Columbia University Warns Of Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Earthquakes May Endanger New York More Than Thought, Says Study
A study by a group of prominent seismologists suggests that a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed. Among other things, they say that the controversial Indian Point nuclear power plants, 24 miles north of the city, sit astride the previously unidentified intersection of two active seismic zones. The paper appears in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.
Many faults and a few mostly modest quakes have long been known around New York City, but the research casts them in a new light. The scientists say the insight comes from sophisticated analysis of past quakes, plus 34 years of new data on tremors, most of them perceptible only by modern seismic instruments. The evidence charts unseen but potentially powerful structures whose layout and dynamics are only now coming clearer, say the scientists. All are based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which runs the network of seismometers that monitors most of the northeastern United States.
Lead author Lynn R. Sykes said the data show that large quakes are infrequent around New Yorkcompared to more active areas like California and Japan, but that the risk is high, because of the overwhelming concentration of people and infrastructure. “The research raises the perception both of how common these events are, and, specifically, where they may occur,” he said. “It’s an extremely populated area with very large assets.” Sykes, who has studied the region for four decades, is known for his early role in establishing the global theory of plate tectonics.
The authors compiled a catalog of all 383 known earthquakes from 1677 to 2007 in a 15,000-square-mile area around New York City. Coauthor John Armbruster estimated sizes and locations of dozens of events before 1930 by combing newspaper accounts and other records. The researchers say magnitude 5 quakes—strong enough to cause damage–occurred in 1737, 1783 and 1884. There was little settlement around to be hurt by the first two quakes, whose locations are vague due to a lack of good accounts; but the last, thought to be centered under the seabed somewhere between Brooklyn and Sandy Hook, toppled chimneys across the city and New Jersey, and panicked bathers at Coney Island. Based on this, the researchers say such quakes should be routinely expected, on average, about every 100 years. “Today, with so many more buildings and people, a magnitude 5 centered below the city would be extremely attention-getting,” said Armbruster. “We’d see billions in damage, with some brick buildings falling. People would probably be killed.”
Starting in the early 1970s Lamont began collecting data on quakes from dozens of newly deployed seismometers; these have revealed further potential, including distinct zones where earthquakes concentrate, and where larger ones could come. The Lamont network, now led by coauthor Won-Young Kim, has located hundreds of small events, including a magnitude 3 every few years, which can be felt by people at the surface, but is unlikely to cause damage. These small quakes tend to cluster along a series of small, old faults in harder rocks across the region. Many of the faults were discovered decades ago when subways, water tunnels and other excavations intersected them, but conventional wisdom said they were inactive remnants of continental collisions and rifting hundreds of millions of years ago. The results clearly show that they are active, and quite capable of generating damaging quakes, said Sykes.
One major previously known feature, the Ramapo Seismic Zone, runs from eastern Pennsylvania to the mid-Hudson Valley, passing within a mile or two northwest of Indian Point. The researchers found that this system is not so much a single fracture as a braid of smaller ones, where quakes emanate from a set of still ill-defined faults. East and south of the Ramapo zone—and possibly more significant in terms of hazard–is a set of nearly parallel northwest-southeast faults. These include Manhattan’s 125th Street fault, which seems to have generated two small 1981 quakes, and could have been the source of the big 1737 quake; the Dyckman Street fault, which carried a magnitude 2 in 1989; the Mosholu Parkway fault; and the Dobbs Ferry fault in suburban Westchester, which generated the largest recent shock, a surprising magnitude 4.1, in 1985. Fortunately, it did no damage. Given the pattern, Sykes says the big 1884 quake may have hit on a yet-undetected member of this parallel family further south.
The researchers say that frequent small quakes occur in predictable ratios to larger ones, and so can be used to project a rough time scale for damaging events. Based on the lengths of the faults, the detected tremors, and calculations of how stresses build in the crust, the researchers say that magnitude 6 quakes, or even 7—respectively 10 and 100 times bigger than magnitude 5–are quite possible on the active faults they describe. They calculate that magnitude 6 quakes take place in the area about every 670 years, and sevens, every 3,400 years. The corresponding probabilities of occurrence in any 50-year period would be 7% and 1.5%. After less specific hints of these possibilities appeared in previous research, a 2003 analysis by The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation put the cost of quakes this size in the metro New York area at $39 billion to $197 billion. A separate 2001 analysis for northern New Jersey’s Bergen County estimates that a magnitude 7 would destroy 14,000 buildings and damage 180,000 in that area alone. The researchers point out that no one knows when the last such events occurred, and say no one can predict when they next might come.
“We need to step backward from the simple old model, where you worry about one large, obvious fault, like they do in California,” said coauthor Leonardo Seeber. “The problem here comes from many subtle faults. We now see there is earthquake activity on them. Each one is small, but when you add them up, they are probably more dangerous than we thought. We need to take a very close look.” Seeber says that because the faults are mostly invisible at the surface and move infrequently, a big quake could easily hit one not yet identified. “The probability is not zero, and the damage could be great,” he said. “It could be like something out of a Greek myth.”
The researchers found concrete evidence for one significant previously unknown structure: an active seismic zone running at least 25 miles from Stamford, Conn., to the Hudson Valley town of Peekskill, N.Y., where it passes less than a mile north of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The Stamford-Peekskill line stands out sharply on the researchers’ earthquake map, with small events clustered along its length, and to its immediate southwest. Just to the north, there are no quakes, indicating that it represents some kind of underground boundary. It is parallel to the other faults beginning at 125th Street, so the researchers believe it is a fault in the same family. Like the others, they say it is probably capable of producing at least a magnitude 6 quake. Furthermore, a mile or so on, it intersects the Ramapo seismic zone.
Sykes said the existence of the Stamford-Peekskill line had been suggested before, because the Hudson takes a sudden unexplained bend just ot the north of Indian Point, and definite traces of an old fault can be along the north side of the bend. The seismic evidence confirms it, he said. “Indian Point is situated at the intersection of the two most striking linear features marking the seismicity and also in the midst of a large population that is at risk in case of an accident,” says the paper. “This is clearly one of the least favorable sites in our study area from an earthquake hazard and risk perspective.”
The findings comes at a time when Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, is trying to relicense the two operating plants for an additional 20 years—a move being fought by surrounding communities and the New York State Attorney General. Last fall the attorney general, alerted to the then-unpublished Lamont data, told a Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel in a filing: “New data developed in the last 20 years disclose a substantially higher likelihood of significant earthquake activity in the vicinity of [Indian Point] that could exceed the earthquake design for the facility.” The state alleges that Entergy has not presented new data on earthquakes past 1979. However, in a little-noticed decision this July 31, the panel rejected the argument on procedural grounds. A source at the attorney general’s office said the state is considering its options.
The characteristics of New York’s geology and human footprint may increase the problem. Unlike in California, many New York quakes occur near the surface—in the upper mile or so—and they occur not in the broken-up, more malleable formations common where quakes are frequent, but rather in the extremely hard, rigid rocks underlying Manhattan and much of the lower Hudson Valley. Such rocks can build large stresses, then suddenly and efficiently transmit energy over long distances. “It’s like putting a hard rock in a vise,” said Seeber. “Nothing happens for a while. Then it goes with a bang.” Earthquake-resistant building codes were not introduced to New York City until 1995, and are not in effect at all in many other communities. Sinuous skyscrapers and bridges might get by with minimal damage, said Sykes, but many older, unreinforced three- to six-story brick buildings could crumble.
Art Lerner-Lam, associate director of Lamont for seismology, geology and tectonophysics, pointed out that the region’s major highways including the New York State Thruway, commuter and long-distance rail lines, and the main gas, oil and power transmission lines all cross the parallel active faults, making them particularly vulnerable to being cut. Lerner-Lam, who was not involved in the research, said that the identification of the seismic line near Indian Point “is a major substantiation of a feature that bears on the long-term earthquake risk of the northeastern United States.” He called for policymakers to develop more information on the region’s vulnerability, to take a closer look at land use and development, and to make investments to strengthen critical infrastructure.
“This is a landmark study in many ways,” said Lerner-Lam. “It gives us the best possible evidence that we have an earthquake hazard here that should be a factor in any planning decision. It crystallizes the argument that this hazard is not random. There is a structure to the location and timing of the earthquakes. This enables us to contemplate risk in an entirely different way. And since we are able to do that, we should be required to do that.”
New York Earthquake Briefs and Quotes:
Existing U.S. Geological Survey seismic hazard maps show New York City as facing more hazard than many other eastern U.S. areas. Three areas are somewhat more active—northernmost New York State, New Hampshire and South Carolina—but they have much lower populations and fewer structures. The wider forces at work include pressure exerted from continuing expansion of the mid-Atlantic Ridge thousands of miles to the east; slow westward migration of the North American continent; and the area’s intricate labyrinth of old faults, sutures and zones of weakness caused by past collisions and rifting.
Due to New York’s past history, population density and fragile, interdependent infrastructure, a 2001 analysis by the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranks it the 11th most at-risk U.S. city for earthquake damage. Among those ahead: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. Behind: Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Anchorage.
New York’s first seismic station was set up at Fordham University in the 1920s. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, N.Y., has operated stations since 1949, and now coordinates a network of about 40.
Dozens of small quakes have been felt in the New York area. A Jan. 17, 2001 magnitude 2.4, centered  in the Upper East Side—the first ever detected in Manhattan itself–may have originated on the 125th Street fault. Some people thought it was an explosion, but no one was harmed.
The most recent felt quake, a magnitude 2.1 on July 28, 2008, was centered near Milford, N.J. Houses shook and a woman at St. Edward’s Church said she felt the building rise up under her feet—but no damage was done.
Questions about the seismic safety of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which lies amid a metropolitan area of more than 20 million people, were raised in previous scientific papers in 1978 and 1985.
Because the hard rocks under much of New York can build up a lot strain before breaking, researchers believe that modest faults as short as 1 to 10 kilometers can cause magnitude 5 or 6 quakes.
In general, magnitude 3 quakes occur about 10 times more often than magnitude fours; 100 times more than magnitude fives; and so on. This principle is called the Gutenberg-Richter relationship.

India and Pakistan: Preparing for the first nuclear war: Revelation 8

India and Pakistan: More of the Same Ahead?

Whether the February 25 recommitment to a ceasefire by both sides yields lasting peace remains to be seen.

‘Beating of Retreat’ Ceremony at the India-Pakistan international border at Wagha, 2010.

Credit: Flickr/Koshy Koshy

On February 25, after talks between director generals of military operations (DGMOs), India and Pakistan reached a ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir from midnight of February 24-25. Exchange of artillery fire had become commonplace over the last few years as India-Pakistan relations came under increasing strain. Terror attacks by the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pathankot and Uri, both in 2016, and in Pulwama in 2019 led to military operations by Indian forces across the disputed border in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan in the shape of special operation and air strikes on terrorist launch pads and camps.

These events had subsequently led to a growing number of ceasfire violations (CFVs), as both sides prefer the use of this low-intensity option to express their differences under the ostensible safety of the nuclear umbrella. India’s defense minister, Rajnath Singh, stated before parliament that there had been 5,133 instances of CFVs along the LoC in 2020 with Pakistan last year, which had resulted in 46 fatalities. This was the highest number since a ceasefire agreement was reached in 2003. The recent agreement therefore brings much needed respite from the competitive excesses of the rivalry.

But what does this agreement really augur for bilateral ties? Should it be viewed as a significant breakthrough? Recent history does not inspire confidence. In 2018, both armies had similarly agreed to adhere to the tenets of the 2003 ceasefire agreement in “letter and spirit” to maintain peace and tranquility on the disputed border. The prominent concern then was for civilians who had been inadvertently caught in the crossfire. Later, in September 2019, Indian news outlets reported “2,050 unprovoked ceasefire violations in which 21 Indians [had] died.” The last agreement did not endure.

There are two reasons for this. First, in the absence of enforcement mechanisms or even a written agreement there isn’t much to hold both parties to their commitments. The ceasefire offer was first made by Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali on November 23, 2003 and reciprocated by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs a few days later. But it has never been formalized. In these circumstances, the sanctity of the agreement is only tenuously held in place by expedience, and is greatly susceptible to political pressures at the domestic level. Also, since it does not create dependencies, there isn’t much at stake for either party. Second, as Happymon Jacob highlights, CFVs “are generally not planned, directed, or cleared by higher military commands or political establishments, but are instead driven by the dynamics on the frontlines.” When signaling from the political leadership is ambiguous, local military factors have a more autonomous function in terms of performing CFVs.

Perhaps it is better to wait and watch. As Jacob has argued, ceasefire agreements have typically been followed as part of a “tit-for-tat” strategy, in periods when peace dialogue between both countries is seen as progressing. These are periods in which the political leadership is arguably more attuned to the conditions at the tactical level. While the current ceasefire agreement is somewhat consequential in itself, if we see more positive signs and conformity with the agreed terms in the near future, it may speak to real progress and a genuine appetite in leaders on both sides to make headway. Earlier, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa did claim he was “extending [the] hand of peace in all directions.” The joint statement mentioned that both states had “agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns.” This could mean that cross-border terrorism and the Kashmir issue could be back on the negotiation table to accommodate both India and Pakistan’s interests.

But there isn’t much to justify such optimism. Mainly, since it is unlikely that perceptions of enmity have changed, material weaknesses could be driving conciliatory behavior. Pakistan’s  annual economic growth rate has shrunk from 5.8 percent in 2018 (when Imran Khan took over as prime minister) to 0.98 percent in 2020 and could decline further. Additionally, it remains on the Financial Action Task Force’s “grey list” for terror financing. India’s GDP on the other hand, contracted by an astounding 23.9 percent in the first quarter of 2020 and only now seems to be on the mend. Also, although there is no evidence of the China factor playing a direct role, the rise in tensions on the Sino-Indian border could have softened India’s stance on CFVs on the Indo-Pak border. In essence, if the current agreement has been produced by specific pay-off structures, it will weaken as these inevitably change in the future.

If the ceasefire agreement does not hold, it will be clear that it was a momentary respite in a routinized escalatory/de-escalatory dynamic. Certain fault lines are evident already. India’s Ministry of Defense clarified that the DGMO level talks took place “at the behest of Pakistan.” The statement specifically mentions flagging terrorist infiltration in the north of Pir Panjal mountain ranges. Furthermore, the Indian Army added that “no let-up in counter-terror operations” would occur due to the agreement, and that they “retained the right to respond in case there is a terror attack in the future.” The message to domestic publics was clear: this does not change India’s stance on terrorism or Pakistan.

Similarly, Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted to commemorate the anniversary of Pakistan’s response to India’s air strikes, which he referred to as “reckless” and “irresponsible military brinkmanship.” He welcomed the ceasefire agreement but added that the “onus of creating an enabling environment for further progress” now rested with India. Khan believes India must “take necessary steps to meet the long-standing demand and right of Kashmiri people [for] self-determination.” The message to domestic publics here: this does not change Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir or India.

In the end, it may not be the achievement of a ceasefire agreement, but rather what the two states do in its aftermath that will provide the clearest indication of where the India-Pakistan rivalry is headed. Although less discussed, occasional cooperation in areas that look to reduce risk of inadvertent escalation have been nearly as predictable as CFVs in India-Pak relations. For example, India and Pakistan already keep their nuclear arsenals disassembled, have a moratorium on nuclear testing, and under a 1988 agreement, routinely exchange lists of nuclear sites on the first day of every calendar year. They also have flag-staff meetings and regular military contact at the DGMO level, which are of an ad hoc character and serve as ready mechanisms to de-escalate tensions in crisis situations. But none of these measures have been able to alter the substantial nature of the rivalry and streamline peace dialogue. While risks of needless escalation and saber-rattling may have been lessened, the prospects for genuine progress are still dim.

Ameya Pratap Singh is a Ph.D. student in Area Studies (South Asia) at the University of Oxford.

The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq according to the Antichrist

The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq: Political Factions and the Ruling Elite

Usman ButtNovember 16, 2020


March 2, 2021 at 4:01 pm

Zana Gulmohamad’s new book, The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq: Political Factions and the Ruling Elite, takes on the mammoth task of exploring and explaining how Iraq has formulated its foreign relations since the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation. Iraqi politics are often quite difficult for outside observers to make sense of; foreign policy is no different. As Gulmohamad makes clear, Iraq has no single foreign policy; the ruling elite in both Baghdad and Erbil have multiple foreign policies. Through interviews with diplomats, ambassadors and politicians, the author, who teaches politics and international relations at Sheffield University, has put together an important insight into how the country’s foreign relations are determined.

Gulmohamad identifies three levels to Iraqi foreign policy and quotes lawmaker Dhafer Al-A’ni in explaining them: “There are multiple or numerous levels of Iraqi foreign policy… Firstly it is based on ethnic or sectarian foreign policies; Shiite, Sunnis, and Kurdish foreign policies… Secondly, there are different foreign policies from decision makers’ level, such as the President, Prime Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs where each has their own perspective and they are not compatible… Thirdly, there are foreign policies that emanate from various political parties, which are different from each other; for example, the external relations of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan are different from those of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.” Thus we ask not only what Iraq’s foreign policy is, but also whose foreign policy is it? Or as the author puts it, “Various political factions via their ethnic, religious, political, ideological and personal differences and their competition for resources and power have contributed to an incoherent foreign policy.”

The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq… proceeds to take us through different political factions, actors, movements, and institutions and explores how each one forms its own foreign policy and how they interact with one another. “The Iraqi state’s weaknesses and the post-2003 political system, including the quota al-Muhasasa and the electoral system (proportional representation), have contributed to the rise of emerging political figures and parties,” writes Gulmohamad. “While al-Muhasasa has contributed to the divided foreign policy, the principle of inclusion of all three major ethno-sectarian political factions (Shia, Arab Sunni, and Kurd) has prevented a complete fallout of the state’s system and given every main political component a stake in Iraq. The interests and external ties of the political factions do not necessarily translate to benefit the public.” This is a critical point because the political factions are constantly trying to undermine one another, and at the same time, the inclusion of these different factions stops the state from collapsing entirely. However, the Iraqi people do not actually benefit a great deal from the preservation of this political system.

Whilst the book discusses the ethnic and sectarian composition of power in Iraq, it does not fall into lazy thinking by treating these identity markers as having homogeneous attitudes in foreign policy thinking. “There are clear differences between the Shia elites and factions in terms of how they view regional and international powers. Thus, not all Shia elites and factions are pro-Iran, and both [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani and Muqtada [Al-Sadr] seek to limit Iranian leverage while maintaining a competitive relationship with Iran. Muqtada and [former Prime Minister Haider] al-Abadi’s supporters, unlike the pro-Iran factions, are more willing to restore ties with, for instance, the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia].”

The Islamic Da’wa Party, a Shia political movement which has given Iraq three prime ministers, tends to take a harder sectarian approach to foreign policy, although there are degrees to this depending on which prime minister you examine. Nouri Al-Maliki, who was prime minister of Iraq between 2006 and 2014, gravitated the country’s foreign policy towards complete alignment with Iran on both domestic and regional issues. According to Gulmohamad, Al-Maliki had two faces when it came to foreign policy; he held the principle that Iraq would never meddle in the affairs of other countries, but he turned a blind eye to and facilitated Iran’s recruitment of Iraqi Shia to fight in Syria in defence of dictator Bashar Al-Assad. While Al-Maliki held that Iraq should be sovereign, his entrenchment with Tehran and hostility towards Iran’s regional rivals harmed the country’s sovereignty.

Not everyone in the Da’wa Party agreed with Al-Maliki’s style of government and internal factionalism played out in foreign policy, as the author tells us: “A few days before Prime Minister al-Maliki’s resignation, a number of Da’wa Party members visited Iran to persuade Iranian decision-makers not to support al-Maliki.” The prime minister’s decision to step down was also influenced by the United States refusing to help Iraq against Daesh unless he resigned.

This is a useful study that will equip readers with the tools to understand how post-2003 Iraq makes foreign policy decisions. It also provides a mirror into domestic politics within the country and explores the dynamics of different movements. It does not deal very much with the United States and claims that Washington has had very little influence over how Iraq makes its foreign policy since the 2005 parliamentary elections. Many would argue that this demonstrates America’s disinterest in governing Iraq post-invasion and more studies examining this question would be welcome. Iraqis benefit very little from this arrangement, as Zana Gulmohamad tells us repeatedly throughout the book.

While The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq… offers an insight into that country, it might also help us to look at other countries in a similar situation, including neighbouring Syria. This is, without doubt, a spirited and welcome book that contributes to our understanding of political dynamics in post-invasion Iraq.

Modernizing Babylon the Great’s Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

New Threats Demand Nuclear Modernization

March 2, 2021 | By John A. Tirpak

Nuclear modernization is an imperative, because the strategic environment has evolved dramatically since the last century, with more and different kinds of existential threats, senior U.S. military  leaders said at AFA’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium.

“Deterrence in the 21st century is wholly different than it was in the 20th century,” Gen. John E. Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained in a panel discussion on strategic modernization. The primary reason, he said, is that “strategic attack can no longer just be defined as nuclear attack,” but could be a cyber, chemical, biological, space, or conventional attack—think hypersonic—used against a crucial target that could “cause strategic problems for the United States,” Hyten said. The National Defense Strategy states that such non-nuclear but nation-debilitating attacks may be answered “at a time, place, and [in] a domain of our choosing,” he added.

Strategic deterrence must now be viewed in the context of that posture, taking missile defenses into account as well, he added. 

“It’s going to be a difficult problem,” Hyten observed, because “we’ve not fully thought it through.” The academic community which came up with the old theory of deterrence “really has not embraced this new construct,” nor has it worked through its ramifications, Hyten said.

He predicted the Biden administration’s nuclear posture review will examine the new strategic landscape in the context he laid out. But “without the backstop of the nuclear triad, it basically is all impossible” to deter an adversary with strategic capabilities, “because it starts falling apart right from the beginning.”

Modernizing the U.S. strategic deterrent is going to be expensive, Hyten allowed, but “you have to start from the threat, and the threat is significant, … and modernizing.”

Russia, he said, has just completed a 20-year modernization of its nuclear enterprise, with new ICBMs, new submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, new cruise missiles on updated bombers, and all-new nuclear weapons that are not covered by any treaty. These include a nuclear-tipped hypersonic missile and a nuclear torpedo capable of destroying a larger coastal region.

Hyten said he supports the New START treaty, which the Biden administration extended by five years, “because it puts limits and a verification regime in place for the large number of nuclear capabilities, giving the U.S “good insight” into Russian nuclear capabilities and thinking. This is crucial because Russia’s new nuclear systems have to be deterred.

China also is building nuclear weapons “faster than anybody on the planet,” with brand-new ICBMs, cruise missiles, and nuclear-tipped hypersonic missiles “that we have no defenses for,” Hyten said. Lacking any arms control agreement with China, “We have no insight into their nuclear doctrine,” he added.

“Our nuclear modernization program … is late to need,” Hyten asserted. The nuclear triad of bombers, ICBMs, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles “is the minimum essential capability for deterrence in the great power world we live in today,” he said. Without “even one,” it “becomes very, very difficult for [U.S. Strategic Command] and the nation to deter our adversaries.”

The new U.S. strategic capabilities in development are the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, the ICBM succeeding the 50-year-old Minuteman III; the Columbia missile submarine, replacing the Trident; the B-21 bomber, replacing both the B-1 and B-2; and the Long-Range Stand Off missile, replacing the 40-year-old Air Launched cruise Missile.

However, the portfolio needs to be expanded to broaden deterrence beyond that, Hyten argued, with a new sea-launched cruise missile and “a low-yield nuclear weapon that will deploy in small numbers on our submarines,” to counter the “thousands low-yield … and tactical nuclear weapons that Russia is building and deploying,” which are not covered under New START.

“We can’t have interruptions in the program,” Hyten insisted, “because we’re starting late and … they have to be delivered on time.”

The old deterrence theories also don’t cover the possibility of nuclear-armed adversaries “cooperating with each other,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command at vAWS.

Adversaries are relying more on their nuclear arsenals for influence and coercion, and “a variety of options for … limited use.” This “requires us to rethink our approach,” Bussiere said.

The “continuum of conflict” potentially leading to the use of nuclear weapons—“from competition to crisis, to armed conflict, to limited nuclear use to full nuclear exchange” is becoming “coupled and non-linear,” he said.

Eliminating part of the traid, he believes, “would embolden our adversaries to believe they could actually employ nuclear weapons against us.”

Bussiere also noted that while the idea is to keep Minuteman ready until GBSD replaces it, that may not work. The system might suddenly become unsustainable, and “it’s really a choice of replacing them or losing them,” he said.

In addition to the delivery vehicles, the U.S. also needs to modernize its structure to command and control the deterrent, Air Force Global Strike Command chief Gen. Timothy M. Ray said.

Command and control is “the foundational piece’ of a deterrent that can be wielded effectively, and communications is “more contested” than ever before, so it must be “much more relevant and resilient,” he said. Ray called the overarching scheme “Triad Plus” to incorporate the C3 element.

There must also be more clarity about whether the U.S. should embrace the “no first use” doctrine, Ray said, because allies depending on the U.S. nuclear umbrella need to know what the U.S. will and won’t do to protect them.

“What does ‘no first use’ mean to them? Because, if we can’t come up with that really crisp answer, they now have to entertain their own nuclear program” because they are conventionally overmatched by adversaries.

Ray said it’s possible to “put other strategic deterrent capabilities on the table that fall outside of New START” and are “more ambiguous,” but “that’s a really dangerous game.” Better, he said, to stick with a program that’s well understood and reliable.

The systems now being pursued are also more adaptable, Ray said. “It would take me years to integrate a new standoff missile into the B-2,” he said, but with the B-21, given its open mission systems, it will take me months, not years.”

US Airbase Hit by Rockets in Iraq

Rockets Hit Iraqi Base Where U.S. Troops Are Stationed

At least 10 rockets were fired on the Ayn Al Asad air base one week after U.S. airstrikes on Iran-backed militia positions along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

The Ayn Al Asad air base in Anbar Province, Iraq, in 2019. It is one of the last remaining bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed.

Nasser Nasser/Associated Press

By Jane Arraf and Helene Cooper

March 3, 2021
Updated 2:59 p.m. ET

DOHUK, Iraq — A barrage of rockets was fired on Wednesday at the Ayn Al Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar Province — one of the last remaining Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed.

An Iraqi security statement and one released by the Pentagon said 10 rockets were launched toward the sprawling base.

A senior Defense Department official said a U.S. contractor had died of an apparent heart attack during the rocket barrage. Officials in Washington did not identify the group responsible for the attack.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the missile defense system at Al Asad “engaged in defense of our forces” and added, “We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the individual who died.”

President Biden was briefed on the attacks, his top spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.

Ms. Psaki said officials were leaving their options open, pending an investigation of the incident, but she acknowledged a caution against making “a hasty or ill-informed decision” that “plays into the hands of our adversaries.”

Even though the contractor who died did so of a heart attack, Mr. Biden may feel he needs to respond, officials said. “If we determine a response is necessary, we will do so at a time and manner of our choosing,” said John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.

The Sabareen news outlet, which is affiliated with Iran-backed militias, said three U.S. soldiers had been killed in the attack — a report completely at odds with the official Defense Department account.

The assault came just under a week after the United States attacked Iran-backed militia targets at the Syria-Iraq border. Those airstrikes, ordered by the Biden administration, hit a collection of buildings on the Syrian side of a border crossing. Mr. Biden had originally approved two targets inside Syria, administration officials said.

The Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah said one of its fighters had been killed in those airstrikes. It identified him as a member of Popular Mobilization Forces that are officially part of Iraqi security forces helping prevent infiltration by the Islamic State.

The second strike Mr. Biden approved was aborted at the last minute after American forces learned that there were women and children at that site, also in Syria, administration officials said. Two F-15E Strike Eagles dropped seven 500-pound satellite-guided bombs on nine buildings at Abu Kamal, the first site, the officials said.

Mr. Biden chose targets in Syria to avoid political blowback on the Iraqi government, officials said.

The assault on the base on Wednesday came just days before a visit by Pope Francis to Iraq beginning on Friday — the first ever papal visit to the war-ravaged country.

Iraqi security forces are on heightened alert, with Baghdad going into full lockdown on Friday. Security forces have been deployed in large numbers to all of the cities Francis plans to visit on his three-day trip.

The attackers who targeted the base on Wednesday used BM-21 “Grad” rockets, fired from about five miles from the base, officials said.

A local paramilitary leader near the base said he had heard the impact of the rockets and then gone to investigate. The leader, Sheikh Qutri Kahlan al-Obeidi, said he had found “a burned vehicle — a Mitsubishi pickup,” rigged with rocket launchers, that appeared to have been used in the attack.

No group took responsibility, but any additional deaths will add pressure to the Biden administration to respond, even as the pope’s visit could complicate any immediate military escalation.

The last major assault on the base was a little over a year ago, when dozens of U.S. soldiers and support personnel were injured in a missile attack. That assault was in retaliation for the U.S. drone killing of Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, who led the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Jane Arraf reported from Dohuk, and Helene Cooper from Washington. Falih Hassan contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt and Glenn Thrush from Washington.

The Obama Deal Won’t Be Restarted Soon

Former U.S. ambassador doesn’t see Iran nuclear deal happening this year as escalations mount

Natasha Turak

A series of back-and-forth retaliatory moves and antagonizing statements between Washington and Tehran are putting the Biden administration’s plans for a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal into greater peril by the day.

“You can’t act with impunity. Be careful,” President Joe Biden told reporters Friday, describing his message to Iran after he ordered airstrikes against buildings in eastern Syria that the Pentagon says were being used by Iranian-backed militia.

The strikes were in retaliation for a Feb. 15 attack that saw rockets hit Erbil International Airport in Iraq, which houses coalition military forces. The attack, which Western and Iraqi officials attribute to Iranian-backed militia forces, killed one contractor with the U.S.-led coalition and injured several others, including an American service member. Iran rejects accusations of its involvement.

None of this bodes well for what the Biden administration considers a foreign policy priority: a return to the Iranian nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, that was penned under the Obama administration with several world powers and lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program.

The deal has all but collapsed since the Trump administration unilaterally ditched it in 2018 and re-imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran that have crippled its economy.

Whether or when the deal can be revived is a critical question for the Biden team’s foreign policy and legacy in the Middle East. Former U.S. diplomat Joseph Westphal, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia during Obama’s second term, doesn’t see it happening in the near or even medium term.

“I don’t think we’ll see a deal” this year, Westphal told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Monday. “I think we may see the start of negotiations to get to a deal. The end of the year is coming fast. And I think these things take a lot of time.”

An invitation and a rejection

Earlier in February, the Biden team took a major step in offering to start informal negotiations with Tehran, signaling the first U.S. diplomatic outreach in more than four years. Iran’s leadership over the weekend rejected the invitation.

The attempt at some sort of rapprochement is a tricky one for Biden. He faces substantial domestic opposition on the Iran deal and doesn’t want to appear “soft” on the country’s regime, especially at a time when Iran is ramping up its uranium enrichment and stockpiling in violation of the deal, moves that bring it closer to bomb-making capability.  

Tehran insists that this is in response to U.S. sanctions, and that its actions can be reversed if the sanctions are lifted first; Biden, meanwhile, says he’ll only lift the economic penalties if Tehran walks back its violations. So the two are at an impasse.

Tehran last week limited the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s access to its nuclear activities, putting the deal in further peril, though the inspectors still retain some access. And on Monday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of being behind an attack on one of its tankers off the coast of Oman on Friday. Iran denies any involvement.

Attempts to level the playing field

Still, not everyone believes a return to the JCPOA can’t happen this year. Ayham Kamel, Middle East practice head at political risk consultancy the Eurasia Group, sees the current escalations as an attempt to even the playing field.

“There is no easy path for JCPOA plus. I think whatever is happening now in the region — some of the escalation in Iraq, some of the escalation in Iran, even the Iranians rejecting the first offer for direct negotiations with the U.S. — I think that’s all pre-negotiation negotiation,” Kamel said.

“It’s an effort to really balance the field, the Iranians trying to get the maximum that they could out of this process. The JCPOA will happen, re-entry will happen at some point this year in my view, but it will be tough.”

Kamel added that the Iranian leadership itself remains divided over returning to the accord, as it weighs the need for economic relief from sanctions and its opposition to cowing to U.S. demands.

“The supreme leader wants a deal, but many in the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard Corps) do not necessarily want to see a weak negotiation start,” he said, referencing Iran’s powerful and ideological parallel military force. “They want negotiations to start from a strong position, and the regional escalation is all part of that.”

Others believe a return to the deal is inevitable simply because Iran’s economy has been so devastated by the sanctions. Its currency is in free fall, its exports have been slashed, and Iranians are struggling to afford food and medicine.

“I think, ultimately, a deal is possible,” Richard Goldberg of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told CNBC earlier this month, “because the Iranians need money.”

Pope Prepares to go to the Iranian Horn

Intense preparations before pontiff meets Iraqi ayatollah


March 03, 2021 – 7:40 AM

BAGHDAD — In Iraq’s holiest city, a pontiff will meet a revered ayatollah and make history with a message of coexistence in a place plagued by bitter divisions.

One is the chief pastor of the world-wide Catholic Church, the other a pre-eminent figure in Shiite Islam whose opinion holds powerful sway on the Iraqi street and beyond. Their encounter will resonate across Iraq, even crossing borders into neighboring, mainly Shiite Iran.