Decision to partner with U.S. and U.K. will have major knock-on effects
Admiral James Stavridis was 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and 12th Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He spent the bulk of his operational career in the Pacific, and is author of “2034: A Novel of the Next World War.”
The decision will accelerate tensions between China and Australia; create a nagging sense of grievance on the part of France; increase European desires for military and political independence from the U.S.; and — over time — potentially cause India and possibly Japan — to consider a nuclear-powered subsurface fleet.
For Australia, the decision — while expensive and politically costly with Europe generally and in particular with France — is fairly straightforward for three reasons.
The precise design of the Australian subs is still being developed, but it will likely mirror the U.S. Los Angeles-class boats, which are extremely quiet, packed with both long-range land attack Tomahawk missiles and lethal undersea torpedoes.
These are very deep diving boats, that are extremely reliable operationally. And with eight of them ultimately flying the Australian flag, the subsurface flotilla will have the ability to interdict China’s technologically inferior and mostly diesel-powered submarines; protect allied sea lanes of communication to and from Australia; and operate seamlessly with U.S. and British nuclear submarines and carrier strike groups.
France is genuinely angry, and the decision will haunt Australian-French-U. S. relations for some time to come. President Emmanuel Macron — never a NATO fan, and long skeptical of the U.S. as a partner — is conflating it with the flawed U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, making the understandable case that Washington cannot be trusted.
Macron maintains that France too is a “Pacific power” by virtue of its various island territories with well over a million French citizens in the various French possessions. Indeed, Europe more broadly is annoyed by the decision as it is part of a growing tendency for English-speaking nations to operate independently under their long-established Five Eyes intelligence protocol and expand various free trade agreements.
It will cause Europe to be slower in signing up with American desires to confront China in the Pacific over everything from Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea to rejecting fifth-generation, or 5G, networks provided by Huawei Technologies.
The view from Beijing is predictably angry. The Chinese are warning of a significant naval arms race — a bit disingenuously given that their shipbuilding programs, including nuclear-powered vessels, are the largest in the world at the moment — and threatening consequences against Australia, for whom China is its largest trading partner.
One particularly interesting aspect of the entire affair is how this will be received in Tokyo and New Delhi. The Indians have several nuclear-powered submarines, but none with remotely the capability of the next-generation Australian boats. And the Japanese, of course, have nuclear power ashore but not on their military vessels.
Both nations are increasingly comfortable operating in the so-called Quad that aligns them with both the U.S. and Australia. With the U.S. and Australia operating top-of-the-line nuclear attack boats, both the other partners may decide to maintain interoperability, and parity, by making their next generation of undersea vessels nuclear powered.
This would also infuriate the Chinese, as they would perceive themselves as being hemmed in on the entire maritime sea space extending Japan in the north, to Australia in the south, the U.S. to the east, and India to its west.
Particularly as China seeks to consolidate its claims of territoriality in the South China Sea, the rise of such a powerful naval force in alignment against it would be deeply worrisome. Fortunately for the Chinese, it will be difficult for either the Indians — due to costs and technology barriers — and the Japanese — due to cultural and constitutionals concerns — to overcome the challenges involved in going nuclear.
This is a success for the U.S. and Australia; a loss for Europe and France; and a serious worry for China. Whether the idea of nuclear-powered submarines spreads even further will be a key determinant of how heated a naval arms race in the Pacific will become.
By Meteorologist Dominic Ramunni Nationwide PUBLISHED 7:13 PM ET Aug. 11, 2020 PUBLISHED 7:13 PM EDT Aug. 11, 2020
People across the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic were shaken, literally, on a Sunday morning as a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck in North Carolina on August 9, 2020.
Centered in Sparta, NC, the tremor knocked groceries off shelves and left many wondering just when the next big one could strike.
Compared to the West Coast, there are far fewer fault lines in the East. This is why earthquakes in the East are relatively uncommon and weaker in magnitude.
That said, earthquakes still occur in the East.
According to Spectrum News Meteorologist Matthew East, “Earthquakes have occurred in every eastern U.S. state, and a majority of states have recorded damaging earthquakes. However, they are pretty rare. For instance, the Sparta earthquake Sunday was the strongest in North Carolina in over 100 years.”
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.
Quakes in the East can also be more damaging to infrastructure than in the West. This is generally due to the older buildings found east. Architects in the early-to-mid 1900s simply were not accounting for earthquakes in their designs for cities along the East Coast.
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.
Hypersonic weapons are defined as able to travel at speeds above Mach 5 and can be broadly classified into two types: hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV) and hypersonic cruise missiles (HCM). The former is launched into the upper atmosphere via ballistic missiles. The HGV is then separated from the booster to glide/maneuver towards its target. The latter can be launched from a jet plane or rocket to reach supersonic speed before igniting its scramjet engine for hypersonic speed.
As the U.S. engages in great power competition with China and Russia, all three countries are racing to field hypersonic weapons. Beijing sees hypersonic weapons as a critical means to shape China’s strategic environment, and has seized the opportunity to gain an edge in this contest. China has reportedly fielded DF-17 missiles mounted on DF-ZF HGVs and is making progress on its Starry Sky-2 HCM.
Chinese Hypersonic Shock Tunnel Development
To aid research and development into hypersonic technology, the Institute of Mechanics (IMECH) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) (中国科学院力学研究所, Zhongguo kexue yuan lixue yanjiusuo) launched the “shock tunnel reproducing hypersonic flight conditions” program in 2008. The tunnel became operational in 2012. A news report on the JF-12 hypersonic wind tunnel (复现高超声速飞行条件激波风洞, Fuxian gaochao shengsu feixing tiaojian jibo fengdong), which cited CAS’s National Science Review journal in April 2020, implies that the tunnel is being used for the development of the Starry Sky (星空, Xingkong) HGV (China News, April 20, 2020). According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Starry Sky-2 can carry nuclear warheads and travel at six times the speed of sound (SCMP, August 6, 2018). The JF-12 tunnel can duplicate flight conditions between Mach 5-9 speeds and altitudes ranging between 25-50 kilometers (15.5-31 miles) (China News, April 20, 2020; SCMP, August 6, 2018). The tunnel can sustain test times of more than 130 milliseconds (ms), which is enough to support the data collection of flow field, shock structure, and other high speed aerodynamic parameters (IMECH, November 28, 2017). Based on publicly available information, the shock tunnel is used to analyze thermal characteristics such as flame-holding stability and recovery temperature for combustion. It is possible that the JF-12 tunnel, along with other hypersonic tunnels at the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Center (CARDC) (中国空气动力研究与发展中心, Zhongguo kongqi dongli yanjiu yu fazhan zhongxin), which are located in Mianyang, Sichuan and directly controlled by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), could be used to help design hypersonic weapons (Baidu).
CARDC has research institutes with revealing names that indicate its key role in the development of hypersonic technology, i.e. Low-speed Aerodynamics, High-speed Aerodynamics, Hypersonic Aerodynamics, Computational Aerodynamics, and Testing Technology. Consequently, it is probable that CARDC is responsible for the PLA’s research and development of hypersonic weapons (CARDC). Given China’s military-civil fusion approach to defense technology, it’s highly likely that IMECH supports CARDC’s simulations and engineering tasks, especially since the former has the country’s most advanced hypersonic shock tunnels.
Chinese media reports have frequently claimed that the JF-12’s performance is superior to NASA’s Hypersonic Tunnel Facility (HTF) (Meiri Toutiao, October 11, 2017; Wen Wei Po, September 3, 2012; Ta Kung Pao, June 2016). Such claims appear dubious in light of contemporaneous emphasis on the JF-12 tunnel’s cutting-edge five degree of freedom mechanism, a technology that NASA has had since the 1980s . The claim that a 130 ms testing time is a world record is also false; NASA’s shock tunnel for the X-43A experimental vehicle can sustain similar test conditions for longer durations.
In March 2018, the same group responsible for the IMECH’s JF-12 began work on the JF-22 “detonation-driven ultra-high-speed and high-enthalpy shock tunnel” (爆轰驱动超高速高焓激波风洞, Baohong qudong chao gaosu gao han jibo fengdong) (IMECH, January 2021). The JF-22 can reportedly achieve higher speeds and altitude conditions than the JF-12. Located in Beijing’s Huairou District, the program passed a major milestone (roughly equivalent to the U.S. DoD’s Production Readiness Review [PRR] and System Verification Review [SVR]) in December 2020. The IMECH press release claims that the JF-12 and JF-22 combined can cover all hypersonic flight profiles, although the timeline for the JF-22 to achieve initial operational capability is uncertain.
Taking Advantage of U.S. Knowledge and Technology
In the past, innovative computational fluid dynamics (CFD) algorithms developed by U.S. institutions such as the NASA Glenn Research Center were published and openly discussed at academic conferences. The Chinese and American CFD communities frequently overlap; the principal investigator of both JF-12 and JF-22 shock tunnels, Jiang Zonglin (姜宗林), received the Ground Testing Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in 2016 (Guancha, May 25, 2016). Chinese experts have likely acquired much-needed knowledge from such CFD community events. In addition to powerful wind tunnels, hypersonic vehicle design requires sophisticated CFD computer simulations. The U.S.’s open sharing of advances in CFD has aided China’s hypersonic research and development efforts. The powerful computer simulations requiring computation-intensive algorithms are run on indigenous supercomputers built with U.S.-designed GPUs, CPUs, and memory chips. (Washington Post, April 9, 2021) This kind of knowledge diffusion is currently not preventable under existing national security safeguards such as the U.S. Economic Espionage Act.
PLA Thinking on Defense against Hypersonic Weapons
PLA strategists fear that the U.S. may deploy hypersonic weapons on the first island chain and/or the second island chain, directly threatening China. In particular, they recognize that Chinese long-range kinetic interceptors lack precision to kill, and precision interceptors lack the range to strike targets at long distance. As early as 2012, the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) Academy of Defense Technology (中国航天科工防御技术研究院, Zhongguo hangtian ke gong fangyu jishu yanjiuyuan) proposed an architecture capable of defending against hypersonic weapons.
The first component of the proposed 2012 CASIC defense architecture is an efficient and optimized detection network comprised of various sensors covering a distance of 800-1000 km (497-621 miles). The second is a high-speed information center capable of processing large amounts of heterogeneous data and discriminating against noise and other interference in real-time. The third element of the hypersonic defense plan is a high-performance command and control system to support an integrated air picture with rapid sensor-to-shooter cycle. The fourth component is a mixture of fast response airborne and near space-based interceptors. CASIC advocates air-to-air missiles for this purpose. However, hypersonic cruise missiles also pose significant technical challenges for low-angle detection and tracking over long distance, and the 2012 CASIC proposal does not seem to have reached sound solutions to this problem.
Researchers from the China Air-to-Air Missile Research Institute (中国空空导弹研究院, Zhongguo kong kong daodan yanjiuyuan) recommended a similar architecture in 2016. They also advocate implementing airborne interceptors using both kinetic and direct energy, because of their advantages of low risk, low R&D and deployment cost, as well as the ability to offer rapid response with maximum operational flexibility. One challenge involved with air-to-air interceptors is their reliance on powerful airborne fire control radar to lock onto targets hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away. Whether China has fully developed this technology is unknown.
Researchers from the Space Engineering University (航天工程大学, Hangtian gongcheng daxue) under the command of the PLA Strategic Support Force (SSF) (战略支援部队, Zhanlue zhiyuan budui) indicated that they could use existing surveillance assets consisting of early warning aircraft and ground radars for early detection.Additionally, they propose fielding ground-based and ship-borne high power, high resolution, and long-range phased array radars that can detect and track small, high-speed targets such as ballistic missile warheads and hypersonic vehicles. For warfighting, they envisage “forward deployment” of air-to-air missiles for head-on intercept, though due to the HGV’s high maneuverability, the deployment area would need to be quite large, and the rate of success would likely be small.
Two engineers from PLA Units #31002 and #32032 of the Strategic Support Force (SSF) recommend a similar architecture for hypersonic defense systems, but propose to deploy layered global networks for early warning and kinetic interception. They indicate that though an infrared sensor cannot render precise three-dimensional target coordinates, it can still effectively provide early warning capabilities. The PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) Engineering University (火箭军工程大学, Huojianjun gongcheng daxue), previously known as PLA Second Artillery Engineering University, divides the engagement of hypersonic weapons into four stages. In the first stage, early warning satellite constellations detect the launch of an enemy weapon, immediately issue alerts and begin tracking the projectile. In the second stage, early warning radar detect and track the incoming target based on satellite data feeds. During the third stage, surveillance systems distinguish targets from decoys and report to the command and control center. Lastly, the command center directs weapon platforms to intercept the incoming projectile.
Based on these four stages, researchers from PLARF Engineering University identify a few capabilities requiring improvement, namely, early warning, positioning and tracking, and interceptor guidance. They largely follow the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s thinking on interception, and separate the trajectory of a hypersonic target into boost, midcourse, and terminal phases and proposed technologies they could develop in each phase accordingly.  Perhaps more importantly, PLA experts recommend shortening a long chain of command to build a flat command and control organization that optimizes information flow and reduces response time. 
Chinese researchers at the First Aircraft Institute of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) (中国航空工业集团公司, Zhongguo hangkong gongye jituan gongsi) recognize that laser weapons can be valuable in hypersonic defense because they can illuminate a target instantaneously using laser beams. Laser weapons installed on aircraft, however, are susceptible to vibration and noise, which creates technical difficulties for beam control, high-precision aiming, tracking, and rapid damage assessment. Additionally, hypersonic vehicles are typically shielded by ceramic matrix composites, which protect their structures from extreme heat, especially in the nose cone section. The ceramics would be naturally effective at diffusing heat from laser beams for a prolonged period, rendering the laser weapon less effective. (Weapon News; MDPI Open Science)
In general, Chinese strategists assess that hypersonic defense systems based on airborne platforms are advantaged by flexible deployment, high initial launch speed of kinetic interceptors, and incoming targets’ relatively weak maneuverability in the cruise/glide phase. Some Chinese researchers believe these limitations can be remedied by the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
China’s Air Force Engineering University (空军工程大学, Kongjun gongcheng daxue) has studied the feasibility of deploying a cluster of widely spaced UASs to intercept hostile hypersonic strikes. The conceptual design makes use of high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAS that can loiter in the forward theater. Because UAS payloads are smaller than manned warplanes, Chinese researchers envisage that the drone cluster will be divided between two missions: early warning and interception.
In order to provide effective early warning, the UAS that are involved need collaborative decision-making, networked target acquisition, and beyond visual range communications to provide long-range detection and tracking capabilities. The early warning UAS cluster would be part of the networked sensors comprising space-based infrared satellites, land-based early warning radars, and early warning aircraft. Per the Air Force Engineering University’s conceptual design, the interceptor UAS will carry six 250 kg, 200 km range airborne missiles. The proposed defense architecture also calls for robust battle management and C2 systems. The researchers divide warfighting into four stages: patrol and combat readiness, early warning, target acquisition, and intercept capabilities. They have conducted systems analysis to determine the optimal deployment strategy for both early warning and interceptor UASs.
The Chinese open source literature summarized above provide a very high-level concept of operations (CONOPS) and warfighting applications against hypersonic weapons. Applied with systems engineering, CONOPS can be refined and transformed into top-level systems requirements for design, development, integration, testing, and IOC. This does not mean that China is on the verge of developing these missile defense systems, but the extensive research undertaken thus far, nevertheless brings China a step closer to achieving a hypersonic defense capability.
Conclusion: Implications for U.S.-China Arms Control
Hypersonic vehicles are not currently subject to existing arms control treaties on ballistic missiles. The U.S. extended the bilateral New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia in February 2021, and still hopes to persuade China to join future strategic arms control negotiations. China presently has little incentive to be encumbered by any arms control treaty as it lags behind the U.S. and Russia in long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear warhead stocks, while simultaneously maintaining a vast stockpile of short and intermediate range ballistic missiles that could potentially give it the edge in a Western Pacific contingency. China is not a signatory of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a multilateral export control regime. Consequently, Beijing is not bound by missile nonproliferation obligations and has proliferated missile technologies to Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. (USNI News, May 18, 2021)
However, the current situation, which is characterized by China’s long range missile disadvantage vis-à-vis the U.S. and Russia, and huge advantage in short and medium range missiles, may be beginning to shift. In August 2019, the U.S. withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) because of repeated Russian violations and Chinese arms buildup in the Pacific and the South China Sea. The withdrawal has introduced the possibility of new U.S. land-based, conventional, intermediate-range, and hypersonic missile deployments in Asia.
The PLA Rocket Force believes hypersonic weapons possess powers of deterrence unmatched by nuclear weapons that can alter the strategic balance and affect an opponent’s intent and determination.  Indeed, China’s early interest in developing a hypersonic defense system demonstrates its concern over the U.S.’s development of hypersonic weapons. As a result, concerns over U.S. hypersonic weapons’ development and missile deployments, along with revisions to the MTCR that enable allies and partners like Taiwan, Japan, and Australia to build long-range land-based offensive capabilities, could combine to alter Beijing’s strategic calculus on arms control. President Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz, believed that the U.S. deployment of short-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe played a key role in driving the former Soviet Union to join INF negotiations. (NBR, February 20, 2021) U.S. deployment of hypersonic weapons on either one of the Western Pacific island chains could induce Beijing to perceive a change in the strategic balance to its disadvantage, and compel it to participate in arms control negotiations with the U.S., Russia, and potentially other nuclear weapons states.
Mr. Holmes Liao (廖宏祥) has over 30 years of professional experience in U.S. aerospace industries. He previously served as an adjunct distinguished lecturer at Taiwan’s War College.
China, Russia and North Korea have all expressed their grievances toward a new security arrangement in the Pacific among the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, which Beijing, Moscow and Pyongyang see as a threat to regional stability.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made his thoughts known last weekend at the 29th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. In his address, the top Russian diplomat criticized “the U.S.-invented Indo-Pacific strategies embodied in the foursome Quad—the United States, Japan, India and Australia—and the recent creation of the bloc [known as] AUKUS.”
He said such coalitions disrupted a decades-long ecosystem of indigenous partnerships, especially that of the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN).
“The Indo-Pacific concept is aimed at breaking up this system that relied on the need to respect the indivisibility of security and has openly proclaimed that its chief objective is containing China,” Lavrov charged.
On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian applauded the remarks.
“That’s very well-put indeed!” Zhao said in response to a reporter’s question regarding Lavrov’s comments. “Foreign Minister Lavrov’s views reflect the shared concern of the vast majority of ASEAN countries. The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, AUKUS and Quad are all closed and exclusive cliques informed by the Cold War zero-sum mentality with strong military security undertones. They will spur regional arms race, aggravate tension and undermine regional unity and cooperation.”
And Zhao warned the approach would be doomed to fail.
“The U.S. practice of ganging up against a third party runs counter to regional countries’ common aspiration to seek shared development through dialogue and cooperation and advance regional integration,” he added. “It wins no hearts and has no future. Many ASEAN countries have questioned and opposed to various degrees these moves.”
While China is not a member of ASEAN, Beijing often works with the bloc, as does Washington.
As the two top powers compete for influence among the 10-member group that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, Zhao called on the Southeast Asian states to resist external efforts to divide them from regional powers.
“The ASEAN-centered regional cooperation architecture is consistent with East Asian tradition and realistic needs,” Zhao said. “It is of great significance for enhancing regional countries’ solidarity, cooperation and common development and should be cherished and consolidated. Regional countries should be on high alert for any attempt to weaken and hollow ASEAN centrality and jointly reject all erroneous practices that violate international fairness and justice, create division and stoke confrontation in the region.”
Also wary of the recent integration of the Australian, U.K. and U.S. strategies was North Korea.
In a statement published Wednesday by the North Korea Foreign Ministry, Division Director of Korea-Europe Association Choe Yong Un lashed out at U.K. statements last month revealing that the Royal Navy had detected ships in the East China Sea suspected of violating international sanctions by transferring fuel to North Korea, and justifying U.K. presence in the region as necessary to rein in the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
“It is not a new move on the part of Britain when considering the fact that Britain has been servile to the U.S. to frequently find fault with us,” Choe wrote. “However, as this move is tantamount to a guilty party filing a suit first, this cannot be overlooked.”
North Korea particularly criticized the arrangement through which the U.S. and the U.K. will provide technology for Australia to build a nuclear-powered submarine. The deal was already controversial as it shunned an ongoing multibillion-dollar contract with France, a fellow ally of the U.S. and the U.K., and Choe said this was only the latest of London’s destabilizing moves taken in step with Washington.
“The international society has recently witnessed the British announcement early this year of its plan to increase the number of its nuclear warheads from present 180 to 260, and its agreement with the U.S. to transfer sensitive cutting-edge nuclear technology to Australia,” Choe said. “It is the universal comment in this regard that it is Britain that is certainly a threat to the world peace and the regional stability.”
North Korea maintains robust relations with China as they are one another’s only respective ally. China has also forged an increasingly tight strategic partnership with Russia, which also borders North Korea and maintains good ties with the elusive militarized state as well.
All three countries have expressed concerns over the large U.S. military presence in the region, as well as the proliferation of advanced defense systems there.
China, Russia and North Korea all have nuclear weapons, as do the U.S. and the U.K. Australia does not have them, but neither is it a party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that entered into force earlier this year as is each ASEAN member. Australia is, however, a signatory the broader Non-Proliferation Treaty and the regional South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty.
Still, some Southeast Asian states have expressed concern that the latest nuclear-related developments could mean the country may one day seek such weapons of mass destruction of its own, something Australian officials have said they had no plans to do.
Amid these worries last month, Australian ambassador to ASEAN Will Nankervis issued a statement assuring that Canberra remained committed to its obligations as a dialogue partner to the regional group.
“Australia remains staunch in our support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),” Nankervis wrote. “Australia will work closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure full compliance with our NPT obligations as a Non-Nuclear Weapon State. We remain committed to reinforcing international confidence in the integrity of the international non-proliferation regime, and to upholding our global leadership in this domain.”
“As a party to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty,” he added. “Australia understands the critical importance to the countries of Southeast Asia of the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaty. Australia will at all times ensure our actions support these important treaties.”
The statement contained no explicit reference to China, but Nankervis did describe Australia as “a strong proponent of a rules-based maritime order,” a concept Canberra, London and Washington have accused Beijing of defying through its broad territorial claims challenged by a number of ASEAN states.
With U.S.-China tensions mounting, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke via telephone last month in an effort to find common ground. The conversation was followed up Wednesday with a virtual meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Communist Party Central Foreign Affairs Commission Director Yang Jiechi to discuss areas of concern as well as “the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” according to the State Department.
During his press conference Friday, Zhao said Yang explained China’s own positions and took note “that the U.S. side said it has no intention of containing China’s development, and does not seek a ‘new Cold War.'”
“The two sides agreed to take action,” he added, “following the spirit of the phone call between Chinese and U.S. heads of state on September 10, strengthen strategic communication, properly manage differences, avoid conflict and confrontation, seek mutual benefits and win-win results, and work together to bring China-U.S. relations back on the right track of sound and steady development.”
Time may be running out for the U.S. and Iran to restart nuclear talks, as Tehran continues to advance its nuclear program, according to political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
“Given the pace of its nuclear advancements, Iran is nearing the point at which the nuclear deal’s nonproliferation benefits will be unrecoverable without major changes to the accord, at which Tehran would balk,” the analysts said.
The deal is more urgent than ever because of irreversible moves such as Iran gaining knowledge on how to operate advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment, they said. At the same time, it has reduced the likelihood of a deal being reached.
Even if negotiations restart, the odds are stacked against an Iran nuclear deal being reached this year, Eurasia analysts Henry Rome and Jeffrey Wright said in an Oct. 4 note.
In the moral realm, Aukus has the potential to weaken the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and that strengthens Iran’s ambitions, as well as chances.
That’s in part because of Iran’s recent decision to name Bagheri Kani — deputy foreign minister for political affairs and an “ardent opponent” of the 2015 agreement — as chief negotiator of those talks, Eurasia analysts Henry Rome and Jeffrey Wright said in an Oct. 4 note.
“Bagheri Kani’s involvement indicates that while Tehran will most likely come back to negotiations in the coming months, the prospects for the talks going smoothly appear bleak in the near term,” they wrote.
Aukus provides “moral leverage” to Iran in its standoff with the U.S., said Asif Shuja, a senior fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute. That’s because the U.S. claims it wants to limit nuclear proliferation — yet Washington is helping Australia acquire submarines that will likely run on weapons-grade uranium.
“In the moral realm, Aukus has the potential to weaken the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and that strengthens Iran’s ambitions, as well as chances,” he said in an email.
“For Australia to operate nuclear-powered submarines, it will have to become the first non-nuclear-weapon state to exercise a loophole that allows it to remove nuclear material from the inspection system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” he said.
Other countries, including Iran, could use naval reactor programs to cover up their development of nuclear weapons, Acton said. Potential backlash for removing nuclear material from inspections is likely to be weaker, since Australia was allowed to do so, he argued.
Not everyone agrees, however.
Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Australia and Iran are not comparable when it comes to non-proliferation commitments. He described the latter as “actively impeding and harassing” IAEA inspectors.
“Worrying too much about the ability of rogue regimes like Iran to abuse any potential precedent set by the Aukus deal misses the forest through the trees on the strategic background for the deal and the nature of the actors involved,” he said.
There are multiple fronts where the U.S. could be more aggressive in a “plan B” scenario, he said. It could enforce sanctions strictly, use coercive diplomacy, censure Iran at the IAEA and partner with allies to present a united front.
China is “really critical” if Tehran is to come back to negotiations in good faith, he said, noting that China has been the largest purchaser of Iranian oil before and after sanctions came into place.
“That’s something … you cannot afford to forget when talking about the Iranian economy,” he said.
The Palestinians and human rights groups view the practice of holding bodies as a form of collective punishment that inflicts further suffering on bereaved families.
“They have no right to keep my son, and it is my right for my son to have a good funeral,” Erekat said.
The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, a Palestinian rights group, says Israel is holding the bodies of at least 82 Palestinians since the policy was established in 2015. It says many are buried in secret cemeteries where the plots are only marked by plaques of numbers. Hamas holds the remains of the two Israeli soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war in an undisclosed location.
Last year, Israel’s Security Cabinet expanded the policy to include the holding of the remains of all Palestinians killed during alleged attacks, and not just those connected to Hamas. Israel considers Hamas, which rules Gaza, a terrorist group.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said at the time that holding the remains deterred attacks and would help ensure the return of Israeli captives and remains. The Defense Ministry declined to comment on the policy.
One of the bodies is that of Erekat’s son, Ahmed, who Israeli officials say was shot and killed after deliberately plowing into a military checkpoint in June 2020. Security camera footage shows the car veering into a group of Israeli soldiers and sending one of them flying back. Ahmed steps out of the car and raises one of his hands before he is shot multiple times and falls to the ground.
His family says it was an accident. Mustafa said his son was passing through the checkpoint on his way to the nearby city of Bethlehem to buy clothes for his sister’s wedding later that night. The shooting attracted widespread attention, in part because Ahmed was the nephew of Saeb Erekat, a veteran Palestinian spokesman and negotiator who died last year.
Ahmed was to get married soon, his father said: “He had a house that was ready for him.”
To this day, he has no idea where his son’s remains are.
Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Israel has turned “corpses into bargaining chips.” The policy is “deliberately and unlawfully punishing the families of the deceased, who are not accused of any wrongdoing,” he said.
Israel has a long history of exchanging prisoners and remains with its enemies. In 2011, it traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier who had been captured by Palestinian militants five years earlier and was being held in Gaza.
In 2008, it traded five Lebanese prisoners, including a notorious militant, and the remains of nearly 200 Lebanese and Palestinians killed in fighting, for the remains of two Israeli soldiers captured by the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group two years earlier.
Egypt has been mediating negotiations over a similar agreement that would return the remains of the two soldiers, as well as two Israeli civilians believed to be alive, held by Hamas in Gaza.
In the meantime, the Erekats and other Palestinian families must turn to Israel’s Supreme Court in a process involving multiple hearings that can drag on for years.
The court denied a recent appeal by the Erekats, citing confidential information submitted by the military. Mustafa Erekat says the system is rigged. He accused the court of dragging its feet until the policy on holding the remains was expanded and then relying on secret evidence.
Mohammed Aliyan, spokesman for six Palestinian families who filed a Supreme Court petition for the return of their relatives’ bodies in 2016, said the judges initially sided with the families before an appeal from the military.
“They always go along with the military’s demands,” Aliyan told The Associated Press, “They are afraid to take any decision against them.”
Liron Libman, an expert on military law at the Israel Democracy Institute, said there are situations where certain pieces of information can’t be made public for fear of exposing protected sources or special operations.
“Each side has the right to request a postponement of the hearing, and the court will accept the request if it believes it is for a justifiable reason,” Libman told the AP.
Even if a family’s petition is successful, locating relatives’ bodies for exhumation can pose further challenges, especially in cases when bodies were buried decades ago.
Rami Saleh, the director of Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, said his organization has dealt with cases where Israeli authorities were unable to locate bodies and also those where Palestinian family members needed to take DNA tests to confirm the remains of a relative.
Mustafa said he has not given up hope and intends to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision. In the meantime, he and Aliyan, the spokesman for the other families, attend weekly sit-ins calling for the release of all bodies held by Israeli authorities.
“The feeling of not being able to bury your relative’s body is more painful than their death,” Aliyan said.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty ImagesOctober 8, 2021
Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon political bloc pledged on Sept. 30, to implement its program for state administration within three years if it wins the post of prime minister in the October 2021 elections. The pledge was made in front of Sadr’s residence in Kufa. The program includes building schools and hospitals, restricting arms to state institutions, ensuring social security, and advancing the agriculture and industry sectors.
The Sadrist movement has been sending to its opponents since Nov. 27 the message that it has the largest popular base and can mobilize its supporters in a demonstration calling for the movement to be tasked with forming a government.
On the external level, Sadr is seemingly seeking to show that his movement is a moderate and active political force.
However, Sadr’s enthusiasm is not devoid of concern and hesitation. And if the Sadrist movement is to be tasked with forming a cabinet, he said he does “not want to sacrifice the reputation of my fathers” — given that he comes from a Shiite religious family.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Sattar Jabbar, a member of parliament for Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance, justified his alliance’s quest. “Sairoon has been the largest bloc in all cycles, and we will be the largest bloc par excellence in these elections as well. This is what the street tells us. That is why the premiership needs to be a 100% Sadrist, and all necessary measures have been taken to make it a success domestically and abroad,” he said.
Political Leadership and Governance Development Academy head Abdul Rahman al-Jebouri, speaking to Al-Monitor, questioned the Sadrist movement’s ability to run a successful government. He said, “The internal reform that the Sadrist movement is calling for, and the recently announced program that is not up to the aspirations of the bloc’s supporters and members, does not offer the rest of the Iraqis the state of safety, freedoms and prosperity they aspire for.”
He added, “The Sadrists do not have the experience to manage the complex and thorny domestic situation. For many years, they have benefited from the state and have mastered blaming the governments for corruption, although a third of the state employees in charge of managing the institutions are affiliated with them. That is at the local level. Internationally, foreign relations involve the management of mutual interests between Iraq and the world, and the representation of a complex state in which the interests of the East and the West are intertwined and conflicting, let alone the interests of each of the Iraqi components. All of these are not tailored to the taste of the Sadrists.”
Jebouri noted, “We have not seen any Sadrist politician, parliamentarian or executive who excels in foreign relations so far. The movement’s positions are improvised.” He said “all of the above-mentioned reasons would result in a Sadrist government that is internally besieged and isolated from the outside world if they insist on leading it.”
However, Sadrist parliament member Sabah Akili told Al-Monitor there are no obstacles that would prevent the movement from being in charge of forming a cabinet. “The Sadrist movement is focusing on the premiership, considering it the way to reconstruction and ending corruption,” he said.
Commenting on the movement’s tactics, he stated, “We rely on our large popular base, our influence on the Iraqi arena and our relations with our future allies that we are coordinating with.”
Akili added that “the movement’s demand is not unfounded. It has 4 to 5 million supporters. It is a right that any party has the right to claim.”
“The movement worked on this goal long before the elections. Today, he is qualified to have the post of prime minister so as to bring about a radical and comprehensive change,” he said.
Yet things are not that simple, said Abbas Abboud, editor-in-chief of Iraq’s al-Sabah daily. He told Al-Monitor, “The chances of the Sadrist project’s success are subject to calculations. The designation of the prime minister in Iraq does not depend on the size of the parliamentary bloc. Rather, it depends on the alliances after the elections and a consensus between Tehran, Washington and Najaf.”
Commenting on the Sadrist movement’s claim for the post of prime minister, Ihsan al-Shammari, who heads the Iraqi Political Thinking Center, told Al-Monitor, “It is part of an electoral propaganda and messages sent to Shiite forces that they need to take into account the opinion of the movement regarding the figure that will be designated in this post.” Shammari added, “It is also a message to the Sunnis, the Kurds and the outside that the movement is an active force and that it is on the threshold of a new stage.”
“The Sadrist movement senses that there is an undeclared alliance seeking to disregard its opinion when choosing the prime minister,” Shammari said, adding, “The next prime minister will be selected based on a consensus.”
He noted that “the Sadrists are talking about reforms, but this program did not include any timeline or a work plan to do so. It is similar to all previous programs of other forces. This will not succeed unless there is a political will in favor of the next cabinet’s program.”
Ostensibly, the Sadrist movement is flexing its muscles ahead of the legislative electionsin order to make its voice heard, stress its presence and underscore that whatever the results, it will have the final say in the political process.