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.
Want to cut costs and contain China? Allow friendly nuclear proliferation.
December 30, 2020, 6:00 AM
People watch a television showing footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul, on Jan. 1, 2020. Jong Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images
Nobody envies U.S. President-elect Joe Biden at the moment. The problems he faces seem insurmountable.
China likely will be the administration’s most serious foreign challenge. The United States is wealthier and more powerful, but remains committed—overcommitted, in fact—around the globe. The world’s finest—and most expensive—military goes only so far.
Moreover, domestic needs and international wants will increasingly clash. As America entered 2020, the federal budget deficit was expected to run to $1.1 trillion. Combating the coronavirus pandemic and providing economic relief pushed that number to $3.1 trillion. It will be more than $2 trillion this year, and could go much higher, if Congress and the president agree on a new stimulus package. The Congressional Budget Office had predicted another $10 trillion in red ink over the coming decade, but the additional COVID-19 deficit, reflecting a combination of increased outlays and decreased revenues, could be as much as $16 trillion.
China is a challenge—but it’s not a direct military threat to the United States itself. Without such a threat, it will be difficult if not impossible to rouse public sentiment sufficiently to fund the sort of military expansion necessary to overawe and defeat a rising China in its own neighborhood. It costs much more to project power than deter its use, especially across an ocean several thousand miles wide. But there’s a cheaper and more effective solution to keeping the peace: Let America’s allies have nukes.
Can the United States defend Taiwan, destroy Chinese naval outposts on artificial islands, keep sea lanes open, protect territories claimed by Japan and the Philippines, and so on? Beijing is focused on developing Anti Access/Area Denial capabilities: It costs much less for China to build missiles and submarines capable of sinking aircraft carriers than for the United States to construct, staff, and maintain the latter. The Pentagon is concocting countervailing strategies, but they will be neither cheap nor risk-free. How much can Americans, facing manifold, expensive challenges at home and elsewhere abroad, afford to devote to containing the PRC essentially within its own borders?
And should the United States even attempt to do so? It will be difficult to generate sustained public support for sacrificial military spending to, say, ensure that the Senkaku Islands remain under Japanese control. Japan analysts at Washington think tanks might wax eloquent in their latest webinar about the vital American interests at stake, but the public will be more skeptical. And, in fact, many of the Washington policy community’s greatest fears understandably don’t matter much to the American people.
For instance, it isn’t terribly important that Beijing has grabbed control of Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines. Ownership of such specks of land yield control over fish and hydrocarbons, but that does not make them worth Americans’ blood. Nor are the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Indeed, American involvement is not the best response, and certainly shouldn’t be the first response in such contingencies. It is self-evident that such activities matter more to allied and friendly nations than to America. The best constraint on the PRC comes from its neighbors. It is surrounded by nations it’s fought with in the last century, both as victim and invader: Russia, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and India. New middling powers include Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Just as Beijing is concentrating on deterring U.S. military intervention in the region, other countries can create forces capable of deterring China. They surely have an interest to do so —and not just to hold outlying territories. The independence of these and other nations matters more than their control over disputed lands.
Of course, these nations, which vary widely in size, wealth, and government, typically contend that they can ill afford to mount a defense, and that historical or political differences prevent them organizing together. Despite some truth to their objections, such claims should not become excuses for cheap riding. If these states are under threat, one much greater than that facing the United States, with pacific neighbors south and north, and vast oceans east and west, they have a powerful incentive to act. Yet America’s friends and allies have taken a shockingly lackadaisical attitude toward their own security. Even if the United States backstops their independence, American involvement should be a last resort.
If these states are under threat, one much greater than that facing the United States, with pacific neighbors south and north, and vast oceans east and west, they have a powerful incentive to act.
The Europeans have pioneered freeloading on Washington’s vast military spending, but the Asians are not far behind. If Tokyo is truly worried about losing a few barren pieces of rock—or, more seriously, fears an invasion of its main islands—why doesn’t it devote more than 1 percent of spending on defense? The tribulations of history are well-known, but they are no justification for expecting badly cash-strapped Americans to step into the breach.
The Philippines barely makes an effort, devoting less than a 1 percent of its GDP to its armed forces. A few years back its defense minister complained that the navy could barely sail and the air force could barely fly. The navy’s flagship is a half-century old U.S. Coast Guard cast-off. Manila hopes to borrow the U.S. Pacific fleet in case of trouble.
<img src=”https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/GettyImages-631499750.jpg?w=800&h=538&quality=80″ alt=”U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, then the outgoing vice president, outlines nuclear issues in Washington, DC on Jan. 11, 2017.” class=”image -fit-3-2″>
What Does the Future of America’s Nuclear Briefcase Look Like?
Worse, Taiwan, by far China’s most endangered neighbor, spends less than 2 percent of GDP to protect itself—although a recently proposed budget envisages raising this considerably. Military outlays have gotten caught in the political crossfire between the two major parties. Grant Newsham of the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies cited “successive Democratic Progressive Party and Kuomintang administrations’ mystifying but steadfast refusal to properly fund defense—even though Taiwan is a wealthy nation and facing a serious threat from mainland China.”
Why are countries so unwilling to do more on their own behalf? Perhaps they do not believe Beijing poses a threat—or they are convinced that America will step in if necessary. Growing concern over the PRC and its perceived ambitions appears to have loosened the military purse strings of some Chinese neighbors—but not nearly enough. U.S. officials have tried complaining, whining, and demanding, with only indifferent success. Better for the incoming administration to tell allies and friends that while America “is back,” as the president-elect has proclaimed, that doesn’t mean Americans should carry a burden that rightly belongs to others. Nor should other governments want to put their nations’ futures into someone else’s hands, even those belonging to the United States.
This applies with greatest force to the principle of extended deterrence, which friendly governments seem to assume is their due. Washington’s threat to go nuclear on its allies’ behalf—an implicit promise of undetermined reach in unstated circumstances—is an extraordinary commitment, since it treats other nations’ interests of varying importance as existential for America. This strategy is most likely to work if the opponent does not possess nuclear weapons or Washington’s interest in its ally’s security is at least as great as that of the nuclear-armed adversary. That is not the case in today’s potential East Asia-Pacific conflicts.
This applies with greatest force to the principle of extended deterrence, which friendly governments seem to assume is their due.
Put bluntly, none of the contested interests are worth the resulting risks to America’s homeland. Certainly not the various islands, reefs, shoals, islets, rocks, and other detritus strewn about the South China Sea, East China Sea, and other waters nearby. Nor the Philippines, a semi-failed state, almost uniquely badly governed. Taiwan is a better, or certainly a more valuable, friend, but is little more important to America’s defense than Cuba is to Chinese security, which isn’t much.
It is difficult to make a credible case for extended deterrence even for Japan. Would any American president really trade Los Angeles for Tokyo? The promise is made on the assumption that the bluff will never be called: Advocates simply assume perfect deterrence. However, history is littered with similar military and political presumptions, later shattered with catastrophic consequences.
The danger surrounding South Korea is most acute, and not because of Beijing. Rather, the threat is North Korea’s nuclear program. Pyongyang has no interest in attacking the United States but can be expected to defend itself. It would have a strong incentive to use nukes if Washington threatened the North’s defeat. Yet nothing in the Korean peninsula is worth the sacrifice of American cities.
What to do? There is one way to square the circle. The Biden administration should reconsider reflexive U.S. opposition to “friendly proliferation.” Ironically, current policy ensures that nuclear weapons are held by only the worst Asian states—authoritarian and revisionist China and Russia, Islamist and unstable Pakistan, illiberal and Hindu nationalist India, and totalitarian and threatening North Korea. Against all these, Washington is supposed to defend Japan and South Korea, certainly, the Philippines and Australia, possibly, and Taiwan, conceivably. That is dangerous for everyone, especially the United States.
Ironically, current policy ensures that nuclear weapons are held by only the worst Asian states—authoritarian and revisionist China and Russia, Islamist and unstable Pakistan, illiberal and Hindu nationalist India, and totalitarian and threatening North Korea.
Reversing a policy supported by neoconservative nation-builders, unilateral nationalists, and liberal internationalists would not be easy. The change would be dramatic, and not without risk, whether from potential terrorism, nuclear accidents, or geopolitical provocations. Although the nuclear age has been surprisingly stable, proliferation necessarily creates additional risks for conflict and leakage. Nevertheless, the existence of nuclear weapons probably helped contain conventional conflict, especially between the United States and the Soviet Union. Even more, nations are convinced that modest arsenals keep rival states at bay, which is why countries as disparate as Israel, North Korea, and India have developed arsenals at great cost.
All of these countries, except the Philippines, are easily capable of developing their own nuclear weapons. Of course, they might decide not to do so, as is their right. However, there is significant popular support in South Korea for amassing a countervailing arsenal. The issue is understandably far more fraught for Japan. However, Japanese enthusiasm for pacifism always has reflected a belief that Washington would come to that country’s defense. If that was no longer certain, the Japanese people might react differently.
Australia is another potential nuclear state. Until recently, Canberra might have been hesitant to risk its commercially advantageous relationship with the PRC. However, under sharp economic assault from Beijing today, Australians may be more inclined to add the ultimate weapon to their military repertoire.
Taiwan is in greatest need of such a weapon, but developing one would be highly destabilizing, since Beijing would be tempted to preempt the process. The alternative would be for Washington to fill Taiwan’s need, with a profound impact on Sino-American relations. Proliferation would not be a good solution—but it might be the least bad one.
No doubt, a nuclear-armed China would react badly to better-armed neighbors, but it is no happier with a more involved United States. Moreover, the prospect of American friends and allies developing nukes might prompt the PRC to change course, backing away from confrontation, seeking diplomatic answers for territorial disputes, and pushing North Korea harder to limit if not roll back its nuclear program. Two or three additional nations choosing nukes would permanently transform the regional balance of power, to China’s great disadvantage.
The PRC, not Russia or the Middle East, will pose the defining challenge to the Biden administration. Grappling with such a rising power will be very different to confronting the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It is easier to know what not to do with China than what to do. Don’t go to war. Don’t stage a new cold war. Don’t sacrifice core values and basic interests. Don’t make the issue all about Washington. Don’t waste money and credibility on overambitious, unsustainable attempts at containment. Don’t attempt to dictate to the PRC.
But what to do? The United States should think creatively about new approaches to old problems. One way to do so is to stop hectoring partners and preventing them from doing what they want to do. Including, perhaps, developing nuclear weapons.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books, including Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World
Subcontinent is probably the epicenter of international politics. Though Whitehouse controls the world affairs but New Delhi and Islamabad steals the limelight. The two nuclear neighbors, Pakistan and India happen to be the deadliest rivals in the whole world. Besides being archrivals, the two countries bear infinite similarities in culture, geography, languages, politics, social life and education but the two neighbors are bitter foes who can go to any extent to vanquish one another. The two neighboring nations have fought numerous wars. Border skirmishes between the two sides are almost a routine where innocent civilians and men in uniform fall prey to bullets and mortar shells. And these two nations are almost engaged in a cold war which has drained off their economies very badly. India and Pakistan are known as the most hyped arch rivals in cricketing arenas.
Moscow and Washington produce sophisticated armory, and these two Asian giants expand and decorate their respective armed stations with it, prove their armed awe, majesty and regional hegemony. The two Himalayan nations are the major purchasers of arms and ammunitions, produced in United States of America and Russia. The two neighboring nations have somewhat identical issues which hamper their economic growth and development. Fragile Indo-Pak ties, border disputes, poverty, illiteracy, gender disparity and tumbling economies, are some common issues of the subcontinent twin nuclear giants.
Economy is perhaps the backbone of every nation. Though India is the sixth largest economy of the world but it has a national debt of 2628.49 billion US dollars for the year 2021, contrary to 2332.81 billion US dollars in the year 2020 and 2016.73 in the year 2019. And the situation in the neighboring Pakistan is not somewhat pleasing. As of August 2020, the national debt of Pakistan was 270 billion US dollars, which is 106.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) of Pakistan. According to a UN report, 190.7 million Indians are undernourished or starved. The report further states that 38.4% children, under the age-group of five are stunted. These children are hardly able to perform at par with healthy children of the country which turns to a stumbling block in the national development and progression. The percentages in our neighboring Srilanka and China are 14.7% and 9.4% respectively. The scenario is no different in Pakistan. One among every five Pakistani citizens is malnourished or undernourished which amounts to 200 million souls in that country.
According to the global hunger index 2020, both India and Pakistan are in the serious category. India is placed at 94th spot in the index while as Pakistan stands a few notches up at 78th spot. According to this report, 14% Indian populace is caught up in the clutches of starvation which hinders our progress to come at par with the developed countries of the world. Hunger of common masses is an ugly blot on our collective conscience. We need to be realistic, to ensure that everyone is fed well.
The scenario in educational fields too is not encouraging. Though the literacy rate in India has taken a giant leap since its independence in 1947 but she is home to the world’s largest illiterate populace. According to the census of 2011, the literacy rate of India has risen to 74% but it should not bring a sense of contentment and complacency in the minds of people at the helm because India is the second largest populated nation of the world. The situation worsens, when women education is taken into account. According to 2011 census report, female literacy rate lingers at 65.46% against 82.14% men literacy rate. This displays a gulf between the education of opposite sexes in the country. Our neighbor viz Pakistan is no better than its counterpart. According to the available data, the literacy rate in Pakistan is 60% which means 40% Pakistanis are illiterates. The pathetic situation deteriorates further in rural areas of the country. Poverty stricken people prefer menial jobs over education. How can politicians brag and boast when their masses are deprived of education and food? I pity this politics of ego and individualism!
The crime against women is quite common in both the countries. The graphs of domestic violence against women in both the countries touch the same heights on the crime scale. According to the data released by the government of India in September 2020; eighty seven rape cases were recorded daily in India in the year 2019 which mounted the overall cases of crime against women to 4,05,861. The figures show a considerable rise of 7% in the graph of violence against women from 2018. The scenario is absolutely displeasing in Pakistan. As per government data, the graph against women has recorded a steep rise of 200% which is quite contrary to the reputation of a Muslim state.
We can imagine the deplorable circumstances, under which the people of both the countries live in. Let’s now see the priorities of expenditure of these two nations. No doubt, sizeable amounts are spent on education, food security, agriculture, horticulture and healthcare but it is not still touching the desired parameters. The two subcontinent nations are not able to spend properly in the right areas because their priorities are altogether different and strange. Their prime areas of investment are defense and elections. Furthermore, India’s defense budget for 2020-21 fiscal amounted to 4,71,378 crore rupees, with an increase of almost 7% while as Pakistan allocated rupees 1289 crore for its defense outlay, during the year 2020-21. Siachen glacier costs India rupees five crore a day, and almost the same amount to the neighboring Pakistan. I am not against raising a powerful army and strong defensive platform but both the countries must reduce their excessive and unnecessary burden on the budget. Goodwill and mutual understanding can help the two countries to de-escalate tensions. Strained relationships will never let these countries reduce their tensions. The rat race of piling up of arms and ammunition is harming the developmental process of the subcontinent nuclear powers incessantly. Keeping missiles and sophisticated armory is the need of the our but it must not be at the cost of people’s health, nutrition, education and right to life. The two Asian giants are more concerned about their armed strengths than the well-being of their common masses.
Electioneering in the two subcontinent countries is no lesser than a festivity. It is another mammoth which eats up the lion’s share our economy. According to the data available, the cost of India’s 2019 general elections amounted to fifty thousand crore rupees. And there are different kinds of other elections viz assembly and local bodies elections, held in different parts of the country every year which drain off our state exchequer viciously. Our political scientists must come forward with something like Electoral College options. I advocate the general elections should be held after every ten years instead of five years. Though it can create a sense of totalitarian attitude in the elected regimes but it will surely save our state exchequers from the gigantic economic burden. Our neighbors have the same issues and they must think on the identical lines.
People at the helm must understand the aspirations of the people. People need proper nutrition, pure drinking water, adequate healthcare services, and right to live with peace and quality education. Missiles, bombs and nuclear weapons add to your military might but can’t provide two meals to your starved masses. Both the nuclear neighbors must shun their obstinate and stubborn stances to emerge as the most progressed and prospered nations of the subcontinent. Infamous colonial rule of slavery has ended but we are still in the chains of poverty, animosity, hostility, illiteracy, and malnutrition. May good sense prevail on both sides of the border?
(Author is a Teacher and Rising Kashmir Columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com )
Officer says Tehran sees 2015 nuclear deal as only exit point from its severe situation.
Iran is at an unprecedented “low point” due to actions carried out by Israel and the US, but it has not stopped investing in its nuclear project, OC IDF Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heiman said this week.
“In its current situation, Iran considers a nuclear deal the only way out of the crisis, and hence it is trying to go back to the deal it signed in 2015,” he said at a press briefing.
According to IDF estimates, it would take Iran about two years to build a bomb once it decides to do so.Israel reportedly has launched a multitude of operations against Iran to undermine its nuclear program. An explosion at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the assassination in November of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, were attributed to Israel in recent reports.
Israel has also worked closely with the US to impose crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.
According to Heiman, Iran starts 2021 “battered, but on its feet,” and it hopes the new US administration will change its attitude toward it.
However, the first signs of this attitude are not promising for Tehran. On Sunday, President Joe Biden said the US would not lift sanctions on Iran unless it first stops enrichment of uranium.
The White House later clarified that Biden’s “position remains exactly what it has been, which is that if Iran comes into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same and then use that as a platform to build a larger and stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern.”
Traditionally, there are two main alliances in the region: the Shi’ites, led by Iran, which includes Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen; and the radical Sunnis, which includes Turkey, Qatar, Libya and other countries that left this pact over the years.
In 2020, a new regional alliance was formed that includes Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. This alliance of moderate Sunni countries and Israel is closer to the US and Europe, and it raises concerns and fears in Iran regarding the potential of more sanctions and pressure in the future.
In Iran, there are two main camps with a different attitude toward a nuclear agreement.
The so-called moderate camp, which includes President Hassan Rouhani, is willing to make concessions and prefers to reach a new agreement with the US as soon as possible to ease the economic crisis.
The conservative camp believes patience will reward the Islamic Republic in the long term. It opposes concessions and maintains that only if the US backtracks first will Iran change its attitude.
Israel, as well as the US and Europe, are waiting to see the outcome of Iran’s presidential election in June. Some experts believe Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is closer in his ideas to the conservative camp, prefers a victory by the moderate camp.
Khamenei is an autocrat who makes the most important decisions on his own. This is why, according to experts, he would like to show the world a more moderate and open face that might lure the West to ease sanctions and at the same time help Iran advance toward a bomb.
With Russia, China and North Korea all modernizing their nuclear arsenals, and Iran enriching, allies want U.S. reassurance. But they are less inclined to believe it.
By Steven Erlanger
Feb. 10, 2021
Updated 12:03 p.m. ET
BRUSSELS — When Joseph R. Biden Jr. left office as vice president four years ago, anxiety about nuclear weapons was low, save for North Korea. But after four years of Donald J. Trump, President Biden has returned to a world filled with nuclear dangers.
There is little arms control; modern technologies are unrestrained; and the players are more numerous and rapidly building up nuclear stockpiles. As important, Mr. Trump’s transactional, spasmodic, “America First” policies undermined allies’ confidence in American security guarantees.
Many experts are now warning that Mr. Biden must once again make arms control a priority, even if the notion seems as dated as the wide-lapeled suits of the 1970s and ’80s, when complex treaties about “throw weights” and “multiple-entry vehicles” dominated Cold War diplomacy.
Not to do so, they say, risks the acceleration of a nuclear arms race, with new threats to American allies in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
But few want to discuss the perils, especially in Europe, where nuclear literacy is largely gone and the danger comes from shorter-range nuclear weapons uncovered by any arms control.
To Nathalie Tocci, director of Italy’s Institute of International Affairs, the lack of a debate is shocking. “We barely discuss nuclear,” she said. “On the risk and threat side, there’s no sufficient understanding of how more dangerous it’s becoming.”
The most immediate fix would be to restore American credibility, experts said, though even that may not be easy. The old assurance that the United States would respond with its own arsenal if allies were attacked was a strong barrier to the spread of nuclear weapons. No more, perhaps.
America’s partners in Europe and Asia feel vulnerable. They want reassurance that America’s security guarantees are valid, realistic and reliable, experts said. If not, some would consider going nuclear themselves, openly or secretly.
What is compelling them are the new dangers of a world where North Korea’s nuclear and missile arsenals are expanding; where China is doubling its nuclear-weapons stockpile and building sophisticated intermediate-range missiles; where Russia has modernized its nuclear arms and is developing hypersonic missiles; and where Iran is thought to be several months from producing enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb.
Missiles at a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, in January. The North has expanded its arsenal.
KCNA, via Associated Press
Just before the last nuclear arms-control treaty with Russia, New START, expired, Mr. Biden extended for another five years. But it does nothing to diminish the threat from more modern technologies, from tactical or medium-range nuclear missiles, or from other nuclear nations.
All other nuclear arms control treaties, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, have lapsed, and Mr. Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which put tight limits on Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium.
The combination of these challenges raises the nuclear security of our allies anew, as they ask whether they can continue to rely on the United States as they’ve always done,” said Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
“Some allies wonder about the viability and credibility of the U.S. nuclear and security guarantee,” he said.
Doubts about America’s security guarantees are not new, but they are bigger than ever. Charles de Gaulle, who as French president created his country’s independent nuclear deterrent in the 1960s, questioned American willingness to trade “New York for Paris,” and in 2018 Mr. Trump wondered if the United States should go to war to defend Montenegro, a NATO member state.
Given the new reach and capability of North Korea, with missiles that could hit the United States, Mr. Daalder said, Asian allies are asking: “Will you sacrifice us for you? Will you save Seattle at the price of Seoul?”
The Biden nuclear agenda has not so far received the global attention it warrants, especially regarding Asia and China’s modernization,” said Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia who is president of the Asia Society.
“There has to be sufficient belief in collective deterrence and the American nuclear umbrella to prevent allies from contemplating their own national nuclear breakouts,” he said.
The problem of reassurance Mr. Biden faces is both military and political, said Mark Fitzpatrick, an associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. There is the growing threat from nuclear adversaries and less arms control, he said, and then there are the doubts about American willingness to act.
America’s nuclear guarantee “has suffered the most from Trump’s transactional approach to alliances,” he said. “If I were an American ally I’d have to think twice about how much I could rely on the U.S. guarantee, given that this American isolationism and unilateralism isn’t going away.”
Mr. Daalder put together 16 former officials and analysts to write a report on these issues.
Among its recommendations are suggestions to “rebalance the trans-Atlantic partnership” by encouraging Europe to take more responsibility for its own defense and security.
Europeans should fund “real military capabilities” instead of administration and modernize NATO nuclear assets, the report says. Controversially, it recommends that France and Britain join in extending their nuclear deterrents to cover European allies.
The report also urges Washington to resume serious security cooperation with Japan and South Korea and to create an Asian nuclear planning group, including Australia, to bring allies into American nuclear strategy for the region.
If Europe is also vulnerable, anxiety is especially acute in Asia.
“Both South Korea and Japan are under threat from this growing North Korean nuclear arsenal and missile capability,” said Byung-se Yun, a former South Korean foreign minister. “Both countries feel that the current level of extended deterrence is not sufficient to protect us. Nuclear reassurance has become the first and foremost issue for America in Asia.”
Asians worry that Washington will make a deal with North Korea on intercontinental missiles but not shorter-range ones, which could start to decouple American and South Korean interests.
In opinion polls, a consistent majority of South Koreans support acquiring nuclear weapons, and centrist and conservative political parties have called on Washington to station nuclear weapons in the country.
The problem of reassurance President Biden faces is both military and political.
Oliver Contreras for The New York Times
Japan is also vulnerable but is allergic to debating nuclear strategy after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said Nobuyasu Abe, a former commissioner of Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission and former U.N. under secretary-general for disarmament.
North Korea does not yet have a second-strike capacity, he said, but “we may be overconfident.”
China, rapidly increasing its military budget and nuclear stockpile, is a different matter. “What’s happening to us is China,” Mr. Abe said. “It’s a big dragon but its tail is too short to be seen by Europeans.”
The risk is Taiwan, he said, and how to defend it or deter China from attacking it.
The United States is 10,000 kilometers away, Mr. Abe said. “So persuade us that you can deter the Chinese. Are you ready to use nuclear weapons to deter China? Washington has never said yes.”
An aggressive Russia presents similar problems for Europe and especially for Germany, with its own nuclear allergy, said Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference.
The issue is so sensitive that “for the 16 years of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship we have not had a meaningful discussion about deterrence, what it means, do we need it, why, and the substance of NATO’s policy,” he said.
A rally in Tehran. Iran is thought to be several months from having enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press
The loss of public confidence in the United States after the Trump years, especially in Germany, is vivid in opinion polls by the European Council on Foreign Relations.
But French ideas about European “strategic autonomy” are risky, Mr. Ischinger said. “NATO is so important to our security, we must avoid sending any signals that we’re considering alternatives.”
Radoslaw Sikorski, a European legislator and former Polish foreign and defense minister, sees danger in Russia’s new weapons, especially without the intermediate-range forces treaty.
“What’s surprising is that this has provoked no reaction in capitals that have come into range, like Berlin,” he said. “There’s nothing like the discussion and reaction produced by a similar move by the Soviets in the mid-1980s, when millions protested and governments were brought down.”
As Mr. Fitzpatrick notes, “vulnerability doesn’t matter if you believe and trust in U.S. security guarantees, because the U.S. has over the horizon stuff that can hit targets in 30 minutes.”
But that, he and others say, is an increasingly big “if.”
AP / Feb 9, 2021, 15:49 IST
TEHRAN: Iran’s intelligence minister has warned the West that his country could push for a nuclear weapon if crippling international sanctions on Tehran remain in place, state television reported Tuesday.
The remarks by Mahmoud Alavi mark a rare occasion that a government official says Iran could reverse its course on the nuclear program. Tehran has long insisted that the program is for peaceful purposes only.
A 1990s fatwa, or religious edict, by the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei states that nuclear weapons are forbidden.
Our nuclear program is peaceful and the fatwa by the supreme leader has forbidden nuclear weapons, but if they push Iran into that direction, then it wouldn’t be Iran’s fault but theirs,” Alavi was quoted as saying.
However, Alavi added Iran has no plans to move toward a nuclear weapon under “current circumstances.”
The 81-year-old Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state in Iran, on Sunday urged the United States to lift all sanctions if it wants Iran to live up to commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. However, President Joe Biden has said the US won’t be making the first move.
Following the killing last December of an Iranian scientist credited with spearheading the country’s disbanded military nuclear program, Iran’s parliament has approved a law to block international nuclear inspectors later this month – a serious violation of the accord.
Alavi, the intelligence minister, was also quoted as saying that a member of the Iranian armed forces “facilitated” the killing of the scientist, which Iran has blamed on Israel.
The minister did not expand on what he meant – and it was not clear if the soldier had carried out the explosion that killed the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Israel, which has been suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade, has repeatedly declined to comment on the attack.
This was the first time that Iran acknowledged a member of its armed forces may have acted as an accomplice in the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who headed Iran’s so-called AMAD program, which Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon.
The International Atomic Energy Agency – the UN’s nuclear watchdog – says that “structured program” ended in 2003. US intelligence agencies concurred with that assessment in a 2007 report.
However, Israel insists Iran still maintains the ambition of developing nuclear weapons, pointing to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and research into other technologies.
In December Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani vowed to avenge Fakhrizadeh’s killing, saying his country will decide time or venue of any retaliatory action.
In response to former President Donald Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, the country began to gradually violate its atomic commitments under the nuclear deal, and threatened further provocations in a bid to increase its leverage and get Biden to prioritize a return to the deal as he moves to dismantle Trump’s legacy.
As part of those steps, Iran has begun enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels and said it would experiment with uranium metals, a key component of a nuclear warhead. Iran insists that all breaches of the pact are easily reversible.
On Monday, Israeli soldiers attacked with live ammunition Palestinian farmers and shepherds, east of Gaza city, and Khan Younis, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, while navy ships attacked fishing boats in Palestinian territorial waters.
Eyewitnesses said the soldiers fired many rounds of live ammunition, in addition to concussion grenades at Palestinian farmers, working on their farmlands near the fence, east of the az-Zeitoun neighborhood, in Gaza city.
They added that the attack did not lead to casualties, but forced the Palestinians out of their lands.
In addition, the soldiers fired bursts of sporadic live fire at shepherds on Palestinian lands, east of the al-Qarara town, east of Khan Younis, forcing them to leave.
Furthermore, Israeli navy ships fired live rounds at Palestinian fishing boats, less than six nautical miles from the shore of Gaza city, causing damage, and endearing the lives of the fishermen who had to leave without being able to fish to provide for their families.