Earthquakes May Endanger New York More Than Thought, Says StudyA study by a group of prominent seismologists suggests that a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquaks 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 York compared 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.
By William H. Overholt, opinion contributorJuly 07, 2021 – 10:00 AM EDT
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill
President Biden’s foreign policy team says China is the priority, but the team lacks China expertise. Other than trade experience at the Office of the United States Trade Representative, Biden’s Cabinet has no China expertise. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has worked on issues involving Europe, Canada and the Middle East. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has a distinguished career as a general in Iraq and as leader of U.S. forces in the Middle East. National security adviser Jake Sullivan’s biography highlights work on Libya, Syria, Iran and Myanmar.
Biden’s lead candidate for ambassador to Beijing continues the pattern. Nicholas Burns has served in the Middle East and Europe. An Indiaphile and Sinophobe, he lacks China experience and disdains China experts with more complex views.
I’m a lifelong Democrat who criticized George W. Bush’s foreign policies. But Bush had outstanding success with U.S.-China relations. He gained enduring respect and appreciation from both Beijing and Taipei. He strongly supported Taiwan but forbade dangerous Taipei provocations. He managed difficult problems, starting with the downing of a U.S. surveillance plane on Hainan. Bush’s China success was created by his team — notably, Hank Paulsen at Treasury, Dennis Wilder at the National Security Council, and Sandy Randt as ambassador. They knew China.
Presidents Obama and Trump lacked top-level China expertise and their Asia policies were successive fumbles. Obama’s team idled while North Korea built nuclear weapons. He sacrificed U.S. allies’ confidence by failing to defend Scarborough Shoal, validated the Japanese breaking of a four-decade peace understanding over the Senkakus, used phony arguments in failed opposition to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and invested too little, too late in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump’s record was worse.
Below Cabinet level, Biden’s key Asia officials are Kurt Campbell at the National Security Council and Ely Ratner at the Department of Defense. State’s Sung Kim is rock-solid but less prominent. Neither Campbell nor Ratner has deep, direct experience with China. Obama’s Asia failures happened on Campbell’s watch. Campbell and Ratner are famous for a 2018 Foreign Affairs article asserting that U.S. engagement with China has failed because it assumed that engagement would make China a liberal polity — fatuous historical revisionism based on out-of-context quotes. Congressional testimony shows that all key engagement decisions hinged on national security and economic risks and opportunities, uneasily mixed with moral opprobrium. The Campbell-Ratner misrepresentation of history should have disqualified them from their current government positions.
Campbell’s primary contribution under Obama was “the pivot” to Asia, a conceptually valid shift of U.S. resources away from the Middle East and South Asia to East Asia. The Middle East focus of Biden’s team so far proves the pivot’s strategic failure. The pivot’s biggest contribution to U.S. strength was the pitiful shift of a couple thousand U.S. troops to northern Australia, but its management provoked Beijing to anticipate a major strategic challenge — a big net loss for the United States.
The Biden team’s record on Pacific Asia has been a series of missteps. Blinken’s antagonism in Anchorage played well domestically but could hamper productive dialogue for years. Blinken called Taiwan a “country,” although his professional colleagues walked that back; someone who understood China would never make that gaffe. Biden’s policy toward North Korea lacks substance and is hopeless without a China dimension. Blinken half-snubbedthe Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which holds the balance of Chinese and American power in Asia, by offering their meeting only an in-flight video conference because he gave priority to a Middle East meeting — and then he couldn’t make the meeting technology work.
Blinken has warned countries not to accept Chinese infrastructure loans, lest China end up owning the projects, echoing the falsehood put forth by former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeothat Beijing lends money inappropriately so that it can seize collateral. In more than a thousand African loans, Beijing has never seized collateral and never sought to take advantage of a squeezed borrower. The Pence citation of a 2017 Chinese lease agreement with Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port was such a distortion that some scholars call it a lie.
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The Biden administration does not know how to be tough but not provocative on Taiwan. If you sell Taiwan advanced weaponry and send three carrier task forces to the Taiwan Strait, you’re tough — but don’t break the 1972 agreement that underlies Taiwan’s democracy and prosperity. However, if you invite the Taiwan representative to the presidential inauguration, send members of Congress as official emissaries, and characterize Taiwan as a “security partner,” you don’t strengthen Taiwan but nearly abandon the 1972 agreement to sever official diplomatic and alliance ties. That risks putting Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a position where keeping his job could require decisive action.
Would America have accepted a Cold War leadership without Soviet expertise? The more you see China as a dangerous adversary, the more important it is to actually understand China. It is insufficient for officials to be well-connected, experienced on Middle East issues, and dislike China.
William H. Overholt is a senior research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The author most recently of “China’s Crisis of Success,” he has served as Asia Policy Distinguished Chair at RAND and president of the Fung Global Institute.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a monstrous tyranny that likes to pretend it’s a democracy. And so in a vote with historically low turnout — and all candidates pre-vetted by the unelected Guardian Council, of course — Ebrahim Raisi was “elected” president. He will be inaugurated in August.
His rise is bad news for all Iranians, especially members of religious minorities.
Raisi is the hard-line prodigy of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is tipped as a potential successor to the role of Top Tyrant. Raisi, who leaves the position of chief of the judiciary to take up the presidency, was one of four judges in the late 1980s to sit on the “Death Panel.” It was as horrific as it sounds, ordering the execution of thousands of regime opponents (and suspected opponents).
More recently, in his role as head of the judiciary, Raisi amplified the pursuit of minority faith groups in Iran, not least the Baha’is.
The Baha’i faith, which emphasizes the unity of all faiths and all humanity, couldn’t be considered threatening through any reasonable lens. It is peaceful, anti-racist and anti-nationalistic. Yet perhaps it’s precisely that geniality that raises the ire of Raisi and his spiteful Islamist worldview.
Under Raisi’s directives, Iranian authorities amped up their campaign against the Baha’is. Between 50 and 100 Baha’is are in prison because of their religious identity. There has been widespread confiscation or destruction of Baha’i property in the picturesque village of Ivel, with the promise of mercy for those who renounce their beliefs and convert to Shiite Islam.
Baha’is, who aren’t permitted the basic rights of other Iranian citizens, were recently instructed by the regime that they must bury their dead in the mass graves of those aforementioned political prisoners executed in 1988, rather than being allowed the dignity of their own cemeteries.
Raisi’s victims are piling up, literally. Amnesty International says the purpose of this cruelty inflicted on the families of his victims from the ’80s and the Baha’is is to erase the evidence of his historical crimes.
Christians likewise have faced severe persecution. Again, several Christians are in prison because of their religious identity, though usually they’re indicted on bogus national-security charges. Prisoners of conscience can now expect long sentences to be followed by years of exile in remote parts of the country, away from their families.
In October 2020, 120 lawyers and activists wrote an open letter to Raisi, asking him to overturn a court’s decision to remove a 2-year-old girl from her adoptive parents, Sam Khosravi and Maryam Falahi, because they are Christian converts. The judge who made that ruling acknowledged that the child, Lydia, felt an “intense emotional attachment” to Sam and Maryam; Raisi ignored the petition.
In the face of this mountain of evidence, it takes some remarkable audacity and an extraordinarily relaxed relationship with reality for Raisi to claim, as he did in an interview shortly after his election, that he is a “human-rights defender.” It would be funny if it weren’t so revoltingly offensive.
As predictable as the sun rising in the morning, there will be some well-intentioned but wildly naïve world leaders who believe doggedly that with a bit of dialogue and understanding, Tehran can be persuaded to be a benign force in the region and even a reliable strategic ally.
They may be disappointed to hear that when asked if he would meet with President Joe Biden, Raisi simply replied, “No.” Still, while the outlook for Iran and its beleaguered population is bleak, many activists express the hope that with every retrograde gallop away from democracy and human rights, the regime is taking a step toward its own extinction. In the event, the vast majority of ordinary Iranians had their fill of the Islamic Republic a long time ago.
Miles Windsor is senior manager for strategy and campaigns for the Religious Freedom Institute’s Middle East action team
27 Tammuz 5781 – July 7, 2021
Photo Credit: Senator Claire McCaskillGilad Erdan
The United Nations on Wednesday passed a resolution condemning the use of civilians as human shields by terrorist groups, a strategy which is practiced frequently by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“Human shield” is a legal, military, and political term denoting non-combatants who are either forced or volunteer to shield with their bodies a military target and deter the enemy from attacking it.
Israel’s UN envoy Gilad Erdan tweeted Wednesday: “One month after Operation Guardian of the Walls and following great efforts by the Israeli delegation – the UN has adopted a counter-terrorism strategy condemning the criminal use of civilians as human shields. The UN also addressed and condemned anti-Semitic terrorism for the first time.”
“Terrorists must not be allowed to use schools, homes, and hospitals to shield their murderous activities,” Erdan said in his speech at the UN following the adoption of the resolution, adding, “Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, and should never be explained away, justified or excused. No matter what.”
During the 1982 Lebanon War, the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh was surrounded by Israeli forces as the last stronghold of “Soldiers of Allah” terrorists who were commanded by a Muslim fundamentalist named Haj Ibrahim. Over a two-day period, Brigadier General Yitzhak Mordechai’s soldiers repeatedly announced that “whoever does not bear arms will not be harmed” and urged civilians in the camp to evacuate, but only a few did. Three delegations of prominent Sidon figures were sent to persuade Haj Ibrahim’s fighters that “their cause was hopeless, and whoever was willing to lay down his arms would be allowed to leave the camp unharmed.” None of the delegations were successful. Meanwhile, militiamen were shooting civilians who tried to escape, and in one incident, three children were riddled with bullets before their parents’ eyes because their father had dared to suggest calling an end to the fighting. Eventually, a bloody battle ensued and the IDF finally took the camp. According to a 1982 Congressional report, Israeli soldiers were attacked by PLO fighters disguised as hospital patients.
After the 2014 Gaza War, numerous reports emerged that Hamas used human shields. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accused Hamas terrorists of violating international humanitarian law by “locating rockets within schools and hospitals, or even launching these rockets from densely populated areas.” The European Union condemned Hamas over its “calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields.” In a September 2014 interview, a Hamas official acknowledged to Associated Press that the group fired at Israel from civilian areas.Advertisement
AFP European CBC NBC co officials said add they had “grave concern” about the move
Iran has begun the process of producing enriched uranium metal, which could help it develop a nuclear weapon, the UN’s atomic watchdog has said.
Tehran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and said the process was to develop fuel for a research reactor.
British, French and German officials said the move could threaten talks to revive the abandoned 2015 nuclear deal.
The US called it an “unfortunate step backwards”.
The deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme to make it harder for them to develop nuclear weapons.
In return, the US and European signatories agreed to lift economic sanctions that were in place.
Former President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018 and reinstated sanctions against Iran, after which Tehran began violating many of its restrictions.
Current US President Joe Biden’s administration has so far retained Mr Trump’s sanctions against Iran.
Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman on current oil agreement
Now, negotiators from the US and Europe have been holding talks in Vienna to try and restore the agreement. © Reuters The talks were adjourned on 20 June
The talks began in April and were adjourned on 20 June, with no date set for the next round.
Iran’s President-elect Ibrahim Raisi wants the US to lift sanctions on his country in exchange for complying with the deal.
In a statement on Tuesday, the IAEA said: “Today, Iran informed the Agency that UO2 (uranium oxide) enriched up to 20% U-235 would be shipped to the R&D (research and development) laboratory at the Fuel Fabrication Plant in Esfahan, where it would be converted to UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) and then to uranium metal enriched to 20% U-235, before using it to manufacture the fuel.”
Officials from the UK, France and Germany said that they had “grave concerns” about Iran’s decision.
“Iran has no credible civilian need for uranium metal R&D and production, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” the three countries said in a joint statement issued by the British Foreign Office.
“With its latest steps, Iran is threatening a successful outcome to the Vienna talks despite the progress achieved in six rounds of negotiations.”
The statement also urged Iran to return to the talks in the Austrian capital.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that although they were not setting a deadline for the talks, “as time proceeds Iran’s nuclear advances will have a bearing on our view of returning to the JCPOA”.
The risk of regional conflicts between nuclear-armed nations is rising according to a document prepared by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Brett TingleyJuly 7, 2021
A U.S. military manual that only recently became public says that the world now faces a higher probability of conflicts involving nuclear weapons. The document points to multiple nuclear weapons systems and policies being pursued by adversaries and potential adversaries as signs that the world is moving away from de-escalation and is instead moving closer to the reality of a nuclear exchange. While the document avoids placing any weight on United States policy in helping to increase the likelihood of nuclear conflict, it does note that the “flexible” nuclear weapons the US has pursued could be used to defend America and its interests in the event of a regional conflict involving nuclear arms.
A copy of the manual, titled “Joint Publication 3-72, Joint Nuclear Operations,” was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) last week through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and posted online on July 6. This and other Joint Publications are meant to outline U.S. military-wide doctrine and are put out through the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This latest iteration of this particular manual, published in April 2020, says it was created to help establish “joint doctrine to govern the activities and performance of the Armed Forces of the United States in joint operations,” and provide “military guidance for the exercise of authority by combatant commanders and other joint force commanders.” In addition, the publication offers advice for “military interaction with governmental and non-governmental agencies, multinational forces, and other inter-organizational partners.”
In this manual’s executive summary, the authors say that, despite United States-led de-escalation and non-proliferation efforts, “since 2010 no potential adversary has reduced either the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy or the number of nuclear weapons it fields.” Instead, the publication asserts, these potential adversaries have “moved decidedly in the opposite direction.” Ultimately, the document claims there is an “increased potential for regional conflicts involving nuclear-armed adversaries in several parts of the world and the potential for adversary nuclear escalation in crisis or conflict” due to these trends.
The document notes that “While the United States has continued to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, others, including Russia and China, have moved in the opposite direction.” The publication claims that these nations have developed new types of nuclear weapons, placed increased strategic importance on their nuclear weapons, and have all “engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior.”
The manual then lists specific technologies and policies being pursued by these nations which it claims are leading to “increased potential” for nuclear conflict to occur:
In addition to modernizing ” legacy” Soviet nuclear systems, Russia is developing and employing new nuclear warheads and launchers. It is also developing three new intercontinental-range nuclear weapon systems; a hypersonic glide vehicle; a nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered ground-launched cruise missile; and a nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo. […]
China has developed a new road-mobile, strategic, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM); a new multi-warhead version of its DF-5 silo-based ICBM; and its most advanced ballistic missile submarine armed with new submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It has also announced development of a new nuclear-capable strategic bomber, giving China a nuclear triad. […]
In the past few years, North Korea has dramatically increased its missile flight testing, most recently including the testing of intercontinental-range missiles capable of reaching the US homeland. […]
Iran retains the technological capability and much of the capacity necessary to develop a nuclear weapon within one year of a decision to do so. Iran’s development of increasingly long-range ballistic missile capabilities, and its aggressive strategy and activities to destabilize neighboring governments, raises questions about its long-term commitment to forgoing nuclear weapons capability.
A copy of the 2019 edition of the same manual, then simply titled “Nuclear Operations,” appeared online brieflybefore being labeled “For Official Use Only” and getting taken down. FAS still hosts that version on their website, however.
One of the more glaring changes between the 2019 and 2020 versions can be found in the introduction to the first chapter, “Overview of Nuclear Strategy.” The introduction to the 2019 version notes only briefly that “Adversaries increasingly rely on nuclear weapons to secure their interests,” while the 2020 version of the document cites the specific weapons systems and policies quoted above.
The 2019 version of the publication also contained language about how nuclear weapons could be employed to “prevail in conflict” in Chapter III, “Planning and Targeting.” That language was changed in the 2020 version, removing all mentions of using nukes to obtain victory:
2019: “Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability. Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”
2020: “Flexible and limited US nuclear response options can play an important role in restoring deterrence following limited adversary nuclear escalation. Limited nuclear use will create conditions that affect how commanders conduct operations.”
Steven Aftergood, head of FAS’s Project on Government Secrecy, said the change is likely due to the fact that the document was never intended to become public and still requires a Department of Defense (DOD) Common Access Card to obtain. “Once it was disclosed in 2019,” Aftergood told The War Zone, it seems the “DOD made an effort to remove language that seemed to embrace nuclear warfighting.” Aftergood agrees with the manual’s claim of increased potential for the use of nuclear weapons, stating that “it’s clear that many regional conflicts are intensifying while foreign nuclear arsenals are growing, not shrinking. And in recent years arms control efforts have been in retreat. So from a military perspective, it follows that the potential for nuclear conflict may also be on the rise.” Diplomatic efforts on arms reduction have stalled in recent years, but show signs of improving. Both Russia and the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 2019, but the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was extended for five years by both the US and Russia in early 2021, after the joint manual on Nuclear Operations was published.
As the newly disclosed joint publication on Nuclear Operations notes, “the highest US nuclear policy and strategy priority is to deter potential adversaries from nuclear attack of any scale,” and the modernization of the US arsenal is a cornerstone of that deterrence. In 2018, the White House updated its Nuclear Posture Review to include deterrence strategies tailored to specific adversaries, a more modernized nuclear arsenal and nuclear enterprise, and plans for a more “flexible” posture that could make it easier for the United States to use nuclear weapons. The new language in the 2020 version of the manual also uses the term “flexible” to describe US nuclear response options. Those options now include tactical low-yield nuclear warheads aboard submarine-launched ballistic missiles that fly along “depressed” low-altitude trajectories capable of reaching targets much more quickly than conventional trajectories.
Of course, the United States isn’t the only nation modernizing its arsenal, and all of that buildup comes with immense risks. Like Aftergood, Dr. Steve Fetter, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, agrees with the manual’s assessment of an increased potential for conflict. Fetter said in a 2021 press release that “the modernization and expansion of nuclear arsenals in multiple countries, combined with the lack of diplomatic efforts to reduce nuclear risks, have increased the likelihood of catastrophe,” adding that the “development of hypersonic glide vehicles, ballistic missile defenses, and weapons-delivery systems that can use conventional or nuclear warheads raise the probability of miscalculation during a crisis.”
The issue of how to deescalate conflicts between nuclear-armed nations to prevent miscalculation took center stage in 2019 when a crisis erupted between India and Pakistan, prompting India to conduct a strike within Pakistan’s borders. Pakistan responded by implicitly threatening the potential for nuclear retaliation, prompting real fears that the situation could have escalated to a nuclear exchange, which could have a massive impact globally.
The manual notes that any use of nuclear weapons could affect the entire planet, stating that “the use of nuclear weapons has specific, tangible implications that go well beyond the actual effects of the detonation,” creating “harmful effects that conventional weapons do not have.” Radioactive fallout, widespread electromagnetic pulse (EMP) damage, and “incidental harm to civilians” are all cited as potential global consequences that commanders have to plan for when considering the use of nuclear weapons. “The potential consequences of using nuclear weapons will greatly influence military operations and vastly increase the complexity of the operational environment,” the manual claims.
The Pentagon’s “Joint Publication No. 3-72 Nuclear Operations” document unearthed by FAS is a rare peek at the actual operations and policies DOD leadership has prepared for the ever-present threat of a nuclear weapons exchange. Alongside all the talk of de-escalating arms races and re-establishing arms control policies, the United States military must constantly be prepared for nuclear war, either between itself and a hostile adversary or between two or more other nations.
While the CJCS publication states that the United States “would only consider the employment of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend US, allied, and partner vital interests,” it also claims that “Flexible and limited US nuclear response options can play an important role in restoring deterrence following limited adversary nuclear escalation.” The fact that the US is pursuing these “flexible,” low-yield, tactical warheads capable of reaching targets more quickly could be taken as a sign that the US may be more quick to use its nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict, a development that should be considered in any discussion of nations raising the likelihood of nuclear exchange.
No matter how small, any nuclear weapons exchange would affect how the DOD conducts operations worldwide and could have disastrous consequences for the entire globe, two eventualities the Joint Chiefs of Staff are clearly planning for.
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On Monday 28 June, United States President Joe Biden authorized airstrikes against two Iran-backed militias in Saudi-Arabia and Iraq. This was in response to recent attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq. While there were no U.S. casualties, Biden’s administration has shown that they want to deter both lethal and non-lethal attacks, resulting in this airstrike response. Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State mentioned the airstrikes, commenting “[W]e took necessary, appropriate, deliberate action that is designed to limit the risk of escalation, but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.” Iraq is trying to stop these tensions to no avail, as they are between two of their strong allies, the U.S. and Iran. That being said, one of the attacks occurred on Iraqi soil, which resulted in their stern comments towards the U.S. government, saying these airstrikes were a “blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security.”
The New York Times reported on this conflict, commenting that “the Pentagon said Monday that the overnight airstrikes were meant to send a message while avoiding escalation.” But Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said the U.S. was “disrupting the security of the region.” Not only does this affect Iraq as they face airstrikes on their soil, but also the current negotiations regarding the Iran Nuclear Deal, the ending of “forever wars,” and removal of U.S. troops in the region.
The Biden Administration rationalized these airstrikes as a proportional response to a threat by Iranian-backed militias and said they were used to de-escalate conflict. But as CNN reports, in response to these airstrikes, Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shia militia group in Iraq, wrote a message that made them seem far from de-escalating tensions. They wrote “[T]his crime will not go unpunished, the decision for revenge has been taken, and the American enemy will see death with his own eyes. An eye for an eye and what is coming is severe.” The airstrikes authorized by Joe Biden’s administration was retaliation against attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq, but since there were no casualties, the response seemed quite extreme. Despite its attempt to de-escalate tension, it resulted in the aforementioned message from Kataib Hezbollah.
The Washington Post reports these recent strikes display that Biden’s administration has a lower bar for retaliation than the Trump administration. These airstrikes could have unintended consequences, as they may interfere with President Biden’s promises to remove all troops from Afghanistan. While Afghanistan was not involved in this conflict, these continued airstrikes that The Washington Post describes as “tit for tat strikes,” could elongate the removal process and keep U.S. personnel in other countries within the Middle East. Conflict in Afghanistan is designated as the “forever war.” It begs the question if continuing these easily provoked airstrikes is only setting up U.S. military troops for more long term and unending conflict in the area, creating a different “forever war.”
In the case of long term conflict, there is also concern that President Biden’s administration is committing acts of war without a proper war declaration from Congress. Senator Chris Murphy spoke to Reuters, pointing out “[I]f Congress had a hard time authorizing military action against Iranian-backed militias, it would largely be because our constituents don’t want it. And that’s what’s missing from this debate.” The concept of military action barring approval from congress became a larger point of contention following the 9/11 attacks in New York City. The 9/11 terrorist attack led to the 2001 and 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which authorized President George Bush to invade Afghanistan and Iraq in each respective year.
These bills allow presidents to have much greater power when it comes to acts of war without needing Congressional approval. For instance, NPR reported a comment made by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who noted that former President Donald Trump used the 2002 authority as justification for an airstrike against an Iranian target in Iraq last year. Since the Iraq War has been over for almost a decade, the 2002 authorization and its use as a primary justification for military action, has lost its vital purpose. Biden’s actions could be a continuation of these presidential actions that Congress is currently trying to end, as the House votes to repeal the 2002 AUMC.
Alongside these conflicts, the Biden administration is still actively trying to work on the Iran Nuclear Deal. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, the deal is a landmark accord that was created in 2015. It is explained that “[U]nder its terms, Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections in exchange for billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief.” While President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018, President Biden is looking to mend relations and have them return to it if Iran ensures nuclear compliance.
Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s newly elected president, is more willing to comply with the deal than his predecessor, according to CFR. Therefore, Joe Biden’s administration should focus on the diplomacy involved with this deal, and try to keep airstrikes to an absolute minimum. While they say there is necessity in sending a message against interfering with U.S. personnel and troops in the region, the particular airstrikes they were responding to did not result in any casualties. Therefore, it is more important for President Biden to focus on rebuilding trust following the 2018 departure from the Iran Nuclear Deal, rather than continuing this “tit for tat” mentality. Although the administration claims these actions were intended to deter future airstrikes, reactions from both the Iraqi government and Iranian-backed militia groups paints an angry and hostile image.
The airstrikes authorized by the Biden administration are just a small part of the more complicated aspects of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. While President Biden promised to remove troops from Afghanistan by September 2021, he also implemented harsher retaliations, sending airstrikes even when there were no U.S. casualties. As reported by The Washington Post, these are Biden’s second military strikes in Syria since February. This leaves Congress wary of Biden’s actions and fuels the ongoing debate regarding “forever wars,” continued military action in the Middle East, and what warrants approval from congress.
While the House of Representatives votes to repeal AUMF 2002, AUMF 2001 is still in place and NPR reports that “some say if the 2001 measure is repealed, it must be replaced.” All of this is in light of a new conservative Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, and a strong push to reach a good place with the Iran Nuclear Deal. While all of these events can create a messy situation with different motives for every country and a desire for distinct outcomes, the deal could arguably be the most important factor in this larger puzzle. It could create long lasting peace and limit the number of nuclear weapons in the world. Therefore, President Biden and his administration should focus on seeing this deal through for the betterment of relations with Iran, the rest of the Middle East, and the world.