The Sixth Seal: More Than Just Manhattan (Revelation 6:12)

New York, NY – In a Quake, Brooklyn Would Shake More Than Manhattan
By Brooklyn Eagle
New York, NY – The last big earthquake in the New York City area, centered in New York Harbor just south of Rockaway, took place in 1884 and registered 5.2 on the Richter Scale.Another earthquake of this size can be expected and could be quite damaging, says Dr. Won-Young Kim, senior research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.
And Brooklyn, resting on sediment, would shake more than Manhattan, built on solid rock. “There would be more shaking and more damage,” Dr. Kim told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday.
If an earthquake of a similar magnitude were to happen today near Brooklyn, “Many chimneys would topple. Poorly maintained buildings would fall down – some buildings are falling down now even without any shaking. People would not be hit by collapsing buildings, but they would be hit by falling debris. We need to get some of these buildings fixed,” he said.
But a 5.2 is “not comparable to Haiti,” he said. “That was huge.” Haiti’s devastating earthquake measured 7.0.
Brooklyn has a different environment than Haiti, and that makes all the difference, he said. Haiti is situated near tectonic plate.
“The Caribbean plate is moving to the east, while the North American plate is moving towards the west. They move about 20 mm – slightly less than an inch – every year.” The plates are sliding past each other, and the movement is not smooth, leading to jolts, he said.
While we don’t have the opportunity for a large jolt in Brooklyn, we do have small, frequent quakes of a magnitude of 2 or 3 on the Richter Scale. In 2001 alone the city experienced two quakes: one in January, measuring 2.4, and one in October, measuring 2.6. The October quake, occurring soon after Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “caused a lot of panic,” Dr. Kim said.
“People ask me, ‘Should I get earthquake insurance?’ I tell them no, earthquake insurance is expensive. Instead, use that money to fix chimneys and other things. Rather than panicky preparations, use common sense to make things better.”
Secure bookcases to the wall and make sure hanging furniture does not fall down, Dr. Kim said. “If you have antique porcelains or dishes, make sure they’re safely stored. In California, everything is anchored to the ground.”
While a small earthquake in Brooklyn may cause panic, “In California, a quake of magnitude 2 is called a micro-quake,” he added.

The mystery of the Chinese nuclear horn: Daniel 7

Myths or Moving Targets? Continuity and Change in China’s Nuclear Forces

The nuclear arsenal of the People’s Republic of China and its plans to use it are in the middle of an unprecedented shift. Just over a decade ago, China’s long-range nuclear force structure consisted of a handful of inaccurate, silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that were kept at low readiness with nuclear warheads stored separately. Chinese posture was demonstrably one of retaliation, with a clearly articulated policy of “no-first-use” of nuclear weapons, while force readiness and command and control of those forces were both poorly suited for anything else.

In 2020, China’s nuclear posture and force structure has changed dramatically. Its arsenal has grown and diversified even as readiness and command and control have improved. By 2030, the country’s force structure and posture will be similar to America’s and Russia’s in many ways (albeit probably not at parity). Yet, in a recent article in these virtual pages, David Logan dismisses claims that China is reconsidering the fundamental role of nuclear weapons in its strategy as “dangerous myths.” He argues that China’s policy of no-first-use “is still intact” and dismisses as fiction the claim “that China has developed and deployed an array of nuclear war-fighting capabilities, including tactical nuclear weapons.”

Become a Member

While the ultimate destination of China’s nuclear posture remains uncertain, the trajectory is clear. Changes to China’s nuclear war-fighting capabilities and policies are not myths. Instead, they are moving targets, evolving as Chinese leaders reflect on China’s role in the world and the requirements that role places on the country’s nuclear arsenal.

In this article, I review what is publicly known about these moving targets. First, it briefly traces the post-Cold War trajectory of China’s nuclear posture. Second, it addresses the role of the DF-26 intermediate range missile in Chinese posture for “tactical” nuclear weapons. Third, it reviews China’s no-first-use policy. Fourth, it presents evidence on the last time an authoritarian state declared a policy of no-first use — the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It concludes with observations on the possible consequences of change in Chinese nuclear posture for U.S. strategy and nuclear posture.

The Long March of China’s Nuclear Posture, 1990 to 2020

As Avery Goldstein has argued, China’s grand strategy has not fundamentally changed since the 1990s, but it has, under Xi Jinping, become bolder. China’s nuclear posture has followed this broader evolution, seeking to provide Chinese leaders with a nuclear arsenal to underpin the country’s global ambitions. Xi has noted this close connection, calling China’s missiles the “core of strategic deterrence, a strategic buttress to the country’s position as a major power and a cornerstone on which to build national security.” Xi has also called for “a great rise in strategic capabilities.”

China’s nuclear posture in 2020 is a product of decades-long planning and execution, as with most things in modern China. In 1989, Maj. Gen. Yang Huan, a former deputy commander of Chinese missile forces (then known as the Second Artillery Corps, now the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force), observed:

The research and development of our first generation of strategic nuclear weapons were a great success, but we must understand that there is still a great distance between the world’s advanced level of technology and our own. … Our Party Central Committee and the Central Military Committee have, according to scientific analysis of the international situation and in consideration of the actual conditions of our country, made decisions to change the strategic thinking that guides our military development. Under the current situation, the development of our strategic nuclear weapons should focus on long-term goals. We should develop advanced weapons that suit our national defense strategy, and at the same time we should improve current weapons to raise the quality and the comprehensive fighting capability. … We should work hard on the survival, fast reaction, accuracy, and break-through and high-command technologies for weapons systems.

Over the past three decades, China’s nuclear posture has responded to Yang’s admonition and the analysis of the Central Military Committee. In terms of survival, the deployment of mobile ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles has made a vast (though perhaps still imperfect) difference, substantially increasing its assessed survivable forces. In terms of fast reaction, the “nuclear and conventional PLARF [People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force] brigades conduct ‘combat readiness duty’ and ‘high alert duty’ which apparently includes assigning a missile battalion to be ready to launch, and rotating to standby positions as much as monthly for unspecified periods of time.” This means, contrary to Logan’s assertion that “China’s nuclear warheads are reportedly not mated to delivery vehicles,” some portion, possibly a substantial portion, of Chinese nuclear forces may have warheads that are mated routinely.

As for accuracy, according to the U.S. Defense Department, as of 2017, “China continues to have the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world.” This program has led to substantial increases in accuracy across its missile force. The currently deployed silo-based DF-5B ICBM is reported to have substantially greater accuracy than its predecessor, the DF-5A, and carries multiple warheads. The next version, the DF-5C, is undergoing testing and will likely mark a further advance in accuracy. Medium- and intermediate-range missiles, such as the DF-21 and DF-26, are even more accurate.

Hot-Swapping for Precision Theater Nuclear Strike

The DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile underscores the growing importance of regional strike options in China’s nuclear posture. According to the Defense Department, in 2020, China:

is expanding its inventory of the multi-role DF-26, a mobile, ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile system capable of rapidly swapping conventional and nuclear warheads. … and is capable of conducting precision strikes in the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea from mainland China.

Logan notes the existence of the DF-26, but does not explore its implications. According to Chinese media, the DF-26 reentry vehicle has a biconic shape with four flight control surfaces, allegedly allowing it to maneuver in flight toward a target. If true, this would support the contention that it is capable of striking moving targets (such as an aircraft carrier) or of very high accuracy against fixed targets. Further, as Joshua Pollack has described based on open sources, the DF-26’s capability for “rapidly swapping conventional and nuclear warheads” appears to mean “hot-swapping” warheads in the field.

Does this make the DF-26 a “tactical nuclear weapon” per Logan’s description? While the yield of the DF-26’s nuclear warhead is unknown, the Department of Defense has noted it “is China’s first nuclear-capable missile system that can conduct precision strikes, and therefore, is the most likely weapon system to field a lower-yield warhead in the near-term.” Yet, regardless of its yield, the DF-26 nuclear variant appears to meet Logan’s own definition of “tactical,” as it is clearly “intended for use against military targets on the battlefield or other high-value theater targets.” This was certainly the case for the analogous U.S. Pershing II, an intermediate-range mobile ballistic missile with a maneuvering reentry vehicle deployed in Europe in the 1980s. Pershing II was eliminated under the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but China was never bound by that treaty and thus has been free to develop such a system.

The DF-26 thus gives China a highly accurate theater-range system that is not tied to either the conventional or nuclear role. This provides great operational flexibility — no unit is stuck playing one role or the other in times of crisis or conflict. The cost of this flexibility, as observers have noted, is increased pre-launch ambiguity and “entanglement” of conventional and nuclear forces. It remains to be seen whether the DF-26 will remain a unique capability in China’s forces or if it is just the first of an array of accurate, easily reconfigured, dual-capable systems. Regardless, it is not a myth.

No-First-Use Revisited?

The DF-26 highlights potential shifts in China’s no-first-use policy. Yet, Logan offers three reasons why China’s policy remains unchanged. The first, the lack of warhead mating in peacetime, no longer seems to be the case for some portion of Chinese forces, as described above. Moreover, warheads would presumably be mated in crisis or conflict, at which point first use would be eminently possible. The second reason Logan gives is that China’s nuclear forces conduct “exercises under conditions of nuclear attack, indicating that China’s nuclear missile forces plan to operate after an adversary’s nuclear strike.” This is important for ensuring retaliation, but has nothing to do with China’s policy of no-first-use. Beijing is clearly interested in assured retaliation. It may also believe it could have to shoot first in a hypothetical future crisis.

Assuring retaliation and willingness to use nuclear weapons first are not mutually exclusive. For example, according to press reports, the scenario for Russia’s 2019 annual nuclear forces readiness exercise was “a first strike by the strategic nuclear forces of an adversary (i.e. the United States and other nuclear-armed NATO powers) against Russia, which in response will launch retaliatory strikes.” Yet, despite preparing in exercises for retaliation, Russia does not have a no-first-use policy, as explicitly reiterated in a 2020 decree.

In fact, the Russian decree highlights potential reasons why China might reconsider its no-first-use policy. The decree notes four conditions under which Russian leaders would consider nuclear use. The first is reliable warning of a ballistic missile attack — in other words a “launch-on-warning” posture. In 2020, the Department of Defense publicly noted the possibility China is also moving to a launch-on-warning posture:

Increasing evidence emerged in 2019 indicates that China seeks to keep at least a portion of its force on a LOW [launch-on-warning] posture. This includes further investment in silo-based forces—while building more survivable mobile platforms—that China has previously assessed as having low survivability in the absence of a force-wide LOW posture and new developments in its early warning capabilities.

Russia’s decree also cites action directed at critical government or military facilities that would disrupt or neutralize the country’s nuclear retaliatory capability as possible grounds for nuclear use. This formulation is at least superficially similar to America’s declaratory policy in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review:

The United States would only consider the employment of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners. Extreme circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks. Significant non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to … attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.

It is entirely plausible that China has similar concerns about a non-nuclear attack on its nuclear command and control, and thus might, like Russia and the United States, potentially consider a nuclear response to such an attack. It is the possibility for such exceptions that the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Adm. Charles Richard, likely had in mind when he testified, “I think I could drive a truck through that no first use policy.”

Yet, Logan takes comfort in the third reason he gives — that a variety of Chinese statements and texts indicate continued adherence to no-first-use. He places particular emphasis on the statement in the Department of Defense’s 2019 annual report on China that “[t]here has been no indication that national leaders are willing to attach such nuances and caveats to China’s existing NFU [no-first-use] policy.” Yet, the 2020 version of the report words the same statement differently: “There has been no indication that national leaders are willing to attach such nuances and caveats publicly to China’s existing NFU policy as affirmed by recent statements by the PRC [People’s Republic of China] Foreign Ministry” (emphasis added). The caveat “publicly” is important. It suggests that change is possible in the policy absent a change in China’s declaratory policy. This would not mark the first time that an authoritarian regime’s nuclear posture and declaratory policy diverged.

A Cardboard Castle? Soviet Nuclear Posture and Declaratory Policy, 1982 to 1992

The United States has encountered disconnects between a country’s nuclear posture and its declaratory policy before. When evaluating China’s contemporary no-first-use policy, it is useful to review the Cold War history of Soviet no-first-use policy. This history makes it clear that, in evaluating the nuclear policy of authoritarian regimes, nuclear posture is a better guide than declaratory policy.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev first mentioned the possibility of a Soviet no-first-use pledge in a speech in the city of Tula in 1977. But the offer was conditioned on NATO also making such a pledge. On June 16, 1982, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko read a message from Brezhnev to the United Nations General Assembly: “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics assumes an obligation not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. This obligation shall become effective immediately, at the moment it is made public from the rostrum of the U.N. General Assembly.” The announcement of unilateral Soviet no-first-use was widely hailed by those present, and at least some outside observers.

The United States and its allies, in contrast, were deeply skeptical. Throughout the remainder of the 1980s, U.S. intelligence assessments noted that Soviet no-first-use pledges were, at best, highly conditional. A now-declassified 1983 assessment on Soviet theater nuclear planning flatly stated, “Classified writings and exercises clearly show that the Soviets would attempt to preempt NATO’s use of nuclear weapons to preclude a large strike on their forces.” A declassified assessment from 1985 was even blunter:

All Warsaw Pact planning, therefore, proceeds on the basis that nuclear operations could begin at any time. Once the Pact determined that NATO had obtained authorization for widespread use of nuclear weapons, it would attempt to preempt such use. The Soviets consider that the initial massed use of nuclear weapons would have a decisive impact on a NATO-Pact war.

While there was no doubt considerable uncertainty in the minds of Soviet nuclear planners as to how successful they would be in preemption, they had both human and signals intelligence sources that could provide them warning to make such preemption plausible. A former deputy chief of the Soviet General Staff claimed after the Cold War:

If we detected preparation by NATO to launch nuclear strikes, and we believed we would know when this was happening, we would want to strike NATO’s launch and control systems with nuclear strikes of our own. … We listened to the hourly circuit verification signal of your nuclear release communications systems and we believed we would recognize a release order.

However, Western intelligence had also been successful in gaining access to a variety of sources, which gave them high confidence in the assessments above. These sources included Ryszard Kuklinski, a Polish officer who was horrified at what he had learned about Warsaw Pact nuclear plans in the early 1970s. Prior to his escape from Poland to the West at the end of 1981 (a mere six months before Gromyko’s announcement at the United Nations), Kuklinski provided, among other things, Soviet plans for attacks on NATO. Post-Cold War revelations have publicly confirmed what Kuklinski provided and U.S. intelligence assessed — that the Soviets had plans to use nuclear weapons first and, under some circumstances, massively.

This does not mean, as some have claimed, that Brezhnev’s pledge was a sham (or “obvious Commie trick). The Soviet political leadership tightly controlled decisions about nuclear use and the fact that the military was prepared for first use did not mean Brezhnev would have authorized it. Yet, regardless of what he may have believed or been willing to do, Brezhnev died less than a year and half after Gromyko’s announcement. Yuri Andropov, who left his position as head of the KGB to succeed Brezhnev, was notably concerned with a U.S. attack and efforts to preempt it. Whatever Andropov and his successors believed, they made no change in the public pledge. Why would they, given the praise it had generated? They could always follow the military’s preemptive course in a conflict and, since the United States knew this, the Soviets still gained most of the deterrent benefit of potential first use. Only after the Soviet Union dissolved did Russian leaders publicly repudiate the policy.

China today is rather obviously not the Soviet Union of the 1980s. Yet, the tale of Soviet no-first-use is, nonetheless, instructive. Opaque, centralized authoritarian regimes can change policy essentially at will in peacetime, a crisis, or a conflict and with no public indication. Nuclear posture thus becomes the only observable indicator of merit for policy regarding nuclear first use. As China’s nuclear posture increasingly resembles that of Russia, it is hardly a “myth” that there may be exceptions to no-first-use, either now or in the future,  Further, these exceptions will likely never be made public by China — at least until a crisis or conflict erupts.

Implications for U.S. Strategy and Nuclear Posture

There are four principal implications of China’s evolving posture for U.S. strategy and nuclear posture. The first is the importance of China’s participation in strategic dialogue on nuclear issues, including joining arms control negotiations with Russia and the United States. Oriana Skylar Mastro has persuasively argued that China’s lack of transparency on military issues stems from concerns about its vulnerability as a rising power. While perhaps understandable, the evolution of its nuclear posture means China is qualitatively different than it was even a decade ago. Lack of transparency in the future will make China and the world less, rather than more, secure, as it increases the risk of misperception and miscalculation. It has been more than 50 years since China was involved in a major nuclear crisis. It is in the interests of all three countries to have a frank dialogue on how to avoid and manage future crises.

The second is the long shadow nuclear weapons cast over great-power competition. Any great-power competition in the 21st century is inevitably a nuclear competition and should be analyzed as such. U.S. nuclear posture is thus not merely a “backstop” to overall U.S. strategy. It is integral to it. One of the keys to ending the Cold War was the deliberate shaping of the nuclear competition between the Soviet Union and the United States in a way that favored the latter. As Brendan Rittenhouse Green has described, this shaping was accomplished through a variety of means, including intelligence operations, arms control, and U.S. nuclear posture.

The third implication is that the nuclear shadow extends from competition into conflict. China’s nuclear posture now makes it impossible to envision a great-power conflict that is not decisively influenced by nuclear weapons. Either one side or the other in the conflict will use nuclear weapons first, as was anticipated in a potential NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict, or the possibility of such escalation will dramatically affect the conduct and tempo of conventional operations in order to avoid escalation. Even limited nuclear first use would have a decisive effect by changing the stakes of the conflict, leading either to further escalation or to war termination. As the United States continues to implement its 2018 National Defense Strategy, including developing a modern joint warfighting concept, it must ensure it accounts fully for this long nuclear shadow.

Fourth, and finally, China’s changing posture confirms the importance of hedging against an uncertain future, one of the key roles for U.S. nuclear weapons identified in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. In just 10 years, China’s nuclear posture has changed almost beyond recognition. U.S. strategy must account for and hedge against the possibility of further rapid change. As the Nuclear Posture Review describes, nuclear weapons “provide a necessary, unique, and currently irreplaceable contribution” to hedging and should remain the Department of Defense’s number one priority.

Become a Member

Austin Long is vice deputy director for strategic stability in the Joint Staff J5 (strategy, plans, and policy). The views expressed here are his and do not represent the views or policy of the Joint Staff, the Department of Defense, or any other entity.

US troop pullouts in Mideast will leave a vacuum for Iran: Daniel 8:4

US troop pullouts in Mideast raise fears of Iranian attacks

FILE – In this March 27, 2020 file photo, U.S. soldiers stand guard during the hand over ceremony of Qayyarah Airfield, Iraqi Security Forces, in the south of Mosul, Iraq. In a quest to root out Islamic State group hideouts over the summer, Iraqi forces on the ground cleared nearly 90 villages across a notoriously unruly northern province. But the much-touted operation still relied heavily on U.S. intelligence, coalition flights and planning assistance. (Ali Abdul Hassan, File/Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — As the Pentagon pulls troops out of the Middle East in the coming weeks, under orders from President Donald Trump, U.S. military leaders are working to find other ways to deter potential attacks by Iran and its proxies, and to counter arguments that America is abandoning the region.

A senior U.S. military official with knowledge of the region said Monday that Iran may try to take advantage of America’s troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the planned departure of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz from the Arabian Gulf.

The official said as a result military leaders have determined that based on the security situation in the region, the Nimitz must remain there now and “for some time to come.” In addition, the official said an additional fighter jet squadron may also be sent to the region, if needed.

The Nimitz left the Gulf region and was set to begin heading home. But the ship was ordered to return last week to provide additional security while the troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan continue. A U.S. defense official said at the time that the decision would ensure that American troops could deter any adversary from taking action against U.S. forces. No timeline was given, but the U.S. military official speaking Monday made it clear that the change is open-ended, and it’s not clear when the ship’s crew will return home.

The potential Iranian threat has become an increasing concern in recent weeks following the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran has blamed the death on Israel, which has been suspected in previous killings of Iranian nuclear scientists. U.S. officials are also worried about a possible Iranian retaliatory strike on the first anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassim Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia leaders near Baghdad’s airport in early January.

The military official said the U.S. is aware of Iranian attack planning and threats, and that some are more mature, while others are aspirational. A key worry, he said, is that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq may be willing to act even without the blessings or direction of Tehran.

The presence of the Nimitz, said the official, may cause Iran or the militias to rethink a possible attack.

The Pentagon is mindful of the impact of the extended deployment on the Nimitz sailors and on the Navy’s plan for the ship’s maintenance, said the military official, who spoke to a small number of reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing troop deliberations.

The Pentagon announced last month that the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, asserting that the decision fulfills Trump’s pledge to bring forces home from America’s long wars. Under the accelerated pullout, the U.S. will cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500.

Postponing the return of the Nimitz, however, will keep between 5,000-7,000 sailors and Marines in the Middle East, likely into next year. Other ships in the Nimitz strike group may remain with the carrier.

The military official said that the Pentagon will look at other ways to make up for the loss of the Nimitz when the carrier does leave the region.

Trump’s troop withdrawal decision got a cool reception from Republican lawmakers and allies, who warned of the dangers of reducing forces before security conditions are right. And it came despite arguments from senior military officials who favor a slower pullout to preserve hard-fought gains.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, top U.S. commander for the Middle East, has long argued for a consistent aircraft carrier presence in the Gulf region to deter Iran.

Visiting the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the North Arabian Sea in February, McKenzie told the sailors: “You’re here because we don’t want a war with Iran and nothing makes a potential adversary think twice about war than the presence of an aircraft carrier and the strike group that comes with it.”

Despite widespread demands for U.S. Navy ships in other parts of the world, McKenzie requested and received a much larger than usual naval presence in the Middle East region throughout the early part of this year. But over time, the numbers have declined, in recognition of the Pentagon’s effort to put more emphasis on China and the Indo-Pacific.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Obama’s Non-Nuclear Fallacy

Obama’s Non-Nuclear Memoir

Barack Obama, A Promised Land (New York: Crown, 2020)

“Whatever you do won’t be enough. … Try anyway.”

— President Barack Obama

It was December 2009 and the still-new president was in his hotel room in Oslo getting dressed in the tuxedo he would wear for the ceremony to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. An aide knocked on the door and urged him to look out the window. Pulling back the shades, Barack Obama saw several thousand people in the narrow street below holding lit candles over their heads to celebrate him. “[O]n some level,” he notes in his excellent new 700-page memoir, “the crowds below were cheering an illusion … The idea that I, or any one person, could bring order to [this chaotic world] seemed laughable.” (p. 446)

Obama famously had questioned how he deserved this prize so early in his presidency. One answer was the “Prague speech” he had given that April, stating “clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Now, 11 years later, Obama devotes more words in his memoir to describing the scene on the streets through which his motorcade lumbered en route to the speech site than he does to the content of the speech. (p. 348)

The reticence clearly is not an accident. Throughout the book he barely mentions and never explores in depth what had been hailed earlier as the Prague Agenda.

For example, in an insightful 12-page discussion of Russian politics and U.S. efforts to “reset” relations with Moscow, Obama writes merely that his initial meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev produced “an agreed-upon framework for the new strategic arms treaty, which would reduce each side’s allowable nuclear warheads and delivery systems by up to one-third.” (p. 462)

Nowhere in the text does he mention the considerable labor that he personally devoted to shaping his administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which was completed in 2010. His signature nuclear policy innovation, a “forty-seven-nation nuclear security summit” to strengthen international efforts to keep nuclear materials away from terrorists, gets no more mention than these four hyphenated words. North Korea receives two glancing comments.

Why does Obama — who was deeply engaged in nuclear policy issues throughout his presidency — devote so little to the topic in his memoir? What does this omission reveal about the politics of nuclear weapons in the United States? And finally, what should those working to reduce nuclear risks around the world learn from Obama’s attempts to grapple with his own legacy on nuclear matters?

There are many ways to interpret Obama’s nuclear reticence. He paid more personal attention to nuclear policy than any president since Ronald Reagan, and he was more knowledgeable about details than any predecessor, except perhaps Jimmy Carter. Disappointment over the results are surely a factor. Although this memoir covers only the first 18 months of his presidency, it is informed by knowledge of what happened later, including the near collapse of arms control with Russia, renewed qualitative arms racing with Russia and China, North Korea’s burgeoning arsenal, and the impossibility of winning Republican support for a nuclear deal with Iran.

But Obama faced lots of other disappointments that he discusses at length. He writes 30 pages on climate change policy and his diplomatic intervention to save the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009. You can imagine him saying of New START nuclear policy what he writes wryly about the Copenhagen effort:

All that for an interim agreement that — even if it worked entirely as planned — would be at best a preliminary, halting step toward solving a possible planetary tragedy, a pail of water thrown on a raging fire. I realized that for all the power inherent in the seat I now occupied, there would always be a chasm between what I knew should be done to achieve a better world and what in a day, week, or year I found myself actually able to accomplish. (p. 516)

An earlier passage may partially answer why nuclear issues barely register in the book. In recounting the 2009 press conference in Moscow with Medvedev where Obama had described the framework for what became the New START Treaty, Obama wryly (as usual) notes that Robert Gibbs, his press secretary, “was more excited by Russia’s agreement to lift restrictions on certain U.S. livestock exports, a change worth more than $1 billion to American farmers and ranchers.” This, Gibbs said, was “[s]omething folks back home actually care about.” (p. 462) Later, Obama bemoans the absence of a strong domestic constituency “clamoring” for the treaty’s ratification by the Senate, which left him no choice but to make “a devil’s bargain” with Republican leaders to boost funding to modernize the nuclear weapons infrastructure. (p. 608)

To sell books or political candidates today, the less said about nuclear policy the better. The public and media don’t follow the details. They can’t reasonably assess the pros and cons of policy options. Until there is a nuclear war — or a real scare that one is imminent — busy people are unlikely to demand big changes.

One could say that the public doesn’t care or follow what’s going on in Afghanistan, either, yet Obama writes much more about it. The difference is that Afghanistan was a war and topic of necessity — as Obama insisted in the 2008 campaign. He had to deal with it. Nuclear policy is an issue of choice so long as deterrence seems to be working. When the political payoff is negligible, it is better to turn to other things. People do get alarmed by Iranian or North Korean proliferation. The president should try to address those challenges. But neither the public nor Congress and the defense establishment see how stopping proliferation requires fidelity to nuclear disarmament, as Obama argued.

Public inattention means that Republican leaders could have relatively free hands to pursue arms control and disarmament measures if they wanted to. Their supporters will not protest, and Democrats by and large will go along. Democratic leaders face a much tougher challenge. The more public their arms control-related initiatives, the more that nativist Republican forces will counter them with narratives of weakness, naivete, and indulgence of evil Iranian Ayatollahs, Chinese Communists, or Russian cheaters. Those narratives win in cable news and internet combat in swing states and districts. To counter them and buy the necessary Republican votes, Democrats are compelled to fund new or different military capabilities that signify strength and revenue to defense contractors and host states. This says more about the public and the political-psychology of enmity than it does about Democrats, but the reader imagines that the Obama of the Prague speech underestimated the challenge.

For Democrats, the most plausible way around the mass constituency problem is to appoint motivated experts to key administration positions and to team them with military leaders who share the view that nuclear deterrence can be maintained between the United States and Russia and China with much leaner arsenals. Obama had a few such officials (e.g., Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller) but neither Secretary of Defense Robert Gates nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared his nuclear policy predilections or exerted themselves against domestic and international resistance to them.

The political logic of selecting and working with military leaders who share a president’s view on the relative importance of conventional versus nuclear forces for securing the United States and allies is affirmed, indirectly, in another line from Gibbs. Talking about what became the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Obama wonders if the public would understand the arcane rule changes involved. Gibbs assures him, “They don’t need to understand it. … If the banks hate it, they’ll figure it must be a good thing.” (p. 553) In nuclear policy, the equivalent line might be, “If the military hates it, the public will figure it’s a bad thing.” In general, Obama stays shy of arguing with the military. Indeed, the memoir’s discussions of Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and Adm. Mike Mullen are sugarcoated compared to Bob Woodward’s account of White House-military relations in Obama’s Wars.

According to the Constitution, civilians should direct the military, of course. But the public trusts military leaders more when it comes to national security, especially compared to Democrats. To shift national nuclear policies in the current environment, the president needs to win 60 votes in the Senate to advance legislation — 67 to ratify treaties. This requires persuading senators from swing states to support the agenda. If the military joins opponents against a Democratic president, that president and his or her policies will lose. (This logic may, in part, be reflected in President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as secretary of defense. Due to the public’s trust in the armed forces, Austin’s military experience is likely to be a political asset. His impact on potential nuclear policy is unclear. Austin comes from the Army, a service that is less invested in the nuclear enterprise, as they and the Marines don’t have any nuclear weapons. As former commander of U.S. Central Command, he will have the best possible credibility for arguing in favor of returning to the Iran nuclear deal — credibility that Biden will need in front of the Congress and the public.)

To win military leaders’ support for new nuclear policies, or at least their politically useful nonresistance, experts and civilian officials will need to offer the military better alternatives for deterring or defeating threats. The best such alternatives would be dialing down Russian and Chinese coercion of their neighbors, and negotiating verifiable reductions of Russian nuclear forces and limitations on China’s military buildup. The United States, of course, will have to provide reciprocal reassurance to Moscow and Beijing, which is easier said than done. The other, not mutually exclusive, need is to improve U.S. and allied non-nuclear capabilities to prevent Russia or China from taking small bits of disputed territory and then leaving Washington with the dreadful choice of capitulation or major conflict that could escalate — purposefully or inadvertently — to nuclear war. To allay concerns of arms racing, Washington should make clear to Moscow and Beijing that it prefers to negotiate confidence-building and arms control mechanisms with them if they want to.

Rather than the audacious hope of Senator Obama, President Obama’s experience suggests that people seeking the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons need an attitude more like Albert Camus’ Sisyphus, whom “we must imagine happy” as he repeatedly pushes the rock up the hill. This is the Obama that comes through the superb memoir: patient, ironic, steadily trying, and grinning even as he knows that whatever we can accomplish may not be enough.

Become a Member

George Perkovich is the Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Chair and vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Iranian Horn Nukes up exponentially more: Daniel 8:4

Iran vows to build two new nuclear facilities, alarming observers

By Richard StoneDec. 8, 2020 , 3:00 PM

Raising a new proliferation concern, an Iranian law passed last week calls for a second heavy water nuclear reactor like the original design of one in Arak (shown here).

ISNA/Hamid Foroutan/AP

Iran’s possible responses to the assassination of a prominent nuclear scientist go well beyond boosting uranium enrichment and expelling weapons inspectors, two provisions of a law passed by Iran’s parliament that alarmed nonproliferation experts last week. Equally worrisome are new facilities the law requires, which could enable Iran to make plutonium and fashion uranium into bomb components.

The legislation had been in the works for months, but parliament fast-tracked it after the 27 November killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, director of a Revolutionary Guard research unit who had previously led a secret nuclear weapons program shuttered in 2003, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran’s powerful Guardian Council last week approved the law. The potential limits on IAEA monitoring are of particular concern, says a European diplomat involved in negotiations with Iran. “IAEA would go blind in many areas of Iran’s nuclear establishment.”

Posing a fresh proliferation risk are the new facilities the bill mandates: a lab for working with uranium in metal form—a vital skill if Iran were to make nuclear weapons—and a heavy water reactor that could accumulate plutonium in its spent fuel. “If either was to proceed, that would stand out as a major proliferation concern,” says Richard Johnson, senior director for fuel cycle and verification at the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s administration opposed the legislation. However, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told an international forum last week, “We will implement it. We have no other choice.” But Zarif noted the law is reversible. “The remedy is very easy,” he said: Iran would shelve the law if the United States returns to the 2015 nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which restrained Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions. The Trump administration pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018; President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin it.

The JCPOA, proponents say, lengthened the time Iran would need to accumulate enough fissile material for a bomb, from several weeks to at least 1 year. A key provision is a cap on uranium enrichment at 3.67% of the fissile isotope uranium-235 (U-235), which is a level sufficient for civilian nuclear reactors. One year after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, and after Europe’s failure to deliver promised economic relief, Iran began to breach the pact, including increasing enrichment to 4.5%. A hike to 20%—which last week’s law requires—is a big step toward weapons-grade uranium, which is generally defined as greater than 90% U-235.

A heavy water reactor would pose another headache. Before the JCPOA, Iran was building a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor in Arak to produce radioisotopes for medicine. As originally designed, the reactor would have accumulated one or two bombs’ worth of plutonium each year in its spent fuel. The JCPOA required that the facility, not yet complete, be redesigned as a 20-megawatt reactor that largely eliminates plutonium production. But the redesign stalled after the U.S. Department of State in May canceled sanction waivers permitting import of necessary equipment and technology. The new law orders the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to complete the 40-megawatt reactor—apparently the configuration originally planned at Arak—and design a second 40-megawatt heavy water reactor; a timetable for completion of both projects is due in early January 2021.

The law also mandates that AEOI inaugurate a “metallic uranium factory” in Isfahan within 5 months. Iran had agreed under the JCPOA to a 15-year moratorium on uranium and plutonium metallurgy.

Any provocation from the West could spur the Iranian government to implement the law even faster. “Many things could go wrong in the next several weeks,” the European diplomat says. And a U.S. return to the pact would not be instantaneous. “We can’t just snap our fingers and say, ‘We’re back in,’” Johnson says. The Biden administration would have to rescind sanctions that run contrary to the JCPOA, while Iran would have return to compliance by mothballing advanced centrifuges, for example, and steeply reducing a growing stockpile of enriched uranium.

Pakistan joins the Iranian nuclear horn: Daniel 8

The youngest nuclear power to condemn the killing of Iranian scientists as the world remains marginalized

Jonathan EdwardsDecember 7, 2020

The latest nuclear power to condemn the assassination of an Iranian top nuclear scientist, Pakistan considers this act a destabilizing event in a region already plagued by widespread unrest.

A former Revolutionary Guard officer who headed the Organization for Defense Innovation and Research, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was shot dead east of the Iranian capital last Friday in an as yet unclaimed assassination attempt that has raised suspicions of Israeli involvement. While Iran has always denied possessing or seeking to possess an atomic bomb, several nations with such capabilities, such as Pakistan, have spoken out against the assassination.

Pakistan condemns the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran,” Pakistan’s State Department said Thursday in a statement sent to Washington on Newsday. “We express our sincere condolences to the family members of Mr. Fakhrizadeh and the Iranian people.

The attack comes about a decade after a series of similar murders of other leading Iranian nuclear scientists and more recently in the wake of the ongoing tensions between Iran and its main opponents Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Islamabad feared that such violence could only further upset the Middle East.

“Such acts not only violate all norms of interstate relations and international law, but also threaten the peace and stability of an already fragile region,” said the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. “Pakistan urges all sides to exercise the greatest possible restraint and avoid a further escalation of tensions in the region”.

Pakistan’s neighbors Iran and Pakistani officials have previously expressed to Washington Newsday the importance they attach to stability along their country’s border with the Islamic Republic.

Pakistan, one of nine countries believed to belong to the Nuclear Weapons Club, conducted its first public nuclear test in 1998, largely in response to a test conducted by rival India just two weeks earlier. According to the Federation of American Scientists, Pakistan is now believed to have about 160 nuclear weapons and India 150.

While India-which has developed ever-closer relations with Israel and its main ally, the United States-has been quiet, other world powers have come forward with nuclear weapons stockpiles.

Days after Fakhrizadeh’s death, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday that her country was appalled by the act and called on those responsible to be exposed.

“China is shocked by the murder of the Iranian scientist and condemns this violent crime,” Hua said. “We hope that the incident will be thoroughly investigated.”

Like Islamabad, Beijing was also concerned about the potential impact in an already resistant region.

“China rejects any action that increases regional tensions and undermines regional peace and stability,” Hua said. “Since the current situation in the region is very complex and delicate, all parties should work together to reduce regional tensions and maintain peace and stability in the region”.

It is estimated that China possesses up to about 320 nuclear weapons after testing its first nuclear weapon in 1961, only years after an ideological split with the Soviet Union led to tensions between the two Communist powers.

Today, however, Beijing and Moscow are perhaps more in line than ever. Both see the U.S. as a destabilizing force in the Middle East and, despite Washington’s strict sanctions, support Iran economically and, following the recent expiry of a UN arms embargo, perhaps soon militarily as well.

The killing of Iranian scientists is part of the dangerous game for domination in the Middle East

Russia, which currently has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world with some 6,370 warheads, had particularly harsh words for those behind the assassination of Fakhrizadeh.

“We strongly condemn the assassination of the researcher Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Iran on November 27,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday. “We are seriously concerned about the provocative nature of this act of terrorism, which is clearly aimed at destabilizing the situation and escalating the potential for conflict in the region. Whoever is behind the murder, whoever has tried to use it for political gain, must be held accountable”.

The murder of Fakhrizadeh took place in the presumably last weeks of President Donald Trump’s term of office. Despite the official challenge to the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, Trump officially initiated the transition process, which is scheduled to be completed on January 20. During his term of office, Trump has considerably heightened tensions with Iran, leaving behind a 2015 agreement that granted the Islamic Republic facilitated sanctions in return for curbing its nuclear activities.

The agreement was signed by Iran together with the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and nuclear states of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), as well as Germany.

Despite the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. in 2018, the rest of the parties continue to stand behind the agreement, even though Europe has fought to maintain trade relations in the face of the Trump administration’s harsh sanctions and Iran has begun to enrich uranium at higher levels in response.

After the U.S. openly claimed the killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani, Major General Qassem Soleimani of the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force earlier this year, the U.S. remained silent on Fakhrizadeh’s passing, and the State Department declined Washington Newsday’s request to comment on the matter.

The European Union, which had already broken with the US in supporting the nuclear deal with Iran, quickly denounced Fakhrizadeh’s killing, which the EU considered illegal.

“This is a criminal act and contradicts the principle of respect for human rights for which the EU stands,” the EU’s External Action Service said in a statement on Saturday, just one day after the act.

The statement expressed condolences on behalf of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, who also wished recovery to those injured in an attack that exacerbated existing frictions throughout the Middle East.

“In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever for all parties to remain calm and exercise maximum restraint in order to avoid an escalation that cannot be in anyone’s interest,” the statement said.

Iran’s vote to move the limits of the nuclear agreement will not hurt future US talks: Experts

The three European signatories of the nuclear agreement also expressed their concerns separately.

The French Foreign Ministry said on Monday that it “noted with concern” that Fakhrizadeh had been killed. “Against the background of regional tensions, we are closely monitoring the impact on Iran and the region,” the ministry said.

Paris advised calm on all sides.

“We call for restraint in order to keep the channels of dialogue and negotiation open,” said the French Foreign Ministry. “In this context, we reiterate our calls for efforts to avoid an escalation of tension.

Germany also urged to keep a cool head as the temperature rose due to the heated tensions in the Middle East.

“We call on all parties to avoid anything that could lead to a renewed escalation of the situation,” which “we absolutely do not need at the moment,” said a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry in a statement that appeared in Agence France-Presse.

The spokesman pointed out that the situation was particularly complicated by an imminent change of power in Washington, where Biden has vowed to return to the nuclear deal when he takes office next month.

“Weeks before a new administration takes office in the United States, the existing dialogue with Iran must be maintained in order to resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations,” the spokesman said.

For his part, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressed a similar sentiment in anticipation of a clearer understanding of the situation.

“We are concerned about the situation in Iran and in the wider region. We would like to see a de-escalation of tension,” Raab told Sky News on Sunday.

According to his observations so far, however, he saw the killing of a scientist as a potentially criminal element, even if he had a military background.

“We are still waiting to hear all the facts about what is happening in Iran, but I would say that we are sticking to the rule of international humanitarian law, which clearly prohibits targeting civilians,” Raab said.

Two thirds of the E3 possess nuclear weapons, with the French arsenal estimated at 290 and the British at around 230. As members of the NATO military alliance, they also operate, together with Germany, a collective defense pact, largely led by the United States.

An eighth nuclear power, presumably the youngest, has not yet spoken out. North Korea has traditionally been selective in its foreign policy statements, although in the case of Fakhrizadeh the matter may be somewhat personal.

According to reports, Fakhrizadeh himself traveled to North Korea to participate in the third nuclear test of the elusive militarized state in 2013. The extent to which Pyongyang and Tehran’s weapons programs are linked remains a bone of contention among experts and officials, but both governments and their top leaders are linked in their skepticism and sometimes in their open opposition to the West and its global interventions.

The ninth country believed to possess nuclear weapons has never openly admitted that it possesses such weapons, but strongly opposes the efforts of other regional states to acquire them.

Israel considers its qualitative military advantage over other powers in the Middle East as an existential advantage due to the ongoing hostilities stemming from its original founding in 1948 and the war with Arab states that supported Palestinians claiming the same territory. Today, five Arab states have normalized their relations with Israel, three – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – since August, and Iran remains a top priority.

The Israeli defense forces have recently told Washington Newsday that their personnel “as always remains vigilant, prepared for various Iranian attacks and ready to defend Israeli civilians. The Israeli military declined to comment further on the issue of Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

Alireza Miryousefi, the spokesperson for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, told Washington Newsday that his country, too, was “perfectly capable of defending its people and territory” and remained vigilant, as ever, against possible threats.

As for revenge, he warned Iran not to act at its own pace and in its own place.

“Revenge for the murder of Dr. Fakhrizadeh will be carried out in due course on the perpetrators of the terrorist attack,” said Miryousefi, “at a time and place of our choosing.

A war of maps will lead to the first nuclear war: Revelation 8

The War Of Maps Threatens Nuclear Peace Between China, India, And Pakistan

December 8, 2020 | By Tufail Ahmad

In recent years, a war over maps has been heating up between the nuclear-armed Asian powers of China, India, and Pakistan as well as involving the landlocked nation of Nepal, which is sandwiched between China and India. China, India, and Pakistan all have nuclear weapons, enormous armies, and a history of wars, historical wounds, and bitter bilateral relations. The threat to the nuclear peace of Asia became real during the summer of 2020 when China wrested from India’s control about 1,000-square-kilometer of area in Ladakh, a strategic region at the intersection of Pakistan, India, and China, according to a report by journalist Vijaita Singh.[1]

Disputes between China, India, and Pakistan, over maps and borders have been developing recently.

On the night of June 15, 2020, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a “violent face-off” with Chinese soldiers in the Galwan area of Ladakh, though the number of Chinese casualties were not revealed by Beijing.[2] Although the Indian government was initially reticent to speak publicly about the killing of Indian soldiers or the territory in Ladakh lost to China, the Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, addressing parliament on September 17, 2020, summed up how much land China has to come occupy over the years: “China continues to be in illegal occupation of approximately 38,000 sq. kms. in the Union Territory of Ladakh… In addition, under the so-called Sino-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km. of Indian territory in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to China. China also claims approximately 90,000 sq. kms. of Indian territory in the Eastern Sector of the India-China boundary in Arunachal Pradesh.”[3]

Ladakh, a part of Jammu & Kashmir state until August 2019, sits at the north-western corner of the 3,400-kilometer Line of Actual Control (LAC) between China and India, while Arunachal Pradesh is situated at the LAC’s north-eastern end. Since the LAC is undefined, the Chinese push and seize land inch by inch, while India does not appear to be using such expansionist tactics.

This paper’s objective is not to evaluate the accuracy of the cartographic claims by these Asian nuclear powers, but to discuss the border map disputes, which could threaten Asia’s nuclear peace, or the stability induced by their nuclear weapons, potentially drawing big powers into a war.

China’s Revised Map Claims Parts Of India’s Arunachal Pradesh State

While China’s aggressive encroachments against the 3,400-kilometer LAC have rattled India, Beijing too is getting jittery about the Quad, an emerging NATO-like military alliance involving India, the U.S., Australia, and Japan. These nations have held joint military exercises in recent years.

In April 2020, China updated its map to include in its international boundaries parts of Arunachal Pradesh, the north-eastern state of India.[4] The map updated on Beijing’s own 1989 version by Sky Map, China’s authority on digital maps, showed that several counties of Arunachal Pradesh were now included in China.[5]

Pakistan’s map included India’s parts of Jammu & Kashmir (Roznama Ummat, August 5, 2020).

This may not be a sudden move by Beijing. In 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose supporters have projected him as an iron man with a 56-inch chest, was visiting China, the state-controlled China Central TV showed a map of India “without Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir,” according to Pravin Sawhney, an Indian military expert.[6] On his Twitter handle, Sawhney also wrote that China “has given new names to places in Arunachal Pradesh” and “is preparing for new war Indian mil[itary] knows nothing about.”[7]

In December 2020, China raised the stakes by saying that it was within its legitimate rights to build a dam on the Yarlung Zangbo river, which originates in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), flows into Arunachal Pradesh where it is called Siang, and then to Assam, where it is known as Brahmaputra, before flowing into Bangladesh.[8] Although the bulk of water flowing in this mighty river originates within India, China’s plans to build dams has caused concern in India about droughts and climate change, though similar moves by India to build dams on rivers flowing through Kashmir into Pakistan have alarmed the Pakistani government too, with a Pakistani editor warning in 2009 of a nuclear war against India over the water issue.[9]

Revised Maps By India, Nepal, And Pakistan Make New Territorial Claims

In the north-western sector, Ladakh was once part of and sat on top of Jammu & Kashmir’s map. On August 5, 2019, the Indian government stripped Jammu & Kashmir of its special status, reducing its powers of autonomy and dividing it into two regions: Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, with each becoming a federally-ruled Union Territory.

India’s move, followed by a new map released by New Delhi in November 2019, to reduce the historical status of Jammu & Kashmir from a state to a union territory not only alarmed Pakistan and Nepal, but China too raised questions on the status of Ladakh, leading to the occupation of 1,000 kilometers by China in the mid-2020. The November 2019 map was conspicuous in that it included Pakistan-controlled areas in Kashmir (known as Azad Kashmir in Pakistan) as part of India’s Jammu & Kashmir as well as Pakistan-controlled Gilgit Baltistan as part of India’s now-federally ruled territory of Ladakh.[10]

In August 2020, a year after India’s move to quash the special status of Jammu & Kashmir state, Pakistan responded by publishing a revised map of its international border with India, showing within Pakistan not only Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir – but also Manavadar and Junagadh, a region in India’s western state of Gujarat, which shares a seacoast with Karachi.[11] In 1947, India and Pakistan were partitioned under a British-administered plan, but Pakistan continued to nurse historical grievances after Junagadh, Hyderabad, and Jammu & Kashmir became part of India despite Muslim-majority populations in these regions.

India’s November 2019 map including Kalapani (left) and Nepal’s map (Kathmandupost.com).

Unveiling the new map in August 2020, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan described it as “the most historic day for Pakistan,” while the Indian government called it “ridiculous,” “an exercise of political absurdity,” and Pakistan’s “obsession with territorial aggrandisement supported by cross-border terrorism.”[12] Speaking about the new Pakistani map, journalist Kallol Bhattacharjee observed: “It leaves out a claim line at the eastern end of J&K [Jammu & Kashmir] indicating Pakistan’s willingness to make China a third party in the Kashmir issue.”[13]

Much before Pakistan’s release of the new map, the Himalayan nation of Nepal, which is sandwiched between the mighty nuclear powers China and India, issued its own map in May 2020. It was the November 2019 map released by New Delhi that had first triggered concerns among Nepal’s government leaders by showing some regions disputed between India and Nepal as part of India. “India wants to keep a close watch over Chinese movements on the border,” wrote the Nepalese writer Atit Babu Rijal soon after the new Indian map was released.[14]

At a press conference in Kathmandu on May 20, 2020, Nepal’s minister of land management Padma Kumari Aryal launched a new map claiming three areas of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, and Lipulekh. Aryal stated: “It is a historic moment of happiness for the people of Nepal. The government… will uphold the prestige of Nepal. We will publish the new map and make it a part of the school textbooks.”[15] In June 2020, Nepalese parliament approved the new map.

In normal times, India would not be bothered by Nepal’s actions. But in this Himalayan region, these are not normal times. Nepal, which has been traditionally dependent on India even for small things such as kerosene oil, nowadays leans in favor of China, which has emerged as a military and economic behemoth with new abilities to influence diplomacy and international relations, a characteristic of great powers. With Pakistan and Nepal, as well as other neighbors of India such as Myanmar and Bangladesh or Sri Lanka and the Maldives, firmly in the Chinese sphere of influence, India stands isolated in its immediate neighborhood.

In August 2020, Nepal’s government raised the geostrategic stakes against India by announcing that it was preparing to send the newly updated map, which includes Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura as its integral part, to international organizations such as the United Nations and Google, among others.[16] Nepalese writers like Atit Babu Rijal have stressed that a tiny nation like Nepal cannot afford to jeopardise its interests with India and therefore “Nepal should fix its claims upon the lands and file the issue in the International Court of Justice.”[17]

South Asia’s War Over Maps Goes International

This issue of maps involving the Asian nuclear powers has gone international. In October 2020, Saudi Arabia released a 20-riyal note to mark its presidency of the G-20 Summit, but the note did not feature Ladakh or Jammu & Kashmir as part of India or Pakistan. Anurag Srivastava, a spokesman of the Indian ministry of external affairs, said: “We have conveyed our serious concern to Saudi Arabia… for this gross misrepresentation of India’s external territorial boundaries on an official and legal banknote of Saudi Arabia…”[18]

Saudi Arabia’s 20-riyal note omitted Jammu & Kashmir from India.

Although Saudi Arabia and India seem to have resolved this issue, the war over maps in this region involving the three nuclear weapon states has also strengthened the Kashmiris’ sense of struggle and desire for freedom. Ghulam Nabi Mir, the head of World Kashmir Awareness Forum, told the Middle East Eye: “We are happy that Saudi Arabia made the decision to show solidarity with Kashmir and we hope they will not retreat as India is occupying and colonising Kashmir using domicile laws. Saudi Arabia has taken the first step, and they need to leave it to Kashmiris to decide their own independence.”[19]

Earlier, in April 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO), which had already been faced with accusations of delaying the declaration of the Coronavirus a pandemic allegedly under Beijing’s influence, published a map in which parts of Ladakh (in Pakistan-controlled areas) were shown as part of Chinese territory with a color code and dotted line on the WHO website.[20]

The map also showed the rest of Jammu & Kashmir and the rest of India in different colors. India’s former ambassador to China and Pakistan Gautam Bambawale said: “The map of India depicted by WHO differs from the standard depiction even of the United Nations itself, by not showing parts of J&K which are under actual control of India as a part of our country.”[21]

Earlier, in November 2014, ahead of the G-20 Summit in Australia, an incorrect map of India, with Kashmir missing from it, was shown at an event during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. Syed Akbaruddin, then spokesperson for the Indian ministry of external affairs, lodged a “strong protest” and the organizers of the event apologized for what seemed to be an unintentional mistake.[22]

India’s Increasing Sensitivity Over Maps

In recent years, India has displayed greater sensitivity to cartographic issues. In April 2015, India ordered Al-Jazeera television to go off the air for five days for repeatedly showing the country’s incorrect maps. The Surveyor General of India (SGI) observed that in some of the maps depicted by Al-Jazeera “a portion of Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir (i.e. PoK and Aksai Chin) has not been shown as a part of Indian territory.”[23] In reality, both PoK and Aksai Chin are under the control of Pakistan and China, while India claims them on its map legally.

About a month before Al-Jazeera was ordered off air, Organiser – a weekly magazine published by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – also had published an incorrect map showing parts of Jammu & Kashmir within the Pakistani territory, though the magazine later apologized.[24] Similarly, wrong maps of India were handed to journalists by Gujarat state, where Modi’s party is in power, showing parts of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territory.[25]

In May 2016, India introduced a new law under which showing an incorrect map such as those concerning PoK, Aksai Chin or parts of Arunachal Pradesh on any online or electronic platform or in physical documents could lead to a seven-year jail term and a fine of up to Rs 100 crore, equal to roughly 15 million U.S. dollars. In December 2020, India asked Wikipedia to remove a map showing Aksai Chin as part of China.[26]

It is evident these Asian powers are getting embroiled in wars of maps, showing lands on maps that they do not control on the ground. The risk is these Asian neighbors, three of them having nuclear weapons, can stumble into a war as border tensions recur, though they also sit at an ocean of opportunity to transform these disputed border areas into free trade zones, making the borders redundant and potentially build a new Europe for the shared future of their peoples.

* Tufail Ahmad is a Senior Fellow at MEMRI

 

[1] TheHindu.com (India), September 1, 2020.

[2] TheWire.in (India), June 16, 2020.

[3] TheScroll.in (India), September 17, 2020.

[4] NationalHeraldIndia.com (India), April 21, 2020.

[5] NationalHeraldIndia.com (India), April 21, 2020.

[6] Twitter.com/PravinSawhney, September 29, 2020.

[7] Twitter.com/PravinSawhney, September 28, 2020.

[8] HindustanTimes.com (India), December 3, 2020.

[9] MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 536, Editor of Leading Pakistani Paper: ‘If, in Order to Resolve Our [Water and Other] Problems, We Have to Wage Nuclear War with India, We Will’ – Water Disputes Between India and Pakistan – A Potential Casus Belli, July 27, 2009.

[10] IndiaToday.in (India), November 7, 2019.

[11] DeccanHerald.com (India), August 5, 2020. India got independence on August 15, 1947, but the princely state of Manavadar joined India on February 15, 1948 and Indian troops seized Junagarh in September 1948.

[12] DeccanHerald.com (India), August 5, 2020.

[13] TheHindu.com (India), August 9, 2020.

[14] KathmanduPost.com (India), November 19, 2019.

[15] TheHindu.com (India), May 20, 2020.

[16] IndiaToday.in (India), August 1, 2020.

[17] KathmanduPost.com (India), November 19, 2019.

[18] Firstpost.com (India), October 29, 2020.

[19] MiddleEastEye.net, October 30, 2020.

[20] EconomicTimes.com (India), April 29, 2020.

[21] EconomicTimes.com (India), April 29, 2020.

[22] IBTimes.co.in (India), November 14, 2014.

[23] NDTV.com (India), April 22, 2015.

[24] TimesOfIndia.com (India), March 14, 2015.

[25] NewsLaundry.com (India), April 27, 2015.

[26] Scroll.in (India), December 3, 2020.