South Korea launched a ballistic missile from a submarine in September, making it the first country without nuclear weapons to develop that capability.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his country’s Sept. 15 test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile was not aimed at North Korea, but “can be a clear deterrent to North Korea’s provocations.” (Photo by South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense)The Defense Ministry in Seoul described the launch as a success and said the missile “accurately hit its target.” The submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability is “an important milestone” that will “contribute to realizing a strong national defense and a solid military readiness posture,” according to a Sept. 15 statement.
The SLBM test took place several hours after North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from a train and four days after it tested a new land-attack cruise missile.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was present for the launch, said on Sept. 15 that the test was “not a response to North Korea’s provocations.” But he noted that “the reinforcement of our missile capabilities can be a clear deterrent to North Korea’s provocations.”
The missile was tested from South Korea’s domestically built attack submarine, the Dosan An Chang-ho, which was commissioned in August. (See ACT, September 2021.) It is the first of three submarines capable of carrying six ballistic missiles that South Korea plans to deploy. South Korean news outlets reported that the submarine successfully fired an SLBM on Sept. 7, but the South Korean government has only confirmed the Sept. 15 launch. Prior to the submarine launches, South Korea conducted test launches from a submerged barge and from a ground-based test facility. The Defense Ministry said it will conduct further tests before an SLBM is deployed on the Dosan An Chang-ho.
States generally pursue SLBMs in order to provide a survivable, second-strike nuclear capability. Given that South Korea is an ally of the United States and covered by its extended nuclear deterrent, including U.S. SLBMs, it is unclear why South Korea views this capability as necessary and worth the risk of continuing to drive the missile race between North and South Korea.
Defense Department spokesman James Kirby said in a Sept. 20 press briefing that the United States is working closely with South Korea to ensure “complementary military capabilities” that are “commensurate with the continued threats that we see on the peninsula.”
Although North Korea is developing its own SLBM capability and has tested missiles from a submerged barge, officials in Pyongyang decried South Korea’s SLBM capability as detrimental to peace on the peninsula and used the test to justify its own continued missile development.
Kim Jo Jong, vice department director of the Worker’s Party of Korea, in a Sept. 15 statement questioned why Moon is “repeatedly calling for backing peace with a powerful force.” Kim, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, criticized Moon for accusing North Korea of provocations and said South Korea has an “illogical and stupid habit of describing its act as a just one supporting peace and describing [North Korea’s] act of similar nature as one threatening peace.” North Korea’s tests are part of the country’s established self-defense plan, she said.
Pyongyang also sought to downplay the South Korean SLBM by questioning the veracity of the test. North Korea’s Academy of National Defence issued a statement Sept. 20 saying that the photos of the SLBM that South Korea released “could have deliberately been retouched” and that the missile looked more like a short-range ground-based ballistic missile that South Korea had already developed. The statement claimed that the weapon “has not yet reached the stage of being regarded as a weapon of strategic and tactical significance.”
South Korea’s SLBM test comes amid an expansion of the country’s military capabilities and continued debate over the country’s status as a non-nuclear-weapon state. In addition to the SLBM capability, South Korea has increased its military spending under Moon and invested in several new weapons systems. (See ACT, September 2021.)
Public support for South Korea developing its own nuclear weapons reached a new high in 2020 with 69 percent of the population voicing support, according to a Sept. 13 report from the Asian Institute. Since the institute began polling on this question, support for an indigenous nuclear weapons program was the lowest in 2018, when 55 percent of the population supported the idea.
In the 2020 poll, 61 percent supported reintroducing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula, a view that one leading candidate for South Korea’s presidential election in March has also endorsed.
Hong Joon-pyo, a conservative, said that if elected he would support a nuclear sharing agreement with the United States. Lee Jae-myung, the likely candidate from Moon’s party, opposes nuclear sharing, arguing that it diminishes South Korea’s credibility in demanding that North Korea denuclearize.
In 1991, the United States removed nuclear weapons that it had based in South Korea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is no longer interested in a joint freeze of nuclear weapons production with the United States, according to a senior Russian envoy who protested American inspections requests and a recent agreement to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.
“No, it was a one-time offer, and it was said so to the U.S. They missed the opportunity,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Geneva Center for Security Policy, per state media. “They didn’t want a freeze on all warheads — they wanted an extremely intrusive verification and control at all our nuclear-related facilities.”
Ryabkov aired the withdrawal of that proposal following a meeting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman for what both sides described as “intensive and substantive” arms control talks. He complained about the U.S. and United Kingdom’s decision to partner with Australia on a submarine deal widely perceived as directed at China, and both Russian and American officials underscored that the negotiations are unlikely to produce a deal anytime soon.
“Arms control dialogues take a very long time,” Sherman said Friday. “The dialogue has a value in and of itself because it unveils norms that we both believe in and want to establish as the [two nations with the] largest number of nuclear weapons, so it’s very good in and of itself.”
The Ryabkov-Sherman meeting comes months after President Joe Biden’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when the two leaders echoed Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev’s affirmation that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” That joint statement drew criticism from Marshall Billingslea, former President Donald Trump’s point man for arms control, who observed that Putin “believes that a nuclear war CAN be fought & won” and faulted Biden for making a joint statement while “knowing Putin to be lying.”
Russia has adopted a military doctrine that contemplates the use of nuclear weapons to win a conflict in Eastern Europe before U.S. forces can intervene, according to Western officials, spurring at least one NATO ally to warn publicly that Russian might launch a nuclear “blitzkrieg” against one of its neighbors. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Reagan-Gorbachev treaty that banned the development of intermediate-range land-based ballistic missiles after Republicans and Democrats, as well as the rest of NATO, assessed that Putin has developed and deployed such systems in defiance of the treaty.
Putin acknowledged in December that an arms race “has already begun,” but Ryabkov argued a more one-sided case on Friday, when he attributed any arms control tensions to an American quest “for decisive unilateral advantages at the expense of Russia’s security.”
He broadened his complaints about NATO member-state decisions to include U.S. and British efforts to upgrade their defenses against Chinese threats.
“We are concerned especially by the statements produced earlier in the year in London on future prospects for expansion of its nuclear capabilities,” Ryabkov said, referring to a British plan to increase its nuclear stockpile in response to “China’s military modernization and growing international assertiveness within the Indo-Pacific region.”
And he maintained that the recent U.S. decision to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia is “a great challenge to the international nonproliferation regime” despite Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s stipulation that the deal will cover nuclear power for the submarines but no nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials have expressed doubt about whether they’ll be able to reach another arms control deal with Russia, but Sherman and Ryabkov separately touted the launch of two working groups on arms control as a positive step.
“We all hope that we head to achieving some objectives about moving forward,” she said.
The United States has experienced a nearly unbroken string of catastrophic intelligence failures in the last eighty years. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caught America by surprise in 1941, only to be followed by North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and China’s intervention in the Korean War a decade later. More recently, American intelligence failed to predict or warn U.S. policymakers about the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, or the recent outbreak of the deadly global coronavirus pandemic, which has taken the lives of over 700,000 Americans and millions of more people around the world. It seems possible that the U.S. intelligence community will fail to predict—let alone provide advance warning of—an existential nuclear, cyber, or electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack upon the U.S. homeland from America’s adversaries.
U.S. leaders have been seemingly unconcerned about the increasingly bellicose and militarily superior “New Axis” powers aligning against it since the end of the Cold War. This alliance by America’s two most powerful adversaries is not a recent development. The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June 2001. Russian president Vladimir Putin has since described it as “a reborn Second Warsaw Pact.” Russia and China now lead a military alliance that includes over 68 percent of the landmass of Eurasia, nearly42 percent of the world’s population, nearly 30 percent of the world’s GDP, and approximately 75 percent of the world’s operational nuclear weapons, with over two-thirds of them deployed by Russia.
Russia developed super-electromagnetic pulse weapons more than two decades ago. These nuclear weapons are designed to greatly enhance their EMP effects. It subsequently shared this deadly technology with its Chinese and North Korean allies. More recently, Russia, China, and North Korea have been assessed as likely having the capability to use EMP and cyberwarfare attacks to shut down America’s electrical power grid and other critical infrastructure, including the internet, financial systems, transportation systems, food, and water distribution systems, communications systems and emergency services in a matter of minutes. Such attacks could possibly disable the Global Positioning System andmilitary early-warning satellites, blinding Americans to subsequent attacks against the United States and its allies. U.S. military leaders have even expressed concern that our nuclear command, control, and communications system might be vulnerable to cyberattack. Such an attack could disrupt the president’s ability to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike. Also, it could prevent America’s conventional military forces from being able to communicate with their commanders or coordinate their attacks, making them much easier to defeat. The United States has yet to develop any super-EMP weapons to help deter any such attack.
President Joe Biden was elected, in part, on a platform of protecting the environment from global climate change. However, few people realize that a super-EMP or cyberattack on the U.S. homeland would likely be far more catastrophic for American citizens and the environment. Such an attack could cause all ninety-four nuclear reactors in the United States to meltdown, spreading radioactive contamination and fallout to nearby cities. If such an attack were to occur, then U.S. leaders might not be certain which country attacked us or who to retaliate against. In 2008, the Congressional EMP Commission estimated that such a cataclysmic attack on a national scale could cause up to 90 percent of Americans to die within twelve months due to starvation, disease, and societal breakdown. A comprehensive cyberattack on the U.S. homeland could also kill tens of millions of Americans. Given their destructive potential, U.S. national security professionals should seriously consider reclassifying cyber and EMP weapons as weapons of mass destruction. Despite these warnings, U.S. leaders have done little to protect the American people from EMP and cyberattacks. They have also failed to deploy a national missile defense system to protect against nuclear missile attacks. In the event of a catastrophic Sino-Russian attack against the U.S. homeland, there is a good chance that even America’s allies would decline to come to its defense for fear of sharing its fate.
How did America’s leaders allow the country to become so vulnerable? U.S. leaders began a policy of nuclear disarmament at a pace far exceeding Russia’s following the end of the Cold War, naively believing the existential threat had passed. This exposed the United States to unnecessary and increasingly intolerable risks. By 2016, the U.S. nuclear arsenal had been reduced from 30,000 nuclear weapons to only 1,750 operational warheads. Many of these weapons are deployed on aging delivery systems of increasingly questionable reliability. Today, only 720 of America’s warheads are ready to launch at any given time, of which 50 percent would likely survive a full-scale nuclear first strike. The reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile is also a major concern. Successive administrations have failed to ensure it will function as designed in the event of a crisis.
Over the past decade, the United States has allowed itself to be overtaken by the Sino-Russian alliance in virtually every recognized measure of strategic military power. This includes offensive nuclear weapon systems, national missile defenses, hypersonic weapons, super-EMP weapons, and cyberwarfare capabilities. America has fallen behind its adversaries in terms of their combined economic and industrial manufacturing might, their ability to produce major weapon systems without foreign components, their hardening of critical infrastructures against EMP/cyberattack, their civil defenses, and overall nuclear war survivability.
The Department of Defense estimated in 2017 that the Russian Federation was in the process of building its own nuclear arsenal to total 8,000 deployed warheads, which is over four and a half times more operational nuclear warheads than the United States possesses. Russia has also deployed six strategic nuclear “superweapon” systems of a type the United States does not even possess that are not limited by existing arms control treaties. Former Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer Rebekah Kofflerhas stated, Putin believes war with the United States is “unavoidable.”
In August, Koffler wrote in an op-ed for The Hill that,
Moscow is prepared to fight a nuclear war over its perceived sphere of influence, on which Russia has relied for centuries as its strategic security perimeter… The Kremlin envisions fighting a limited nuclear war with Washington, over contested areas such as Ukraine and Crimea, the latter of which Russia illegally annexed in 2014… Moscow also has conducted mock nuclear attacks on the U.S. homeland. The Russians regularly practice nuclear launches in simulation exercises, with Putin “pressing the button.” … There is no question that Russia is preparing for a nuclear conflict with the United States and NATO. The only question is whether this conflict can be deterred or fought.
Meanwhile, U.S. satellite imagery has revealed that China is in the process of rapidly expanding its strategic nuclear arsenal by up to 4,000 warheads–a number of nuclear warheads up to twenty times greater than recent U.S. Department of Defense estimates of the size of their entire nuclear arsenal. Peter Huessy recently noted in an op-ed published by the National Interest that “U.S. satellites have discovered some 350-400 new Chinese missile silos, each laid out in a grid pattern some three kilometers apart. These new intercontinental ballistic-missile ‘launchers’ are designed to hold the DF-41 missile.”
“The DF-41 is a ten-warhead missile,” Huessy explained. “Added up, the Chinese potential sprint to nuclear superiority may indeed be materializing, a possible four-thousand warhead build that would be 266 percent of the total deployed warheads currently in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. More worrisome, China’s future nuclear force could be 400 percent of today’s U.S. alert nuclear forces. … Alongside China, America’s two nuclear-armed enemies would have combined strategic nuclear warheads some 600 percent greater than the United States. If compared by the number of nuclear weapons that are on alert on a day-to-day basis, the imbalance reaches on the order of 1,000 percent.”
Huessy estimates that Russia and China could field a combined force of 9,000 deployed strategic nuclear warheads within the next few years, 7,200 of which will be on alert and ready to fire at any given time. Based on the time it took the United States to build its own missile silos during the Cold War, China could complete the construction of its four hundred DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos in as little as two years. However, given the rapid pace of their construction, it’s possible they could finish them even sooner. Last month, Adm. Charles Richard, that commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said that America was “witnessing a strategic breakout by China.” “The explosive growth in their nuclear and conventional forces can only be what I described as breathtaking. … Frankly, that word ‘breathtaking’ may not be enough,” he said. Richard characterized China as a “peer” nuclear competitor and noted that we now face two nuclear “peer” competitors, Russia and China, compared to one during the Cold War. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed Richard’s assessment.
“It is going to take us 10 to 15 years to modernize 400 silos that already exist,” Hyten said. “And China is basically building almost that many overnight. So the speed of difference in that threat is what really concerns me most. … Why are they building that enormous, enormous nuclear capability faster than anybody in the world? … It’s the almost unprecedented nuclear modernization. … They could put, you know, ten reentry vehicles on every one of those ICBMs if they wanted to; There’s nothing to limit that ability.”
‘Neighboring countries and others should not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs’, says Shia leader
Prominent Iraqi Shia politician Muqtada al-Sadr Friday warned against external interference in the early parliamentary elections in Iraq.
“The Iraqi elections are an internal affair. Neighboring countries and others should not interfere in the internal affairs, neither by carrots nor by sticks,” al-Sadr posted on his Twitter account.
Al-Sadr added that he will retaliate “in the same way in the future,” without giving names.
Observers argue that al-Sadr aimed at neighboring Iran in his post as it supports his main opponent in the elections, the Al-Fatah alliance made up of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Iraqi Hezbollah Shia factions.
In the previous elections, al-Sadr-backed the Sairoon alliance which came ahead of Al-Fatah with 54 of 329 parliamentary seats. Al-Fatah, meanwhile, came second with 48 seats.
The Sairoon alliance seeks to win more seats in the upcoming elections to enable it to have the prime minister’s post, according to previous statements by al-Sadr.
Figures from the Iraqi Electoral Commission in July showed that 3,249 candidates representing 21 coalitions and 109 parties, as well as independent candidates, will run for the 329 parliamentary seats.
The polls were originally scheduled to be held in 2022, but Iraq’s political parties have decided to hold early elections following mass protests that erupted in the country in 2019 against deep-seated corruption and poor services.
14 Palestinians were injured during protests calling for the end of Israel’s brutal siege on the Gaza Strip on 25 August 2021 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]October 1, 2021 at 10:24 am
A member of the Hamas political bureau, Mousa Abu Marzouk, yesterday revealed a scheme involving countries and individuals in the region who aim to tighten the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and thwart the Palestinian resistance.
Speaking to Arabi21, Abu Marzouk said Hamas and the Palestinian masses will not tolerate the continuation of the restrictions and siege imposed on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.
The scheme includes tightening the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip and deterring the movement from confronting any possible Israeli aggression on Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine.
Abu Marzouk accused the Palestinian Authority of being involved in the scheme after support for the armed resistance option increased in May. This led to the obstruction of the entry of Qatari aid to Gaza and the implementation of Gaza reconstruction projects.
He added that Hamas has decided to give international and Arab efforts an opportunity to achieve a real breakthrough in dismantling the siege, and ending the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza.
“Some non-nuclear States have historically opposed the resolution in response to India testing nuclear weapons and becoming a nuclear-armed State in 1998. India can and needs to do more to get countries to reconsider their opposition, especially in light of Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan that has already led to rise in India-Pakistan tensions.
The predictable India-Pakistan rhetoric during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York and accusations flying right and left at the ongoing 48th session of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva are shadowing the simmering worry as to what will happen to Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.
With the Afghanistan takeover by Taliban and given their bon homie with Pakistan, especially its intelligence, it is singularly worrying that Pakistan is the sole country that is blocking negotiations of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT).
While there are enough pundits predicting that Taliban and Pakistan will make for the most volatile bedfellows, there is no denying that the region’s power dynamics have been dramatically and drastically altered. A change that has taken everyone by surprise only goes to show that nothing can be ruled out. So, speaking of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile falling in the hands of Taliban is not as far-fetched as one would imagine.
Which brings us to the question of why the UN is not doing enough to push Pakistan to undertake disarmament. In fact, according to the advocacy group – Unfold Zero – the UNGA was not even able to come together on nuclear disarmament resolutions. In the last nuclear disarmament UN meeting, nuclear risk-reduction was perhaps the only measure countries could come together for.
A resolution reducing nuclear danger submitted by India received 127 votes in favor (mostly non-aligned countries). It failed to get support of nuclear-armed or European countries, primarily because it only calls for nuclear risk reduction measures by China, France, Russia, UK and USA – leaving out the other nuclear armed States – India, Pakistan, DPRK and Israel, according to unfoldzero.org.
A resolution on decreasing the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems submitted by a group of non-nuclear countries, was much more successful receiving 173 votes in favor, including from most of the NATO countries and from four nuclear armed States (China, DPRK, India, Pakistan).
A resolution on the Treaty on the Prohibition nuclear weapons (TPNW) was supported by 122 countries. This is more than the number who have signed the Treaty, which is 68 (with 19 of these countries having now ratified). The vote indicates that more signatures are likely. However, the resolution was not supported by any of the nuclear-armed countries, nor any of the countries under nuclear deterrence relationships, i.e., NATO, Australia, Japan, South Korea. The opposition of nuclear-armed and allied States to the resolution is another indication that they do not intend to join the new treaty. In general, this means that they will not be bound by the treaty’s obligations. However, the customary law against the use of nuclear weapons which is re-affirmed by the treaty will apply to all States regardless of whether or not they join.
A resolution on the prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons submitted by India received 120 votes in favor, including from themselves and another three nuclear-armed States (China, DPRK and Pakistan). Some non-nuclear States have historically opposed the resolution in response to India testing nuclear weapons and becoming a nuclear-armed State in 1998. India can and needs to do more to get countries to reconsider their opposition, especially in light ofTaliban’s takeover of Afghanistan that has already led to rise in India-Pakistan tensions.