While nowhere near to the extent of the West Coast, damaging earthquakes can and do affect much of the eastern half of the country.
For example, across the Tennesse River Valley lies the New Madrid Fault Line. While much smaller in size than those found farther west, the fault has managed to produce several earthquakes over magnitude 7.0 in the last couple hundred years.
In 1886, an estimated magnitude 7.0 struck Charleston, South Carolina along a previously unknown seismic zone. Nearly the entire town had to be rebuilt.
The eastern half of the U.S. has its own set of vulnerabilities from earthquakes.
These older rocks have had much more time to bond together with other rocks under the tremendous pressure of Earth’s crust. This allows seismic energy to transfer between rocks more efficiently during an earthquake, causing the shaking to be felt much further.
This is why, during the latest quake in North Carolina, impacts were felt not just across the state, but reports of shaking came as far as Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 300 miles away.
Reports of shaking from different earthquakes of similar magnitude.
When a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck Virginia in 2011, not only were numerous historical monuments in Washington, D.C. damaged, shaking was reported up and down the East Coast with tremors even reported in Canada.
There is no way to accurately predict when or where an earthquake may strike.
Some quakes will have a smaller earthquake precede the primary one. This is called a foreshock.
The problem is though, it’s difficult to say whether the foreshock is in fact a foreshock and not the primary earthquake. Only time will tell the difference.
The United State Geological Survey (USGS) is experimenting with early warning detection systems in the West Coast.
While this system cannot predict earthquakes before they occur, they can provide warning up to tens of seconds in advance that shaking is imminent. This could provide just enough time to find a secure location before the tremors begin.
Much like hurricanes, tornadoes, or snowstorms, earthquakes are a natural occuring phenomenon that we can prepare for.
The USGS provides an abundance of resources on how to best stay safe when the earth starts to quake.
The launches of missiles underscored a return of tensions between the rivals at a time when talks aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear program are stalled.
Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, criticized South Korean President Moon Jae-in for comments he made while observing his country’s missile tests, including its first of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Moon said South Korea’s growing missile capabilities will serve as a “sure deterrence” against North Korean provocations.
The tests came hours after the South Korean and Japanese militaries said North Korea had fired two ballistic missiles into the sea.
In a statement carried by state media, Kim berated Moon for describing North Korean weapons demonstrations as a provocation, and warned of a “complete destruction” of bilateral relations if he continues with what she described as slander of North Korea.
She said North Korea is developing its military capabilities for self-defense without targeting a specific country, and that South Korea is also increasing its military capabilities. North Korea has often accused the South of hypocrisy for introducing modern weapons while calling for talks on easing tensions between the divided countries.
“If the president joins in the slander and detraction (against us), this will be followed by counter actions, and the North-South relations will be pushed toward a complete destruction,” she said. “We do not want that.”
The South Korean and Japanese militaries said the two short-range ballistic missiles fired by North Korea flew 800 kilometers (500 miles) before landing in the sea inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone — a worrying development even though they did not reach Japanese territorial waters. The last time a North Korean missile landed inside that zone was in October 2019.
Hours after the latest North Korean launches, South Korea reported its first test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. As Moon and other top officials looked on, the missile flew from a submarine and hit a designated target, Moon’s office said. It did not say how far the weapon flew.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled emergency consultations on the North Korean missile launches late Wednesday afternoon at the request of France and Estonia, diplomats said.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed concern at the missile launches, reiterating that “diplomatic engagement remains the only pathway to sustainable peace and complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
Experts say North Korea is building up its weapons systems to apply pressure on the United States in the hopes of winning relief from economic sanctions aimed at forcing the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal. U.S.-led talks on the issue have been stalled for more than two years.
“North Korea is trying to communicate a message that things will not go as Washington wishes, if it doesn’t accept the North’s demands,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. He said North Korea may think it has an opportunity now to win concessions from U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration while it is embroiled in a domestic debate following the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan.
Observers say Moon’s government, which has been actively pursuing reconciliation with North Korea, may have taken action to appear tougher in response to criticism that it’s too soft on the North.
The rival nations are still technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War, which pitted the North and ally China against the South and U.S.-led U.N. forces, ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the launches “threaten the peace and safety of Japan and the region and are absolutely outrageous.”
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the North Korean test “highlights the destabilizing impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program” though it said it didn’t pose an immediate threat to the U.S.
The North Korean launches represent a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that bar North Korea from engaging in any ballistic missile activity. But the council typically doesn’t impose new sanctions when the North launches short-range missiles, like Wednesday’s.
Wednesday’s tests came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Seoul for meetings with Moon and other senior officials to discuss North Korea and other issues.
It’s unusual for North Korea to make provocative launches when China, its last major ally and biggest aid provider, is engaged in a major diplomatic event. But some experts say North Korea may have used the timing to draw extra attention.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Wednesday’s tests appeared to be of an improved version of a short-range missile it tested in March. He said the weapon is likely modeled on Russia’s Iskander missiles, which are designed to fly at relatively low altitudes, making them harder to be intercepted by missile defense systems.
The international community wants North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and has long used a combination of the threat of sanctions and the promise of economic help to try to influence the North. But negotiations have stalled since 2019, when then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration rejected the North’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility.
Kim Jong Un’s government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington abandon what it calls “hostile” policies first. But North Korea has maintained its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, a sign that it may not want to completely scuttle the possibility of reopening the talks.
In 2017, North Korea claimed to have acquired the ability to strike the American mainland with nuclear weapons after conducting three intercontinental ballistic missile tests and its most powerful nuclear test. In recent years, it has also performed a series of underwater-launched missile tests in what experts say is a worrying development because such weapons are difficult to detect and would provide North Korea with retaliatory strike capability.
South Korea, which doesn’t have nuclear weapons, is under the protection of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” which guarantees a devastating American response in the event of an attack on its ally. But South Korea has been accelerating efforts to build up its conventional arms, including developing more powerful missiles.
Experts say South Korea’s military advancements are aimed at improving its capacity for preemptive strikes and destroying key North Korean facilities and bunkers.
Separate from the submarine-launched missile, South Korea also tested a missile from an aircraft.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
The launch on Wednesday was the country’s first ballistic missile test in six months, and violated multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Sept. 15, 2021Updated 5:12 a.m. ET
SEOUL — North Korea launched two ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, the country’s first ballistic missile test in six months and a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from conducting such tests.
Hours after the missiles were launched, South Korea announced that its president, Moon Jae-in, had just attended the test of the country’s first submarine-launched ballistic missile, making South Korea the seventh country in the world to operate S.L.B.M.s, after the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and India.
The missile tests by both Koreas on the same day dramatically highlighted the intensifying arms race on the Korean Peninsula as nuclear disarmament talks between Washington and North Korea remained stalled. They also underscored the growing concern over regional stability, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan calling the North Korean missile launch “outrageous” and a threat to peace.
In its announcement, South Korea revealed that it had successfully developed a supersonic cruise missile and a long-range air-to-land missile to be mounted on the KF-21, a South Korean supersonic fighter jet, and that it had developed a ballistic missile powerful enough to penetrate North Korea’s underground wartime bunkers.
The North’s missile launch occurred a day after the special envoy from the United States urged the country to resume nuclear disarmament talks, saying that the United States had no “hostile” intent toward Pyongyang. Neighboring countries have also stepped up efforts to get North Korea to return to the negotiating table.
North Korea conducted its previous ballistic missile test in March and test-fired what it called newly developed long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. But the United States has not imposed fresh sanctions against the North for weapons tests in recent years. When North Korea resumed testing short-range ballistic missiles in 2019, Donald J. Trump, then the president, dismissed them for being short range.
The Biden administration has said it would explore “practical” and “calibrated” diplomacy to achieve the goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But North Korea has yet to respond to the administration’s invitation to dialogue.
“Rather than strengthen sanctions and military exercises, the allies have emphasized a willingness for dialogue and humanitarian cooperation,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “The problem with less than robust responses to North Korea’s tests is that deterrence can be eroded while Pyongyang advances its capabilities and normalizes its provocations.”
The North Korean missiles on Wednesday — launched from Yangdok, in the central part of the country — flew 497 miles and reached an altitude of 37 miles before landing in the sea between North Korea and Japan, the South Korean military said. South Korean and United States defense officials were analyzing the data collected from the test to determine exactly what type of ballistic missiles were used, it said.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying that it “assumed” the missile did not reach the country’s territorial waters or its exclusive economic zone.
The news of the North Korean missile test broke shortly after Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China, North Korea’s biggest supporter and only remaining major trading partner, finished a meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, in Seoul.
“It’s not just North Korea, but other countries as well that engage in military activities,” Mr. Wang said when asked by reporters to comment on the North’s weekend cruise-missile test. “We must all work together to resume dialogue. We all hope to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
Mr. Wang didn’t elaborate, but appeared to be referring to the joint military exercises conducted by the United States and South Korea last month. North Korea has accused Washington and Seoul of preparing to invade the North, and usually counters joint military drills between the two allies with its own military exercise or weapons tests.Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China meeting with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea in Seoul on Wednesday.Yonhap, via Reuters
“The United States has no hostile intent toward” North Korea, Sung Kim, the Biden administration’s special envoy, said on Tuesday in Tokyo, where he met with representatives from Japan and South Korea to discuss the North’s arsenal. He said Washington hoped that North Korea would “respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.”
The latest tests showed that North Korea continued to improve its arsenal of missiles despite a series of resolutions from the United Nations Security Council that banned North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula rose sharply in 2017, when North Korea tested three intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth underground nuclear test, leading to the sanctions from the United Nations. After the tests, the country claimed an ability to target the continental United States with a nuclear warhead.
Mr. Trump met with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, three times between 2018 and 2019, but the leaders failed to reach an agreement on lifting sanctions or rolling back the North’s nuclear and missile programs. Mr. Kim has since vowed to boost his country’s weapons capabilities.
With the recent tests, “North Korea is seeking to increase its leverage in coming talks” with Washington, said Lee Byong-chul, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.
By timing its latest test to Mr. Wang’s visit to Seoul, North Korea also appeared to “express discontent with Beijing” that it was not providing enough economic assistance during the global health crisis, Mr. Lee said.
North Korea’s economy, already battered by years of devastating international sanctions, has suffered greatly as trade with China has plummeted in the coronavirus pandemic
China‘s large-scale buildup of nuclear forces is part of a Beijing strategy to emulate the nuclear forces of Russia, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency disclosed Tuesday.
Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the DIA chief, said Chinese military forces are advancing on both the conventional and nuclear front, with the nuclear elements among the most concerning aspects.
“When we talk about existential threats, the nuclear triad that the Russians have is credible and it’s effective, and I think the Chinese see that nuclear triad as a goal that they would like to have,” Gen. Berrier said.
Gen. Berrier made the comments during a conference Tuesday along with five other senior intelligence leaders who all said that U.S. spy agencies are retooling to confront the challenge of Communist China while continuing to support efforts against Islamic extremism. The panel offered a dramatic snapshot of the ways China‘s rise has posed new challenges for the U.S. on an increasing number of security, economic and political fronts.
Gen. Berrier said Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a three-pronged strategy of disciplining leaders of both the ruling Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army, financing the national power with the Belt and Road Initiative, and pursuing a vigorous buildup of the military.
China‘s nuclear triad includes the deployment of up to 400 new long-range missiles in silos recently disclosed in commercial satellite photos in western China. The silos will house China‘s new DF-41 missile that is expected to be armed with up to 10 warheads for each missile.
Other elements of the Chinese nuclear triad include new missile submarines and new nuclear-capable stealth bombers.
The U.S. officials appeared at the Intelligence and National Security Summit hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electrons Association International and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance at the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor.
The DIA and other spy agencies are monitoring the Chinese nuclear build-up “very carefully,” Gen. Berrier said. “So we have an eye on that and we’re watching it.”
Gen. Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency and commander of Cyber Command, said Chinaremains a key focus of electronic spies, while threats posed by terrorists remain a priority as well. Gen. Nakasone said China in particular is engaged in influence operations aimed at creating divisions within American society and targeting efforts to battle the pandemic.
The Joint Task Force-Ares, an effort to combat Islamic extremism online, has shifted to countering cyberactivities by strategic competitors like China and Russia, he said.
Deputy CIA Director David Cohen revealed that the CIA is conducting a major review to revamp its spying efforts on China, hiring more Mandarin language speakers and moving more CIA officers closer to China.
“One of the things that we are looking to do as part of our review is to think about how we approach the China issue not specifically from the Beijing station but how we approach it globally,” Mr. Cohen said.
The competition with China involves economic, diplomatic, technological and other areas of confrontation that are global in scope, he said.
Moving more people — operations officers, analysts and technologists — closer to Chinaand other locations around the world is based on the CIA‘s past “playbook,” Mr. Cohen said.
While rapidly hiring new CIA officers, Mr. Cohen warned that Chinese intelligence “runs people at us” and noted the need for strong counterintelligence to prevent penetrations of the agency by Chinese agents. The CIA suffered a major setback starting in 2010 when a security compromise resulted in the loss of more than two dozen recruited agents in China.
“Part of our job in bringing people on board is to ferret out folks who are not there for good and patriotic reasons,” Mr. Cohen said.
The CIA is working to improve its ability to oversee networks of spies in the digital age, when it is difficult to provide cover for agents because of what is called ubiquitous electronic surveillance.
Looking to influence
Gen. Nakasone, the NSA director and Cyber Command chief, said foreign influence operations expanded beyond the Russians to include Chinese, Iranians and other adversaries.
China has sought to disrupt U.S. efforts to counter the COVID-19 pandemic by influencing public views of vaccines, Gen. Nakasone said. China also is targeting Australia with negative influence operations, he said.
“From our adversaries’ perspective, [influence operations] are cheap, easy and effective,” the general said.
Asked if the U.S. government is improving its ability to blunt such interference, Gen. Nakasone said, “Yes, we’re better at it not only for elections, but also better at recognizing other different spheres when it comes up.”
A number of unspecified “proxies” for foreign nations are preparing to intervene in the 2022 elections, he noted.
“The cast of characters is still to be developed and so we’re still watching that very carefully,” Gen. Nakasone said.
Deputy FBI Director Paul Abbate said Russian government-linked cyberattacks, including ransomware operations, have shown no sign of decreasing despite the Biden administration’s direct appeals to Moscow.
“Based on what we’ve seen, there is no indication that the Russian government has taken action to crack down on ransomware actors that are operating in the permissive environment that they’ve created there,” Mr. Abbate said.
Chris Scolese, director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds and operates satellite systems, said Chinaposes a significant threat to space assets.
“China clearly wants to be the leader in space,” Mr. Scolese said. “And they want to make sure that they erode our capabilities up there.”
China has ground-launched anti-satellite missiles as well as space-based weapons that can disarm satellites or hamper their operations, he said. The NRO is working with the Pentagon’s new Space Command to detect and counter space threats.
Advanced technology and new space architectures are among the ways of dealing with space threats. “We have to change our architecture so that it’s much more resilient to attack,” Mr. Scolese said.
One way of reducing the threat is to increase the number of satellites and support systems to make it more difficult for the Chinese to target them.
NRO officials are working with Space Command and American allies to promote norms of space operations that would be similar to those for maritime operations outlined in the U.N.’s Law of the Sea Treaty. The agency is also developing tactics and procedures for “if things get hot … we all know how to operate, what we’re going to protect and how we’re going to protect it,” Mr. Scolese said.
Army Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, associate director of operations for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which conducts imagery spying, said China is seeking to surpass the United States by deploying its own spy satellites.
China has set up its own version of the Global Positioning System that will provide the Chinese military with intelligence and precision military targeting capabilities, Gen. Cleveland said.
“In many ways, [the Chinese] have the ability now to do to us what we have been doing for quite a while, the ability to have very precise timing and targeting,” Gen. Cleveland said, noting China now is also observing U.S. military activities from space.
The NGA, as the imagery agency is called, is working to increase its ability to conduct imagery spying and analysis on China and its activities, he said.
Both Gen. Berrier and Mr. Cohen said the defeat of the American-backed government in Afghanistan has increased the danger that the al Qaeda terrorist group will launch another attack on the United States very quickly, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency said Tuesday.
“The current assessment conservatively is one to two years for al Qaeda to build some capability to at least threaten the homeland,” said Gen. Berrier.
The chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops from Afghanistan last month in the face of a lightning Taliban offensive reduced the ability of the military and intelligence agencies to monitor terrorists in Afghanistan. Gen. Berrier said his agency is seeking ways to regain access into Afghanistan and is focusing on the problem of terrorist threats through a DIAcounterterrorism center.
Mr. Cohen agreed that the al Qaeda threat is increasing and that the group will be capable of new attacks within a couple of years.
“We are already beginning to see some of the indications of some potential movement of al Qaeda to Afghanistan,” Mr. Cohen said. “But it’s early days and we will keep a very close eye on that.”
Terror attacks could also be carried out in that time frame by the Afghan-based Islamic State offshoot known as the Islamic State-Khorasan, Mr. Cohen said. Both groups were already operating inside Afghanistan before the collapse of the 300,000-troop Afghan military.
The decision to pull American and allied troops out of Afghanistan also impacted the CIA, Mr. Cohen said, noting the spy agency’s capability in Afghanistan “is not what it was six months ago, or a year ago.”
But he also noted that the CIA has extensive experience gathering intelligence in locations that are difficult to access and is capable of intelligence work with or without a physical presence on the ground, Mr. Cohen said.
The CIA will work “from over the horizon, principally,” he said. “We will also look for ways to work from within the horizon” of Afghanistan.
Regarding invisible beam attacks on American diplomats and intelligence personnel around the world, Mr. Cohen, the deputy CIA director, said the agency is close to identifying the source of the attacks that have impacted between 200 officials.
“We’re not close enough to make the sort of analytical judgment people are waiting for,” he said of the so-called Havana Syndrome. “We’ll get there.”
Iraqis to choose from 3,249 politicians competing for 328 seats when polls open on October 10
With only weeks to go until a parliamentary election, Iraq’s politicians are not merely putting on their best smiles and making promises but also providing services the government was supposed to.
The election on October 10, the fifth since the end of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003, is an important test for Iraq’s fledgling democracy amid widespread sentiment against its political elite. A mass protest movement that began in October 2019 forced a change of government last year and elections are to be held early under a new electoral law.
Since early morning we are here to pave the streets and install lights as we promised you.
Iraqis will cast their ballots to choose among 3,249 contenders for the 328 seats in Parliament. The new electoral law means independent candidates are standing for the first time. Out of about 25 million registered voters, slightly more than 23 million have updated their information to become eligible to take part.
Candidates are using every possible method to attract voters, from the traditional billboards and shaking of hands to sponsored advertisements on social media and holding rallies with speeches, song and poetry.
Some candidates are even paving streets, replacing electricity transformers and repairing or installing water treatment plants in rural areas at their own expense.
“Since early morning we are here to pave the streets and install lights as we promised you,” former MP Haider Al Mulla says in a video of him overseeing the work, posted on his Facebook page.
Mr Al Mulla is standing from Baghdad’s western Amiriyah neighbourhood and surrounding areas as a candidate of the Sunni Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi’s Taqadum party.
For about three months now, he has been mingling with the people – playing backgammon in cafes, getting his haircut at local barbershops and attending funerals.
In another video, he is seen in hospital with a leukaemia patient in need of a bone-marrow transplant and promising his family to find him treatment in Iraq or abroad.
“Rest assured, the residents of Amiriyah are in my eyes,” he says.
Thousands of campaign posters and billboards dot the cities with promises of a better life and photos of candidates, including politicians blamed for the country’s woes.
“We will make it a state again,” the State of Law coalition promises in a billboard with the picture of its Shiite leader Nouri Al Maliki, the prime minister from 2006 to 2014.
The implicit promise is to strengthen the government’s hand in the face of challenges from the mainly Iran-backed Shiite militias whose influence has grown since taking part in the defeat of the Sunni extremist group ISIS in 2017.
The sectarian divide between Sunni and Shiites grew under Mr Al Maliki’s prime ministership. He is accused of authoritarianism and blamed for the rise of ISIS in Iraq in 2014.
A banner for a candidate is seen in Iraq’s second city of Mosul. Iraq’s elections will go ahead as planned on October 10, officials say. AFP
The Fatah coalition, comprised mainly of politicians linked to the Shiite militias, has based its campaign on protecting Iraq from Sunni militants and pro-US elements in Iraq.
“We protect and build our Iraq,” says the Fatah slogan, with a portrait of its leader, Hadi Al Amiri, juxtaposed with its logo featuring a lion’s head.
Mr Al Amiri, who spent decades in Iran and enjoys close ties with its Revolutionary Guard, leads the influential Badr Organisation, one of the main state-sanctioned militias that fought ISIS.
“We will take it and never relinquish it,” a local poet told a political rally to launch its election campaign.
“We will be the biggest bloc and nominate whoever we want,” he told Mr Al Sadr’s cheering supporters. “The [next] prime minister will be from Mahdi Army,” he said, referring to the cleric’s militia, now renamed as Al Salam Brigades.
Mr Al Sadr is not standing for a seat himself but serves as spiritual leader to Sairoon, which won the most seats in the 2018 election.
The elections have been brought forward from May next year, the end of the current parliament’s four-year term, in response to the demand for an overhaul of Iraqi politics by protesters angered by corruption, high unemployment and a lack of government services.
Under the new electoral law, voters can cast ballots for individual candidates, rather than a party, and candidates can stand as independents.
Unlike previous elections, Iraq will be divided into 83 constituencies instead of being treated as one. The former system allotted seats to political parties based on their share of the national vote. Instead, the seats will go to the candidates who receive the most votes in each constituency.
The participation of independent candidates is visible in the presence of small posters put up among the larger ones of political parties.
“I have nominated myself for the sake of my country,” says Alaa Mahdi Al Zubaidi, a tribal sheikh, in a poster hanging from an electricity pole in Baghdad’s Jabiriyah district. Not far away, another poster simply lists the name of the candidate, Zainab Essam Al Tukmachi, and urges young people to vote for her.
Instances of the public tearing up posters or setting them on fire have prompted the authorities to threaten arrests.
Many Iraqis are not convinced by the electoral promises, a sentiment reflected in posts by the popular blogger Mufeed Abass, who writes about Iraqi politics and daily life.
“Whenever I gaze at the candidates’ faces in the posters, I feel the laugh they try to hide,” he wrote on Facebook.
“As if they are saying: ‘I will become a parliament member, get a multimillion salary, secure jobs for my brothers and relatives, get commissions and change all my phone numbers.
“Some are not hiding their laugh because they have already laughed at us and will continue laughing for the rest of the democratic age in Iraq.
Israeli forces launched a third consecutive night of attacks on the Gaza Strip Monday after rockets were fired toward Israel. The Israeli military claimed it had targeted at least four Hamas sites. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports a Hamas spokesperson said the assaults were in response to the escape last week of six Palestinians from an Israeli maximum-security prison. Two remain on the run.
It has become commonplace to talk about the climate crisis as the greatest threat to the planet. It is certainly right to focus on an existential issue which we can do something about. But I fear there are other problems which could – at very short notice – prove even more pressing. Pandemics we know about. But the risks around nuclear war and weapons proliferation have slipped out of public consciousness. They mustn’t.
My awareness of this set of issues was triggered by two things. The first was the reappearance of Little Rocket Man in North Korea. He seems to have been slimming his own girth but increasing his nuclear capability. The country has been developing a cruise missile described as “strategic” and capable of delivering nuclear weapons around 1000 miles – to Japan as well as South Korea and to US bases and aircraft carriers. North Korea is also reported to have restarted a nuclear power station capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
I am also one of the millions gripped by Vigilon BBC on Sunday evening. Like Line of Duty, its predecessor series, the plot doesn’t bear too much analysis. But, in a very compelling way, it brings to life something we have rather taken for granted: the fact that, operating out of a base in Argyll in Scotland, there is a fleet of submarines carrying Britain’s nuclear deterrent – one of which is continually patrolling at sea.
Eac submarine has 40 warheads (eight operational) out of our stockpile of 180: a number which is currently being lifted to 260. Each warhead has 100 kiloton destructive power: about six times the Hiroshima bomb. I suspect, and sincerely hope, that the safety arrangements are rather better than on Vigil, which seems to be permanently on the brink of disaster. The series reminds us of the awesome duty of those politically and operationally responsible.
Yet Britain is a nuclear minnow (even with the new and bigger Trident programme of submarines and missiles currently approved and on order). We are a merely intermediate member of the family of known nuclear powers (the US, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea), which was supposed to diminish not increase in numbers.
In the rosy, optimistic days after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, there were hopes that nuclear disarmament would be agreed. The numbers of warheads and missiles in the US and Russia was greatly reduced. The Ukraine and Kazakhstan gave up the nuclear weapons left behind by the Soviet Union. South Africa and Brazil, which had embryonic programmes, renounced nuclear weapons. A strict non-proliferation regime was put in place to stop new states joining the club – which seemed to have been enough to deter Iran from converting its nuclear technological capability into weapons.
In the last few years, however, this progress has been reversed. Russia and the US have been modernising and expanding their nuclear arsenals, while technological advances, like autonomous AI based systems, are making the old treaties obsolete. In the increasingly toxic environment in East Asia there are reports that China has deployed more missiles and as yet there appears to be no direct engagement with the US to calm the atmosphere. I explore the poisoned relationship between the two powers in my book released this week, The Chinese Conundrum: Engagement or Conflict.
Meanwhile, the withdrawal of the Trump administration from the non-proliferation agreement with Iran has threatened a revival of Iran’s nuclear programme. Trump’s face-to-face diplomacy with Kim Jong-un produced headlines but no agreement, as we are reminded this week.
As President Biden dusts himself down after the political disaster of the evacuation of Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation should be close to the top of his agenda. He is trying to revive the multilateral talks with Iran. The stakes are high since failure to check the Iranian programme could lead to unilateral military action by Israel. And there is the risk of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, and possibly Turkey joining the club.
The Middle East is a haven of stability compared with the volatile and dangerous situation in South Asia. One of the big unknowns is how the Taliban victory will affect Pakistan, which has had its own Taliban and its own religious fanatics. The Pakistan military is sitting on a nuclear stockpile and, while Pakistan has an impressively disciplined army, the nightmare scenario of terrorists getting hold of nuclear weapons is a risk that has to be contemplated.
East Asia is more complex still and no less dangerous. The erratic behaviour of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is profoundly destabilising not just for South Korea but also for Japan. Both countries rely on US military protection, but the protection is less explicit than in Nato and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has sowed doubts about its reliability, especially in a nuclear confrontation. Japan has the technological capability to proceed quite quickly to nuclear weapons if necessary; it is largely its own history which acts as a restraint. South Korea is also technologically very advanced.
For both those countries a key uncertainty is China. No one is sure if and how Xi acts as a constraint on its ally North Korea. Moreover, there are simmering disputes between China and Japan over offshore islands. China would certainly regard a move by Japan to nuclear weapons as a provocation. And regional factors are to be seen against the background of growing political tension between China and the US.
When we consider that nuclear China is also a close ally of Pakistan and that nuclear India is nervously watching developments across the border, there is a real witches’ brew of geo-political toxins. My novel, Open Arms, which fantasised about the dangers in those relationships five years ago is beginning to read like non-fiction.
In a worst-case scenario, it is possible to see conflict breaking out between several pairs of adversaries: Iran and Israel; Iran and Saudi Arabia; India and Pakistan; India and China; China and the US; China and Japan; North Korea and several of its neighbours and the US. In each case there would be one or more parties with nuclear weapons. In several cases there is no “no first use” policy and minimal risk mitigation to stop nuclear war breaking out by accident.
“Thinking the unthinkable” is not conducive to peace of mind or a good night’s sleep. But someone has to do it. We have had several very improbable events recently – Trump; Brexit; Covid; the Taliban victory. There will be shocks to come. It is profoundly to be hoped that the use of nuclear weapons isn’t one of them. But time spent now on nuclear proliferation issues, risk reduction and nuclear disarmament would be a very good investment.