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

By Simon Worrall


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.

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.

Iran Continues to Arm the Nations (Daniel 8:4)

Right to Free Arms Trade Will Not Be Abandoned

Iran has announced to the 2015 nuclear deal parties that the lifting of the United Nations’ arms embargo is not a right to be given up by the Islamic Republic, a top diplomat said. 

“With the approach of the expiration date and the Americans’ uproar [against it], we began our consultations and stressed that this is not an issue that Iran would disregard,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a regular press briefing on Monday, IRNA reported. 

The arms embargo on Iran is set to expire in October as per UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

The US has abandoned the deal, but is now trying to impose its will about the ban’s relaxation by arguing that it still remains an original “participant” under the terms of the resolution that enshrined it.

Along this line, the US State Department has prepared a draft UN resolution that would attempt to strike the expiration from Resolution 2231.

The document, however, needs nine votes in favor by UN Security Council members and no vetoes by Russia, China, Britain or France to be adopted.

“Americans are not likely to achieve their current goal because their request has no legal grounds and they are no longer a party to JCPOA,” Mousavi said. 

He added that the end of the arms ban was one of the benefits promised under JCPOA which the US is trying to ruin like other political, economic and security interests that it tried to jeopardize by quitting the deal and reimposing sanctions on Tehran. 

“I hope it will not come to that. But if it does, Iran’s response would be fitting and decisive,” he said. 

US Presence Destabilizing               

On recent tensions between Iran and the US in the Persian Gulf, Mousavi said Americans at times disturb the legal and free patrols conducted by Iranian armed forces and receive the required warnings. 

“We basically do not acknowledge the US military presence in the Persian Gulf and see it as a disturbance to our security and stability and that of the region, as well as free navigation in the [territorial] waters,” he said. 

The US Navy in mid-April accused Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps of “dangerous and provocative actions” against its vessels in the Persian Gulf, threatening to destroy Iranian gunboats in case of harassment. 

IRGC rejected the US version of the story, saying the American warships were approaching Iranian waters and ignored warnings when they came into contact with IRGC vessels patrolling the region. It also said Iran would respond decisively to any miscalculation. 

Mousavi said Iran maintains communication with the US over the issue through the Swiss Embassy as the representative of American interests in Iran as well as its UN mission in New York. 

Concern Over IS Activities 

The senior diplomat also expressed concern over the potential return of the self-styled Islamic States terrorists in Iraq after the group killed at least 10 Iraqi militia members in a recent assault. 

The incident, according to Mousavi, could be linked to the Iraq’s call for an end to the presence of foreign military forces as they struggle to prove there would be insecurity without them.

“Americans are under the pressure of Iraqi people and seek to prevent or delay their exit by such measures as strengthening IS,” he said. 

The Iraqi Parliament passed a resolution, calling on the government to expel foreign troops in early January, after the US assassinated the top Iranian commander, Major General Qasem Soleimani, and his Iraqi companions in Baghdad. 

The people of Iraq also took to the streets in protest against the US aggression on their soil. 

The Rising China Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

China home-built aircraft carrier tests weapons at sea

BEIJING — China’s Defense Ministry said the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s only entirely home-built aircraft carrier is performing sea trials to test weapons and equipment as well as enhance training of the crew.

Ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said Friday the exercises were being conducted as planned, apparently unaffected by the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

The Shandong’s commissioning last year by Chinese President Xi Jinping underscored the country’s rise as a regional naval power at a time of tensions with the U.S. and others over trade, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

It is the second Chinese aircraft carrier to enter service after the Liaoning, which was originally purchased as a hull from Ukraine and entirely refurbished.

Both are based on a Soviet design with a ”ski jump”-style flight deck for takeoffs rather than the flat decks used by much larger U.S. aircraft carriers. It is powered by a conventional, oil-fueled steam turbine power plant, compared to the nuclear fuel used by American carriers and submarines.

China is seen as striving to overtake the U.S. as the dominant naval power in Asia and already boasts the world’s largest navy in numbers of vessels.

Beijing says aircraft carriers are needed to protect its coastline and trade routes, but they are also seen as a means to back its claims to self-governing Taiwan and the South China Sea.

The highly secretive Chinese military was credited with aiding in the response to the epidemic in the epicenter of Wuhan earlier this year, but no information has been released about cases among military personnel or any change in the armed forces’ readiness status.

The U.S. Navy, in contrast, saw a public controversy over the spread of the coronavirus aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and the firing of the ship’s skipper in April.

The Roosevelt was operating in the Western Pacific when the first crew members fell sick in late March. About 1,100 crew members eventually tested positive for the cornonavirus and one died. The ship was sidelined on Guam for nearly two months.

The Russian Horn Tests the Waters (Daniel 7)

How Russia violates security in Azov-Black Sea region

01.06.2020 14:54

An entire session of the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation was devoted to this topic for the first time

The illegal actions of the occupying power in Crimea since 2014 have been the main factor in the continuous deterioration of the security situation in the Azov and Black Sea region, which is characterized by instability and a tendency to worsen. The rise in tension was caused by the Russian Federation’s efforts to legitimize the attempted annexation of the peninsula and to assert its dominance in the maritime areas. The prospect of the possible transformation of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea into “Russian lakes” is a direct consequence of the occupation of Crimea.

This is how Anton Korynevych, Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, started his speech at the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation during the latest online meeting of the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation. The Ukrainian delegation and partner countries constantly raise the issue of the ongoing occupation of Crimea at meetings of both policy-making bodies of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the Permanent Council and the Forum for Security Cooperation. However, for the first time, a separate session of the Forum’s security dialogue was devoted to the situation in the Azov-Black Sea region. This was achieved primarily due to Ukraine’s chairmanship of the Forum, which lasts from April to August.

Ukrinform has already reported how the Russian delegation to the OSCE tried to block the “inappropriate” speeches of the two main speakers at the meeting – independent British expert James Sherr and Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea Anton Korynevych.

Ukrinform proposes examining the main theses of the speech of the speaker from Ukraine at the virtual meeting of the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation, which was closed to journalists.


The challenges and threats to security in the Azov-Black Sea region can be summarized as follows:

• the political sphere is characterized by Russia’s attempt to overcome international isolation after the military invasion to Crimea by developing relations with individual Black Sea countries and influencing them in the form of “soft power,” unlike the direct military aggression against Ukraine and Georgia with the occupation of parts of their territories;

• military direction is characterized by comprehensive militarization of Crimea from pre-school education to deployment of missile systems S-400, increasing and upgrading of the naval composition of the Russian Federation’s Black Sea Fleet which is equipped with cruise missiles “Caliber.” The Russian Federation uses the peninsula as the main logistical base for Russian military operations in Syria, the increase in naval exercises and closure of maritime areas, including the exclusive maritime economic zone of Ukraine around the occupied Crimea. There are also signs of the reproduction of nuclear military facilities on the peninsula;

• the international legal sphere has been marked by the termination of the recognition of the powers of the International Fact-Finding Commission under Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions; promotion by the Kremlin of Crimean collaborators abroad and involving of pro-Russian foreigners into activities on the peninsula; forced naturalization of the Crimean residents by the Russian Federation and deprivation of property rights of Ukrainian citizens and foreigners on the peninsula;

• the economic direction is characterized by the creation of artificial obstacles to free commercial navigation and endanger maritime transport in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov as a result of the illegal construction of the so-called “Crimean Bridge” by the Russian Federation; the involvement of foreign vessels into illegal marine commercial transportation to the Crimean closed ports; increasing gas supplies via the Black Sea which creates an environmental hazard at the Black Sea depths saturated with hydrogen sulfide.


The issue of security in the Azov and Black Sea region is not strictly limited to a military component. No less important for understanding and assessment of the Russian hybrid war against Ukraine are large-scale and serious violations of international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation in the territory of the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

According to reports by a number of international organizations (OHCHR, OSCE ODIHR, Council of Europe), the human rights situation in the occupied Crimea has dramatically deteriorated. Reports confirm the existence of widespread abductions, enforced disappearances, tortures, politically motivated persecution on ethnic and religious grounds, and discrimination. The basic rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, religion and education are being violated, the media are being persecuted and banned, the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar identities are being destroyed, and illegal conscription to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is being conducted.

Many of these acts by the occupying power are classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity and are within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.


Russia’s occupation of Crimea has led to a drastic increase in the number of conventional weapons and military equipment in the Black Sea region exceeding the limitations proscribed by the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty).

The long-range missile weapons on the Peninsula are capable of striking the entire southern part of Ukraine and the territories of neighboring countries. The security of the Black Sea littoral states, of which two are already affected by foreign aggression, are also at stake.

The occupied territories of Ukraine and Georgia had been turned into gray zones inaccessible for verification and inspection activities under the CFE Treaty, Open Skies Treaty, the Vienna Document on Confidence and Security Building Measures and other arms control and non-proliferation regimes. This state of affairs continues to erode military transparency, predictability and trust in the region.


Dominating in the actions of the Russian Federation are exclusively military and political interests of the transformation of captured Crimea into a military base, along with the intentions of the Kremlin to spread expansion beyond the Black Sea.

The militarization of the peninsula was unleashed almost immediately after the illegal occupation of Crimea. It included, in particular, destabilizing transfers of weapons and military equipment, including nuclear capable aircraft and missiles, weapons, ammunition and military personnel to the territory of Ukraine.

The occupation and subsequent militarization of Crimea led to the expansion of the area of use of warships and military aircraft in the Black Sea region and far beyond in the entire Mediterranean basin. Thus, such activity has far-reaching consequences for security not only in the Black Sea area, but in the whole South Europe, as well as in the North Africa and the Middle East.

Multiple illegal military exercises conducted in Crimea and around it reflect aggressive military posture towards Ukraine and other Black Sea littoral states. Such exercises also entail considerable long-term negative environmental consequences in the region.

The Sea of Azov region has been also intensively militarized. The number of warships with their expansion to the whole territory of the Sea has significantly increased. The progressive militarization of the Sea of Azov has implications not only for maritime trade and supplies into Ukraine, but also poses an additional military threat to Ukraine and leads to escalation of security situation in the region.

The illegal construction of the Kerch Strait bridge has substantially contributed to this threat, in particular by facilitating further militarization of Crimea and involvement of additional maritime and other forces to the area under the pretext of protection of the bridge and its infrastructure.


What is more alarming is that the occupying power is taking steps to renuclearize Crimea, in particular by deploying carriers and other means capable of delivering nuclear weapons, as well as by actively developing nuclear infrastructure on the peninsula.

Taking into account the strategic location of Crimea in the region, as well as Ukraine being part of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear-weapon State, deployment of nuclear forces in Crimea constitutes a serious challenge to the existing non-proliferation regime and must meet due response by the international community.


Given the current volatile security situation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov region and its possible far-reaching negative implications, the issue of the militarization of Crimea must be high on the agenda of all international organizations concerned, in particular the UN and the OSCE.


The international community should redouble its concerted actions to restore security and full compliance of international law, OSCE fundamental norms and principles in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov region. These efforts must be based on full respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, refraining from the threat or use of force, non-intervention in internal affairs, fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law.

Ukraine remains one of the main targets of Russian aggression, and Russia will not stop. The more Moscow talks about the desire for peace, the more the Kremlin prepares for war.


The OSCE can play a greater role in monitoring and responding to the degrading security and social and economic situation in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea region.

The SMM has already confirmed the negative impact of the impediment of navigation on the social and economic well-being of Ukrainians residing in areas located on the coastline of the Sea of Azov. The SMM reports confirm that “delays and reduction in ships willing to navigate through the Kerch Strait have led to reduced business, including canceled contracts and an inability to acquire new contracts due to ongoing uncertainties” and increased costs of insurance policies. This monitoring is important and must continue on a daily basis.

The SMM is regularly denied access to the temporarily occupied areas in the southern Donetsk region adjacent to the Sea of Azov. This is an area of established supplies routes of weaponry and manpower to the conflict area.

We believe that more vigilance and reporting by the SMM are needed on activities related to the militarization of the occupied Crimea and adjacent territorial waters, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. The consequences of such destructive policy to the local population, security of Ukraine and environment should be also reflected in its reports. Amid constant infringement of the SMM mandate, the tool of distance monitoring is of particular relevance to this end.

Vasyl Korotkyi, Vienna

Trump Opens Door for Nuclear War

Trump Opens the Door for a Deadlier Arms Race, and the Danger of ‘Limited’ Nuclear War

It is also another material gift to the largest arms manufacturing firms which have benefitted enormously from Trump’s destabilising rhetoric and actions undermining peace and security in numerous world regions. Finally, it is an ideological-electoral move to further assuage his far right and paleo-conservative ideological cronies, and his loyal America First voter bank.

Thus far, the Trump administration has withdrawn the United States from several significant international institutions and agreements that were the hallmark of its post-1945 global strategy. While other postwar administrations withdrew wholly or partially from such organisations, or sometimes refused to join when US sovereignty was considered at stake, no previous administration has philosophically and methodically challenged the very idea of the international.

Under Trump, there has been a veritable bonfire of global alphabet agencies: One of his earliest acts upon taking office in January 2017 was to disown the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Since then, the US has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), UNESCO, the INF treaty, and the JCPOA. Most recently, of course, the US has accused the World Health Organisation (WHO) of China-centrism, promptly defunded it during the worst global pandemic since 1918 and has just announced the US withdrawal from the global body. The message could hardly be more starkly conveyed.

In addition, we might note US threats to other international bodies unless their members comply with demands for greater resourcing or funding. NATO is a prime example. The World Trade Organisation is also in the administration’s cross-hairs.

And the violation of international law – on asylum seekers, refugees, and the assassination of foreign leaders, for example – indicates the other front on which the US is acting unilaterally in a systematic fashion.

None of the above is new in and of itself, of course. What is new is the systematic, concentrated, and determined character of the zero-sum thinking at the heart of the Trump administration. This suggests a basic philosophical shift – not to withdrawal from world affairs, not towards ‘isolationism’. – but in mentality towards the ‘global’.

Also Read: Can Donald Trump Unite the World (Against Himself)?

President Trump is a national Darwinist. In world politics, he represents a survival-of-the-fittest mentality, a reverence for power as the arbiter of disagreements. Hence, US power is being systematically weaponised – the dollar, the international payments system, the “whole-of-society threat” and ‘response’ to China, the US market, trade tariffs to incentivise greater investment inside the US, the threat of withdrawal from international treaties when others exercise independence. And US military predominance is adding a ‘space force’ to its plans, to add to its cyber and other forces.

Another international regime unravelling

In the mid-1950s, Moscow rejected President Eisenhower’s proposal to allow aerial reconnaissance flights over each other’s territory. Towards the end of the Cold War, President George H.W. Bush pushed for negotiations on the proposal between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. After painstaking negotiations, the Open Skies Treaty entered into force on January 1, 2002, with 34 states party to the treaty.

The OST aimed to establish a regime of unarmed observation flights over the territories of state parties to assure they are not preparing for hostile military action. It was a confidence-building measure that worked.

Yet, some say Trump apparently grew uneasy with the OST when a Russian aircraft flew directly over his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in 2017. With due notice of 72 hours, the plane was legally permitted to fly through the restricted airspace under the treaty.

As ever, Trump’s idiosyncratic behaviour is encased within a strategic logic – record levels of US military spending including on new nuclear missile systems and forces can now no longer be observed by Russia. And allegations of Russian violations of the OST – that Russia excludes over-flights in Ossettia, South Abkhazia, and the enclave of Kaliningrad, for strategic reasons – though correct, have been tolerated for over a decade. They could have formed the basis of discussions between the signatory powers.

Since 2002, the US has undertaken three times as many over-flights of Russia than vice versa. In 2019, for example, the US made 18 such flights compared to seven by Russia. Given the sophistication of US satellite technologies, however, it has clearly decided that such over-flights are either unnecessary or that the OST regime needs to be broken and replaced with a comprehensive global treaty that also includes China.

This is another move that undermines, if not dismantles, the existing nuclear arms-control regime, breaking the confidence-building mechanisms that reduced the threat of nuclear exchange. This may well lead to greater misunderstanding between Russia and the US. This happened at the height of the Cold War in 1960, for example, when the erstwhile Soviet Union shot down an American U-2 spy plane on a reconnaissance mission over its territory.

However, the OST move is also ‘red meat’ to Trump’s far right ideological allies, the GOP leadership, and to his political base. In an election year, “Trump-stands-up-to-Russia” and moves to pressure China takes the heat out of the impeachment decision and allegations that he’s been ‘soft’ on Russia, too cosy with Putin, and with Xi Jinping.

Nuclear agreements melting down, an eye on China?

In May 2018, Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA), despite Iran’s compliance with its protocols and conditions, including the most intrusive inspection regime administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Again, the other major signatories, including Germany, France, China, and Russia, objected to US withdrawal but to no avail.

In August last year, the Trump administration completed the process of withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, leaving the nuclear arms control regime in the lurch. One aim is to extend the agreement to include China’s cruise missiles.

It is now pretty clear that President Trump will seek an exit from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the only remaining agreement to ensure that the United States and Russia limit their deployed nuclear missiles to 1,550 each. This pact is due to expire in February 2021. It could hardly be clearer that the aim is to seek a new trilateral pact that includes China. The basic idea is to bring Beijing’s nuclear arsenal under control and to curtail any desires to attain nuclear parity with Washington. But Beijing is not interested; its nuclear arsenal (numbering in the hundreds) is tiny in comparison with the US and Russia (numbering in the thousands).

But such a move would be in line with the longer-term strategic aim of simultaneously containing, engaging and now, rolling back, China’s great power capabilities and ambitions, real, imagined, or potential, to knock the US from its sole superpower position.

The idea of a winnable nuclear war remains

But there is one other factor that should be borne in mind. The idea of a winnable nuclear war – however horrific it may sound – has never been fully excised from US strategic thinking. Ever since the dropping of two atomic bombs over Japan in 1945, and the ever-present talk of using tactical or low yield nuclear bombs over North Korea in 1950-53, the very idea of containable, limited nuclear war remains embedded. A so-called low yield nuclear bomb is the equivalent of the size that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The US has around 1000 low yield bombs in its stockpile – about 150 of them deployed in Europe. President Trump has indicated a desire to attach low yield nuclear warheads to submarine-launched ballistic missiles, thus multiplying America’s nuclear arsenal.

While such weapons have been available for decades, they have never been used.

Having low or high yield nuclear weapons is either a reflection of ‘mad man theory’ – a rational irrationality – or it’s for real: and that’s the point. It keeps everyone guessing. As Charles Kupperman, Trump’s former  deputy national security adviser, argues: “a nuclear war is winnable in the classical sense if one side emerged the stronger, even if there were tens of millions of casualties.”

American paleo-conservatives want to integrate the nuclear with non-nuclear military options to legitimise the use of strategic nuclear weapons in a “limited” way.  Donald Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released in early 2018, brought low-yield nuclear weapons back into the nuclear debate. It stated that the US was not averse to resorting to the use of nuclear arms in response to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” against it. The NPR approved the production of a low-yield nuclear warhead, increasing nuclear tensions. Trump favours an aggressive nuclear policy and is willing to rock the boat moored to mutually-assured destruction (MAD).

More recently, it is rumoured that the US is considering conducting nuclear tests again for the first time in decades. Administration sources suggest, without evidence, that Russia and China are already conducting low yield nuclear tests, to justify their possible shift of position. It is also suggested that the threat of new nuclear testing, which would violate the de facto compliance by all nuclear powers (except North Korea) of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty of 1996, would give the US leverage to force Russia and China to trilateral talks to hash out a new agreement.

For Trump, the moves are driven by personal preference – he gets more headlines; a geopolitical great game; material gain to arms firm donors to his re-election campaign; a sop to the Republican leadership; encouragement to his far right nationalist unilateralists; and gives his voters something to shout about. And he can call Joe Biden “soft on China” – “Beijing Biden”.

It’s win-win politics, for him. The only problem is that the fate of the world then rests on unilateral American decision-making.

Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City, University of London, a visiting professor at LSE IDEAS (the LSE’s foreign policy think tank), and visiting fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford.

Dr Atul Bhardwaj is an honorary research fellow in the department of international politics at City, University of London. He is the author of  India-America Relations (1942-62): Rooted in the Liberal International Order (Routledge, 2018)

The Iranian Horn Faces More Economic Pressure

70 Percent Drop in Iran’s Exports to China – Economy


Published: Sunday, 31 May 2020

According to the Chinese Customs Report on trade with the Iranian regime, which was published on 25 May, there has been a significant decrease in the country’s imports from the Iranian regime during the first four months of the year.

During this period, the regime’s oil exports to China have fallen. Last month, Iran’s non-oil exports to China fell 24 percent.

A comparison of statistics for the first four months of this year with the same period in 2018 shows that China’s imports from Iran have fallen by more than 70 percent and its exports have fallen by more than 48 percent.

Statistics show that the total decline in oil and non-oil exports of the regime to China have fallen from over $6 billion in the first four months of last year to $2.34 billion in the same period this year.

At the same time, the import of Iran from China has increased by more than 3% during the mentioned period and has reached $2.926 billion. In the last two years, China’s trade with the Iranian regime has fallen sharply.

China’s statistics show that Iran’s non-oil exports to China reached $413 million in April, compared to April last year, with a decrease of about a quarter.

Details of monthly statistics show that China received 127,000 barrels of oil per day from the Iranian regime in April, twice as much as the previous month. But due to a sharp drop in oil prices, last month compared to March, the value of oil delivered from Iran has fallen by less than 4 percent.

In an interview with the state-run ILNA news agency on 25 May, Bijan Zanganeh, Minister of Petroleum, said about the dire economic situation and the impact of sanctions on the regime’s economy:

“In the current difficult situation, we must all take a step towards resolving the problems of the people and developing the country through interaction and jihadist spirit; Now is not the time to deal with marginal issues.”

Zanganeh added: “No one can predict oil prices in the current situation because oil prices are subject to supply and demand. The reality is that the demand side is very vague because it’s not clear when the global economy will be active.”

He also spoke about the situation of Iranian gas exports to Turkey: “Iran’s gas pipeline to Turkey, which was damaged by an explosion earlier this year, has not been repaired; However, it did not take more than a few days to repair the line. Iran said it was ready to help repair the gas pipelines, but the offer was not welcomed by the other side.

“The current situation in the country is much more difficult than during the imposed eight-year war. The difference is that the dead and wounded are not very tangible.”