomb ever built. At $20.8 million per bomb, each costs nearly one-third more than its weight in 24 karat gold. The estimated price of the planned total of 480 bombs is almost $10 billion.

Congress also has approved initial funding of $1.8 billion to build a completely new weapon, the “Long Range Stand-Off” cruise missile, at an estimated $17 billion total cost. The cruise missiles, too, will be launched from aircraft. But in contrast to stealth bombers dropping the new B61s directly over land, the cruise missiles will let bombers fly far out of range of enemy air defences and fire the missiles deep into enemy territory.

Obama’s nuclear modernization began diverging from his original vision early on, when Republican senators resisted his arms reduction strategy.

Former White House officials say Obama was determined to get the New START treaty ratified quickly. Aside from hoping to ratchet down nuclear tensions, he considered it vital to assure continued Russian cooperation in talks taking place at the time with Iran over that country’s nuclear programme. Obama also feared that if the Senate didn’t act by the end of its 2010 session, the accord might never pass, according to Gary Samore, who served four years as the Obama White House’s coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction.

Obama hit resistance from then-Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona. Kyl, the Senate’s minority whip, assembled enough Republicans to kill the treaty.

In e-mailed answers to questions, Kyl said he opposed the accord because Russia “cheats” on treaties and the United States lacks the means to verify and enforce compliance. Moscow’s deployment of new tactical weapons since 2014, he said, was a violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Russia denies violating the treaty.) Kyl also faulted New START for omitting Russia’s large arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons for use on battlefields, a subject the Russians have refused to discuss.

But Kyl proved willing to let the treaty pass – for a price. In exchange for ratification, the White House would have to agree to massive modernization of the remaining U.S. weapons. Obama agreed, and the Senate passed the treaty on the last day of the 2010 session.

Samore, the former White House arms control coordinator, says Obama did not oppose taking steps to refurbish superannuated weapons. He just did not plan the costly decision to do it all at once, Samore said.

DESTABILISING THE STATUS QUO

While the number of warheads and launch vehicles is limited by the treaty, nothing in it forbids upgrading the weaponry or replacing older arms with completely new and deadlier ones. Details of the modernized weapons show that both are happening.

The upshot, according to former Obama advisers and outside arms-control specialists, is that the modernization destabilised the U.S.-Russia status quo, setting off a new arms race. Jon Wolfsthal, a former top advisor to Obama on arms control, said it is possible to have potentially devastating arms race even with a relatively small number of weapons.

The New START treaty limits the number of warheads and launch vehicles. But it says nothing about the design of the “delivery” methods – land- and submarine-based ballistic missiles, hydrogen bombs and cruise missiles. Thus both sides are increasing exponentially the killing power of these weapons, upgrading the delivery vehicles so that they are bigger, more accurate and equipped with dangerous new features – without increasing the number of warheads or vehicles.

The United States, according to an article in the March 1 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has roughly tripled the “killing power” of its existing ballistic missile force.

The article’s lead author, Hans Kristensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project, said in an e-mail that he knows of no comparable estimate for Russia. He noted, however, that Russia is making its own extensive enhancements, including larger missiles and new launch vehicles. He said Russia also is devoting much effort to countering U.S. missile defence systems.

The U.S. modernization programme “has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal,” Kristensen wrote in the article. “This increase in capability is astonishing.”

Kristensen says the most alarming change is America’s newly refitted submarine-launched Trident II missiles. These have new “fuzing” devices, which use sensors to tell the warheads when to detonate. Kristensen says that for decades, Tridents had inaccurate fuzes. The missiles could make a direct hit on only about 20 percent of targets. With the new fuzes, “they all do,” he says.

Under New START, 14 of America’s Ohio Class subs carry 20 Tridents. Each Trident can be loaded with up to 12 warheads. (The United States has four additional Ohio subs that carry only conventional weapons.) The Trident II’s official range is 7,456 miles, nearly one-third the Earth’s circumference. Outside experts say the real range almost certainly is greater. Each of its main type of warhead produces a 475-kiloton blast, almost 32 times that of Hiroshima.

RUSSIA’S DIRTY DRONE

Russia, too, is hard at work making deadlier strategic weapons. Ploughshares estimates that both sides are working on at least two dozen new or enhanced strategic weapons.

Russia is building new ground-based missiles, including a super ICBM, the RS-28 Sarmat. The Russian missile has room for at least 10 warheads that can be aimed at separate targets. Russian state media has said that the missile could destroy areas as large as Texas or France. U.S. analysts say this is unlikely, but the weapon is nonetheless devastatingly powerful.

Russia’s new ICBMs have room to add additional warheads, in case the New START treaty expires or either side abrogates it. The United States by its own decision currently has only a single warhead in each of its ICBMS, but these too have room for more.

Russia has phased in a more accurate submarine-launched missile, the RSM-56 Bulava. While it is less precise than the new U.S. Tridents, it marks a significant improvement in reliability and accuracy over Russia’s previous sub-based missiles.

A Russian military official in 2015 disclosed a sort of doomsday weapon, taking the idea of a “dirty bomb” to a new level. Many U.S. analysts believe the disclosure was a bluff; others say they believe the weapon has been deployed.

The purported device is an unmanned submarine drone, able to cruise at a fast 56 knots and travel 6,200 miles. The concept of a dirty bomb, never used to date, is that terrorists would spread harmful radioactive material by detonating a conventional explosive such as dynamite. In the case of the Russian drone, a big amount of deadly radioactive material would be dispersed by a nuclear bomb.

The bomb would be heavily “salted” with radioactive cobalt, which emits deadly gamma rays for years. The explosion and wind would spread the cobalt for hundreds of miles, making much of the U.S. East Coast uninhabitable.

A documentary shown on Russian state TV said the drone is meant to create “areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.”

Reif of the Arms Control Association says that even if the concept is only on the drawing board, the device represents “really outlandish thinking” by the Russian government. “It makes no sense strategically,” he said, “and reflects a really egregiously twisted conception about what’s necessary for nuclear deterrence.”

(Reported by Scot Paltrow; edited by Michael Williams)

The Risk of Nuclear War (Revelation 8)

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Asia

It would be awful.

A War Between India and Pakistan: Nuclear Weapons Could Fly (And Millions Die)

India possesses a smaller number of nuclear weapons, estimated in 2015 to range between ninety and 120. However, New Delhi recently acquired a full nuclear triad of air-, land- and sea-based nuclear platforms when it deployed its first home-produced nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant. The Arihant is capable of launching a dozen K-15 Sagarika submarine-launched ballistic missiles. However, these are limited to a range of 750 kilometers, and are thus incapable of reaching the major inland cities of Pakistan or China, a shortcoming India is attempting to address with new K-4 missiles, derived form the land-based Agni-III. New Delhi intends to produce three more nuclear submarines over the years, while Pakistan is considering building one of their own.

While the United States is preoccupied by the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of potential adversaries such as Russia, China or North Korea, the danger of nuclear conflict may actually be greatest between two of its allies, Pakistan and India. The two nations have engaged in four wars starting since their partition along religious lines in 1947. A fifth could be drastically more costly, as their nuclear capabilities continue to grow and diversify

Several years ago I made the acquaintance of a Pakistani nuclear science student in China. Curious about the thinking behind his country’s nuclear program, I asked if he really believed there was a possibility that India would invade Pakistan. “There’s still a lot of old-school thinkers in the Congress Party that believe India and Pakistan should be united,” he told me.

I doubt there are many observers outside of Pakistan who believe India is plotting to invade and occupy the Muslim state, but a feeling of existential enmity persists. The third conflict between the two countries in 1971 established India’s superiority in conventional warfare—not unexpectedly, as India has several times Pakistan’s population.

The bone of contention has always been the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. At the time of partition, the predominantly Muslim state was politically divided over which nation to join. When Pakistani-allied tribesmen attempted to force the issue, the Hindu maharaja of the region chose to accede to India, leading to the first war between India and Pakistan. Ever since, the line of control between the Indian and Pakistan side has remained bitterly contested, with artillery and sniper fire routinely exchanged. Pakistan intelligence services have infiltrated insurgents and plotted attacks across the border for decades, and Indian security troops have been implicated in human-rights violations and killings of the locals as a result of their counterinsurgency operations.

Pakistan does have to fear the potential of an Indian counterstrike intended to retaliate for a terrorist attack by Pakistani-aligned groups, such as the killing of 166 in Mumbai by Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2008 or the attack on Indian parliament in 2001 by Jaish-e-Muhammad. In both cases, the attackers had ties with Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, and Islamabad has shown limited willingness or ability to crack down on these groups. Complicating matters, civilian control of the military is far from consolidated in Pakistan, and it would be quite possible for ISI or some other agency to carry out such activities on its own initiative without the knowledge or support of the head of state.

India’s military has formulated a “Cold Start” doctrine to enable its forward-deployed land forces to launch an armored assault into Pakistani territory on short notice in response to a perceived provocation from Islamabad. This new strategy was devised after the Indian Army’s armored strike corps took three weeks to deploy to the border after the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, by which time Pakistan had already mobilized its own troops.

Islamabad sees nuclear weapons as its deterrent against a conventional attack, and Cold Start in particular. This is demonstrated by its refusal to adhere to a “No First Use” policy. Pakistan has an extensive plutonium production capacity, and is estimated to possess 130 to 140 warheads, a total that may easily increase to 220 to 250 in a decade, according to a report by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Many of the new weapons are smaller, short-range tactical weapons intended for targeting frontline troops. To enable a second-strike capability, Pakistan has also empowered local commanders to launch retaliatory nuclear strikes in case the chain of command is disrupted.

While battlefield nuclear weapons are less likely to cause the mass civilian casualties that a strike against a densely populated city would produce, they are deeply worrying in their own way: a state may be more tempted to employ tactical nuclear weapons, and perceive doing so as being intrinsically less risky. However, many simulations of nuclear war suggest that tactical-nuclear-weapon usage rapidly escalates to strategic weapons.

Furthermore, tactical nuclear weapons are necessarily more dispersed, and thus less secure than those stationed in permanent facilities. These issues led the U.S. Army to at first reorganize its tactical nuclear forces in the 1960s, and largely abandon them after the end of the Cold War.

Pakistan fields nearly a dozen different types of missiles to facilitate this strategy, developed with Chinese and North Korean assistance. Ground based tactical systems include the Hatf I, an unguided ground-based rocket with a range of one hundred kilometers, and the Nasr Hatf IX, which can be mounted on mobile quad-launchers. Longer reach is provided by Ghauri II and Shaheen II medium-range ballistic missiles, which can strike targets up to around 1,600 and 2,500 kilometers, respectively.

The Pakistani Air Force’s American-made F-16 fighters are also believed to have been modified to deploy nuclear weapons. The older F-16As and Bs of the Thirty-Eighth Fighter Wing and the newer Cs and Ds of the Thirty-Ninth are both believed to be based near nuclear-weapon storage facilities. The PAF’s five squadrons of Mirage IIIs, based in Karachi and Shorkot, meanwhile, have been modified to launch the domestically-produced Ra’ad nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), with a range of 350 kilometers. New JF-17 fighters jointly produced with China are also thought to be capable of carrying the Ra’ad ALCM.

The Pakistani Navy lacks a nuclear strike capability, but appears interested in acquiring one. In January of this year, it released a video claiming to show a test launch of a Babur-3 submarine-launched cruise missile. The domestically produced Babur is similar to the Tomahawk, and designed to approach its target at low altitude to avoid detection. Pakistan already possesses land-based TEL vehicles to deploy the nuclear-capable weapon.

Reflecting its superior conventional abilities, India does adhere to a “No First Use” nuclear weapons policy. Its security posture is also complicated by long lasting tensions with China, dating back to a border war in 1962 in which Beijing seized territory in the Himalayas. Today, China is closely allied economically and militarily with Pakistan, and even has a naval base in Gwadar as part of a strategy to envelop India. India, by contrast, continues to receive much of its weaponry from Russia, but does not enjoy the same kind of military alliance. It has instead dramatically expanded civilian nuclear cooperation with the United States and other nations in the last decades.

India possesses a smaller number of nuclear weapons, estimated in 2015 to range between ninety and 120. However, New Delhi recently acquired a full nuclear triad of air-, land- and sea-based nuclear platforms when it deployed its first home-produced nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant. The Arihant is capable of launching a dozen K-15 Sagarika submarine-launched ballistic missiles. However, these are limited to a range of 750 kilometers, and are thus incapable of reaching the major inland cities of Pakistan or China, a shortcoming India is attempting to address with new K-4 missiles, derived form the land-based Agni-III. New Delhi intends to produce three more nuclear submarines over the years, while Pakistan is considering building one of their own.

India’s chief nuclear arm is thought to lay in its Mirage 2000H and Jaguar fighter-bombers, which can carry nuclear gravity bombs. In 2016, India signed a contract for thirty-six nuclear-capable fourth-generation Rafale fighters from France, further enhancing its aerial striking power. India has also modified its Su-30 fighter-bombers to carry the BrahMos cruise missiles with a range of five hundred kilometers. These could theoretically carry nuclear warheads, though none are believed to have been so equipped so far.

India also has its own array of ground-based nuclear ballistic missiles. The most numerous are slow-firing Prithvi short-range ballistic missiles. Twenty mobile Agni-1 ballistic missiles with a range of seven hundred kilometers are also deployed along the border with Pakistan, while ten heavier Agni-II systems with a range of two thousand kilometers are situated in the northwest for potential strikes on China. India also possesses a small number of rapid-deploying Agni III missiles with a range of 3,500 kilometers, and is developing an Agni IV MRBM and Agni VI ICBM with sufficient range to hit Chinese cities on the Pacific coast.

If there is any silver lining to this steady escalation in nuclear firepower, it’s that neither India nor Pakistan appears to possess chemical or biological weapons. (India completed the destruction of its stock of mustard gas in 2009.) However, the potential for catastrophic loss of human life if nuclear warheads rain down on the cities of the Indian subcontinent is self-evident.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif showed goodwill in a surprise meeting in 2015. Unfortunately, neither state appears capable of shaking out of its intractable pattern of conflict, driven by domestic political forces, which makes diplomatic accommodation difficult. The struggle for Kashmir occupies an important part of Pakistani national identity, and there has yet to be a civilian head of state in Islamabad with the will and authority to bring an end to cross-border infiltration and support for terrorist or insurgent fighters. For its part, the Indian Army has failed to respect local Kashmiri leaders and significantly improve its human-rights record.

In 2016 the killing of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani led to an outbreak of domestic civil unrest in Kashmir that resulted in dozens of civilian deaths. After attackers killed seventeen Indian Army troops in Uri on September 18, the Indian army launched a cross-border raid under murky circumstances ten days later, followed by heavy exchanges of artillery and sniper fire in October and November that killed or injured dozens of civilians and soldiers on both sides of the Line of Control.

The United States sits awkwardly astride the two states. During the Cold War, the United States tilted in favor of Pakistan due to India’s good relations with the Soviet Union. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, against the advice of the State Department, even dispatched a carrier task force in a futile attempt to dissuade India from its support of Bengali independence fighters. However, in recent decades, U.S. diplomacy has moved gradually in favor of democratic India, both due to its potential as a future superpower and its role as a counterbalance to Chinese influence. The role played by President Clinton in helping negotiate the end of the Kargil conflict in 1999 stood as a key turning point in the region—and marked one of the most dangerous confrontations in recent history, as it two nuclear-armed states were at risk of entering into full-scale conflict.

U.S. relations with Pakistan, meanwhile, have worsened despite a continuing flow of American arms for the Pakistani military. This mutual distrust is due to the presence of Islamic militant groups on Pakistani soil and U.S. drone strikes targeting them. Washington and Islamabad have genuinely diverging interests in regards to Afghanistan, the latter desiring to control Afghanistan out of fear that it might otherwise fall under Indian influence. Pakistan, however, can fall back on its relations with China if the U.S. alliance collapses, leading to a complicated diplomatic balancing act.

Despite diverging political agendas on the Indian subcontinent, there should be a common interest in limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the likelihood of nuclear war. Growing arsenals in India and Pakistan serve to increase the catastrophic human cost of a potential conflict between the too, without evidently decreasing the frequency of inflammatory episodes of violence that spike tensions between the nuclear-armed states.

India and Pakistan will of course retain their nuclear arms, and continue to see them as vital deterrents to attack. However, for such policies to remain tenable in the long run, the longtime adversaries must seek to bring an end to a pattern of recurring conflict that is entering its seventh decade this year.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

This first appeared in the Summer. 

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.

Pakistan’s weapons programme surest route to nuclear-level war: US think tank

Pakistan’s tactical nuclear-weapons programme is dangerous for safety and security reasons, and also because it is the surest route to escalating conventional war to the nuclear level according to a report by an American think-tank.

The Shaheen-III missile is displayed during the Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 23, 2016. (REUTERS File Photo)

Updated: Nov 26, 2017 19:04 IST

Press Trust of India, Washington

Pakistan’s tactical nuclear- weapons programme is not only dangerous for safety and security of the region, but also it is the surest route to escalating conventional war to the nuclear level, according to a report by an American think-tank.

In its report ‘Asia in the Second Nuclear Age’, the Atlantic Council, however, said Pakistan does not appear to have operationalised its tactical nuclear-warfare plans yet.

“Pakistan’s tactical nuclear-weapons programme is dangerous for safety and security reasons, and also because it is the surest route to escalating conventional war to the nuclear level. However, Pakistan does not appear to have operationalised its tactical nuclear-warfare plans yet,” said the report released this month.

The greatest threat in the region comes not from the development of large, sophisticated, and diversified nuclear arsenals, but from the continued stability of the institutions guarding them. “In this regard, the future stability of Pakistan remains a wild card,” said the report.

In the last four decades, the Pakistani deep state’s pursuit of low intensity conflict in Afghanistan and India, via the vehicles of radical jihadi non-state actors, has produced terrible blow back effects on Pakistan itself.

Read more | India’s nuclear-weapon inventory set to increase: ReportNoting that both the Pakistani state and civil society have become the targets of terror attacks, it said some of the attacks have occurred, with insider help, on sensitive military bases where nuclear weapons are likely stored.
“The possibility that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could be stolen or that schisms in Pakistan’s military might cause nuclear command-and-control failures is not as fantastic as it once seemed,” said the report.

Authored by Gaurav Kampani and Bharath Gopalaswamy, the report concludes that in the nuclear dynamic in the Indo- Pacific region, India and Pakistan are novice developers of nuclear arsenals; the weapons in their inventory are first- generation fission weapons.

Likewise, their delivery systems are the first in the cycle of acquisitions, the report said, adding that their hardware acquisitions generate outside concern because of the scope of their ambitions.

Observing that both nations plan to deploy a triad capability, the report said nonetheless, this ambitious goal and the selection of technologies underline the central lesson of the nuclear revolution, which is force survival (to enable an assured second-strike capability).
It said force survival through secure second-strike capabilities is also China’s goal.

“It is the only nuclear power among the three that is actually modernizing, i.e., replacing aging delivery systems with newer and better designs,” the report said.

“Thus far, the evidence suggests that Chinese and Indian explorations of multiple-reentry vehicle technologies are aimed at reinforcing deterrence through the fielding of more robust second-strike capabilities,” the report said.

It said that this conclusion is also supported by the fact that neither India nor China has, nor is developing, the ancillary intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems necessary to execute splendid first-strike attacks.

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Former Joint Chiefs chairman: Likelihood of nuclear war is rising

Dave Lawler

Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said on ABC’S „This Week“ that nuclear war has become „more probable than it used to be. And it scares me to death, quite frankly.“

Mullen also said he has concerns about the fact that generals have taken such high-ranking and high-profile roles in the Trump administration, and that he was disappointed that John Kelly has shown he’ll be „supportive of the president no matter what.“

Full quotes:

On Kelly: I mean, certainly what happened very sadly a few weeks ago when he was in a position to both defend the president in terms of what happened with the gold star family and then he ends up — and John ends up politicizing the death of his own son in the wars. It is indicative of the fact that he clearly is very supportive of the president no matter what. And that, that was really a sad moment for me.
Does he recognize Flynn these days?: „No, I don’t know the Mike Flynn that I have seen since he made a decision to endorse very strongly and publicly President Trump.“
On nuclear war: „I think it’s more probable than I it used to be. And it scares me to death, quite frankly. They’re the most dangerous weapons in the world. And certainly if we have someone in North Korea that has a lethal legacy, is very, very unpredictable, and sees this as a way to solidify his future, that he could well not just attain them but potentially use them.“
On refusing an order: „Well, I think any senior military officer always approaches it from the standpoint of we’re not going to follow an illegal order. That said, the president is in a position to give a legal order to use those weapons. And the likelihood that given that order that it would be carried out I think would be pretty high.“
On North Korea: „I still worry about the peninsula and the potential outcome there. I worry there is more uncertainty than there was a year ago, in principle because of the rhetoric that is there. I know that the Trump administration has addressed this issue from day one, so they’re very serious about creating options and have created options. It’s still a very difficult place to know what’s actually going on.“

Hawaii Preparing for Nuclear Attack

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen says use of Nuclear force in North Korea is more likely than it used to be. He told ABC This Week, “I think it’s more probable than it used to be, and it scares me to death quite frankly.“ Buzz60

 

 

In a throwback to the days of the Cold War with Russia, Hawaii on Friday will begin testing a warning siren to prepare for the possibility of nuclear attack, state officials say.

Vern Miyagi, administrator for the state emergency management agency, said the sirens blasting across the islands would notify the public to „get inside, stay inside and stay tuned“ for more information.

Miyagi likened the warnings to Bert the Turtle, a cartoon character from the 1950s used to warn Americans to „duck and cover“ in the event of a nuclear attack. The increased threat from North Korea is the reason behind the warnings, he said.

„If anybody told me four or five months ago we would be doing this I would have said you are crazy,“ Miyagi said. „But stuff happens.“

The signal test will take place Friday and the first business day of each month after that. The test will take place in conjunction with a general siren warning, a more steady tone, that already takes place each month.

The state is also broadcasting public service announcements and conducting community meetings aimed at educating the public. Miyagi said Hawaiians should have two weeks of provisions stored in their homes, just in case of an attack or a natural disaster.

He acknowledged that state officials do not consider an attack likely but said all have heard the unrelenting threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim and President Trump have swapped insults and threats since Trump assumed the presidency. Trump has threatened „fire and fury,“ and during a tour of Asia this month urged U.S. troops to be prepared for conflict.

“We dominate the sky, we dominate the sea, we dominate the land and space,” he said.

Kim has called Trump a „lunatic“ and has threatened a pre-emptive strike aimed at annihilating the United States.

New York and Washington, D.C., are almost 7,000 miles from Pyongyang. Honolulu is about 4,600 miles. Closer quarters make Hawaii more vulnerable, but Miyagi dismissed the opinion of many Hawaiians that a nuclear attack would be so devastating that it’s not worth planning for recovery.

„The models as far as casualties, we’re talking about 10%,“ Miyagi said. „It’s not pretty, (but) I’m going to tell the 90% survivors that we stopped planning because you guys were all supposed to die?

„There is an impact, and there is a whole bunch of stuff after,“ he said. „That is why we are preparing.“