January 20, 2010New York City isn’t immune to earthquakes; a couple of small tremors measuring about 2.5 on the Richter scale even struck back in 2001 and 2002.But on August 10, 1884, a more powerful earthquake hit. Estimated from 4.9 to 5.5 in magnitude, the tremor made houses shake, chimneys fall, and residents wonder what the heck was going on, according to a New York Timesarticle two days later.The quake was subsequently thought to have been centered off Far Rockaway or Coney Island.It wasn’t the first moderate quake, and it won’t be the last. In a 2008 Columbia University study, seismologists reported that the city is crisscrossed with several fault lines, one along 125th Street. With that in mind, New Yorkers should expect a 5.0 or higher earthquake centered here every 100 years, the seismologists say.Translation: We’re about 30 years overdue. Lucky for us the city adopted earthquake-resistant building codes in 1995.1884 A Forewarning Of The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)
Democrats ask Biden to cede authority on nuclear launches
President Joe Biden speaks about the 500,000 Americans that died from COVID-19, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
By Victor Morton – The Washington Times – Wednesday, February 24, 2021
A group of more than 30 House Democrats is asking President Biden to give up his sole control of U.S. nuclear weapons.
In a letter led by Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California, the Democrats ask that their party’s leader alter the command-and-control structure surrounding America’s nuclear arsenal so that no single person can launch the weapons.
“Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” the letter states. “Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.”
The letter suggests such changes to the command of the U.S. arsenal as requiring approval also from officials in the constitutional line of succession, specifically including the vice president and the House speaker, “neither of whom can be removed by the president if they disagree.”
The U.S. nuclear codes, carried in the famous ”football,” allow the president to launch America’s nuclear arsenal, a change that was made during the Cold War because nuclear weapons theoretically could begin and end a war within an hour, before there would be time to go through the traditional process of declaring war and mobilizing an army.
The nearly three dozen Democrats though more fear a U.S. president starting a war on his own.
“While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so,” the letter adds. “The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.”
No Way Out: Why Nuclear Modernization Is Necessary (In Six Slides)
Loren ThompsonSenior Contributor
Aerospace & Defense
I write about national security, especially its business dimensions.
Last week I participated in an online panel about modernizing the U.S. strategic arsenal sponsored by the Advanced Nuclear Weapons Alliance. ANWA, as it is called, is one of the few think tanks in Washington that focuses on the enduring requirements of nuclear deterrence—and what might happen if those requirements are not met.
Since all the other participants on the panel had credentials superior to my own, I decided that rather than just bloviating I should assemble a PowerPoint brief setting forth the case for nuclear modernization in simple terms. Here is the resulting presentation, which I call “No Way Out: Why Nuclear Modernization Is Necessary.”
The above slide illustrates what would happen if a 500-kiloton nuclear warhead of the type common in the Russian strategic arsenal were detonated above an American city. Distance in miles from the blast is depicted at the bottom of the diagram, and the corresponding level of damage at the top. The numbers within the diagram describe pounds of blast pressure per square inch above normal atmospheric pressure (14.7 pounds at sea level).
Roughly 98% of all people within the circle where 12 psi of overpressure or higher occurs would be killed quickly. There would be extensive fatalities outside that circle too, with survivors frequently suffering skull fractures, eardrum failures, severe lacerations, radiation poisoning and/or burns. But calling 911 would be pointless, because all networks would be destroyed and electronic devices would be rendered inoperable by electromagnetic pulse.
Russia has roughly 700 warheads of this explosive power aimed at America, plus a larger number of warheads with lesser yields.
There is no practical way of defending the U.S. against a large-scale nuclear attack. If even 5% of warheads in the Russian arsenal were to reach U.S. shores, that would be sufficient to destroy America’s economy and social fabric. So, U.S. strategy is to deter an attack by threatening potential aggressors with unacceptable retaliation. By sustaining a “triad” of nuclear forces that can retaliate no matter how powerful a surprise attack might be, Washington seeks to assure that no enemy will have a rational justification for launching its nuclear weapons.
However, all of the weapons in the nuclear triad that would be used to retaliate have grown old. They will need to retire after 2030, and that means the government must develop replacements in this decade. Any delay in the modernization process would result in the United States unilaterally disarming due to the advanced age of its strategic arsenal.
. LOREN THOMPSON
Maintaining and modernizing the nuclear triad does not preclude shrinking the size of the nuclear arsenal. The number of nuclear warheads in the Russian and American arsenals today is a small fraction of their number at the peak of Cold War nuclear buildups. It also is not hugely expensive to modernize the nuclear arsenal: in previous nuclear investment cycles it cost over 10% of the defense budget to sustain and upgrade the strategic arsenal in peak spending years. If current modernization plans are fully executed, sustaining and improving the nuclear triad will claim only 6.4% of the defense budget in the peak year of 2030.
The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines that carry two-thirds of all warheads in the U.S. strategic arsenal must begin retiring at the end of this decade (they are already operating on life extensions). Because they are highly survivable when at sea and provide an assured retaliatory capability that is essential to deterrence, the Navy considers their replacement its top investment priority. The plan is to build 12 Columbia-class subs, each carrying 16 D5 ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. The lead ship in the Columbia class must conduct its first deterrence patrol in 2031.
. LOREN THOMPSON
Land-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles have been deployed in underground silos in the upper Midwest since 1970. They have long since exceeded their original design lives and will not be reliable after 2030. In the absence of 400 ICBMs—each of which would need to be separately targeted in a surprise attack—Russia would be able to disarm the U.S. by destroying less than 20 targets. Experts do not expect attackers would be able to target U.S. submarines at sea in the near future, but ICBMs are a hedge against future breakthroughs in antisubmarine warfare that might call into question the credibility of U.S. retaliatory capabilities.
. LOREN THOMPSON
All of the aircraft in America’s nuclear-capable bomber fleet will need to carry air-launched cruise missiles in the future to penetrate enemy air defenses. Even the new and highly survivable B-21 bomber may need the range-extending capabilities of a next-generation standoff weapon to reach the full array of strategic targets. The current cruise missile carried by U.S. strategic bombers was deployed four decades ago with a projected service life of ten years; it cannot function much longer, and therefore must be replaced by a “Long Range Standoff (LRSO) weapon to assure the retaliatory capability of the triad’s bomber force.
The bottom line on nuclear modernization plans is that Washington has waited as long as possible to replace its aging deterrent. If it delays any longer, the ability of the force to deter nuclear attack in a crisis will become doubtful.
Several companies with a stake in the nuclear modernization program contribute to my think tank.
Check out my website.
Iraqi investigators, not the Biden administration, will determine whether Iran is to blame for two rocket attacks that endangered American troops and diplomats in a move that parts from the Trump administration, which typically blamed Tehran.
The move comes as the Biden administration holds out hope for renewed negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and that the United States will rejoin the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.
“This has nothing to do with any diplomatic efforts that may or may not be happening,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday. “It has to do with trying to make sure we judge accountability the right way, and that’s what the secretary wants to give our Iraqi partners the time and space to do.”
Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Iraqi counterpart after the Feb. 15 attacks on Iraqi facilities in Erbil that endangered Americans and that the secretary offered his assistance.
The spokesman added that he is not aware of whether the offer has been accepted yet, nor what that would constitute.
In the meantime, the Department of Defense refrained from blaming Iran for supporting the militia groups believed to be responsible for the attack in Erbil and a Green Zone attack near the U.S. Embassy on Monday.
Kirby said the attacks had the same markings as past Iranian-backed militia attacks on Americans.
“We’ve seen these kinds of attacks before, rocket attacks in particular, and historically, they have been perpetrated by Shia-backed militia, using similar weapons and similar tactics,” Kirby said.
At another point, Kirby admitted that the rockets are often found to be Iranian-made.
“I don’t want to get into the forensics of these specific attacks,” he said. “Broadly speaking, we have seen that many of these attacks have used Iranian-made, Iranian-supply weaponry.”
Kirby could not say if deferring the investigation to the Iraqi government was a Biden policy change.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t speak to the previous administration and how they handled these things.”
An inquiry seeking a clarification has not been answered.
Updated 11 February 2021 Reuters February 10, 2021 20:55
JERUSALEM: The Iranian nuclear scientist assassinated near Tehran in November was killed by a one-ton gun smuggled into Iran in pieces by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, according to a report by The Jewish Chronicle on Wednesday.
Citing intelligence sources, the British weekly said a team of more than 20 agents, including Israeli and Iranian nationals, carried out the ambush on scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh after eight months of surveillance.
Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report, which was published on the website of the London-based newspaper.
Iranian media said Fakhrizadeh died in hospital after armed assassins gunned him down in his car. Shortly after his death Iran pointed the finger at Israel, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif writing on Twitter of “serious indications of (an) Israeli role.”
Israel declined to comment in November and on Wednesday night an Israeli government spokesman responded to the latest report by saying: “We never comment on such matters. There has been no change in our position.”
Fakhrizadeh, 59, was long suspected by the West of masterminding a secret nuclear bomb program.
He had been described by Western and Israeli intelligence services for years as the mysterious leader of a covert atomic bomb program halted in 2003, which Israel and the United States accuse Tehran of trying to restore. Iran has long denied seeking to weaponize nuclear energy.
According to the Jewish Chronicle’s report, Iran has “secretly assessed that it will take six years” before a replacement for him is “fully operational” and that his death had “extended the period of time it would take Iran to achieve a bomb from about three-and-a-half months to two years.”
Giving no further details of its sourcing, the world’s oldest Jewish newspaper said the Mossad mounted the automated gun on a Nissan pickup and that “the bespoke weapon, operated remotely by agents on the ground as they observed the target, was so heavy because it included a bomb that destroyed the evidence after the killing.”
It said the attack was carried out “by Israel alone, without American involvement” but that US officials were given some form of notice beforehand.
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran is producing highly-enriched uranium faster than called for by the law under which it started the process of enriching to 20% fissile purity last month, diplomats and a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Tuesday said.
As part of a recent acceleration of its breaches of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, Iran has begun refining uranium to 20% at Fordow, a site that was built in secret inside a mountain where the deal says Iran cannot enrich at all.
Until last month Iran had not enriched beyond 4.5% purity – above the deal’s limit of 3.67% but still far below the 20% it achieved before the deal, or the 90% that is weapons-grade. Uranium is considered highly enriched as of 20%.
“They are producing 15 kg a month of uranium enriched to 20%. That is their production rate,” a senior diplomat said.
Recent legislation that required Iran to start enriching to 20% stipulated that at least 120 kg (265 pounds) of uranium refined to that level be produced each year, which amounts to 10 kg a month.
A second diplomat said Iran was “slightly above” the target of 10 kg a month.
A quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities by the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Tuesday obtained by Reuters said that as of Feb. 16 Iran had produced 17.6 kg of uranium enriched up to 20%, with the next level down being enriched between 2%-5%.
Iran’s overall stockpile of enriched uranium grew by 524.9 kg to 2,967.8 kg in the quarter, far above the 2015 deal’s 202.8 kg stockpile limit though still a fraction of the more than eight tonnes Iran had prior to the deal.
Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich
Michael KreponFebruary 23, 2021
Quote of the week:
“Until we, as a department, come to understand, if not accept, what we are facing and what should be done about it, we run the risk of developing plans we cannot execute and procuring capabilities that will not deliver desired outcomes. In the absence of change, we are on the path, once again, to prepare for the conflict we prefer, instead of one we are likely to face. It is through this lens that we must take a hard look at how we intend to compete against and deter our adversaries, assure our allies, and appropriately shape the future joint force.” – Admiral Charles Richard
As the leader of the U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Richard carries the heavy burden of preparing for a wide range of contingencies involving China and Russia. Writing in the Naval Institute Proceedings, he projects that a regional crisis involving Beijing or Moscow “could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state.” He adds, “Consequently, the U.S. military must shift its principal assumption from ‘nuclear employment is not possible’ to ‘nuclear employment is a very real possibility,’ and act to meet and deter that reality.”
This way of thinking about deterrence is reflected in the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint Publication 3-72, “Nuclear Operations,” dated June 11, 2019, which states:
Integration of nuclear weapons into a theater of operations requires the consideration of multiple variables. Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability. Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.
I understand why the Pentagon has once again delved into what is now termed “conventional-nuclear integration.” Strategic planners are tasked to think about the unthinkable. Competitors comingle missiles that carry conventional and nuclear ordnance. “Entanglement” is a serious problem. The chain of command could break down in a severe crisis between nuclear-armed rivals. First use is unlikely to be a U.S. decision, but an adversary seeking to avoid defeat could well make this decision.
Admiral Richard’s formulation begs the questions of why the use of force against Russia or China would be so wildly disproportionate as to actually threaten either regime/state. Smartly conceived U.S. military plans and operations would not come anywhere near this threshold because to do so would invite Armageddon.
But what about lesser contingencies where the United States seeks advantage or dominance in a localized clash with a nuclear-armed state? This, too, could prompt first use by the disadvantaged state, after which all hell could break loose. U.S. forces need to have contingency plans, however otherworldly, including plans for limited nuclear options. That said, how realistic are these plans? How much can a President depend on them?
The Joint Staff’s current endorsement of “conventional-nuclear integration” harkens back to the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations. (For the particulars, I urge readers to consult Fred Kaplan’s fine book, The Bomb.)
Let’s delve into our nuclear history. The Joint Chiefs issued a policy paper in 1954 stating, “It is the policy of the United States that atomic weapons will be integrated with other weapons in the arsenal of the United States.” The Army created “pentomic divisions” to fight on battlefields where both conventional and nuclear weapons were used. Army units were equipped with the Davy Crockett, a tactical nuclear weapon that looked like a large recoilless rifle with the range of just over one mile. Soldiers could also carry atomic weapons in backpacks.
The concept of “pentomic” warfare was later acknowledged to be profoundly unsound at the tactical and operational levels of warfare. There were political problems, as well. For anything but a major war, it turned out that Eisenhower was as averse to crossing the nuclear threshold as he was eager to save money by relying on nuclear weapons.
The word “prevail” in the Joint Chief’s current formulation echoes terminology from the Reagan administration. Reagan’s brain trust at the Pentagon took varied steps to increase the salience of nuclear weapons after what was termed a “decade of neglect” during the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations. If truth be told, these administrations spent over one trillion dollars on defense, raising the total of U.S. warheads available for use on strategic forces from 4,250 to 9,200.
U.S. defense guidance back then was to prevail even in conditions of a protracted nuclear war, a formulation that Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger defended strenuously on Capitol Hill. Not to do so, in Weinberger’s view, would constitute an impeachable offense. The Pentagon’s doctrine created major perturbations at home and in allied countries that sought safety under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. It was also totally at odds with Reagan’s deeply ingrained instincts never to use nuclear weapons; he wanted to abolish them.
Given this history, the Biden administration is obliged to take a hard look at the concept of “conventional-nuclear integration.” This concept is based on two highly contestable assumptions: first, that nuclear weapons have utility for war fighting, and second, that nuclear escalation can be controlled. Planning for battlefield use of nuclear weapons on the basis of both conjectural assumptions is necessary; executing these plans would be most unwise.
Serious brainpower has been applied to figuring out how to employ nuclear weapons in warfare. Think of Herman Kahn, Henry Kissinger, Bernard Brodie and James Schlesinger, for a start. Not one of these gentlemen was able to offer a convincing case of how to seek advantage and dominance and yet control escalation and prevent unacceptable damage in return. Intellectual constructs that work in the abstract but that fail once nuclear detonations begin cannot be a sound basis for national security policy.
Deterrence is a necessary objective, but deterrence fails and after failure, nuclear weapons are the insurance policy that compounds rather than compensates for loss. When deterrence fails, the value of this immensely expensive insurance policy plummets because national leaders will try their hardest to avoid crossing the nuclear threshold. Leaders that have countries to defend understand the likely consequences of first use. They therefore want and deserve military capabilities that not only can deter a serious crisis, but also have military utility if deterrence fails.
If deterrence fails and nuclear-armed rivals clash, serious analysis suggests that the outcome is likely to be determined by three factors above all. The first is the disposition of usable — that is to say, non-nuclear — capabilities within the zone of conflict or that can be brought to bear quickly once fighting begins. The second is the perceived stakes involved in the outcome of the crisis. The third is the personality traits of the contesting national leaders. So far, these personality traits, however misshapen, have not led to first use during intense crises. Even national leaders with megalomaniacal and sociopathic traits have understood how infamous and damaging first use would be — even against states that cannot retaliate in kind.
Consequently, the balance or imbalance of nuclear capabilities had no bearing on the outcome of the border clash in 1969 between China and the Soviet Union, nor during the 1999 clash between Pakistan and India. In the first instance, Moscow enjoyed clear nuclear superiority and yet Beijing initiated the crisis. In the second instance, the nuclear order of battle was opaque. Pakistan probably enjoyed nuclear advantage while seeking to change the status quo in the disputed area of Kashmir, but India enjoyed conventional advantages in the zone of crisis and could not afford to accept a change in the status quo. Pakistan backed down.
It is dangerously misguided to believe that the use of nuclear weapons would “create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability”. This presumes that nuclear advantage offers leverage and political utility in a crisis where the stakes in dispute might suggest otherwise. This also presumes escalation control when the first use of nuclear weapons, even at low yield, would far more likely create conditions for uncontrolled escalation. And absent escalation control, there is no way to square the use of nuclear weapons with the international humanitarian laws of armed conflict to which the Pentagon adheres.
I get it why these plans exist, but no political leader can possibly have confidence in them. Biden is as strongly averse to authorizing the use of nuclear weapons as his predecessors. And like his predecessors, he is likely to notionally accept STRATCOM’s nuclear warfighting plans without telling the Pentagon brass to go back to the drawing boards. Biden will nonetheless be deeply averse to authorizing the execution of plans for “conventional-nuclear integration.”
Nuclear weapons are reasonably good but not entirely effective for deterrence. They are terrible for war fighting, which helps explain the last seven decades on non-battlefield use. Biden will want and need to have at his disposal more and better non-nuclear capabilities to deter and affect the outcome of future crises.