USGS Evidence Shows Power of the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

New Evidence Shows Power of East Coast Earthquakes
Virginia Earthquake Triggered Landslides at Great Distances
Released: 11/6/2012 8:30:00 AM USGS.govEarthquake shaking in the eastern United States can travel much farther and cause damage over larger areas than previously thought.U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that last year’s magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Virginia triggered landslides at distances four times farther—and over an area 20 times larger—than previous research has shown.“We used landslides as an example and direct physical evidence to see how far-reaching shaking from east coast earthquakes could be,” said Randall Jibson, USGS scientist and lead author of this study. “Not every earthquake will trigger landslides, but we can use landslide distributions to estimate characteristics of earthquake energy and how far regional ground shaking could occur.”“Scientists are confirming with empirical data what more than 50 million people in the eastern U.S. experienced firsthand: this was one powerful earthquake,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Calibrating the distance over which landslides occur may also help us reach back into the geologic record to look for evidence of past history of major earthquakes from the Virginia seismic zone.”This study will help inform earthquake hazard and risk assessments as well as emergency preparedness, whether for landslides or other earthquake effects.This study also supports existing research showing that although earthquakes  are less frequent in the East, their damaging effects can extend over a much larger area as compared to the western United States.The research is being presented today at the Geological Society of America conference, and will be published in the December 2012 issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.The USGS found that the farthest landslide from the 2011 Virginia earthquake was 245 km (150 miles) from the epicenter. This is by far the greatest landslide distance recorded from any other earthquake of similar magnitude.Previous studies of worldwide earthquakes indicated that landslides occurred no farther than 60 km (36 miles) from the epicenter of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake.“What makes this new study so unique is that it provides direct observational evidence from the largest earthquake to occur in more than 100 years in the eastern U.S,” said Jibson. “Now that we know more about the power of East Coast earthquakes, equations that predict ground shaking might need to be revised.”It is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population could have felt last year’s earthquake in Virginia, more than any earthquake in U.S. history. About 148,000 people reported their ground-shaking experiences caused by the earthquake on the USGS “Did You Feel It?” website. Shaking reports came from southeastern Canada to Florida and as far west as Texas.In addition to the great landslide distances recorded, the landslides from the 2011 Virginia earthquake occurred in an area 20 times larger than expected from studies of worldwide earthquakes. Scientists plotted the landslide locations that were farthest out and then calculated the area enclosed by those landslides. The observed landslides from last year’s Virginia earthquake enclose an area of about 33,400 km2, while previous studies indicated an expected area of about 1,500 km2from an earthquake of similar magnitude.“The landslide distances from last year’s Virginia earthquake are remarkable compared to historical landslides across the world and represent the largest distance limit ever recorded,” said Edwin Harp, USGS scientist and co-author of this study. “There are limitations to our research, but the bottom line is that we now have a better understanding of the power of East Coast earthquakes and potential damage scenarios.”The difference between seismic shaking in the East versus the West is due in part to the geologic structure and rock properties that allow seismic waves to travel farther without weakening.Learn more about the 2011 central Virginia earthquake.

The Antichrist Escorts in the Pope

Iraq: the perilous pilgrimage of Pope Francis

Wednesday February 24, 2021

“Either we are brothers and sisters or we will destroy each other,” said Pope Francis just a year ago. Next week the Pope will visit Iraq, where the stark logic of his warning is tragically visible.   

Popes began making visits outside Italy only in the 1960s. Such journeys are meticulously planned and tightly organised. But this journey must rate as the most dangerous so far. Last month in Baghdad, where the visit begins, two Da’esh suicide bombers attacked a market, killing 32 and injuring scores of others. The military base in the airport of the Kurdish regional capital Erbil, also on Francis’s itinerary, recently came under rocket attack from an obscure Shi’a militia group, the Guardians of Blood, killing a contractor and wounding several American coalition forces. The Iraq government has negligible control over sectarian conflict.

Iraq has long been blighted by Sunni-Shi’a violence, dating from disputes about Islamic leadership in the seventh century. Sunnis make up at least 85 per cent of the world’s Muslim population. The majority of Iraqis, 65 per cent of its 39 million people, are Shi’a. As in Iran, their allegiance is to the family and descendants of the Prophet, Imam Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, and Husayn, his martyred grandson. Sunni leadership, though, dates back to Abu Bakr, a close companion of the Prophet considered the first to convert to Islam and the first of the “rightly guided Caliphs”, the Rashidun.  Over the centuries, further differences in beliefs, law and pious practice developed. Today religious identity still fuels sectarian political conflict throughout the Middle East. It intensified after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.   

For some time, the Middle East, with Iranian, Saudi and American help, has been shaping up for its own Thirty Years War. Within Iraq the remnants of ISIS have used the pandemic to regroup, even calling on adherents to catch the virus and infect the West. They hate Shi’a as much as they hate Yazidis, Jews and Christians. Not surprisingly, Iraq’s Christian population, formerly 1.5 million, has been reduced by emigration to possibly as low as 400,000. Those remaining feel like second-class citizens. This is the political and religious minefield into which Pope Francis will shortly be stepping.

What has impelled the Pope to undertake this hazardous journey? First, solidarity with Iraq’s many displaced people and with its dwindling Christian communities. As well as Latin-rite Roman Catholics, Iraq is home to several ancient Christian Churches in communion with Rome — the Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Catholics and Maronites – who retained the original Aramaic spoken by Christ himself as their liturgical language. In the Bible the Nineveh plain is the location of Abraham’s home in Ur. Nineveh is the Babylon of Jewish exile. Francis is visiting the geography and roots of Biblical faith.

Second, the Pope is committed to following the example of his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, in working for Muslim-Christian dialogue and reconciliation. A quarter of his foreign visits have been to Muslim majority countries. In Cairo in February 2019, he met with the Sunni Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam and former President of Al-Azhar University. From this meeting, and after much preparation, emerged the joint document Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, a manifesto for ending global conflicts. Given the dangers of sectarian wars, Shi’a leadership is an important element in the process.   

So this time the Pope is scheduled to meet with Grand Ayatollah Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Husseini Al-Sistani in Najaf, the Shi’a equivalent of Rome: a town of some million people south of Baghdad and the site of Shi’a Islam’s “founding father” Imam Ali’s tomb. Born in the Iranian town of Mashad, Al-Sistani studied jurisprudence in Iran’s theological centre of Qom and, in 1952, moved to the pilgrimage site of Najaf in Iraq where he taught in the seminary. In 1993 he was formally recognised as a Grand Ayatollah, Marja, one of a tiny number of the most senior and respected clerics in Shi’a Islam. The rank of Marja means “emulation of Islam”. Title holders are  authoritative guides to understanding the Qu’rān and the Prophet’s sayings, Hadith, and thus to living a fully Muslim life. Al-Sistani could bring many Shi’a Muslims to engage with the vision of Human Fraternity.

The Americans had reason to be grateful to Grand Ayatollah in 2005 when he mediated between them and the Shi’a militia, led by the fiery cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, besieging Najaf’s Imam Ali Mosque. Al-Sistani had the personal qualities needed to lower the temperature: he was and is courteous and respectful of other people’s opinions, he leads a simple life in an ordinary house shunning ostentation — not unlike Pope Francis himself. He also rejects violence, does not approve of the velayat-e faqih, the theocratic rule of the jurists in Iran, though he supports state promotion of Shi’a teaching. His interpretation of Qur’ān takes into account, to some degree, the need to understand its historical context and Arab culture. 

But this does not make Al-Sistani a modern progressive liberal. He shares strict views about the relationships between young men and women with the Shi’a clerical class in general. No dancing outside marriage, modest dress code, plenty of prohibitions. Yet his 2015 Advice to Believing Youth has more touching, tender and paternal wisdom in it than prohibitions. He is a jurist with deep pastoral concerns. There is clear water between him and the bellicose Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

Even among the Iranian clerics there is, of course, a spectrum of opinion, though not a wide one. I remember listening through a translator in Tehran to Ayatollah Emami Kashani, head of Shahid Motahari University, denouncing Iranian youth for lack of piety, and thinking: this could be my parish priest in Galway in the 1960s. Ayatollah Kashani had initially impressed me, not to say puzzled me, when his translator described how he had talked with a “rock singer” during his visit to Rome. How very open-minded. The translator had misheard: the meeting had been with Ratzinger, a Cardinal at the time but, of course, later Pope Benedict XVI.

When Al-Sistani and Pope Francis meet and talk, given accurate translation, there could be a profound meeting of minds. Whether Human Fraternity can generate tolerance for and between the many religions of Iraq, including the cruelly persecuted Bahais and Yazidis, remains to be seen. But it is clearly Francis’s intention to create an opportunity for the healing of Iraq’s wounds.      

The Pope’s schedule – worryingly – has been published well in advance. One of the stops is Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul: formerly an ISIS stronghold, retaken in a bloodbath by US and Iraqi troops, but with ISIS remnants, sleeper cells, still lingering. No political leader would risk releasing such a detailed itinerary in Iraq so far in advance. This is a brave Pope. His safety during this journey should feature in bidding prayers in all parishes this Sunday.  


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The Nations Are Ready to go Nuclear: Revelation 16

Sole Purpose Is Not No First Use: Nuclear Weapons and Declaratory Policy

Nuclear weapons by themselves can say a lot. They may deter aggression, for example, through their simple existence, generating a “threat that leaves something to chance,” as Thomas Schelling famously put it. Sometimes the less said about them the better: This leaves adversaries guessing what may trigger their use. So why do states bother declaring why they have nuclear weapons or when they might use them? In the case of the United States, at least, nuclear weapons do more than deter adversaries — they should also reassure allies about America’s commitment to extending deterrence to them and assure the world that the United States is a responsible steward of nuclear weapons. As such, when U.S. government officials issue statements about the role or employment of the country’s nuclear arsenal — what’s known as nuclear declaratory policy — they are attempting to signal to adversaries, allies, and the rest of the world the role that nuclear weapons play in American security policy, and when they may potentially be employed. Rather than simply relying on an unstated threat that leaves something to chance, the United States broadly outlines when it might consider making such threats, and to what ends, in the first place. Although declaratory policy may sometimes be derided as irrelevant — adversaries care more about what America can do with nuclear weapons than what it says about them — the fact is that allies care a lot about what the United States says about its nuclear weapons, because their very existence may depend on the American pledge to use nuclear weapons in their defense. Given this, it is important to get declaratory policy right.

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There is likely to be a lively and contentious debate within and outside of the administration of President Joe Biden on this particular aspect of U.S. nuclear policy in the coming months. Momentum to narrow the declared role of nuclear weapons in American security strategy is high on the agenda. Given significant American conventional capabilities and advantages, there are few, if any, realistic scenarios where the United States would consider using nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Some progressive members of Congress have in fact proposed that this reality become official declaratory policy, and that the United States declare a “no first use” pledge: that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict, no matter what the circumstances, reserving them strictly for retaliating after the United States or its allies had suffered a nuclear attack. Not only has that been met with skepticism from adversaries such as Russia and North Korea, who would doubt the sanctity of any such pledge in a crisis, but it makes certain allies — notably Japan — exceptionally nervous, as they depend on at least the possibility that the United States may use nuclear weapons first to stave off a conventional attack against them.

Biden, both as vice president and as a presidential candidate, proposed an alternative nuclear declaratory formulation known as “sole purpose”: that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear use against it or its allies. Is this the same thing as a no-first-use pledge? Proponents of a no-first-use declaration hope, and allies fear, that it may be.

But a sole purpose declaration need not be exactly or tantamount to a no-first-use pledge. Fundamentally, a no-first-use declaration is an explicit ex ante constraint on the employment of nuclear weapons, whereas sole purpose is statement about why the United States possesses nuclear weapons, without necessarily imposing constraints on their use. As always, however, the devil is in the detail. For instance, there are sole purpose formulations that leave enough room for the United States to use nuclear weapons preemptively or first, in the event of extreme and unforeseen non-nuclear attacks against it or its allies. Because declaratory policy purports to describe what an administration or president — who still retains the sole authority to use those weapons — thinks about the role of nuclear weapons, it can have powerful stabilizing or destabilizing effects in peacetime or crises.

After President Donald Trump’s cavalier rhetoric questioning why the United States “couldn’t use its nukes,” the Biden administration has an opportunity to re-establish sobriety in American declaratory policy. We argue that a new declaratory policy that simply states that the “sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is to deter nuclear attacks against the United States and its allies” can meaningfully de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons in American security strategy — reflecting the reality that they are weapons of extreme last resort — without undermining the robustness of extended deterrence commitments. Instead of adopting a no-first-use policy, which may lack credibility absent broader force structure changes that are not feasible and may not be desirable in the near term, the president should follow his instincts and adopt a sole purpose declaration. Precisely what wording he uses, however, will make all the difference.

Talking about the Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons

What is the stated role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy today? For much of the Cold War, the purpose of American nuclear weapons was broad and central to the country’s grand strategy: to deter nuclear and conventional attacks against the United States and its allies in Europe and East Asia. This required that the United States leave open the possibility — and, indeed, generate the risk — that it would use nuclear weapons first if faced with an overwhelming conventional attack. But even by the late Cold War, massive, survivable strategic nuclear arsenals, where any nuclear use could lead to mutual suicide, had already spurred thinking on the practical purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, at least with respect to the Soviet Union. Writing in 1983, Robert McNamara observed, for instance, that when it came to U.S. nuclear weapons, their “sole purpose, at present, is to deter the other side’s first use of its strategic forces.”

At the end of the Cold War, American nuclear forces adapted to new challenges, including a focus on so-called “rogue nations” such as Iraq and North Korea, but retained an expansive view of the types of threats — both nuclear and non-nuclear — that ought to be deterred by nuclear weapons. In the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama administration laudably attempted to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons in American security strategy as part of a broader effort to reduce the centrality of nuclear weapons in crises and to lessen risks of miscalculation, declaring that the “fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons … is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.” This language was aspirational and, insofar as declaratory policy was concerned, it narrowed relevant contingencies to little more than deterring enemy nuclear attack — coming close to but stopping short of making this mission the “sole purpose” of U.S. nuclear weapons. And it had a limited effect on actual nuclear employment options.

At the very end of the Obama administration, the notion of further narrowing the declared role of American nuclear weapons was resurrected. In January 2017, Biden gave a wide-ranging speech on nuclear security, a topic he has worked on for decades and is seen as holding relatively progressive views on. In that speech, he declared: “Seven years after the Nuclear Posture Review charge — the President and I strongly believe we have made enough progress that deterring — and if necessary, retaliating against — a nuclear attack should be the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.” Biden reiterated his interest in such a declaration in Foreign Affairs as a presidential candidate, pledging to “work to put that belief into practice, in consultation with the U.S. military and U.S. allies.” This language was adopted in the Democratic Party’s official 2020 platform.

The Trump administration, however, had different ideas and the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review declared that the role of American nuclear weapons explicitly included the deterrence of “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” leaving the definition of what constitutes a “significant” or a “non-nuclear strategic attack” intentionally ambiguous — carving out a role for nuclear weapons more expansive than in the 2010 review. The Biden administration now has an opportunity to revisit various facets of U.S. nuclear policy. In addition to the nuclear modernization program and questions about presidential sole authority, we should now expect serious consideration of a sole purpose declaration.

An Enduring Debate: Words That Matter

Many arms control advocates are attracted to the sole purpose declaration because it is close to a no-first-use declaration, and some have argued the two are effectively the same. Some Democrats, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Adam Smith, have even introduced legislation proposing the adoption of a no-first-use policy. Advocates of an American no-first-use policy argue that such a declaration would set a model for the world, reducing the role of nuclear weapons in global security and easing pressures on nuclear postures during peacetime, while lowering the risk of inadvertent nuclear use in a crisis.

A no-first-use declaration is unambiguous: A country pledging no first use conveys to its adversaries that it will not under any circumstances use any nuclear weapons before it has suffered a nuclear attack itself. Whether a no-first-use declaration allows for a state to launch nuclear weapons once the other side has launched (launch-under-attack) or is imminently judged to be launching nuclear weapons (preemption) is ambiguous, but an absolute no-first-use policy restricts the role of nuclear weapons to one, and only one, scenario: retaliating against a nuclear attack.

Few countries maintain a no-first-use policy because of the difficulty of making such a pledge credible. China is the only country to maintain such a policy without any explicit reservations or qualifications. It has done so since 1964, and for decades undertook costly restraining measures — such as keeping nuclear warheads de-mated from most of its missile force — to make its pledge about as credible as possible (and yet the United States is still skeptical of its commitment). India, meanwhile, also includes a no-first-use declaration in the public version of its 2003 nuclear doctrine, but carves out a major exception: “in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.” This is not and has never been a real no-first-use policy. India has also steadily eroded its no-first-use declaration over conventional attacks and preempting nuclear attack over the past two decades as security dynamics, with Pakistan in particular, have evolved.

The remaining seven nuclear states, including the United States, do not maintain “first use” policies per se, but simply reserve the right to use nuclear weapons first under certain circumstances, which are described with varying degrees of ambiguity in national doctrines and statements. Per the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review issued by the Trump administration, the United States reserves the right to use nuclear weapons “in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners” (language nearly identical to the 2010 Obama administration review). This is consistent with the long-running U.S. policy of calculated ambiguity: Instead of spelling out exactly what “extreme circumstances” mean in practice, the matter is left to the imagination. The reasoning behind this is ultimately to minimize the possibility of commitment traps while simultaneously maximizing the deterrent potential of U.S. declaratory policy: In a crisis, as an adversary chooses to escalate, U.S. planners hope that they would remain uncertain whether their action might amount to what the United States considers “extreme” and, subsequently, whether the United States might respond with nuclear weapons. In short, the United States explicitly reserves the right to presently use nuclear weapons first.

Detractors of a no-first-use policy in the United States argue that without drastic changes to American nuclear posture or alert levels to preclude at least rapid first use to make such a pledge credible — such as separating warheads from intercontinental ballistic missiles, as China is believed to do, or eliminating them altogether because they can be launched so promptly — the costs significantly outweigh the benefits. The military strongly opposes those changes, however, since they may reduce the overall survivability of U.S. nuclear forces. Furthermore, absent these practical changes to force posture — or even with them, for that matter — U.S. adversaries would never believe a no-first-use pledge because nothing would physically prevent the United States from violating it in a crisis or conflict.

Meanwhile, American allies might find such a declaration too credible. For allies, such as Japan, the fear that the United States may abandon them at the most crucial moment and fail to use nuclear weapons to defend them may drive them to develop their own nuclear weapons, as detractors often note. Allied fears have intensified in recent years in Northeast Asia in particular, where rapid advances in North Korea’s nuclear capabilities have introduced the Cold War specter of “decoupling” to the U.S. alliances with both South Korea and Japan. Furthermore, for Japan if not South Korea, the prospect of U.S. nuclear use to deter large-scale Chinese conventional aggression is a crucial pillar of its security strategy. They have therefore strongly opposed any movement toward an American no-first-use declaration. A no-first-use pledge may similarly cause concern in European capitals that Moscow would have a free hand to use overwhelming conventional force against them. A final argument against a strict no-first-use policy is that it would require the United States or its allies to suffer a nuclear attack — and countless fatalities — before retaliation. The risk of a no-first-use declaration, opponents therefore argue, is that not only would it fail to generate crisis stability against adversaries and incentivize allies to seek their own nuclear weapons, but that it is also immoral — even if U.S. retaliation against any aggressor were assured. Even if there are very few scenarios at present where the United States would ever contemplate using nuclear weapons first, skeptics of no-first-use argue that some scenarios do exist even today, and that others may arise in the future.

In short, U.S. adoption of a no-first-use pledge in the near term would likely be highly controversial.

Sole Purpose Is Not No First Use

The constituencies in allied states that have vociferously objected to a no-first-use U.S. policy view a sole purpose declaration as effectively tantamount to one. It was these precise concerns that kept the Obama administration from ultimately adopting a sole purpose declaration. The administration, at the eleventh hour, deemed that the “conditions” for a sole purpose declaration were not present in 2016. Furthermore, in the present environment in East Asia, the challenge of sustaining extended deterrence is more — not less — difficult than it was then, largely because of the Trump administration’s behavior toward allies. The allies may profess an even stronger allergy to sole purpose today than they did in 2016.

But is sole purpose equivalent to a no-first-use declaration, as so many have argued? Not quite. Even in its most stringent formulation, a sole purpose declaration is not equivalent to a no-first-use pledge — it comes close, but is not the same thing. No first use is a statement about when the United States would (and would not) use nuclear weapons. It is an explicit employment constraint: It commits a state to not use nuclear weapons except in retaliation for nuclear attacks. Sole purpose, in contrast, is as its name implies a statement about why the United States possesses the nuclear arsenal that it does, not how it will use it. It does not, in extremis, impose employment constraints as a no-first-use policy might. Rather, it explicitly de-emphasizes the role of nuclear weapons in overall U.S. national security strategy.

A person can possess a car for what she declares to be the sole purpose of driving to work, but if one day she has to drive to the emergency room, nothing will stop her from using the car for that purpose. A no-first-use pledge, by contrast, explicitly declares ex ante that the car will never be used to drive to the emergency room. Sole purpose stops well short of that.

As such, a meaningful sole purpose declaration can be constructed that is not, in fact, tantamount to a no-first-use declaration — one that simultaneously de-emphasizes the role of nuclear weapons in American security strategy without eroding the robustness of extended deterrence. The search for an alternative formulation to a no-first-use declaration is itself informative — if the administration wanted to declare a no-first-use policy it could simply attempt to do so. We argue that, instead, an appropriately crafted sole purpose declaration could help to realize the president’s stated vision on nuclear weapons without unduly jeopardizing U.S. alliances. Allies, too, once fully consulted, should be ready to avoid a knee-jerk response to policy shifts — especially if U.S. declaratory policy continues to account for their interests.

Whereas a no-first-use declaration is relatively straightforward, sole purpose maintains some of the traditional ambiguity in U.S. nuclear declaratory policy. How it does so depends on the precise formulation. The amount of daylight between these various formulations and “we will not use nuclear weapons first” varies from a sliver to a bay window. Despite this, some formulations do come very close to a no-first-use pledge and might understandably cause concern in allied capitals.

Consider the three following alternative sole purpose declarations:

Sole Purpose 1: The sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is to deter — and, if necessary, to retaliate against — a nuclear attack against the United States and its allies.

Sole Purpose 2: The sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is to deter nuclear attacks against the United States and its allies.

Sole Purpose 3: The sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is to deter significant strategic attacks, including nuclear attacks, against the United States and its allies.

Each of these formulations stipulates what the “sole purpose” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal might be, but the practical consequences of the adoption of each declaration by the United States are very different. The closest to a no-first-use policy would be option 1 — the phrasing largely adopted by Biden before entering office. The addition of the embedded clause — “and, if necessary, retaliating against” — clearly stipulates that nuclear weapons are not envisioned for first use, perhaps not even to preempt imminent nuclear use against the United States or its allies. The first statement may, however, still allow for the possibility of launching-under-attack — a scenario where the United States would release nuclear weapons before any incoming warheads detonated, but upon confirmation with a high degree of confidence that an adversary had initiated a nuclear launch against American or allied soil. (While practicable with China and Russia, short missile flight times to South Korean and Japanese soil from North Korea may render this impractical in Northeast Asia.) But by including a clause about possessing nuclear weapons for the sole purpose of retaliating following nuclear use against the United States or its allies, option 1 turns entirely on litigating what point in the process of an adversary launching nuclear weapons constitutes “use” — a very narrow set of circumstances to begin with.

The second sole purpose statement, by omitting this embedded clause about retaliation however, leaves substantially more room for U.S. allies to be reassured, leaving the “chance” of first use on the table.

Take a realistic example to illustrate the distinction between the first and second statements, relevant especially to U.S. allies in Seoul and Tokyo. Imagine that North Korea has begun to disperse nuclear warheads to ballistic missile operating areas. U.S. and allied intelligence believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in the early stages of a preemptive nuclear attack. This attack may be the result of a miscalculation by North Korea, or it may be a response to an allied attempt to attack or invade. The specifics of why Kim is readying nuclear missiles are unimportant. Under existing U.S. nuclear policy, the fact of North Korean launch preparations may not trigger the use of nuclear weapons, but U.S. allies could reasonably expect that a U.S. president would at the very least contemplate the preemptive use of nuclear weapons to maximize the probability that North Korean missiles are successfully destroyed. The United States could consider employing precision-guided conventional munitions, but the task of finding, fixing, and finishing North Korean missile launchers may be too difficult and risky. An American president consulting with military advisors may be told that the prospects for disarming North Korea are significantly higher if he or she uses nuclear weapons to do so, rather than conventional weapons.

In this scenario, the first statement leaves little wiggle room. Under a strict interpretation, only after the launch of the first North Korean nuclear warhead — or even more strictly, after the first detonation — on allied soil could the United States then contemplate nuclear use. Such a scenario, along with concerns about China’s growing conventional missile arsenal, is largely why Tokyo has strongly opposed sole purpose in the past. The second sole purpose formulation, however, leaves the matter open. If the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attacks, then it follows that the president could threaten nuclear first use in a crisis to deter an adversary from following through on preparations to launch nuclear weapons. Critically, unlike a no-first-use pledge and sole purpose option 1, the second sole purpose formulation does not make any statement about the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons. Instead, it merely describes the purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, leaving a wider scope of employment, including first use, if it were in the service of “deterring nuclear attacks” against the United States or its allies. Instead of constraining use, option 2 explains to allies and adversaries alike that the role of nuclear weapons and nuclear threats is limited to nuclear deterrence, which may include threats of preemption or even broader use options that seek to deter nuclear use. It is these latter possibilities that distinguish the second sole purpose statement from the first.

The third sole purpose formulation, meanwhile, expands the bounds further, allowing a U.S. president to deploy nuclear weapons against “significant strategic attacks,” which may include the use of biological or chemical weapons, or even a major conventional attack. This option is, essentially, status quo U.S. nuclear policy reformulated in the language of sole purpose and, indeed, includes multiple expansive purposes for American nuclear weapons.

No sole purpose declaration — nor a no-first-use declaration — by itself is likely to convince adversaries such as Russia, China, or North Korea that the United States would not or could not use nuclear weapons first in a crisis or conflict. The simple fact is that no matter what the United States says about restricting the role of nuclear weapons, adversaries will remain skeptical that Washington will adhere to any such strictures because nothing physically prevents the United States from violating them. The concerns they have today will thus likely persist irrespective of American declaratory policy absent drastic force structure and procedural changes that are unrealistic in the foreseeable future.

The sole purpose debate primarily concerns U.S. allies, and this is where the precise formulation matters the most. Even if the Biden administration chooses to adopt the narrowest possible sole purpose declaration (option 1) — the one proposed by Biden himself for several years now — there may be just enough of a sliver of daylight between it and a no-first-use declaration to assure allies that even if the envisioned purpose of American nuclear weapons is to retaliate against nuclear use against the United States or its allies in extremis, it does not explicitly commit the United States to not using nuclear weapons first in extreme unforeseen circumstances. This may be too clever by half, however. And it is unlikely to alleviate abandonment concerns in Seoul and Tokyo.

As such, the second formulation may square the circle. By declaring simply that “the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners,” the United States can meaningfully de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons in its security strategy without undermining the robustness of its extended deterrence commitments. It is not a no-first-use declaration — and allies would have a harder time believing or arguing that it is — but it declares and states the reality that the United States currently possesses nuclear weapons solely — not primarily or fundamentally, but solely — to broadly deter nuclear attack on itself and its allies. And it leaves just enough ambiguity about how the United States may do so and against what threats to avoid eroding primary or extended deterrence. This formulation does not constrain U.S. nuclear employment options, but it assures the world — adversaries and allies alike — that the United States would only ever use nuclear weapons in the most extreme of circumstances. Advocates of American alliances, extended deterrence, and a more restrained U.S. nuclear posture alike should welcome such a declaration. And now-President Biden should deliver on the vision he sketched out first as vice president, and later as a presidential candidate: The sole purpose for American possession of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack against the United States and its allies.

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Ankit Panda is the Stanton Senior Fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Vipin Narang is associate professor of political science and member of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rockets against US targets in Iraq seen as Iranian message to Biden: Daniel 8:4

Analysts say Tehran looking to boost its leverage as Washington seeks to rein in its nuclear program

By Maya Gebeily24 Feb 2021, 3:49 pm

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFP) — Renewed rocket attacks on US targets in Iraq show Iran-aligned factions are heaping pressure on the government while Tehran may be seeking leverage over America’s new administration, analysts say.

Iraq, scarred by years of war and insurgency, has been a strategic battleground for arch-foes the United States and Iran, both allies of Baghdad who remain sharply at odds over Iran’s nuclear program.

Analysts and officials in Iraq say the resumption of attacks after four months of relative calm shows that Iran and its Iraqi allies are now abandoning de-escalation and seeking leverage over their rivals.

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“It seems we’re back to last year,” a senior US military official in Iraq told AFP, referring to several months in 2020 when rockets rained down on American sites once a week or more.

On Monday, two rockets hit near the US embassy in Baghdad, days after a volley hit an airbase further north where a US military contractor is maintaining F-16 fighter-jets purchased from Washington.

US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi spoke Tuesday by phone about this week’s rocket strikes and agreed that those responsible “must be held fully to account,” the White House said.

Rockets also hit a military complex in the Kurdish region’s capital Arbil on February 15, killing a civilian and a foreign contractor working with US-led troops.

The incidents were consistent with the dozens of attacks last year, which usually involved a score of 107mm rockets fired from a truck, security officials said.

This year, the pro-Iran groups typically blamed for such attacks — including Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq — have been quick to condemn the strikes.

Few are convinced.

“All indications are it’s the same style of attacks,” said the US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And intelligence shared with us says there are more to come.”

‘Boosting leverage’

Both local and international dynamics may have prompted the resumed attacks.

There are “domestic considerations” as Iraqi armed groups are keen to challenge Kadhemi’s assertion that he can rein them in, said Aniseh Bassiri of the Royal United Service Institute.

“They want to remind everyone they have not disappeared and show the PM they have not been restrained,” she told AFP.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for October, these factions, whose political branches are running at the polls, are flexing their muscles, Bassiri added.

An Iraqi army soldier stand guard near a US- made Iraqi Air Force F-16 fighter jet at the Balad Air Base, Iraq, February 13, 2018. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

But the rockets may also carry a message from Tehran to Washington, which under Biden is offering to revive the Iran nuclear deal which his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.

Iran is demanding Washington lift sanctions immediately, while the US wants Iran to move first by returning to all its nuclear commitments.

Iran has struck a tough tone this week, restricting some nuclear site inspections and warning it could further step up uranium enrichment.

“The renewed attacks could be an attempt by those close to Iran to increase Tehran’s leverage in light of looming talks with the US,” Bassiri said.

Blocked cash

Geopolitical considerations aside, Iran may also have purely financial reasons to pressure Baghdad, local and Western officials told AFP.

With its economy squeezed, Tehran is desperate for unfettered access to an account at the state-run Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI), where Baghdad has been paying for imported Iranian gas.

Iraq has been unwilling to disburse the equivalent of around $2 billion freely, fearing it would anger the US — mirroring disputes about frozen funds Tehran has with other countries including South Korea.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, right, arrives in Basra, Iraq, July 15, 2020. (Ahmed al-Rubaye/Pool Photo via AP)

In January, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and the premier’s chief of staff Raed Juhi traveled to Tehran with a message from Kadhemi asking Tehran to restrain armed groups in Iraq, after three rocket attacks.

They met Esmail Qaani, who became head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force after a US drone strike in Baghdad early last year killed his predecessor Qasem Soleimani.

“Qaani told them that unless they get money out of the TBI account, they wouldn’t be able to control the activities of armed groups in Iraq,” a senior Iraqi official with close knowledge of the trip told AFP.

Another Iraqi official, a Western diplomat and a US official confirmed links between the TBI account and the threat of rockets.

For now it remains to be seen how Biden’s administration will respond to the new attacks.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday the US would “hold Iran responsible for the actions of its proxies that attack Americans” but would not “lash out” and risk destabilizing Iraq.

The US military official said that, in talks with Washington, “we’ve provided options, including striking inside and outside of Iraq, but we haven’t heard yet from the new administration.”

The Iranian Nuclear Horn is Confirmed: Daniel 8

Ayatollah: ‘Iran won’t yield to pressure,’ may up uranium enrichment, in prod to Biden

By Emily Jacobs

Iran may up its enrichment of uranium to 60 percent, the rogue nation’s supreme leader said this week, ramping up tensions as Tehran attempts to stand its ground with its new negotiators: the Biden administration.

Speaking Monday to members of the Assembly of Experts, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tehran would not succumb to pressure from the United States on any matter, state television reported.

“We are determined to gain nuclear capabilities proportionate to the country’s needs and for this reason, the limit for Iran’s enrichment won’t be 20 percent,” Khamenei said.

“We will increase it to whatever level the country needs…We may increase it to 60 percent,” he continued.

The Obama administration brokered the 2015 Iran nuclear deal alongside Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.

The accord reduced sanctions against Iran in exchange for the country reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium needed to fuel nuclear weapons. It also capped the fissile purity at which Tehran could refine uranium at 3.67 percent.

The Trump administration withdrew from the pact in 2018, with the then-commander-in-chief arguing that “America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail.”

Iran began breaching the deal shortly after, as tensions ratcheted up between the US and Tehran.

President Biden has said that he would re-enter the 2015 deal “as a starting point for follow-on negotiations,” adding that he would only support doing so if Iran pledged to follow strict compliance measures.

Following Biden’s election in November, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that his country would fully implement the terms of the Obama-era agreement if Biden lifted the Trump-era sanctions, arguing it could be done with “three executive orders.”

Biden has declined to do so.

Babylon the Great Strikes Iran

U.S. Launches Military Airstrikes Against Iranian-Backed Militants In Syria

Vanessa Romo

February 25, 20218:05 PM ET

Shattered glass is on the ground following a rocket attack in Irbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, on Feb. 15. On Thursday, the U.S. launched airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed groups in eastern Syria in response to recent attacks against Americans in Iraq.

Safin Hamed/AFP via Getty Images

Updated at 10:26 p.m. ET

The U.S. launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday targeting Iranian-backed militia groups in the first known offensive military operation carried out by the Biden administration.

The Department of Defense said the strikes are a response to recent rocket attacks against Americans in Iraq, including one in which a civilian contractor working with American forces was killed and several U.S. service members were injured. Officials believe the Feb. 15 attack in Erbil, Iraq, was conducted by Shia militants.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby in a statement called the U.S. operation a “proportionate military response.”

Kirby said the strikes destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point in eastern Syria that is “used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kait’ib Hezbollah and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.”

Meanwhile, Kait’ib Hezbollah earlier this week denied any involvement in the Erbil strike.

“We absolutely did not target Erbil or the Green Zone and have no knowledge of the group that did,” Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Mohi told Reuters, which called the comments a “rare direct denial.”

The Feb. 15 attack in Erbil targeted a U.S. military base housed at Erbil International Airport. Days later, north of Baghdad another round of rockets struck a base hosting U.S. forces hurting at least one contractor.

The two strikes were followed by yet another rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Monday.

On a flight from California to Washington, D.C., Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters that the Pentagon is “confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the [Feb. 15] strikes,” USA Today reported.

Austin, who says he recommended the action to Biden, added: “We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline. We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”

Why nuclear disarmament will never happen: Revelation 8

TPNW: Why nuclear disarmament remains a lasting challenge

There can be no denying the fact that a world free from nuclear weapons would be free from many problems. The current move by the UN to enforce the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on January 22 is a positive initiative, albeit only ideally. The very objective of nuclear disarmament seems far away from reality as the goal of seeking nuclear disarmament, both regionally or globally is a mammoth challenge as it entails manifold impediments. It is mainly the nuclear deterrence -cum-security concerns of the Nuclear Weapons States that the TPNW faces a prompt resistance.

The Treaty on Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons –was adopted by the Conference (by a vote of 122 States in favour, with one vote against and one abstention) at the United Nations on 7 July 2017, was opened for signature by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 20 September 2017. As for the compliance of the TPNW, some positive obligations are simple, such as submitting a declaration within 30 days of the treaty’s entry into force about the country’s nuclear-weapon status. Others may take more time, such as adopting additional safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), implementing national laws, providing assistance to people and places harmed by nuclear weapons use and testing, and urging other states to join the pact.

Idealists have celebrated the coming into force of the TPNW as a game-changer that signals the death knell for nuclear weapons. Skeptics, on the other hand, doubt its effectiveness as the countries that have, or are believed to have, nuclear weapons (namely Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States), the 30 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisations as well as Australia, Japan and South Korea, have declined to be signatories to the TPNW.

Unbridled India’s nuclear ambitions have warranted Pakistan to maintain its full spectrum nuclear deterrence capability

The peace pragmatists argue that nuclear disarmament cannot be isolated from nuclear deterrence. Objectively speaking, nuclear deterrence/strategic balance holds paramount importance: The threat of a nuclear strike can deter both nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, the contemporary security scenario requires an evolution of deterrence rather than a discharge of the concept as a whole. In fact, nuclear weapons are still among the most powerful and intimidating weapons with which states can arm themselves, and the stability of a system based on deterrence still remains attractive, despite criticism against it. Credible deterrence and defence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defence capabilities, remains a core element of NATO’s overall strategy to prevent conflict and war.

In case of India-Pakistan scenario, arguably, the acquisition of nuclear weapons, both sides have only supported a low-intensity conflict. Nuclear deterrence has a role also in averting conventional attacks in a regional context. The conflict between India and Pakistan exemplifies this point: in fact, despite the existence of sources of tension between the two countries, these actors have not engaged in major open hostilities since their development of a nuclear arsenal.

Some still argue that it was the Hiroshima tragedy that put an end to the heinous wave of killing and destruction in the Second World War. Since then, it is the universal horror of the nuclear holocaust which has prevented the outbreak of a Third World War. There were many occasions in the Cold War period when the United States and the Soviet Union were on the brink of war. But the threat of nuclear extinction prevented them from going to war. The same factor explains why India and Pakistan have not fought a war since 1971.

Legally and conventionally, the current treaty paves the way for horizontal and vertical polarization between the Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS) and the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS). Nuclear Weapons States, including Pakistan opposed the treaty. Though ideally, the treaty holds leverage, yet practically it does not suit the security imperatives of the states and it is why neither the dejure nuclear states and nor the defacto nuclear states have any intention to sign the treaty. The Pakistan Foreign Office rightly recalled that the UN General Assembly in its session on nuclear disarmament in 1978 had agreed by consensus that the right of each country to security should be kept in mind while adopting disarmament measures. “Pakistan stresses that this Treaty neither forms a part of, nor contributes to the development of customary international law in any manner,” it said. Yet Pakistan is committed to the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world through the conclusion of a universal, verifiable and non-discriminatory, comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons.

Opponents of the treaty, however, have maintained that the TPNW is divisive, could undermine the NPT, and risks further entrenchment of divisions and cleavages present in extant international nonproliferation and disarmament fora that may hinder further progress. It is logically argued that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) — despite being the important tools– still face obstacles. Yet some still argue the real challenges to the Non-Proliferation Regime are the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) themselves. Paradoxically, NWS promote the non-proliferation agenda but continue to practice vertical proliferation to serve their own interests. This is why the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not been yet enforced, while the future of proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) still remains uncertain.

And yet, there is convincing evidence that recognized nuclear states are not willing to totally eliminate their nuclear weapons. The club of five legal nuclear powers would like to have reserved some weapons long as any of the others do for the very end of maintaining a stable and credible deterrence. Euphorically, the Indian strategy makers believe to acquire more weapons either to exhaust or to have an advantage over Pakistan. This is the root cause of a nuclear arms race in South Asia. Unbridled India’s nuclear ambitions have warranted Pakistan to maintain its full spectrum nuclear deterrence capability. Notably, States that have nuclear weapons regard them as the ultimate guarantee of their security.

Nonetheless, this cardinal objective of nuclear disarmament can only be achieved as a cooperative and universally agreed undertaking, through a consensus-based process involving all the relevant stakeholders, which results in equal and undiminished security for all States. Conference on Disarmament – that is the sole body for elaborating treaties – has four items on its agenda. In order to address the concerns of state parties to the TPNW, the CD should give primacy to nuclear disarmament and also negotiate a treaty on negative security assurances. These two issues are ripe for discussion. In the present era of a nuclear arms race, what, seems possible is the adoption of measures aimed at unanimously neutralizing the importance attached to the possession of nuclear weapons, failing which, nuclear disarmament will ever remain as an unresolved challenge.

The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher and international law analyst based in Pakistan