Authorities Expecting The Sixth Seal? (Rev 6:12)

New York Times


JULY 17, 2014

Here is another reason to buy a mega-million-dollar apartment in a Manhattan high-rise: Earthquake forecast maps for New York City that a federal agency issued on Thursday indicate “a slightly lower hazard for tall buildings than previously thought.”

The agency, the United States Geodetic Survey, tempered its latest quake prediction with a big caveat.

Federal seismologists based their projections of a lower hazard for tall buildings — “but still a hazard nonetheless,” they cautioned — on a lower likelihood of slow shaking from an earthquake occurring near the city, the type of shaking that typically causes more damage to taller structures.

“The tall buildings in Manhattan are not where you should be focusing,” said John Armbruster, a seismologist with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. “They resonate with long period waves. They are designed and engineered to ride out an earthquake. Where you should really be worried in New York City is the common brownstone and apartment building and buildings that are poorly maintained.”

Mr. Armbruster was not involved in the federal forecast, but was an author of an earlier study that suggested that “a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed.”

He noted that barely a day goes by without a New York City building’s being declared unsafe, without an earthquake. “If you had 30, 40, 50 at one time, responders would be overloaded,” he said.

The city does have an earthquake building code that went into effect in 1996, and that applies primarily to new construction.

A well-maintained building would probably survive a magnitude 5 earthquake fairly well, he said. The last magnitude 5 earthquake in the city struck in 1884. Another is not necessarily inevitable; faults are more random and move more slowly than they do in, say, California. But he said the latest federal estimate was probably raised because of the magnitude of the Virginia quake.

Mr. Armbruster said the Geodetic Survey forecast would not affect his daily lifestyle. “I live in a wood-frame building with a brick chimney and I’m not alarmed sitting up at night worried about it,” he said. “But society’s leaders need to take some responsibility.”

America’s Futile and Foolish Nuclear Wishes

Mike Pompeo: The US will never allow Iran to have nuclear weapons

Steve CowanMay 10, 2020 5:53 pm UTC

The Secretary of the state compared Tehran to the Nazi regime and confirmed Washington’s determination to do everything to extend the embargo against Iran.

Two years after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the erroneous “nuclear deal” with Iran, it is clear that the head of state made the right decision then. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo stated in a statement.

According to Pompeo, today ” the American people are safer, and the Middle East is calmer than if the United States remained a party to the Joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA)” – a political agreement between Iran and leading world powers that gave Tehran the right to conduct peaceful nuclear activities.

Since the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, “we have imposed the strictest sanctions in history and prevented Iran from financing and supplying terrorists with billions of dollars,” Pompeo said in a statement.

The Secretary of state recalled that 75 years ago, the United States joined with its allies “to rid the world of the Nazis and their hateful ideology. Today we face a serious challenge to the world we call again on the international community to join us in thwarting the world’s leading state sponsor of anti-Semitism.”

Pompeo stressed that the US “will use all diplomatic means to ensure the extension of the UN arms embargo.” The United States, he said, “will never allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.”

How Mighty is the French Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Is France’s Nuclear Shield Big Enough to Cover All of Europe?

By Alexander YermakovMay 10, 2020

At the end of the third year of his presidency, Emmanuel Macron delivered his long-awaited policy speech on the country’s defence and deterrence strategy. The long-awaited indeed: many have been expecting France to step up its nuclear role in recent years, including heading up the establishment of the EU Nuclear Forcete. Did the President deliver on these expectations? Yes and no.

From the get-go, Macron has been keen to play up the historical significance of his February 7 speech. The eighth president of the Fifth Republic noted that the last head of state to visit the École de Guerre in Paris was Charles de Gaulle himself, who delivered his famous speech on the creation of the Force de frappe, or the French Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF), here on November 3, 1959.

The previous resident of the Élysée Palace, François Hollande, delivered his address on the nuclear deterrence at the Istres-Le Tubé Air Base on February 19, 2015, where one of the French Air Force’s two nuclear squadrons was stationed at the time. Macron’s predecessor gave a speech that was rather typical of the French nuclear policy, reminding his fellow countrymen that the world is still full of threats and that, despite the commitment to nuclear disarmament (someday, like other powers), it was vital to “keep the powder dry.” The President reiterated the promise to not use nuclear weapons against those countries that had signed and honoured the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

According to Hollande, the French Strategic Nuclear Forces contribute to the pan-European security, yet remain ‘sovereign:’ Paris will neither, as a matter of principle, be part of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group nor will it participate in the NATO’s Nuclear Sharing [1]. Notwithstanding European solidarity and the special nuclear cooperation that France enjoys with the United Kingdom, Hollande stressed that, “our [France’s] deterrence is our own; it is we who decide, we who evaluate our vital interests.” It was France’s rather unique attitude to defence policy issues, and to the independence of its Strategic Nuclear Forces in particular, that was partly to blame for the falling out between the United States and NATO during de Gaulle’s presidency and that half a century later forced special provisions to be included in the Treaty of Lisbon [2].

But the Euro-optimists, who are eager to make the European Union a great nuclear power, have been unhappy with the Treaty of Lisbon for some time now. In 2016, For example, prominent Bundestag member and international politics expert Roderich Kiesewetter of the ruling Christian Democratic Union proposed using the joint European military budget to strengthen nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France and to ensure the continent’s nuclear deterrence potential independent of the United States, a proposal that was supported on the eastern flank of the European Union by Jarosław Kaczyński. These sentiments were further bolstered by the onset of the Ukrainian crisis and even more so by the election of Donald Trump, who has long been sceptical of NATO. The Brexit actually played into the hands of those calling for a more robust nuclear umbrella in Europe, as the United Kingdom always served as a key instrument of U.S. and NATO policies in the European Union, opposing ‘separatist’ attempts to build non-Atlantic security institutions. This is precisely what the French Supreme Commander-in-Chief advocated, albeit somewhat cautiously, in his 2020 address.

Thermonuclear Assets

What does France have to offer to Europe? According to conservative estimates, the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world after that of Russia and the U.S., no less, with almost 300 warheads (the actual number is not known: Hollande mentioned 300 in 2015, while Macron stated “under 300” five years later). This figure is conservative because numbers given for China vary wildly depending on individual preferences and the degree of Sinophobia of whoever is making estimates. It should be noted that in 2019 the respected Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stated that the Chinese nuclear arsenal included “about 290 warheads.” There is no need of a pack of tarot cards to reveal that France and China are in the second group of states in terms of the number of nuclear warheads in their possessions, way behind the United States and Russia and far outstripping other countries.

The French Strategic Nuclear Forces currently consist of two components: an airborne and a seaborne. There used to be a land component with 18 intermediate-range ballistic missiles holed up in silos in the south of the country; that component existed from 1971 to 1996 [3]. As was the case for most nuclear powers, France initially used bombers to carry its warheads, namely the Dassault Mirage IV, which was introduced in 1964 and could carry a single AN-11/22 nuclear bomb with a charge of approximately 60 kilotons. In January 1972, the French ballistic missile submarine Le Redoutable set out on its maiden patrol.

The French government initially had high hopes for nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), but the program to develop and construct these complex systems ended up falling desperately behind the schedule. Yet the fact that in 1960-1970s France was able to create its own SSBNs and missiles to go with them (SLBMs) is quite a feat in itself, as it was only the third country in the world to do this, not lagging too long behind the two superpowers of the time that possessed far more resources [4]. China only built its first serial SSBNs in the 21st century (the Type 094 submarine set off on its maiden nuclear deterrence patrol in December 2015), while India is still testing its first vessel.

The airborne component of the French Strategic Nuclear Forces currently consists of Rafale B twin-seat fighter jets, which replaced the Mirage 2000N in 2018 and are equipped with ASMP-A supersonic cruise missiles (54 supersonic thermonuclear warheads with a range of up to 500 kilometres and a charge estimated at approximately 300 kilotons, some of which was spent during testing). Unlike previous generations of fighters, Rafale’s aircrafts were not specially modified for carrying nuclear warheads; instead the Air Force personnel receive a special training to operate them.

Two nuclear squadrons are deployed at the Saint-Dizier-Robinson Air Base: Fighter Squadron 1/4 Gascogne and Fighter Squadron 2/4 La Fayette, with at least 40 fighter jets in service. In addition, the Strategic Air Forces Command (Forces Aériennes Stratégiques, FAS) possesses “privileged rights” to the Air Supply Group 2/91 Bretagne, a combined regiment of 14 Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers manufactured in the U.S., which from 2018 are being gradually replaced by the modern European-made Airbus A330 MRTT Phénix. The second A330 MRTT was delivered in late 2019. The initial contract for 12 aircrafts is set to be fulfilled by 2023; three more tankers may be ordered. Tanker aircrafts are vital for delivering strikes at considerable distances, as the Rafale are still fighters and not long-range bombers.

What sets France apart is that the country has had the naval nuclear aviation force (Force aéronavale nucléaire, FANu) in addition to its land-based nuclear aviation component since the late 1970s. Currently, the FANu consists of carrier-based aircrafts, specifically Rafale M single-seat fighters that can also be equipped with ASMP-A cruise missiles. Unlike the immediately ready specialized land units, the FANu are set up on an as-needed basis, and all naval squadrons undergo a basic nuclear weapons training. France’s sole aircraft carrier R91 Charles de Gaulle does not carry ASMP-A on a permanent basis and missiles are stored in the Air Force’s arsenals during peacetime; however, positioning the aircraft carrier as part of the country’s Strategic Nuclear Forces is a somewhat strange move itself. Nuclear weapons were offloaded from all U.S. aircraft carriers by the middle of 1992 and modern carrier-based F/A-18E/F and F-35C fighters are not intended for such purposes [5].

The employment of an aircraft carrier as a platform for fighters armed with nuclear cruise missiles is consistent with the French approach to the air component of its Strategic Nuclear Forces. It is seen as a visible part of its deterrence forces that can be used to deal with explicit threats and manage escalations. In addition, high-precision ASMP-A missiles are well-suited for surgical strikes and a warhead that has more power than SLBM may be useful for destroying specially fortified underground objects. ASN4G air-launched missiles are currently under development that looks very promising. The plan is to start phasing out ASMP-A missiles in the mid-2030s and replace them with ASN4Gs. All specifications have not been publicly disclosed, but given current trends, a fair guess is that it will be hypersonic (a glider or a cruise missile with a hypersonic ramjet engine).

Nevertheless, much of France’s nuclear potential is concentrated on a hidden yet permanently combat-ready component of its Strategic Nuclear Forces, namely its fleet of Triomphant-class nuclear-powered missile submarines. Four of these vessels were put into operation between 1997 and 2010, replacing Le Redoutable-class boats. Triomphant-class submarines are armed with 16 SLBMs. By 2020, all these boats should be equipped with the newest M51.2 missiles carrying new TNO nuclear warheads, which, according to unconfirmed reports, boast a charge of approximately150 kilotons. The payload range depends on its size, with conflicting reports suggesting upwards of 9000 km for minimal payloads and significantly less when carrying six or more individual guidance units [6]. Each submarine obviously has missiles with various combinations of warheads. According to official statements, the French Navy possesses 48 missiles and three weapons systems, one for each submarine, while the fourth is undergoing a major overhaul. According to various estimates, 80–90% of the almost 300 warheads are intended for the marine component of the Strategic Nuclear Forces [7], even though its surpluses are probably very small compared to those of other nuclear powers [8].

The design work on promising SNLE-3G nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines has already begun, with the construction set to start in 2023 and commissioning projected for the first half of 2030s. Meanwhile, the development of M51 SLBMs continues: a modified M51.3 is expected to appear in the middle of this decade. The new missile will have an additional third stage, which will increase its range and throw-weight in terms of a more advanced equipment for defeating missile defence. New SSBNs will be equipped with promising M51.4s, which are in early stages of development.

The EU Nuclear Sharing

France’s Strategic Nuclear Forces are small compared to those of the United States and Russia, but they are cutting edge and updated constantly. Unlike the United Kingdom, which continues to reduce its nuclear arsenal unilaterally and where the public sentiment is largely anti-nuclear, France enjoys a greater popular support for nuclear deterrence. Arguably, this is explained by historical reasons. France has always viewed nuclear weapons as a vital instrument for gaining more independence from the United States and as a guarantee that catastrophes the country faced during the First World War and in 1940 will not repeat themselves.

In the past, France always took a stand-off position in matters pertaining to strategic nuclear forces. Even after it was accepted back into the NATO Military Command Structure in the beginning of the 21st century, Paris stressed that it will not be part of the Nuclear Planning Group and refused to align its nuclear strategy with that of its allies. Now, Emmanuel Macron is ready to turn this symbol of country’s independence into the embodiment of France’s role as the leader of united Europe.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that Macron’s speech was largely directed at all citizens of Europe and that he was referring to pan-European threats and objectives. One popular yet unsophisticated way of analysing political speeches that sometimes yields interesting results is to count how many times an important word is used. In his speech, Macron said ‘Europe’ almost twice as many times as ‘France.’ To compare, François Hollande mentioned ‘France’ almost ten times more frequently than ‘Europe’ in his 2015 address.

In his address, Macron pointed to a number of developing trends that may pose a serious challenge to European security in the future: first, the growing confrontation between the United States and China; second, Europe’s need for greater autonomy from the United States with regard to security in Eastern and Southern parts of the continent; and third, blurring the line between competition and confrontation. In addition, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the “unprecedented situation” in which regional powers already are or soon will be capable of striking the European territory directly were also singled out as threats.

Another potential threat, according to Macron, is the gradual erosion of the arms control regime. The legal framework needs to be restored in this area and Europe must make efforts. A failure to do so may once again make Europe a field of confrontation for “non-European nuclear powers,” which is completely unacceptable, as far as the President of France is concerned. These calls to rebuild the arms control regimes can be seen as a tacit support for the Russian proposal to impose a moratorium on the deployment of medium-range missiles (the French President is the only Western leader who has responded positively to the idea). Macron also paid a special attention to the subject of restoring relations with Russia without which “there can be no defence and security project of European citizens.” Moreover, he has tasked himself with building bridges with Russia [9].

At the centre of Macron’s speech was the call for Europe to pursue a more independent defence and security policy. Beyond purely political, Macron drew focus to the fact that Europeans (and European states, by extension) need to control the continent’s key infrastructure themselves. This appears to be a vital element of the French President’s thinking, as he later reiterated the point during a speech on the coronavirus pandemic. By gaining a greater sovereignty for whole Europe, France will be able to obtain a “true” sovereignty for itself.

Turning to military issues, Macron noted that while European countries have continued disarmaments in the spirit of the 1990s, other players have moved in the other direction. Europe can only achieve a full political sovereignty with modern armed forces, and modernization costs money. France’s nuclear forces can be the core of this European military sovereignty—autonomous from the United States and less entrenched in NATO than the nuclear arsenal of the United Kingdom, which left the EU this year.

Of course, Macron did not utter these exact words, but he did make an extremely important message that most commentators have missed: “France’s vital interests now have a European dimension.” This is not a throw-away sentence, because according to France’s military doctrine, a perceived threat to the country’s “vital interests” is an enough reason to resort to the nuclear force [10]. Macron could not have made a more explicit offer to extend his country’s nuclear umbrella to cover the rest of the European Union as he suggested opening a strategic dialogue on this issue.

Commentators have paid more attention to the concrete proposal for willing European partners to start partaking in exercises of the French Strategic Nuclear Forces. This means, foremost, the air component, considering that the submarine one is far too sensitive. Besides, in light of the departure of the United Kingdom, the European Union no longer has a fleet that could help France out in the Atlantic. A strengthened cooperation in the air component, though, can significantly expand capabilities of France’s strategic aviation, of course, on jet fighters, but it is what it is.

It may be tempting to disperse to multiple airfields across Europe during a heightened threat, but this would require the ground personnel of allied countries to undergo necessary trainings, including in the use of ASMP-A missiles, which is a politically sensitive issue the European authorities may return to later in time. It is far more likely that the joint European fleet of Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft that the French Air Force also uses will be involved in exercises alongside French nuclear squadrons. Six countries have already chipped in to buy eight tankers: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway. The program is constantly expanding and at least three aerial refuelling tankers are expected to be ordered. Tankers deployed at airfields in dangerous regions will make it easier for French Rafale fighter jets to carry out long-distance missions. At the same time, clearly, the issue of providing cover for strike groups must be settled. This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of potential military exercises suggested by Macron.

The joint French, German, and Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program to develop a sixth-generation jet fighter that is set to replace the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon in the late 2030s is worth of mention. The relevant contract was signed on February 20, 2020. Given requirements of the French side, the new jet will probably be initially designed as a nuclear delivery vehicle [11]. This will expand capabilities of the allied air forces, which may then be able to handle promising ASN4G missiles.

Obviously, France’s proposal cannot get off the ground if other EU member states, especially Germany, are not on board with it. One week after Macron delivered his speech in Paris, President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke at the opening of the Munich Security Conference, where he supported opening a dialogue with Germany’s “closest ally,” France, in order to develop a “joint strategic culture.” Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas made similar comments during his speech at the conference. In an interview given a few days before the beginning of the conference, its chairperson Wolfgang Ischinger said he did not believe that France would relinquish its nuclear weapons to the general command, but spoke positively about starting a dialogue on the common strategy and discussing “European deterrence.” The consensus was that the United States could no longer be considered a reliable partner for defending Europe.

It is important to know that the subject of nuclear weapons is extremely sensitive for European politicians. Thus, any steps in this direction will only be taken with the utmost caution and the hope that at every stage their “big brother” will step in to help. And who knows? Maybe the United States will indeed come back to its senses once a new president comes to power. The negative attitude of the European population to nuclear weapons cannot be overlooked either; however, if the European project manages to survive its current woes and if its leaders are determined to play an independent role in world politics years down the line, then they very well may decide to create an allied nuclear shield.

If that is truly the case, decades from now Macron’s 2020 speech will be referenced in the same way he alluded to Charles de Gaulle’s. Or, at least, that is the way he would like it.

[1] The practice of the United States storing its tactical nuclear weapons in Europe under its own formal control and training local forces, including those of non-nuclear powers, in their use. B61 nuclear bombs are currently deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. For more, see:

[2] Many believe that France’s position on the matter was the reason why Article 49(c).7. of the Treaty, which proclaims the principle of the collective defence of the European Union, includes the provision that, “This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.”

[3] In this case, we are talking about strategic weapons only. France’s nuclear arsenal also included tactical nuclear weapons, namely, the Pluton and Hadès short-range road-mobile missile systems, from 1974 to 1997.

[4] The United Kingdom had a lot of help from the United States in building its SSBNs, and to this day they are equipped with U.S. missiles.

[5] Norris, Robert S. and Kristensen, Hans M. “Declassified: U.S. Nuclear Weapons at Sea During the Cold War.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2016

[6] The exact numbers for the French missile are not known, but we can use the U.S. Trident II for reference. According to expert estimates, Trident II has a range of approximately 7500km when carrying eight warheads, and over 11,500km when the number of warheads is reduced to three or four. See Harvey, John R. & Stefan Michalowsk, Science & Global Security, 1994

[7] Tertrais, Bruno. “French Nuclear Deterrence Policy, Forces and Future.” Fondation pour la recherche stratégique, 2019

8. Kristensen, Hans M. & Matt Korda. “French Nuclear Forces.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2019.

[8] “As I’m carrying out this project, I am demanding […] The main objective – I have mentioned it numerous times – of my engagement with Russia is an improvement in collective security and stability conditions in Europe. This process will last several years. It will require patience, and high demands, and it will be conducted with our European partners. But we have no interest in delegating such a dialogue to others, nor lock ourselves in the present situation.”

[9] Given the fact that France’s nuclear arsenal was considerably smaller than the Soviet Union’s, the country traditionally adhered to the strategy of “the weak containing the strong,” meaning not a retaliatory, but rather a preventive strike in the event of a non-nuclear attack or nuclear threat. Euphemisms helped smooth this out somewhat. This explains why, even now, when the official documents of the United States and Russia cite “in response to an attack using weapons of mass destruction” as the main reason for using strategic nuclear forces, France’s talk about “protecting the country’s vital interests.”

[10] For example, the Eurofighter Typhoon is not capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This creates certain difficulties for Germany when it comes to replacing its Tornado bombers, which continue to be used as potential carriers for U.S. B61 bombs.

From our partner RIAC




Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of an English daily tabloid published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, urged his nation to expand its nuclear arsenal in response to “bullying” from the U.S. in a new editorial.

In the article published by The Global Times on Saturday, Hu argued that China needed to build up its stockpile of nuclear weapons as a “deterrent,” as U.S. officials have been increasingly critical of the Chinese government amid the coronavirus pandemic. The editor argued that this would “safeguard national security.”

“In the past, China’s storage of nuclear weapons was deemed sufficient to generate adequate nuclear deterrent, however, it doesn’t mean the same storage will be big enough in the future to curb US government’s strategic ambitions and bullying impulse against China,” Xijin wrote.

Continuing, the editor argued that the U.S. was currently “more likely to exert all its power at its disposal to suppress and intimidate China.” He warned that “China needs to possess the real power to prevent the U.S. politicians from gambling with its nuclear armament and harming China.

Hu clarified that he is not a “warmonger” and does not want a nuclear war. However, he argued that building up China’s nuclear arsenal would be a defensive measure to prevent the U.S. from striking first. “China is committed not to be the first to launch nuclear weapons, and it will never threaten non-nuclear countries with its nuclear arsenal,” he added.

The Global Times editor previously posted his suggestion to the Chinese social media platform Weibo. He tweeted about the post on Friday.

“I said on Chinese social media that China needs to expand the number of its nuclear warheads to over 1,000 to strengthen nuclear deterrent, given US’ rising strategic ambitions and impulses targeting China,” Hu wrote. “It received over 60K likes. China pledges no-first-use and it loves peace.”

Newsweek has reached out to the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. and the State Department for comment.

According to 2019 data compiled by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, China currently possesses about 290 nuclear weapons in its arsenal. The U.S. and Russia have far more nuclear weapons, with a reported 6,185 and 6,500 respectively. France has the third highest number of nuclear weapons, possessing just a few more than China with about 300.

President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and some top Republicans have been increasingly critical of China, as they attempt to blame the East Asian nation for the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The novel virus was first discovered in Wuhan, China, and Chinese officials initially covered up the outbreak. In the intervening months, China has faced criticism for its lack of transparency about the outbreak, while speculation has mounted that the virus could have possibly leaked from a research lab.

Scientists have dismissed conspiracy theories that the virus was manufactured, but they have not ruled out the possibility that a virus being studied may have leaked from a Wuhan research facility. Trump and Pompeo have pushed the narrative that the virus came from a lab, but intelligence officials have said they do not have proof to back up the theory. Many scientists have also expressed skepticism, arguing that it is far more likely that the virus jumped naturally from animals to humans without leaking from a lab.

“We don’t have certainty, and there’s significant evidence that this came from the laboratory. Those statements can both be true,” Pompeo said last Wednesday.

Meanwhile, an internal Chinese government document reported by Reuters last week warned that global anti-China sentiment has reached a high not seen since 1989’s Tiananmen Square crackdown. The document warned that the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could even potentially lead to military confrontation with the U.S.

Polling data from Pew Research Center showed that Americans broadly view China as a threat to the U.S. The poll, which was conducted from March 3 to 29, showed that about 9 in 10 Americans view China’s global influence and power as a threat, including 62 percent who see it as a “major” threat.

The New Cold War (Revelation 16)

NATO warships return to the icy Barents Sea for the first time in a generation

Northern fights – America and Britain play cold-war games with Russia in the Arctic | Europe | The Economist

May 10th 2020

THE BARENTS SEA is not a hospitable place for visitors. “Frequent snow storms … blotted out the land for hours on end,” wrote an unlucky British submariner sent there to snoop around during the cold war. “We faced the beastliness of spray which turned to ice even before it struck our faces.” It is no surprise, then, that American warships have kept away from the sea since the mid-1980s—until they returned last week.

Their presence is part of a steady northward creep by NATO naval forces. In 2018 the alliance, joined by Sweden and Finland, held Trident Juncture, its largest exercise since the end of the cold war, in Norway. That involved the first deployment of an American aircraft carrier in the Arctic Circle for three decades. Western warships have been frequent visitors since. On May 1st a “surface action group” of two American destroyers, a nuclear submarine, support ship and long-range maritime patrol aircraft, plus a British frigate, practised their sub-hunting skills in the Norwegian Sea.

Save the Iranian Oil (Revelation 6:6)

An Iranian flag flies at the Sorough oil field in 2005. (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters)

What the World Has Lost in Iran

Barnaby CrowcroftMay 9, 2020 6:30 AM

A new book on the Sunni–Shia conflict makes clear that the steady radicalization of sectarian difference in the Middle East was not inevitable.

When you’ve done your day’s viewing of government coronavirus briefings — Governor Cuomo’s, Governor Newsom’s, President Trump’s — spare a minute for Grand Ayatollah Khamenei’s. In a cozy fireside-chat format, Iran’s Supreme Leader has been taking the opportunity presented by this moment of shared global suffering to remind the world that the true enemy of mankind is not epidemic disease, but the “vicious, lying, brazen, avaricious, cruel, merciless, terrorist” United States, and atheist, materialist Western civilization.

Throughout the Middle East Khamenei’s clients provide a steady chorus for this kind of invective. One consequence is that the claim he is now broadcasting — that the U.S. government intentionally created the coronavirus — has become a commonplace among his adherents. A French historian once described the young Ali Khamenei as the “Robespierre” of the Iranian Revolution. We are living in the world in which Robespierre won — the one in which that most radical and bloodthirsty of revolutionaries lives on, in his dotage, to spread his message to millions over social media.

Laurence Louër’s new book is a reminder of quite how much the world has lost by not having a responsible regime in Iran. Sunnis and Shi’a is principally an exploration of that second great Islamic denomination, which revolves around the figure of Mohammed’s son-in-law, Ali ibn Abu Talib, known as the first Shiite Imam. Louër shows how reason and the embrace of rationalism is central to Shia faith and theology, and explains the contextualism that allows its clergy to adapt to social and historical change — in ways denied to their majority Sunni counterparts. She emphasizes Shiism’s historic role as a creed of social justice, a movement of the weak against the strong, and of the people against unjust rulers — alongside a Sunni orthodoxy that embraces hierarchy and established authority. It was Shiism that would have been the faith most naturally predisposed to bring about a reconciliation of Islam with Western scientific modernity — and yet it is everywhere submerged under the atavism of its political leaders, from Khamenei to Hezbollah to Iraq’s rival sectarian warlords. The world has lost not just by the absence of a moderate Iran, but of a moderate Shia power.

The early history is well known. Ali, who had married Mohammed’s daughter Zaynab, became the fourth Muslim Caliph in 656, almost a quarter of a century after Mohammed’s death in 632. But his reign coincided with deepening division in the growing Arab Caliphate and, amid a revolt led by a powerful rival in Syria, Ali was assassinated in 661. The Sunni Caliphate was continued from Damascus, but Ali’s followers broke away and recognized his descendants as a lineage of divinely appointed Imams who would lead a community of “true Muslims.” When the third Imam, Ali’s son Hussein, was killed in 680 in battle with the forces of the Caliph, his “martyrdom” became a focal point of Shiite belief commemorated in the festival of Ashura, and the site of his death in Karbala in southern Iraq became one of the main sites of Shiite pilgrimage — alongside Ali’s mausoleum in Najaf.

The story of the Shiite Imams to follow is almost a parody of factionalism — and its calcified remains still lie dotted across the map of the modern Middle East. A dispute over the succession to the fourth Imam (d. 713) produced a splinter group known as the Zaydis, who went on to dominate the politics and government of northern Yemen for over a thousand years. A dispute over the succession to the sixth Imam (d. 765) brought us the Ismailis, who now reside in the south of present-day Saudi Arabia, and the Lebanese Druze. The lack of charisma shown by the tenth and eleventh Imams allowed a pretender to arise in the 870s, bequeathing to us the Alawites, whose successors are still hanging on to power as the rulers of modern Syria.

These petty sects are better known as “Alidism.” Mainstream Shiism, by contrast, was the creation of the educated and prosperous clergy of southern Iraq in the ninth century. Frustrated by the proliferation of radical creeds, and impatient with ineffectual Imams, the Shia ulema hit upon a deus ex machina in the claim that the twelfth Imam — a minor, with no obvious successor, who presumably died – had miraculously “disappeared” in 874, and would remain “hidden” until his return on Judgement Day. In the meantime, they would be responsible for interpreting His will — and thus the will of God. As the “architects and guardians of dogma,” these Shiite clergy were able to consolidate Shiism into an organized faith with a sophisticated theology able to rival the established corpus of Sunnism.

The final piece in our contemporary puzzle fell into place in 1501, when a new Safavid king of Persia established Shiism as the official state religion. From that point on, geopolitical and ethnic rivalry was fused with religious schism, as Sunni Ottomans and Shiite Persians confronted one another along a frontier stretching thousands of miles, from the mountains of Kurdistan in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south. In the 20th century, it would be this divide, now separating Iran and Iraq, that would form the bloodiest international border outside Europe — one of the few, it’s worth recalling, that had nothing to do with Western colonialism.

Sunnis and Shi’a is also concerned with exploring how the sectarian divide has been managed in practice in a range of national contexts in the present day — including in Pakistan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. It used to be said of the Washington, D.C., foreign-policy establishment that, having discovered the Sunni–Shia split in the aftermath of the second Iraq war, they started to see its malign hand everywhere. Louër’s survey is an effective antidote. She makes the commonsense point that the pattern of Sunni–Shia engagement throughout the Islamic world has as often been one of coexistence and cooperation as of sectarian conflict and war. We can find, for example, even in the “puritanical” Saudi Kingdom large Shiite populations free to apply their own religious law within their community, and whose leaders have served on the king’s consultative council. In Bahrain, now a major flash-point, we can find a deep history of Sunni monarchs engaging closely with loyalist Shiite subjects, not least because they were valued by their Sunni rulers as allies against the Communists.

What can we learn from this? Well, one thing that seems emphatically not to be a good solution for managing sectarian difference may be the one that governments and international agencies have long pursued — to press Western-style democratic and open political systems upon Middle Eastern societies. Indeed, the main points of Sunni–Shia dispute could hardly have been designed to be more potentially incendiary if freely aired in the public square. One Shia ritual Louër identifies involves the public insulting of Mohammed’s earliest Companions and the first three Muslim Caliphs — that is, precisely those figures most sacred to Sunnis as models for true religious life. (They are known as the Salaf — hence Salafism.) Most modern Shiites have retreated from their early claims that the Koran itself is a Sunni-doctored falsification. But many continue to regard fundamental elements of Sunni worship as false, and do not regard Sunni mosques as “real mosques.” For their part, Sunnis give as good as they get. Louër tells us that there is a school of Sunni scholars today who maintain that Shiism tout court was created as part of an eighth-century Jewish conspiracy designed to sow discord in the Muslim community. One suspects that increased contact, freer debate, and better understanding, rather than building bridges, would simply make people hate one another more.

In a political world that requires tact and subtlety, where struggling factions reach for recognition and toleration, rather than radical equality, there can be nothing so dangerous as “religious entrepreneurs” promising political utopias — which brings us back to Ayatollah Khamenei. In each of Louër’s national audits, the story since 1979 is one of extremist violence and steady radicalization of sectarian difference, as Tehran’s efforts to export revolution throughout the region transformed once-integrated Shiite communities into vectors for Iranian influence and interest. The Shiite pressure groups and civil-society organizations of the 1970s became the “Islamic Liberation Fronts” of the 1980s. Coup attempts replaced compromise, as in Bahrain in 1981.

Many of these national scenes have yet to recover — and so long as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards exist to freewheel around the region as gun-runners and king-makers, it is difficult to see how recovery begins. One doesn’t have to admire John Bolton to share his hope that Iran’s current rulers will come to an unpleasant end, sooner rather than later. In the meantime, Sunnis and Shi’a is a reminder of all the reasons to be excited for what may come, once they do.

The Nation’s Ignore the Crimes Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Australian government tells ICC it should not investigate alleged war crimes in Palestine

International Criminal Court rejects Australia’s argument it has no jurisdiction because Palestine is ‘not a state’

Ben DohertySat 9 May 2020 16.00 EDT

Australian foreign policy

The Australian government has told the International Criminal Court it should not investigate alleged war crimes in Palestine because Palestine is “not a state”, arguing the court prosecutor’s investigation into alleged attacks on civilians, torture, attacks on hospitals, and the use of human shields, should be halted on jurisdictional grounds.

Australia was lobbied to make the submission to the court by Israel, which is not a party to the court. But the office of the prosecutor has rejected Australia’s argument, saying it had not formally challenged Palestine’s right to be a party to the court before.

In December, the ICC’s office of the prosecutor concluded a five-year preliminary examination of the “situation in the state of Palestine”, concluding there were reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes have been, or are being, committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip by members of the Israeli Defence Forces, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, and members of the Israeli authorities.

“I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” the prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said. “There are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.”

But prior to starting a formal investigation, the ICC prosecutor has asked the court’s pre-trial chamber to rule on the scope of the court’s territorial jurisdiction, essentially seeking confirmation the ICC had jurisdiction over alleged offences committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Palestine’s accession to the ICC in 2015 as a party to the court was accepted by the UN secretary general.

Australia is one of only six countries that are not directly involved to have made submissions to the court.

Australia’s submission, filed by Australia’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Matthew Neuhaus, at The Hague, states: “Australia’s position is clear: Australia does not recognise the ‘State of Palestine’.

“As such, Australia does not recognise the right of the Palestinians to accede to the Rome Statute” (the treaty which established the ICC – to investigate the crimes of genocide, aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity – in 2002).

Australia argues Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute in 2015 did not make it a state, and that the UN secretary general’s acceptance of that accession is an “administrative act that does not confer a particular status, including statehood”.

Australia’s position is that a two-state solution must be advanced through direct negotiations between the parties and that the question of Palestinian statehood cannot be resolved before a negotiated peace settlement.

In Senate estimates, James Larsen, the chief legal officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said that Israel had “encouraged us [Australia] to make observations” to the court regarding the investigation into war crimes in Palestine.

“Israel certainly made representations to the Australian government, including myself, but others as well.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told his cabinet in February friendly countries had responded to Israeli lobbying over the case.

He labelled the ICC “a political instrument in the war against Israel”, and said “I would like to commend Germany, Australia, Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Uganda, which have joined the US in a steadfast stand alongside Israel.” Israel is not a party to the ICC.

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber is expected to respond on the jurisdiction question in coming weeks.

Australia’s position has been condemned by international law organisations and Palestinian advocacy groups.

Rawan Arraf, the director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, said Australia’s intervention in the court process was unprecedented.

“Why is Australia going out of its way to hold back an investigation into Palestine? Australia has always been a strong supporter of accountability and the fight to end impunity. It should not stop now and it should withdraw its request.”

The ICC has come under sustained criticism for a perceived bias, targeting poor, weak states, while ignoring the crimes of more powerful states, and in particular, focusing almost exclusively on African states.

Arraf said with the ICC at a critical juncture in its history, Australia should support the court in providing justice for all people around the world.

She argued the court’s investigation wasn’t “just some academic exercise on questions of law” but that there were real victims and ongoing abuses.

George Browning, the president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network and a retired Anglican bishop, argued Australia’s intervention took its “growing, one-sided support of Israel to a new high”.

“By denying Palestinians the right to justice, and protecting Israel from justice, Australia undermines the rule of law as the standard by which international behaviour is to be judged, and if necessary, sanctioned.

Jewish community leaders and organisations in Australia welcomed the government’s intervention in the court.

The executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, Dr Colin Rubenstein, said Australia had demonstrated “strong moral leadership and principled support for the rule of law”.

“[Australia’s] submission not only outlines strong legal arguments preventing the Court having jurisdiction to consider the ‘Situation in Palestine’ – as the so-called ‘State of Palestine’ does not meet the necessary legal requirements for statehood under international law – but also makes the case that the court risks undermining any prospects of a negotiated peace.”