Quakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating EarthquakeRoger BilhamGiven recent seismic activity — political as well as geological — it’s perhaps unsurprising that two books on earthquakes have arrived this season. One is as elegant as the score of a Beethoven symphony; the other resembles a diary of conversations overheard during a rock concert. Both are interesting, and both relate recent history to a shaky future.Journalist Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland is a litany of bad things that happen when you provoke Earth to release its invisible but ubiquitous store of seismic-strain energy, either by removing fluids (oil, water, gas) or by adding them in copious quantities (when extracting shale gas in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or when injecting contaminated water or building reservoirs). To complete the picture, she describes at length the bad things that happen during unprovoked natural earthquakes. As its subtitle hints, the book takes the form of a road trip to visit seismic disasters both past and potential, and seismologists and earthquake engineers who have first-hand knowledge of them. Their colourful personalities, opinions and prejudices tell a story of scientific discovery and engineering remedy.Miles poses some important societal questions. Aside from human intervention potentially triggering a really damaging earthquake, what is it actually like to live in neighbourhoods jolted daily by magnitude 1–3 earthquakes, or the occasional magnitude 5? Are these bumps in the night acceptable? And how can industries that perturb the highly stressed rocks beneath our feet deny obvious cause and effect? In 2015, the Oklahoma Geological Survey conceded that a quadrupling of the rate of magnitude-3 or more earthquakes in recent years, coinciding with a rise in fracking, was unlikely to represent a natural process. Miles does not take sides, but it’s difficult for the reader not to.She visits New York City, marvelling at subway tunnels and unreinforced masonry almost certainly scheduled for destruction by the next moderate earthquake in the vicinity. She considers the perils of nuclear-waste storage in Nevada and Texas, and ponders the risks to Idaho miners of rock bursts — spontaneous fracture of the working face when the restraints of many million years of confinement are mined away. She contemplates the ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera — North America’s very own mid-continent supervolcano — and its magnificently uncertain future. Miles also touches on geothermal power plants in southern California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere; the vast US network of crumbling bridges, dams and oil-storage farms; and the magnitude 7–9 earthquakes that could hit California and the Cascadia coastline of Oregon and Washington state this century. Amid all this doom, a new elementary school on the coast near Westport, Washington, vulnerable to inbound tsunamis, is offered as a note of optimism. With foresight and much persuasion from its head teacher, it was engineered to become an elevated safe haven.Miles briefly discusses earthquake prediction and the perils of getting it wrong (embarrassment in New Madrid, Missouri, where a quake was predicted but never materialized; prison in L’Aquila, Italy, where scientists failed to foresee a devastating seismic event) and the successes of early-warning systems, with which electronic alerts can be issued ahead of damaging seismic waves. Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but most of the book obeys the laws of physics, and it is a engaging read. One just can’t help wishing that Miles’s road trips had taken her somewhere that wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.Catastrophic damage in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, caused by the second-largest earthquake in the global instrumental record.In The Great Quake, journalist Henry Fountain provides us with a forthright and timely reminder of the startling historical consequences of North America’s largest known earthquake, which more than half a century ago devastated southern Alaska. With its epicentre in Prince William Sound, the 1964 quake reached magnitude 9.2, the second largest in the global instrumental record. It released more energy than either the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off Japan; and it generated almost as many pages of scientific commentary and description as aftershocks. Yet it has been forgotten by many.The quake was scientifically important because it occurred at a time when plate tectonics was in transition from hypothesis to theory. Fountain expertly traces the theory’s historical development, and how the Alaska earthquake was pivotal in nailing down one of the most important predictions. The earthquake caused a fjordland region larger than England to subside, and a similarly huge region of islands offshore to rise by many metres; but its scientific implications were not obvious at the time. Eminent seismologists thought that a vertical fault had slipped, drowning forests and coastlines to its north and raising beaches and islands to its south. But this kind of fault should have reached the surface, and extended deep into Earth’s mantle. There was no geological evidence of a monster surface fault separating these two regions, nor any evidence for excessively deep aftershocks. The landslides and liquefied soils that collapsed houses, and the tsunami that severely damaged ports and infrastructure, offered no clues to the cause.“Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about present-day vulnerability.” The hero of The Great Quake is the geologist George Plafker, who painstakingly mapped the height reached by barnacles lifted out of the intertidal zone along shorelines raised by the earthquake, and documented the depths of drowned forests. He deduced that the region of subsidence was the surface manifestation of previously compressed rocks springing apart, driving parts of Alaska up and southwards over the Pacific Plate. His finding confirmed a prediction of plate tectonics, that the leading edge of the Pacific Plate plunged beneath the southern edge of Alaska along a gently dipping thrust fault. That observation, once fully appreciated, was applauded by the geophysics community.Fountain tells this story through the testimony of survivors, engineers and scientists, interweaving it with the fascinating history of Alaska, from early discovery by Europeans to purchase from Russia by the United States in 1867, and its recent development. Were the quake to occur now, it is not difficult to envisage that with increased infrastructure and larger populations, the death toll and price tag would be two orders of magnitude larger than the 139 fatalities and US$300-million economic cost recorded in 1964.What is clear from these two books is that seismicity on the North American continent is guaranteed to deliver surprises, along with unprecedented economic and human losses. Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about the present-day vulnerability of US infrastructure and populations. Engineers and seismologists know how to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes (and, in mid-continent, would advise against the reckless injection of waste fluids known to trigger earthquakes). It is merely a matter of persuading city planners and politicians that if they are tempted to ignore the certainty of the continent’s seismic past, they should err on the side of caution when considering its seismic future.

The Rising Pakistani Nuclear Horn: Daniel 8

Pakistan Military as a rising global power: report

January 28, 2021

Pakistani troops from the Special Services Group (SSG) march during the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2018. Pakistan National Day commemorates the passing of the Lahore Resolution, when a separate nation for the Muslims of The British Indian Empire was demanded on March 23, 1940. / AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI

Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

THE Global Firepower Index, an online military ranking website, has ranked Pakistan 10 out of 138 nations in military strength in its 2021 ranking, a rise from previous years. “For 2021, Pakistan is ranked 10 of 138 out of the countries considered,” Global Firepower said on its website.

Today, Pakistan’s military has been revitalizing its strength in terms of both conventional and non-conventional military weapons. Last week, Pakistan conducted another test of surface-to-surface ballistic missile Shaheen-III, which is also the longest-range missile to have been developed in the country.

A nuclear watchdog has categorized Pakistan as the “most improved country” in the ranking for countries with weapons-usable nuclear material. In its 2020 assessment, the Nuclear Security Index said Pakistan’s improvements, because of its passage of new regulations, provide “sustainable security benefits.

Today, the Pakistan military has been trying its utmost to keep a balance in its nuclear and conventional power symmetry. There is an undeniably close link between nuclear weapons and a nation‘s conventional military capabilities. Any nation with a weaker conventional warfare capability vis-à-vis a nuclear-armed adversary would be inclined to rely on a first use strategy to defeat a conventional military offensive that may otherwise be unstoppable.

In 2017, the Pakistan defence forces had approximately 654,000 active personnel, excluding 25,000–35,000+ personnel in the Strategic Plans Division Forces and 482,000 active personnel in the various paramilitary forces.

Pakistan has nuclear-capable aircraft (F-16A/B and Mirage III/V) with ranges up to 2100 km, eight types of land-based ballistic missiles with possible ranges up to 2750 km, and two types of cruise missiles with ranges up to 350 km.

Pakistan has devoted a strategic culture that characterizes its growing relations with great powers. Pakistan rightly responds to the new global order and is going to have close military relations with China, Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

With the change of new Government in America, there is growing indications that both the Pentagon and the GHQ may regain the lost momentum of US-Pakistan military-to-military relations as the United States cannot ignore the importance of Pakistan on both regional and international canvass.

American strategist, Brian Cloughley, told Defence News that emphasis on heavy armour indicates Pakistan’s “preparedness for conventional war, and it seems that the riposte is alive and being refined in direct answer to India’s overwhelming numerical superiority.” Today, the three organic and vital parts of Pakistan’s military — Navy, Air Force and the Army — have gained remarkable strength.

Pakistan Navy power is committed to having the following features: -Expanding the Navy to more than 50 warships (more than doubling major surface combatants to 20, with plans for six additional large offshore patrol vessels). -The apparent free transfer of a Chinese Yuan-class submarine to train Pakistani crew for its eight Hangor subs.

Developing the hypersonic P282 ship-launched anti-ship/land-attack ballistic missile. -Establishing the Naval Research and Development Institute to nurture indigenous design talent (it is presently engaged in programs such as the Jinnah-class frigate, Hangor-class subs, UAV jammers, directed-energy weapons, underwater sonar surveillance coastal defence systems, unmanned underwater vehicles and unmanned combat aerial vehicles).

Replacing of the P-3C Orion patrol aircraft with 10 converted commercial jets, the first of which has been ordered. -Acquiring medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned combat aerial vehicles as well as 20 indigenous gunboats, which are to be commissioned by 2025.

Pakistan AIR Force: The PAF currently has 22 fighter aircraft squadrons that translate into about 410 aircraft. These include around 70 JF-17s, 45 F-16s, 69 Mirage IIIs, 90 Mirage Vs and 136 F-7s. The JF-17, a China-designed aircraft, is claimed to be a fourth-generation, multi-role aircraft.

It is reported that another 100 are in order. The PAF plans to acquire 250 aircraft to replace its Mirage IIIs and F-7s. Some of these would be Block 2 version with 4.5 generation features while some more would be Block 3 and are expected to have fifth-generation characteristics. The PAF is also said to have placed an order for 36 Chinese J-10s a 4.5 generation aircraft.

The J-10 is expected to be inducted as the FC-20, an advanced PAF-specific variant. The PAF’s fighter aircraft currently are of four types, which are planned to be reduced to three multi-role types, namely the F-16, JF-17 and FC-20 by 2025. Russia and Pakistan have also been talking about the possible purchase of the Sukhoi-35 air-superiority multi-role fighter.

The PAF plans to procure 30-40 Chinese FC-31 stealth fighter aircraft to replace the F-16 fighter jets. The FC-31 is designed to fly close air support, air interdiction and other missions. However, the PAF is more likely to employ conventional tactical aircraft rather than stealth aircraft in actual missions to support Pakistani ground forces.

The PAF with a smaller fighter aircraft inventory is the seventh-largest air force in the world and the largest in the Islamic world. PAF pilots are well-trained, with battle experience and high morale. The PAF is also an inherently air-defence oriented force. As earlier, in an exclusive Indo-Pak war scenario, the PAF will be kept head-down by the IAF and is likely to be defeated. In the shadow of nuclear stand-off, a full-fledged war is less likely.

Pakistan Army: Following are the growing power infrastructure of Pakistan’s army. -The manufacturing of auxiliary power units for the Al-Zarrar and T-80UD tanks. -The development and trials of a sabot FSDS-T round. -The development of a driver’s thermal imaging/night vision periscope. -The assembly of engines for the Al-Khalid and T-80UD tanks. -The rebuilding and upgrading of 160 Type-85IIAP main battle tanks between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022. -A pilot effort to rebuild T-80UDs (completed in August 2019). -The continued rebuilding of M113-series armored personnel carriers.

The continued upgrade of Type-59 main battle tanks to the Al-Zarrar version. -The low-rate production of 20 Al-Khalid I tanks, plus the final-stage development of the Al-Khalid II (featuring an enhanced power pack and fire-control/gun-control system). Meanwhile, Pakistan bolstered its infantry anti-tank capabilities by purchasing Kornet-E anti-tank guided missiles (a Russian-made weapon) and Spanish Alcotán-100 shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets.

—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

Biden Concedes to the Russian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

Russia says U.S. agreed to renew nuclear weapons pact “on our terms”

BY ALEXANDRA ODYNOVA

JANUARY 27, 2021 / 8:51 AM / CBS NEWS

Moscow — Russia’s parliament ploughed ahead on Wednesday to ratify a bill extending the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States after the first phone call between President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin announced on Tuesday that Russia and the U.S. had struck a deal to extend the treaty — the last arms control pact between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers — which is set to expire on February 5.

But Russia’s eager declaration that an agreement had been reached “on our terms” appeared to get slightly out ahead of the Biden administration’s assessment of circumstances. 

The White House did not immediately react to the vote in the Russian parliament. A readout of the Biden-Putin phone call provided by the White House on Tuesday, however, said only that the presidents had “discussed both countries’ willingness to extend New START for five years, agreeing to have their teams work urgently to complete the extension by February 5.”

There was nothing after that statement from the White House to confirm that any agreement had been reached, suggesting the Biden administration could have at least been expecting a few more days of negotiation with Moscow before a formal announcement.

Nonetheless, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov declared on Wednesday morning that the U.S. had agreed to extend the treaty “on our terms” for another five years, without any preconditions or changes to the existing terms of the pact.

The Trump administration had declined to renew the treaty, insisting on changes.

Both houses of Russia’s parliament unanimously voted in favor of the ratification of the extension within hours on Wednesday. The Russian legislature’s approval was required under Russian law, not the terms of the treaty itself.

The Trump administration had stalled on renewing the accord and demanded what Ryabkov called on Wednesday “unacceptable conditions.” He told Russian lawmakers in televised remarks that: “With Biden in office, positive shifts took place in the U.S. position, which we can only welcome.”

Signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev, the New START Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty became one of the most significant agreements in the world imposing limits, and even reductions, on the number of nuclear weapons both countries could have deployed.

The pact limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by the U.S. and Russia to 1,550 each, as well as the number of land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers capable of delivering them.

Speaking in the State Duma, Ryabkov said the extended accord would apply to Russia’s nuclear-capable Avangard hypersonic missile system, which Moscow says was put into service in 2019. The weapon has been lauded by the Russian leadership for its glide system, said to give it greater speed and maneuverability.

The New START treaty is the only U.S.-Russian arms control pact still in effect. During the final year of President Trump’s tenure, both countries quit the Open Skies arms control treat, which had allowed unarmed surveillance flights over military infrastructure.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Biden has not spoken of a possible “reset” in relations with Russia but has indicated that he does want to manage differences between the nations through direct dialogue.

Speaking to Russian state television, Mr. Ryabkov said that he didn’t think the renewal of the treaty would signal any broader improvement in strained U.S.-Russia relations, noting “huge differences” on many other issues.

The Growing Nuclear Horns: Daniel

Who’s next? Nuclear proliferation is not fast, but it is frightening

Experts worry about East Asia and the Middle East

Jan 30th 2021

IN MARCH 1963 President John Kennedy lamented his failure to negotiate a ban on nuclear tests. “Personally,” he warned, “I am haunted by the feeling that by 1970, unless we are successful, there may be ten nuclear powers instead of four—and by 1975, 15 or 20.”

Kennedy was wrong. While many countries explored the idea of nuclear weapons from the 1950s to the 1990s, comparatively few took the next step of actually trying to develop the ability to build them (see chart). Of those few some stopped because the country itself dissolved (Yugoslavia), some because of changes to domestic politics (Brazil), some because of pressure from allies (South Korea) and some through force of arms (Iraq).

The parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) now include 185 countries which have renounced the nuclear path, as well as five nuclear-weapon states that the treaty recognises as such—America, Britain, China, France and Russia. The four nuclear states outside the treaty either never signed it (India, Israel and Pakistan) or withdrew from it (North Korea).

Nine nuclear-weapon states is a long way from Kennedy’s nightmare. What is more, recent years have seen increasing interest in moving beyond the NPT’s preservation of the status quo and pushing for a world in which nuclear weapons are illegitimate. This is the goal of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which commits its parties to not making, using or hosting nuclear weapons. Having been ratified by 52 of its 86 signatories, it entered into force on January 22nd.

But this “nuclear ban” is born as much from frustration as from hope. The NPT was a deal in which non-nuclear-weapon states got both access to civilian nuclear technology and a commitment that the nuclear-weapon states would seek to negotiate disarmament. Though the American, Russian, French and British arsenals did shrink after the end of the cold war, there has been little progress since. Indeed there has been some backsliding. America left the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (which Russia was breaking) in 2019.

The New START treaty, a ten-year-old cap on American and Russian nuclear forces to which Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agreed a five-year extension on January 26th, is now the only bilateral arms-control agreement that binds the two countries. A grim panoply of new American and Russian weapons has been announced in recent years, from American miniature warheads to Russian underwater drones designed to drench coastal areas in radioactive fallout. China, for its part, has been upgrading its initially modest nuclear forces into considerably more than the bare-bones deterrent they once were.

As major nuclear powers have added to their nuclear capabilities some proliferators have paid little price for acquiring them. Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation points out that in the late 1990s America’s policy was to “cap, roll back and eliminate” the embryonic Indian and Pakistani arsenals through sanctions and censure. But as it became clearer that India would serve as a bulwark against Chinese power, America bent its own rules to allow civilian nuclear co-operation and helped ease India into international regimes governing nuclear exports.

Great-power sabre rattling, a sense that some countries get to bend the rules and a reassessment of America’s role as a steadfast ally during the presidency of Donald Trump may all have provoked interest in proliferation. What is more, though the bomb’s spread has slowed, it has never stopped—and proliferation begets proliferation, whatever speed it unrolls at. Iran’s nuclear programme spooks Saudi Arabia. North Korea’s arsenal casts a darkening shadow over South Korea and Japan.

They could if they wanted to

Despite a dalliance with the idea of following China into the nuclear club in the 1960s, Japan is for obvious reasons generally seen as making a case for nuclear caution. At the same time it is the only non-nuclear-armed state which operates major facilities for enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium from spent reactor fuel, both potential routes to fissile material for a bomb. And in 2017 North Korea tested some of its nuclear-capable missiles by flying them over the archipelago to splash down in the Pacific beyond.

Such experiences change perspectives. Japanese conversations about nuclear weapons were once “sotto voce” and confined to a small cluster of “very conservative thinkers”, says Richard Samuels of MIT. Now, he writes in an article with his colleague Eric Heginbotham, “What once had been nearly taboo…has a conspicuous presence in Japan’s security discourse.”

The idea is still deeply unpopular. Mark Fitzpatrick, who used to oversee non-proliferation policy at the State Department, reckons that Japanese scientists would only comply with an order to produce nuclear weapons “in the event of a sharp deterioration in Japan’s security situation”. But his examples of such deteriorations are hardly outlandish. “In the imaginings of Japanese policymakers,” he says, “the most likely scenarios would be if South Korea goes nuclear or if the Koreas unify and keep Pyongyang’s existing arsenal.”

South Korea lacks enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, and is thus rather less well-placed than Japan to develop nuclear weapons. But it is closer to North Korea, and more worried. “Politicians are trying to normalise and remove the stigma of discussing nuclear weapons in public discourse,” according to Toby Dalton of the Carnegie Endowment, a think-tank, and Ain Han of Seoul National University.

On a technical level, the country has sought to acquire submarines powered by nuclear reactors, the fuel for which is closer to weapons-grade than that for power stations. And on January 13th it announced tests of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. No other non-nuclear state has ever seen a need for such a capability.

Polls show that a majority supports either the development of nuclear weapons or the return of the American ones stationed there during the cold war. But extending American deterrence is harder today. For America to use nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula would always have been a momentous decision, but in the past it would not have put millions of Americans on the frontline. Now that North Korean missiles can apparently reach North America, attacking Pyongyang puts New York at risk. Strategic calculations are sensitive to such things, and both South Korea and Japan know it.

Taiwan has similar worries; China’s increased ability to strike half way round the world could affect America’s willingness to come to the island’s aid in extremis. But though the country explored nuclear options as recently as 1988, the fact that, today, such efforts would furnish a much more powerful China with a pretext for pre-emptive strikes and possibly invasion makes rekindling them unappealing.

Mr Biden has not said how he plans to address North Korea’s increasing nuclear prowess and its impacts. He will be keen to avoid doing anything which encourages proliferation elsewhere. American promises, blandishments and threats have often checked nuclear ambitions among its allies. A real sense of what American and international displeasure could mean economically might well change what South Koreans say about nuclear weapons.

But North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons. And any deal with America which legitimised North Korea’s arsenal in an effort to stop its growth would increase South Korea’s incentive for at least keeping the nuclear option available—a posture known in the nuclear trade as hedging. So would a resumption of North Korean missile tests. Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) in California recently published evidence that North Korea was preparing to test a new long-range submarine-launched missile.

The fear generated by North Korea’s growing arsenal and the fact that Japan, South Korea and Taiwan could all “produce nuclear weapons in perhaps two years—or less in Japan’s case”, according to Mr Fitzpatrick, makes East Asia a hot spot. But it is not the only one. George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment divides potential proliferators into two categories: those with ample means but less ambition, and those with greater ambition but fewer means. The East Asians fall into the first category; for the second, look to the Middle East, where insecurity is more violently manifest than in Asia and neither the fetters of liberal democracy nor the pull of alliances as strong.

According to a recent study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, another think-tank, “Personalist authoritarian leaders seem more inclined toward the bomb, [and] their hold on power can in some ways make it easier for them to carry out their plans.” The study notes that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s increasingly autocratic president, has begun to talk like a case in point. In September 2019 he complained to members of his ruling AK party that “some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads…But [we are told] we can’t have them. This, I cannot accept.”

Sinan Ülgen, a former diplomat who leads EDAM, an Istanbul-based think-tank, doubts that Mr Erdogan would act on this rhetoric. “At first the public may like the idea of having nuclear weapons,” he says. “But the cost for an open economy like Turkey would be too big and long-term. No government can sustain it under conditions of democratic elections.”

Not all leaders in the region toil under such constraints. “In discussions in Saudi Arabia, there’s a lot more willingness to talk openly about the possibility of proliferation,” says Gregory Gause of Texas A&M University. The obvious cause is Iran’s nuclear programme. The JCPOA, a deal struck in 2015 between Iran, the five nuclear powers recognised by the NPT, Germany and the EU, saw Iran agree to reduce its uranium stocks and enrichment capability and to have them stringently monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the NPT’s watchdog, in return for relief from sanctions. But after Mr Trump pulled America out of the deal in 2018 Iran ceased respecting its constraints. On January 4th it started enriching uranium to 20% purity—nine-tenths of the way to weapons-grade—and nine days later began work on uranium metals, which can be used to fashion the core of a bomb.

Mr Biden says he will rejoin the JCPOA, in which case Iran has said it will return to compliance. Israel and Iran’s Arab rivals oppose such a revival, just as they opposed the deal in the first place. They see it as legitimising Iran’s nuclear infrastructure while placing only temporary limits on what it can do with it. In 2018 Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, told CBS, an American broadcaster, that the kingdom “does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”. Mr Fitzpatrick reckons that “Saudi Arabia is the proliferation concern number one around the world.”

Despite its announced intention of building 16 nuclear-power stations, Saudi Arabia’s nuclear technology remains far behind that of Japan or South Korea. That need not, in itself, thwart any nuclear ambitions it has or develops. In the past, Western intelligence officials were concerned that Pakistan—which is thought to have had its bomb programme financed by Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and 1990s—might supply a complete nuclear device or know-how to the kingdom.

Alternatively, Saudi Arabia could rely on less-direct outside help. In a forthcoming paper, Nicholas Miller of Dartmouth College and Tristan Volpe of the Naval Postgraduate School describe the growth of an “autocratic nuclear marketplace”. The “gold standard” for deals in which countries buy civilian nuclear-power plants has been that their enriched fuel has to be imported and the used fuel sent out of the country for disposal, thus providing no domestic route to fissile material. Russia and China do not always abide by this standard; and the authors point out that 19 of the 33 reactors exported since 2000 came from those two countries. Last year the Wall Street Journal reported that China was helping Saudi Arabia build a facility for processing uranium ore. That is not the same as enriching it. But it worries Western officials.

China has also armed the kingdom with ballistic missiles. In 2019 researchers at MIIS discovered that a suspected rocket-engine plant south-west of Riyadh bore a resemblance to a Chinese-built facility. This does not necessarily mean it wants nuclear weapons; their perceived utility as conventional weapons is seeing ever more countries build up ballistic-missile forces. But an already established missile capability is definitely a useful thing for a potential proliferator to have.

Wider-spread ballistic-missile capabilities and laxer deals on nuclear fuel are not the only current developments that could be of help to proliferators. America’s National Nuclear Security Administration warns that technological advances like 3D printing and powerful computer-aided design “may create new and worrisome pathways to nuclear weapons”.

But proliferators face new challenges, too. “The world’s capability to know what somebody is doing is much greater than it was at the time that Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons and that gives a lot more time to react,” says Tom Countryman, America’s under-secretary of state for non-proliferation from 2011 to 2017. Non-governmental organisations regularly unearth and publicise secret facilities using “open” sources—most notably images taken by satellites like those which researchers at MIIS used to spot North Korea’s looming missile test and Saudi Arabia’s rocket plant.

The IAEA has honed its remote monitoring capabilities in Iran in recent years, using tamper-proof cameras and radiation detectors that send back a steady stream of data. And Mr Volpe points out that ever more manufacturing technology is likely to be monitored from afar by its creators. Such capabilities could be used for more than scheduling maintenance. He envisages an “Internet of Nuclear Things” in which suppliers can scrutinise the tasks for which the machines they sell are used.

This all offers hope that the covert pursuit of nuclear weapons has become harder. But what of overt pursuit? For a country to leave the NPT would undoubtedly provoke a crisis. But India’s experience shows that a country with real heft can weather such disapproval. As Ms Mukhatzhanova puts it, “Countries that are important, economically and politically, might count on being accepted into the system if they break out.” To try to cut a frankly proliferating South Korea out of the world economy in order to bring it back into the NPT stable would be a huge undertaking.

No way back

Most nuclear-curious states, Iran included, are more interested in hedging than in actually building a weapons programme. Yet hedging by several rivals at once produces a situation where cascading proliferation becomes all too easy to imagine. An Israeli military strike on Iran, for instance, might persuade it of the need for a nuclear deterrent, thus triggering a response by Saudi Arabia which might in turn strengthen ambition in Ankara—or Cairo.

Once the world would have hoped that American diplomacy, engagement and suasion would have kept such risks in check, and over the coming few years they might. But America’s centrality is on the wane. As Mr Gause points out, “A pervasive sense…that the United States is leaving the region” underpins Saudi discussion of proliferation. The risks entailed in offering a nuclear umbrella are clearly increasing. And although Mr Biden has always been a staunch advocate of arms control, the same was not true of his predecessor, and may well not be true of his successor. Proliferation has not proceeded anything like as fast as once was feared. But it has not stopped, and it could well accelerate. ■

This article appeared in the Briefing section of the print edition under the headline “Who’s next?”

Reviving the Iran nuclear deal will ruin Joe Biden

Reviving the Iran nuclear deal will test Joe Biden Tehran says the ball is in America’s court, but Washington first wants compliance Central Tehran during the pandemic. Iran’s young population is suffering social and political repression and sinking into poverty exacerbated by US economic sanctions and Covid-19 © Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg US president Joe Biden’s incoming foreign policy team, full of veterans from the Barack Obama administrations, will have no illusions about how tricky it will be to refloat the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that was torpedoed by Donald Trump in 2018. They know from direct experience how canny Iranian negotiators are — and how antagonistic relations have become with the Islamic Republic. Analysts such as Jon Alterman at Washington’s CSIS think-tank argues that Tehran sees negotiations as a way to contain the US, rather than reach solutions. US allies in the region — such as Israel — say there can be no return to the 2015 accord, even though that mothballed most of Iran’s nuclear programme and submitted it to outside monitoring. A hostile Saudi Arabia says the Gulf must be consulted on any new deal. Israel, to underline its point, was almost certainly behind the assassination last November of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear physicist, as well as the murder of four scientists on his staff in 2010-12. Both sides, moreover, are adopting a “you first” approach. Iran says the ball is in America’s court since the Trump administration unilaterally tore up a deal Tehran was then fulfilling. The Biden team says Iran must first resume compliance with the 2015 accord (it raised uranium enrichment above agreed levels of volume and purity, albeit one year after Washington’s withdrawal). Determined diplomats could fudge their way through to a road map to resume talks. But will Iran, embittered by a siege-by-sanction intended to destroy its economy and topple its regime, ever trust the US again? And could Iran’s neighbours — rivals for regional hegemony who see the Shia Islamist republic as neo-Persian imperialists — ever trust Tehran? Then there are the Iranian people to consider. It is a young population, suffering social and political repression and sinking into poverty exacerbated by US economic sanctions and the pandemic. For the mullahs and militiamen who ultimately run Iran’s tyrannical theocracy, the 2015 deal was a threat and a swindle. Watching how Iranians warmly embraced it as a path back to the modern world, they saw a slippery slope to regime change. When the US reneged on its commitment to readmit Iran to world markets, the Islamist reactionaries in Tehran were able to force pragmatists led by President Hassan Rouhani to retreat. When reformists led by then-president Mohammad Khatami offered the US a “grand bargain” in 2003, George W Bush as US president placed Iran on the “axis of evil” alongside Iraq and North Korea. For hardliners, and many Iranians, Mr Trump was therefore merely being true to form. America and Iran have haunted each other for generations. Americans vividly remember Iran’s seizure of their Tehran embassy and hostage-taking after the 1979 revolution. Hizbollah’s destruction of the US embassy in Beirut and the truck bombing that killed 241 personnel there in the early 1980s is also not forgotten. Iran’s grievances go all the way back to the CIA-organised coup of 1953. The US-led invasion of Iraq 50 years later whipped up an ethno-sectarian whirlwind, pitting Sunni against Shia across the Muslim world. It was obvious Iran would use majority-Shia Iraq as a defensive buffer and a new launch pad to expand its regional influence. This was doubly inevitable since during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war the west had supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons to rain down on Iran’s troops and ballistic missiles to pulverise its cities. Iranians do not forget this. But the memory coexists uneasily with anger at the unaffordable waste and political cost of today’s breast-beating Iranian interventions beyond Iraq in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. There were popular uprisings in 2019-20 against Iran and its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon, as well as mass protests inside Iran. Most Iraqis and Lebanese do not want to be part of an Iranian protectorate. Many Iranians, who regularly vote for change and rise up roughly each decade, clearly resent being ruled by thugs, kleptocrats and Shia supremacists. Indeed, this theocracy has turned Iranians into arguably the most secular-minded people in the Middle East. Dutch research suggests more than two-thirds of Iranians “opposed the inclusion of religious precepts in national legislation”. The US, therefore, might once again be tempted to overplay its hand. Mr Biden’s negotiators will know from the run-up to 2015 that talks only really began once Washington took regime change off the table. But if they do that now they will demand measurable assurances on Iran’s regional behaviour. That is not so very distinct in Tehran’s eyes from the Trumpian (and Israeli and Saudi) demand it axes its ballistic missile programme and wraps up the militia networks through which it has built a Shia axis of power from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean and down into the Gulf. That is, right now, a non-starter. Especially as Israel steps up its air strikes and sabotage against Iranian targets and assets across the region. The US policy of “maximum pressure” has met maximum pushback. The US, and other guarantors of the nuclear compact, should walk it back towards 2015. But regional detente requires a new security architecture, including all the actors. This needs to be built from the ground up, and reinforced by a broad international diplomatic coalition that underwrites it. The US has lost trust among allies as well as adversaries. It cannot attempt this alone. david.gardner@ft.com

Babylon the Great’s Deterrence is Hapless

In a recent Defense News commentary, we described how important it is to reinforce nuclear deterrence, a policy we have relied upon for security for decades. While many readers may understand that deterrence means avoiding war by maintaining our military strength, it is less well understood that deterrence relies heavily on the perception of our strength and intentions by a potential adversary.

Deterrence is not a static policy that can be instituted and remain effective; it needs to be maintained and updated periodically to cope with evolving conditions.

Nuclear deterrence was developed in the late 1940s between America and the Soviet Union, although at the time both were hastily building up stockpiles of warheads. The initial simple theory developed into the concept of mutual assured destruction. For the concept to be effective, each side had to be convinced that not only did its adversary have effective weapons, coupled with the means of delivery, but also the determination to use them.

Thus, for deterrence to be effective it has to be implanted in an opponent’s planning, discouraging that adversary from military action.

In an attempt to minimize nuclear proliferation, successive American administrations dissuaded allies from developing their own capabilities by offering them extended deterrence. This led eventually to the deployment of American nuclear forces in Europe and the Pacific, in part to demonstrate the U.S. commitment, not only to their allies but to potential opponents.

Changes in U.S. policy — such as the introduction of the Strategic Defense Initiative by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, and later the effort by President Barack Obama in 2009 to adopt the goal of a world without nuclear weapons — opened real questions about extended deterrence.

Allies concerned that the Strategic Defense Initiative could lead to America being protected by an effective defense sought an expansion of the criteria for any strategic defense to include allied territory and protection of deployed forces. Similarly, the Obama declaration, which suggested America might no longer rely on an immediate nuclear response to an attack, alarmed allies. This topic was raised again in November 2020 when the German defense minister acknowledged that Germany and Europe cannot protect themselves without America’s nuclear and conventional capabilities — an acknowledgment disputed by President Emmanuel Macron of France and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, preferring to see Europe less dependent on the United States.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, proliferation of nuclear capabilities has increased. The outdated term “third world” can no longer be equated with third rate. The acquisition of nuclear warheads by terrorists seemed unthinkable in 1968 when the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed. Now, in our current proliferated world, such confidence is much reduced, particularly since Pakistan became a nuclear nation. Pakistan have transmitted nuclear capabilities to others like Iran, who in turn have probably assisted North Korea.

Thus, clearly we still need to rely on deterrence while reinforcing security by the addition of an effective defense, as outlined in the referenced commentary. The world is now multipolar, and we have to explore new ways of maintaining our security in this nuclear-proliferated world. In the interim, we have to rely for the foreseeable future on our limited deterrence and ballistic missile defense capabilities.

In our opinion, deterrence remains limited because we have relied too long on systems that have not been modified nor upgraded since the 1980s. America regularly conducted underground tests to confirm our nuclear stockpile remained fully operational. The last test was in 1992, and since then the stockpile has been monitored under a life-extension program. Deteriorated components are replaced with remanufactured items — a change that potential opponents, on whom we rely upon to remain concerned at our overwhelming strength, will have noted.

The problem we have with the life-extension program is that most of the scientists and engineers who developed and produced the weapons in the stockpile have retired or left. With deteriorating facilities and no significant ongoing program to replace their expertise, unintended consequences can be introduced by replacing components.

Nuclear warheads contain both nuclear and non-nuclear components. Most of the latter were manufactured by contractor companies that may no longer exist, or they are no longer using the same facilities and procedures. The operation of the warhead remains critically dependent on the properties of these components, and no computer simulation program can assure this requirement is met.

Transparency of trials remains an important component of deterrence: We become less secure by not assuring potential opponents that we have the means to inflict devastating destruction to them in response to an attack. Sadly, our lack of investment in the development and production of new warheads reduces our level of security.

Stanley Orman is the founding director general of U.K. participation in the Strategic Defense Initiative program. Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Eugene Fox served as deputy director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization.

The ‘Axis of Resistance’ outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Experts: Iran Eyes Reuniting Its ‘Axis of Resistance’

WASHINGTON – Ongoing talks about restoring ties between the Syrian government and the Palestinian militant group Hamas are part of a new attempt by Iran to revitalize a regional alliance, some experts say.

Iran and its proxy militia groups in the Middle East refer to their alliance as the “Axis of Resistance.”

In a recent interview with the pro-Iranian television channel al-Mayadeen, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah, praised Tehran’s ongoing efforts to maintain relations with all its allies.

Nasrallah said in the interview he met the Hamas politburo chief, Ismail Haniyeh, several times during the latter’s visit to Lebanon last September. Haniyeh traveled to Lebanon to attend the Palestinian faction’s secretaries-general meeting.

Hamas is an Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. Despite its Sunni ideology, it has maintained a close relationship with Iran, a regional Shiite power.

For years, Hamas had offices in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and received support from the Syrian government, another major Iranian ally.

Ties between Hamas and the Syrian government were severed in 2012, however, following the group’s criticism of the crackdown by Damascus on anti-government protesters.

Under pressure from the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hamas leaders left Damascus.

Nasrallah said during his recent meetings with Haniyeh that they discussed mending the ties between Damascus and Hamas. He said, “there is a very positive atmosphere” and Hamas’ “relations with the Syrian regime will be restored, but it is not easy.”

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are designated as terrorist organizations by the United States, while Syria is considered a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.

Normalization factor  

In the wake of the recent agreements to normalize relations between Israel and several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, experts say Tehran will intensify its efforts to fix broken ties in its regional alliance to face new realities in the Middle East.

“Iran considers that normalizing relations with Israel is an opportunity to reunite the ‘Axis of Resistance’ in the region,” said Emad Chidiac, a Lebanon-based analyst and journalist.

Chidiac added that with Hamas vehemently opposed to the Abraham Accords, Iran believes it can exploit the situation by bringing Hamas closer within its regional alliance.

Sponsored by the U.S., the normalization deals between Israel and the Arab countries are collectively called the Abraham Accords.

Expanding the ‘Axis’  

Despite ideological and political differences, Iran and Hezbollah have managed to maintain their strategic relationship with Hamas. Some experts say their shared animosity toward Israel is what has kept their alliance intact.

“What the Iranians along with Hezbollah tried to do is compartmentalize two different conflicts [Syrian war and Israeli-Palestinian conflict], that they realized that Hamas has its own local prerogatives and its own factors to deal with, and this is something that Iran gives to its proxies,” said David Daoud, a research analyst on Hezbollah at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a U.S.-based advocacy group.

Despite news reports about Russia’s plans to push Iran and its proxies out of Syria, Daoud said, Moscow has no intention of dealing with the Syrian conflict on its own.

“The Iranians and the Russians are working in tandem on reconsolidating Syria, ostensibly under Russian control, but really under Iran’s control,” he told VOA. “I think they are moving toward a phase to put the Syrian civil war behind them and put aside their differences and reunify the ranks in a broader resistance axis, which will include Hamas.”

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a press conference that Moscow will not allow Syria to be an arena for a conflict between Israel and Iran.

Lavrov’s comments came after a series of Israeli airstrikes reportedly targeted Iranian forces and weapons warehouses in eastern Syria. The strikes killed 40 Iran-backed fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Hamas’ reluctance  

Despite ongoing efforts by Iran and Hezbollah to restore relations with the Syrian government, some experts contend Hamas could lose significant support locally if it were to opt for a full restoration of relations with Damascus.

This, analysts say, is because thousands of Palestinian refugees remain in the custody of the Syrian government and areas where Hamas is concentrated intensely felt the impact of government attacks in the early years of the war.

“It is a very difficult decision to make, especially when there are many Palestinians displaced and imprisoned by the Syrian regime,” analyst Chidiac said, underscoring that under such circumstances the “Palestinians will not accept a restoration of relations with the Syrian regime.”

The Action Group for the Palestinians of Syria, a Britain-based watchdog, has documented 1,780 Palestinians in Syrian prisons since 2011. The group says the 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria are not able to secure their daily basic needs, noting the war in Syria has displaced 270,000 Palestinian refugees from their homes.

The Yarmouk Camp, the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria, remained besieged by Syrian government forces for five years after it was captured by rebel groups.

WASHINGTON – Ongoing talks about restoring ties between the Syrian government and the Palestinian militant group Hamas are part of a new attempt by Iran to revitalize a regional alliance, some experts say.

Iran and its proxy militia groups in the Middle East refer to their alliance as the “Axis of Resistance.”   

In a recent interview with the pro-Iranian television channel al-Mayadeen, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah, praised Tehran’s ongoing efforts to maintain relations with all its allies.

Nasrallah said in the interview he met the Hamas politburo chief, Ismail Haniyeh, several times during the latter’s visit to Lebanon last September. Haniyeh traveled to Lebanon to attend the Palestinian faction’s secretaries-general meeting.

Hamas is an Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. Despite its Sunni ideology, it has maintained a close relationship with Iran, a regional Shiite power.

For years, Hamas had offices in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and received support from the Syrian government, another major Iranian ally.

Ties between Hamas and the Syrian government were severed in 2012, however, following the group’s criticism of the crackdown by Damascus on anti-government protesters.

Under pressure from the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hamas leaders left Damascus.

Nasrallah said during his recent meetings with Haniyeh that they discussed mending the ties between Damascus and Hamas. He said, “there is a very positive atmosphere” and Hamas’ “relations with the Syrian regime will be restored, but it is not easy.”

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are designated as terrorist organizations by the United States, while Syria is considered a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.

Normalization factor

In the wake of the recent agreements to normalize relations between Israel and several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, experts say Tehran will intensify its efforts to fix broken ties in its regional alliance to face new realities in the Middle East.

“Iran considers that normalizing relations with Israel is an opportunity to reunite the ‘Axis of Resistance’ in the region,” said Emad Chidiac, a Lebanon-based analyst and journalist.

Chidiac added that with Hamas vehemently opposed to the Abraham Accords, Iran believes it can exploit the situation by bringing Hamas closer within its regional alliance.

Sponsored by the U.S., the normalization deals between Israel and the Arab countries are collectively called the Abraham Accords.

Expanding the ‘Axis’

Despite ideological and political differences, Iran and Hezbollah have managed to maintain their strategic relationship with Hamas. Some experts say their shared animosity toward Israel is what has kept their alliance intact.

“What the Iranians along with Hezbollah tried to do is compartmentalize two different conflicts [Syrian war and Israeli-Palestinian conflict], that they realized that Hamas has its own local prerogatives and its own factors to deal with, and this is something that Iran gives to its proxies,” said David Daoud, a research analyst on Hezbollah at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a U.S.-based advocacy group.

Despite news reports about Russia’s plans to push Iran and its proxies out of Syria, Daoud said, Moscow has no intention of dealing with the Syrian conflict on its own.

“The Iranians and the Russians are working in tandem on reconsolidating Syria, ostensibly under Russian control, but really under Iran’s control,” he told VOA. “I think they are moving toward a phase to put the Syrian civil war behind them and put aside their differences and reunify the ranks in a broader resistance axis, which will include Hamas.”

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a press conference that Moscow will not allow Syria to be an arena for a conflict between Israel and Iran.

Lavrov’s comments came after a series of Israeli airstrikes reportedly targeted Iranian forces and weapons warehouses in eastern Syria. The strikes killed 40 Iran-backed fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Hamas’ reluctance

Despite ongoing efforts by Iran and Hezbollah to restore relations with the Syrian government, some experts contend Hamas could lose significant support locally if it were to opt for a full restoration of relations with Damascus.

This, analysts say, is because thousands of Palestinian refugees remain in the custody of the Syrian government and areas where Hamas is concentrated intensely felt the impact of government attacks in the early years of the war.

“It is a very difficult decision to make, especially when there are many Palestinians displaced and imprisoned by the Syrian regime,” analyst Chidiac said, underscoring that under such circumstances the “Palestinians will not accept a restoration of relations with the Syrian regime.”

The Action Group for the Palestinians of Syria, a Britain-based watchdog, has documented 1,780 Palestinians in Syrian prisons since 2011. The group says the 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria are not able to secure their daily basic needs, noting the war in Syria has displaced 270,000 Palestinian refugees from their homes.

The Yarmouk Camp, the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria, remained besieged by Syrian government forces for five years after it was captured by rebel groups.