1884 A Forewarning Of The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

January 20, 2010New York City isn’t immune to earthquakes; a couple of small tremors measuring about 2.5 on the Richter scale even struck back in 2001 and 2002.But on August 10, 1884, a more powerful earthquake hit. Estimated from 4.9 to 5.5 in magnitude, the tremor made houses shake, chimneys fall, and residents wonder what the heck was going on, according to a New York Times article two days later.The quake was subsequently thought to have been centered off Far Rockaway or Coney Island.It wasn’t the first moderate quake, and it won’t be the last. In a 2008 Columbia University study, seismologists reported that the city is crisscrossed with several fault lines, one along 125th Street. With that in mind, New Yorkers should expect a 5.0 or higher earthquake centered here every 100 years, the seismologists say.

Translation: We’re about 30 years overdue. Lucky for us the city adopted earthquake-resistant building codes in 1995.1884 A Forewarning Of The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12) 1884 A Forewarning Of The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

State Department says Israel ‘occupied’ outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

State Department says Israel ‘occupied’ West Bank and Gaza

HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images

April 1, 2021

The US State Department clarified Wednesday that its view is that Israel “occupied” the Palestinian territories. The comments follow a report from the department that retained some Trump administration language indicating a more pro-Israel view from the United States on the issue. 

On Tuesday, the State Department released its human rights report for 2020.  The section on the West Bank and Gaza did not include the word “occupied” in its title. Under President Barack Obama, the report used the word “occupied” in the section header. However, the department dropped the term from the report title during the administration of President Donald Trump. 

Tuesday’s report did say that it “covers the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war.” The Israel section also says Israel “occupied” the Golan Heights in 1967, but noted the 2019 US recognition of the formerly Syrian-held territory as Israeli, as well as the 2017 US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

Finally, the report said it “is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues,” including on “borders.” 

Later that day, the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary Lisa Peterson dodged a question on whether the United States views the West Bank and Gaza as occupied, repeating that the report is not a reflection on the “final status” of the areas. 

However, on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US view is that Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. “It is a historical fact that Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights after the 1967 war,” Price said at a press conference. 

Price noted the report’s use of the word “occupation” to refer the West Bank as well. 

“This has been the long-standing position of previous administrations of both parties over the course of many decades,” he said, adding that both Israel and the Palestinians should avoid doing anything to put a two-state solution “further out of reach.”

Israel took the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the June 1967 war. The majority of the population is Palestinian in both areas, though hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank. Gaza is controlled internally by the Palestinian military and political organization Hamas, while its borders are subject to an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Israel also controls the West Bank’s borders. Internally, it is administered in some areas by the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and by the Israeli military in other parts. The United Nations considers the territories occupied by Israel and the settlements illegal, though Israel disputes this. 

Trump changed the US view on Israeli and Palestinian territory considerably. The United States during his administration became the first country to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan and his move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem reversed decades of US recognition of Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital. The move also led several other states to establish embassies in Jerusalem. Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said in 2019 that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are “not per se inconsistent with international law,” which was also a departure from the policy of previous US presidents. 

US President Joe Biden’s administration has reversed some Trump policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In March, the administration increased aid to the Palestinian Authority, which Trump had cut significantly, and is working to repair relations with the Palestinian Authority. However, the Biden administration has said it is keeping the US Embassy in Jerusalem. 

Iran Continues to Nuke Up: Daniel 8

IAEA: Iran Enriching Uranium with Advanced Centrifuges Underground

Hana Levi Julian

20 Nisan 5781 – April 1, 2021

Photo Credit: Hamed Saber / Wikimedia

Anti-aircraft guns at Iran’s Natanz uranium-enrichment facility.

Iran has begun to enrich uranium with a fourth cascade (cluster) of advanced IR-2m centrifuges in its underground nuclear facility at Natanz, according to a report by the United Nations atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The report, obtained Thursday by the Reuters news agency, documented the additional breach of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal signed by Iran with world powers.

“On 31 March 2021, the Agency verified at FEP that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into a fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges,” the IAEA wrote in the report sent to member states, dated Wednesday.

FEP is the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.

Iran informed the IAEA that it plans to use six cascades of the advanced centrifuges to enrich the uranium up to five percent fissile purity, according to the report. Two more cascades have been installed but are not yet in operation. A second cascade of IR-4 centrifuges has not yet been installed, but is planned, the report said.

“In summary, as of 31 March 2021, the Agency verified that Iran was using 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges installed in 30 cascades, 696 IR-2m centrifuges installed in four cascades and 174 IR-4 centrifuges installed in one cascade to enrich natural UF6 up to 5% U-235 at FEP,” the report said.

Under the JCPOA, Iran can enrich uranium with the relatively slow first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.

The latest breach is another volley in the standoff between Iran and the United States; the question is which side will blink first.

Iran has continued to violate the nuclear deal almost since the agreement was signed; in response, then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal.

Since that time, Iran has continued to escalate its violations, while demanding the United States revoke the sanctions that were restored by the Trump Administration in response to its breaches of the JCPOA.

Under the nuclear deal, Iran’s uranium enrichment was to be capped at 3.67 percent and the country was to stockpile only up to a limit of 300 kilograms (660 pounds). Iran was also supposed to halt enrichment at the underground Fordo nuclear plant.

In addition, Iran was not to accumulate more than 130 tons of heavy water, which contains more hydrogen than regular water, and was to redesign its heavy water nuclear reactor at the Arak facility.

Why? Because spent fuel from a heavy water reactor contains plutonium; plutonium can be used to create a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA asked Iran in November 2019 for an explanation of why field inspectors had “detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic (human-induced) origin, at a location in Iran not declared to the agency.”

It is believed the particles were discovered in the Tehran district where Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in an international briefing that Iran was hiding a “secret atomic warehouse.”

Iran’s Nuclear Program Under Attack as 5 Incidents Have Rocked the Country

A July 2020 report by the Kuwaiti al-Jarida news outlet quoting a “senior security source” — without revealing the nationality, country or security service of the source – said the explosion at the end of June in Iran’s Parchin weapons research, development and manufacturing center (and a nearby missile production facility -ed.), and a massive fire at Natanz a few days later, were both carried out by Israel. The fire resulted in a “crack” in the reactor building, according to the report.

In October 2020, satellite imagery showed that Iran had, as promised, begun construction on its underground advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz. The cause of the blast was never officially announced.

Iraq Will be Challenged by the Iranian Horn: Daniel 8:3

A growing challenge for Iraq: Iran-aligned Shiite militias

BAGHDAD — It was a stark message: A convoy of masked Shiite militiamen, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, drove openly through central Baghdad denouncing the U.S. presence in Iraq and threatening to cut off the prime minister’s ear.

The ominous display underscored the growing threat that rogue militias loyal to Tehran pose for Iraq. It came at a time when Baghdad seeks to bolster relations with its Arab neighbors and is gearing up for early elections, scheduled for October, amid a worsening economic crisis and a global pandemic.

Last week’s procession also sought to undermine Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s credibility, with Iran-aligned militias driving down a major highway and passing near ministries as Iraqi security forces looked on. Ahead of a new round of talks between the U.S. government and Iraq, it sent a stark warning that the militias will not be curbed.

A fourth round of so-called strategic Iraq-U.S. talks is scheduled for next week after the Iraqi government requested it, partly in response to pressure from Shiite political factions and militias loyal to Iran that have lobbied for the remaining U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

The talks, which began in June under the Trump administration, would be the first under President Joe Biden. On the agenda is an array of issues, including the presence of U.S. combat forces in the country and the issue of Iraqi militias acting outside of state authority. The discussions are meant to shape the future of the U.S.-Iraq relationship, a senior U.S. official recently said.

It is a tightrope for al-Kadhimi, who has said that bringing armed groups under state control is a goal of his administration but finds himself increasingly helpless in reining in the groups. U.S. officials have said Washington will use the meetings to clarify that U.S. forces remain in Iraq for the sole purpose of ensuring the Islamic State group “cannot reconstitute” itself — a signal that the U.S. seeks to keep the 2,500 remaining American soldiers in Iraq.

Political analyst Ihsan Alshamary said the militias’ military-style parade sought to weaken al-Kadhimi’s government and project strength.

The militiamen in the parade were mostly from a shadowy Shiite group known as Rabaallah — one of about a dozen that surfaced after the Washington-directed drone strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad in January 2020.

Both Soleimani and al-Muhandis were key in commanding and controlling a wide array of Iran-backed groups operating in Iraq, and their deaths in the U.S. airstrike outraged Iraqi lawmakers, prompting them to approve a non-binding resolution to oust U.S.-led coalition forces from the country.

Since then, militias have also become increasingly unruly and disparate. Some Washington and Iraq-based observers argue the militias have splintered into new, previously unknown groups, allowing them to claim attacks under different names to mask the extent of their involvement.

Rabaallah, for instance, is believed to be a front for one of the most powerful Iran-backed factions in Iraq, which the U.S. has blamed for rocket attacks targeting the American Embassy in Baghdad and military bases that house U.S. troops.

For his part, al-Kadhimi has tried to curb the militias’ money-making border activities, including smuggling and bribery, and show his American interlocutors that he is capable of keeping domestic adversaries in check.

Badawi said the pressure from the militias will likely increase ahead of the strategic talks with the U.S. on April 7.

‘Nuclear arms potential triggers the first nuclear war in South Asia’: Revelation 8

‘Nuclear arms potential triggers escalation in South Asia’

KARACHI, Pakistan

Expressing concerns over “external trends filtering into the region,” a new report on nuclear challenges in South Asia sees nuclear warheads as “potential triggers for accidents or further escalation,” particularly when deployed at a tactical level.

It also warned that the contrasting focus and pattern of nuclear engagement between China and the US could break the volatile region into two camps, with Washington and New Delhi on one side, and Beijing and Islamabad on the other.

The report, “South Asia’s Nuclear Challenges: Interlocking Views from India, Pakistan, China, Russia, and the United States,” was released by Sweden-based think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on Thursday.

According to the institute, the report is “without attribution” based on 119 interviews conducted last year with experts, researchers, military officials, and politicians from India, Pakistan, China, Russia, and the United States.

It said: “Their [the experts’] insights demonstrate the need for a greater and more flexible engagement to enhance not merely understanding of South Asia, but rather how it interlocks with broader international nuclear dynamics.”

The discussions revealed a number of interlocking points that offer building blocks for both official and unofficial engagement on issues such as “no first use (NFU), lowered nuclear thresholds, conventional and nuclear entanglement, escalate to de-escalate, and emerging technology development.”

The report has cited a slew of “escalatory events” in South Asia involving China, India, and Pakistan under “nuclear shadow” – in which these nuclear countries conduct low-intensity military operations against each other over disputed territories.

These included the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan a following attacks on the Indian parliament in 2001, in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and in Balakot in 2019, as well as the China–India tensions over the Depsang incursion, the 2017 Doklam stand-off, and the 2020 Galwan River Valley skirmishes.

“While each case has elicited debate, less attention has been given to the role of nuclear weapons, or lack thereof, in these various stand-offs,“ the report said.

From one perspective, it added, even when not actively engaged, nuclear postures and technologies are seen as looming in the background and limiting events from spiraling out of control.

The report, however, went on to say: “They are seen as potential triggers for accidents or further escalation, particularly when deployed at a tactical level.”

China and US

Experts from each country tended to see the other country as playing a larger and more destabilizing role in South Asia.

Chinese experts, according to the report, focused on past US weapon sales to the region, the India-US nuclear deal, the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which have had a strong focus on China as well as India.

US experts, for their part, cited China’s conventional and nuclear weapons outreach to Pakistan, military training, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“This different focus and pattern of engagement led some US experts to express concern that the region could break into two camps, with the US and India on one side, and China and Pakistan on the other,” it cautioned.

India and Pakistan

Pakistan and India are among the handful of countries with nuclear arsenals. India joined the nuclear club long before Pakistan, in 1974, prompting Islamabad to follow suit.

Discussing the nuclear engagement between the two longtime rivals, experts from both countries, according to the report, focused on how the other has engaged in lowering the nuclear threshold, and there was a mutual interest in how Chinese–US competition in emerging technologies may have cascade effects that shape South Asia’s deterrence landscape.

“Both Indian and Pakistani experts expressed concerns over how such technologies as hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, and autonomy may change the deterrence landscape, particularly in terms of surveillance, command and control, and even shorter reaction times,” it maintained.

Islamabad silently developed its own nuclear capability in the 1980s, when it was an ally of the US in the first Afghan war against the crumbling Soviet Union.

It did not conduct any nuclear tests until India carried out a series of its own tests in 1999. Only three weeks later, Pakistan conducted six successful tests in the remote Chaghi district near the Afghanistan-Iran border, stoking fears of a nuclear war between the longtime rivals.

According to SIPRI, India currently possesses between 80 and 100 nuclear warheads, while Pakistan holds between 90 and 110.

China and India

Despite heightened tensions between New Delhi and Beijing in recent years, experts from both sides see “no chance” of a nuclear escalation between the two South Asian giants.

The report said the experts had the prevailing view that the countries shared the same stance on the NFU policy.

“And that nuclear escalation between the two was not only unlikely but also unthinkable.”

“While stabilizing in the context of tensions at the China–India border, the assumption that both parties are operating from the same starting point merits greater examination—in relation not just to NFU but also to a range of nuclear postures from de-mating to targeting,” the report further said.

Assumptions of “postural parity” may bring stability in the short term but could contribute to “misunderstanding and miss-signaling” in the longer term, it cautioned.

“Overall, these findings illustrate the need for greater, and more comprehensive, engagement that features flexible bilateral, trilateral and multilateral groupings of India, Pakistan, China, Russia and the USA when discussing targeted aspects of nuclear dynamics in South Asia,” the report noted.

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Why is the UK Nuclear Horn Growing: Daniel 7

Why is the United Kingdom raising its nuclear stockpile limits?

By Matthew Harries, April 2, 2021

On March 16, the United Kingdom announced it was significantly raising a self-imposed cap on its overall nuclear stockpile, from a previous target of 180 warheads by the mid-2020s to a new cap of 260. The decision was outlined in the United Kingdom’s Integrated Review, a landmark strategic update, which also said the country will no longer declare the size of its operational warhead stockpile (previously 120), or the numbers of warheads and operational missiles deployed on submarines (previously 40 and no more than 8, respectively). A previous review in 2015 had left open the possibility of a future change in nuclear posture, although the vaguely phrased caveat was not much noticed at the time.

In essence, the United Kingdom is now reserving the right to deploy configurations of warheads on its ballistic-missile submarines that add up to significantly more nuclear explosive power than the previous limits allowed. An initial blanching of faces—and dismay about the reversal of two decades of progress towards a smaller and more transparent UK arsenal—has given way to the obvious question: Why?

Strategic analysts have been closely examining the text of the Integrated Review for clues to a changed deterrence policy and have seized on remarks by the UK defense secretary referring to improved Russian missile defenses. This explanation, if true, would be consistent with the traditional driver of UK nuclear requirements: the so-called Moscow Criterion, under which the United Kingdom believes it must have the ability to hold the Russian capital—a defended target—at serious risk. Additional strategic factors, including a broader range of targets, and the potential need to respond to limited nuclear use, have also been floated.

Other analysts have insisted that the new cap is designed to permit a bulge in the warhead stockpile for practical, rather than strategic, reasons, and that the accompanying change in doctrine is only window dressing. More skeptical observers suspect the United Kingdom’s real motivation is political, to make a general statement of post-Brexit toughness towards the world at large, send a message of nuclear buy-in towards the United States, or simply put the opposition Labour Party on the spot.

A definitive judgment is hard to reach. It is plausible that several of these factors were at play simultaneously. Nuclear decision-making is often complicated and rarely a matter of pure strategy. That said, changing the United Kingdom’s nuclear policy for primarily programmatic or political reasons, without urgent strategic justification, would be a serious misstep. So, too, would be a strengthening of the salience of UK nuclear weapons without a thorough examination of how they fit into the country’s security strategy and broader national ambitions.

Parliament should press the UK government to explain its nuclear policy changes more clearly, so there can be a properly informed debate on their merits, balanced against their costs—and so some of the more troubling explanations can be ruled out.

Chevaline redux? After a week of speculation following the Integrated Review’s release, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace appeared on a prominent Sunday talk show and, when pressed, implied that improvements in Russian missile defenses mean the British arsenal must grow in order to remain credible. He repeated the reference in Parliament at the launch of another, defense-specific white paper. There are at least two ways of interpreting these remarks.

The more dramatic reading of Wallace’s comments would be that the United Kingdom is at something resembling a second “Chevaline” moment. This would signify that an imminent or anticipated boost in Russian missile defenses will make UK nuclear warheads, delivered by Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, significantly less likely to get through to their targets. Such a dynamic, at least in basic terms, led the United Kingdom to develop the Chevaline front-end system in the 1970s, in response to the belief that the Polaris missile system’s ability to reach Moscow was being degraded. Chevaline emerged from a long project to upgrade Polaris, and comprised so-called “penetration aids,” including dummy warheads and chaff to confuse missile defenses, plus better protection for the genuine warheads. The United Kingdom replaced Polaris in the 1990s with the Trident II D-5, which has multiple independently targetable warheads. The United Kingdom does not comment publicly about its countermeasures to missile defenses, but the UK’s penetration-aid expertise presumably still stands.

If the missile defense-dependent explanation is true, Wallace—unlike his ministerial forbears, who kept the Chevaline project out of the public eye for more than a decade—must have decided that the more ambiguous phrasing of the Integrated Review needed to be clarified with reference to a specific threat. In this scenario, the hypothetical response would appear to rest on sheer weight of warhead numbers boosting the probability that enough would get through, rather than (as far as we know) on a new or additional Chevaline-like penetration solution. That said, Wallace’s interestingly worded comment on TV that “a quite clear study of effectively how warheads work and how they re-enter the atmosphere means that you have to make sure they’re not vulnerable to ballistic missile defense” might be read not just as a rationale for more warheads, but as a clue to the United Kingdom’s motivations in procuring a replacement class nuclear warhead and re-entry vehicle, in parallel with the proposed US W93/Mk7 program, to replace the current version.

An authoritative assessment of future Russian missile defenses and their capability vis-à-vis UK Trident probably cannot be made using only open sources. The area defenses surrounding Moscow, including the nuclear-capable endoatmospheric Gazelle and exoatmospheric Gorgon interceptors (the latter now retired), have been crucial in setting requirements for UK nuclear capabilities in the past. In recent years, Russia has been upgrading those systems and investing in others. The US Defense Department has assessed that Russia’s forthcoming A-235 (successor to the current A-135 Moscow defenses) and S-500 systems will have “future potential” against submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

There will always be deep skepticism that any defensive system, Russian or otherwise, could be capable of thwarting a full-scale intercontinental-range ballistic-missile attack. But it would be a brave analyst who, without access to the government’s internal deliberations at the very highest level, declared with full confidence now that Russian missile defenses are not at least one trigger for the United Kingdom’s new policy. Notably, conservative former officials from the United States, including Franklin Miller and Marshall Billingslea, have in recent days lent credence to this explanation.

Running the numbers. Yet, even sticking to purely military rationales, a different interpretation of Wallace’s answer on stockpile numbers could be that Russian missile defenses are one part of a changing calculus, but not the sole ingredient.

The Integrated Review—and, upon close listening, the rest of Wallace’s televised comments—hinted at several other things going on. The United Kingdom might be thinking about the practicalities of deterring not just Russia but also China, North Korea, and possibly Iran, all at the same time—“the full range of state nuclear threats from any direction,” as the review puts it. Wallace, for his part, talked about what “the Russians and others” have been up to. China is working on its own ballistic missile defenses, and the US Defense Department has also claimed “future potential” vis-à-vis submarine-launched ballistic missiles for China’s HQ-19 system and its future midcourse interceptor.

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The Integrated Review also cites “doctrinal threats” in the same sentence as announcing the warhead cap increase, which could imply a reaction to the prospect of Russia threatening limited nuclear use, with the United Kingdom boosting its ability to respond in kind. More broadly, it could also reflect a concern that the United Kingdom’s adversaries envisage a broader range of scenarios for nuclear use or coercion than it does itself—but following others down that path would be a concerning move. UK official language also makes repeated reference to Russia’s new offensive weapons, rather than only defensive systems. And in the longer term, the United Kingdom might also be worried about nuclear submarines becoming more vulnerable, which could at least theoretically explain the review’s reference to enemies seeking a “first-strike advantage.”

The relationship of all these factors to warhead numbers and their deployment is not linear, and it should not simply be assumed that more warheads deter more. But they could all create pressure for a larger arsenal.

In basic theoretical terms, aiming more warheads at a defended target could be one way of increasing the probability of sufficient numbers getting through. Another way that does not necessarily require more nuclear warheads—and one where, via Chevaline, the UK has experience—could be to introduce more complicated countermeasures.

Deploying more weapons on a single submarine, something permitted by the United Kingdom’s removal of loading limits, might allow more targets to be held credibly at risk, especially if some of those targets became better defended. A bigger stockpile overall might give the United Kingdom a better chance of having two boats at sea capable of a retaliatory strike, rather than one.

Additional warheads, whether on one deployed submarine or two, might provide more confidence that a first, limited, exchange could be conducted while holding back enough for subsequent large-scale use. In this scenario, the United Kingdom could use nuclear weapons in limited numbers, potentially using low-yield variants, while keeping more warheads in reserve for a strategic exchange. If this were to be part of the explanation, it would parallel the 2018 US Nuclear Posture Review, which provided for the introduction of a US low-yield Trident warhead variant, the W76-2, a capability the United Kingdom already possesses but which it has de-emphasised in recent years.

Lastly, more flexibility in submarine loadings might leave an adversary less certain of how many weapons it would be getting rid of, were it to strike first.

All a ruse? Plug some or all of these ingredients into the calculations of military planners, and it is not difficult to see how the answer might be that the United Kingdom needs—or at least it would feel more comfortable with—a bigger nuclear arsenal. And yet there is also a school of thought, among political types and wonks alike, that all this close reading gives the government too much credit. In this view, analysts are failing to see the political forest for the strategic trees—starting with the fact that an increased cap does not necessarily mean the United Kingdom will actually build more warheads.

The nuclear increase on paper does not need to be followed through on in practice, wrote New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush, because it was designed to hook opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer into talking about the Labour Party’s weak spot (nuclear weapons) rather than the government’s (cuts to foreign aid). ITV News political editor Robert Peston is similarly skeptical that new warheads will be built, and quotes former UK government ministers who think it is all about looking either unpredictable in the eyes of enemies or, more broadly, seized with post-Brexit dynamism. An even livelier rumor, mentioned in Parliament by Defence Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood, has also been circulating to the effect that the United Kingdom raised its cap for reasons to do with its “purchase” of new warheads from the United States.

A subset of military experts, meanwhile, think we are all being taken for a ride: The nuclear establishment actually needs a cap for more prosaic reasons, such as a temporary bulge when the next-generation warheads come in and old ones wait to be dismantled. (The UK government says those warheads will have a “very close connection, in design terms and in production terms” to the new US W93 warhead, but will not simply be bought off the shelf). By wrapping this up in strategic language the government is putting on a “rope trick,” according to one senior former defense official, to distract from the real explanation. This idea has popped up in Parliament, too.

It is not clear why the arrival of a new warhead more than a decade from now—technically out of the timeframe of the Integrated Review—would require an immediate cap increase. And if that were the specific reason, the government could always have said so. Still, a lower warhead cap likely means less practical breathing space in the cycle of maintaining, upgrading, and deploying the existing stockpile, so it could well be the case that programmatic factors more immediate than the arrival of the replacement warhead contributed to upward pressure on the UK arsenal. A realization that the target of going down to 180 warheads by the mid-2020s would be challenging to meet for practical reasons might have contributed to putting the idea of a cap adjustment on the table from the start.

Speaking as an author of some of the detailed strategic musings about the United Kingdom’s announcement, and a colleague and mentee of others, it is uncomfortable to suspect that researchers might be being suckered into giving academic cover to political or bureaucratic theater. But these explanations are not mutually exclusive, nor do they make it pointless to analyze the strategic aspects of UK policy. In the first place, policy change often has not one cause but several. Second, memories of the specific reasons for policy change sometimes fade over time, even as the effects take on a life of their own.

Multiple causality? Put yourself in the prime minister’s shoes, and imagine someone—for whatever reason—suggests the option of increasing the warhead cap. Well, you ask: what are the pros? The Ministry of Defence might say an increase will give us more firepower and flexibility to deal with a range of nasty events that might happen in the next decade or so, facing more enemies who are upgrading their capabilities. You might be told, too, that the Atomic Weapons Establishment says it will make their life easier.

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Even if we don’t actually build the things, you might be advised, raising the cap will make the United Kingdom look tough in the eyes of the Russians, for once, rather than boasting about tiny reductions in the nuclear arsenal and occasionally holding votes about whether to get rid of it. More nukes might even help show the Americans that the United Kingdom is serious. Your political advisers might note (perhaps not in the same breath, for propriety’s sake) that it is a perfect trap for Labour, always divided on Trident and still branded with former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s support for unilateral disarmament.

Ok, you ask, what are the cons? The Foreign Office says it will annoy disarmament enthusiasts and non-nuclear-weapon state parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Ho hum. The Ministry of Defence might admit that it might add to what is rapidly becoming a rather worrying global arms race—but that the United Kingdom didn’t start the race, after all, and alone can’t stop it. Previous governments cared about making those disarmament announcements, but what difference did it make to UK nuclear rivals? Right, you say: Let’s do it.

This is only a hypothetical sketch, and given how closely held previous British nuclear decisions have been kept, the full nature of the deliberations is unlikely to be made public for at least 30 years, if ever. But the sketch is designed to show why searching for a single cause might—assuming this is not, in fact, Chevaline round two—miss the point.

Lasting effects. However tedious it might sound to some, rolling back two decades of disarmament policy could cause additional damage to the nonproliferation regime, to the UK’s multilateral credentials, and to the long-term prospects of nuclear disarmament.

This new policy is not just a messaging problem among the usual suspects who would be critical whatever the government did. It is an embarrassment for UK diplomatic allies that have been doing their best to persuade more radically inclined non-nuclear states to keep the faith in incremental reductions, and to states such as Norway which have worked with the United Kingdom in researching verification approaches to future arms control. It fits poorly with the Biden administration’s emphasis on nuclear diplomacy, and although the change must have been briefed in Washington without drawing fatal opposition, it might be disruptive to US plans for a productive (or at least non-destructive) Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, tentatively scheduled for August of this year.

The supporters of the policy change will point out that the United Kingdom’s new cap leaves it below France as the smallest of the NPT’s recognized nuclear powers. Still, if the deterrence boost is not actually as big as the government suggests, the diplomatic costs could outweigh the benefits. And those costs were largely incurred the moment the United Kingdom announced the revised cap, regardless of whether the extra warheads ever get built.

Supporters might also argue that this is an opening bid for future arms control talks which leaves the United Kingdom a more realistic negotiating buffer. But that case has not yet been made by the British government, which provides in the Integrated Review little more than platitudes about its commitment to arms control and disarmament, and no concrete vision for future negotiations.

Perhaps more importantly, these kinds of policy shifts—whatever the original cause—tend to take on a life of their own. Just look at the United Kingdom’s nuclear history. The country ended up with ballistic missiles on nuclear submarines in the 1960s not because the Ministry of Defence took a blank sheet of paper and decided that was what it wanted, but because the air-launched missile it had expected to buy from the Americans, Skybolt, got cancelled, and then-Prime Minister Harold Macmillan persuaded then-President John F. Kennedy to sell the United Kingdom the submarine-launched Polaris instead. From then on, Britain’s nuclear doctrine was influenced by the capabilities it had and could afford—a perfectly respectable doctrine in intellectual terms, but not necessarily one generated from first principles.

The political and practical reasons for the Integrated Review’s decision may well be forgotten in ten or twenty years, and the United Kingdom will be left with a policy that says that it reserves the right to build a bigger arsenal because it is needed to deter a broader and more demanding range of threats. Whether or not the decision had a single strategic rationale, it could have long-lasting strategic effects.

Where does the United Kingdom go from here? A good first step would be for Parliament to push the government to rule out—if it can—the damaging suspicion that all this is a programmatic blip dressed up in strategic clothing. As discussed above, there are reasons to doubt the theory. But if it were true, it would be a damning indictment of successive UK governments’ management of the nuclear enterprise. Indeed, the United Kingdom’s defense-nuclear infrastructure is under obvious strain, with a new warhead assembly-and-disassembly facility badly delayed and over budget, and a project to build a new enriched-uranium handling facility suspended after initial plans went awry. If factors such as these contributed to the cap increase, blaming the worsening security environment would be irresponsible, causing needless diplomatic damage.

More broadly, Parliament should examine the decision-making process that led to this outcome. If it is often the job of nuclear planners to explore worst-case scenarios and lobby for increased capability, then it is the job of political leaders and other officials to place them in a broader context. Where did the proposal for an increased stockpile cap come from? Where did the proposal for reduced operational transparency come from? Which elements of the United Kingdom’s military leadership were consulted, and what did they say? What kind of consultations were held with allies, including the United States? How did nuclear policy decision-making interact with the process of drafting the Integrated Review?

Lastly, Parliament should test the assumptions that underpin the new policy. Which “doctrinal threats” are of most concern to the United Kingdom, and why do they require a change in its available nuclear destructive power? Does the United Kingdom, which used to refer explicitly to a sub-strategic role for Trident, believe in limited nuclear retaliation as a kind of warning shot? If so, why would this not invite further escalation? Are there other sub-strategic purposes for UK nuclear forces? Is a strengthened nuclear arsenal intended to compensate for cuts to the UK’s large-mass conventional military forces?

There are good cross-party reasons for a closer Parliamentary look at the nuclear establishment, from the deterrent’s supporters and detractors alike. In the past year, we have learned that the United Kingdom is building a replacement warhead; that the replacement program is strongly dependent on the United States; and that the Atomic Weapons Establishment will be renationalized to deal with chronic problems. Meanwhile, the government is making the case that nuclear weapons are newly relevant to international security and is reversing 20 years of British declaratory policy to focus much more clearly on deterrence, rather than disarmament.

Against this background, it is not good enough to greet the Integrated Review’s nuclear bombshell with a smirk and a confident assertion about the “real” reason for the change. It is time to ask difficult questions, starting but not ending with the most basic one: why?

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VIEW COMMENTS


Jenny Agutter fan
April 2, 2021 at 9:52 am

As I read somewhere, the British Empire ended but British imperialism didn’t.

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The Iranian Nuclear Horn Continues to Grow: Daniel 8

Iran said enriching uranium with 4th batch of advanced centrifuges

Tehran has reportedly informed UN inspectors that it plans to use two more clusters at Natanz facility to refine uranium up to 5% fissile purity

By TOI staff1 Apr 2021, 7:26 pm

The United Nations’ atomic watchdog has concluded that Iran is now enriching uranium with a fourth cascade of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its underground nuclear facility in Natanz, according to a report Thursday.

“On 31 March 2021, the Agency verified at [the Fuel Enrichment Plant] that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into a fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges,” a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency cited by Reuters said. UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, which is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.

The move by Tehran is the latest brazen violation of the nuclear deal by the Islamic Republic. It is apparently aimed at pressuring the Biden administration as Iran and the US dig their heels in on who should move first to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 nuclear deal is formally known.

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Iran also informed the IAEA that it plans to use two more cascades to refine uranium up to 5% fissile purity, Reuters reported. The remaining two cascades have been installed but are not yet in use, according to the IAEA report.

In this photo released on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the organization, speaks with media while visiting the Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

“In summary, as of 31 March 2021, the Agency verified that Iran was using 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges installed in 30 cascades, 696 IR-2m centrifuges installed in four cascades and 174 IR-4 centrifuges installed in one cascade to enrich natural UF6 up to 5% U-235 at FEP,” the quoted report reads.

Earlier this week, Politico reported that the Biden administration is planning to offer to lift some sanctions on Iran if the Islamic Republic stops work on advanced centrifuges and enriching uranium to 20 percent. The new proposal, which is still being finalized, is expected to be put forward this week, the report said.

A person familiar with the matter was quoted by the news site as saying the offer was, “more than anything, about trying to get the conversation started.”

But Iran rejected the offer bluntly, with the state-run Press TV saying on its website: “A senior Iranian official tells Press TV that Tehran will stop its 20-percent uranium enrichment only if the US lifts ALL its sanctions on Iran first.”

An unnamed senior US administration official had said earlier in response to the Politico report that “we have been clear that we are ready to pursue a mutual return” to the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program. The official did not explicitly confirm or deny the report.

A building damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, in a photo released on July 2, 2020. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

“We have also been open that we are talking with our [international] partners… about the best way to achieve this, including through a series of initial, mutual steps. We have been looking at options for doing so, including with indirect conversations through our European partners,” the official said.

There have not yet been direct talks between Biden administration officials and Iran, with the proposals for launching negotiations mainly relayed by European intermediaries, according to Politico.

That report came just days after a US official said it was unimportant who returns to compliance with the Iranian nuclear deal first, suggesting Washington was softening its position on the stalemate with Tehran.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said it will return to the nuclear deal if Iran first returns to compliance, while Tehran demands the US lift sanctions before it comes back to the accord.

In this June 6, 2018 frame grab from the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran (IRIB via AP)

Iran has gradually violated its commitments to the 2015 deal since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed punishing sanctions on Tehran.

Iran in recent months has repeatedly taken steps to breach the agreement and turn up the heat on the US, including by enriching uranium past the accord’s limits, just short of weapon’s grade levels, and barring UN inspections of its nuclear facilities.